As this summer’s World Cup is taking place in a country I have never been to, and know little of, I decided my World Cup Reading would be the autobiography of the country’s former leader, Nelson Mandela. I began reading the book on the evening of the opening ceremony. Long Walk to Freedom is over 700 pages long, and it would be insulting and wrong of me to skim read, or skip past sections of this amazing and inspirational man’s life, so you must forgive me if I cover this in more than one blog post. This is a book that needs to be talked about.
I thought I knew something of the history of South Africa. I knew that Mandela has been released to become President after being jailed for over twenty years by the racist apartheid promoting government, and that my parents and thousands of others in this country had refused to buy South African goods, or contribute to firms and economises of countries that supported the regime. Reading the detailed, and disarming descriptions of life as a freedom fighter in the 1950s, I realised that actually I know nothing. Nationalist government used violence and intimidation as tools against a non-violent, highly organised ANC led by educated and thoughtful men and women. This policies led to people being forced out of their homes, jailed for months without legal representation in conditions that mock the idea of sanitary and massacred by a racist and ineffectual police force that did not even keep up to date records on the legal status of the supposed ‘communist terrorists’ they were persecuting.
The account of Mandela’s early life is brief, but fascinating. I would have loved for it to go into more detail, however considering Mandela’s age when the book was published, and the amazing life he has led (this books makes the idea of a 21 year old glamour model’s life being worthy of the status of ‘best-selling autobiography’laughable) , it is unsurprising he chooses not to go into detail of an African childhood in the early part of the twentieth century. What is well done, and as quite a politicised person in their 20s myself fascinating to me, is how Mandela’s views change over time, from radical anti-communist intellectual to a man who is not searching for freedom for Africans, but for everybody. He is totally without apology, but explains how hot-headedness in youth is natural and can be tamed by thought, reflection and experience.
Mandela also does not go into detail about his ‘private’ life. He explains his divorce from his first wife again without apology or apparent regret, yet is loving and nostalgic about his relationship with Winnie, and talks with love of his children. He explains rationally how his involvement with the struggle (in fact a section of the book is named ‘The Struggle is my Life’ had impact on the amount of time he spent with his family, but as a reader knowing what his actions, and those of the movement he described, achieved, we cannot judge him too harshly for this.
I am just up to the point after the Treason Trial that lasted four years, and which over 30 members of the ANC were arrested for promoting violent other throwing of the government ans subsequently found innocent. The trial is decribded in great detail, and the farcical prosecution, and efforts to the extend the trial though making each defendant cross-examine each other is turn and told in an almost comical style. The reader is hopeful of a happy ending for Mandela, but it is only 1961, and this section of the book ends, ‘During the Treason Trial, there were no examples of individuals being isolated, beaten and tortured. All of these things became commonplace shortly after’. I shall continue on.
This book was again very kindly donated to the Suitcase Library by a very kind and generous man, and I would have probably have never have read it (or at least not thought to for many years) were it not for the exchange of books, rather than relying on the best sellers or latest releases promoted by publishers. Thank you.