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Forum Home > Book reviews > Long Walk to freedon: Nelson Mandela

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Well I must start off by admitting that Ihad so many prejudices that prevented me from reading this book a long timeago, least of all being that I was never really taught to admire and relish myown African heroes. But nevertheless I have heard a lot about Nelson Mandelaboth the praises from foreigners far afield as well as criticism from thosefrom his own country. But I must say this biography intrigued me and I couldnot put the book down for a straight 2days until I was done. He chronicles hislife from a young simple boy in the Transkei and how fortune and fate connivedin his favour to get an education until the time he becomes politicallyconscious, his political struggles, imprisonment and finally freedom. Hefulfils the saying that success is when preparation meets an opportunity, andwhen the opportunities came he was very prepared for them, though at a highprice.

He tells the story in a  simple manner but then stories of apartheidand racial segregation are never simple rather they are heart rending and bringout a lot of anger and hatred to the blacks who were once oppressed andsubjected to so much unimaginable humiliation. Reading his book makes youunderstand leadership in its truest sense. He brings out so much profoundtruths from his personal story. One of the things he says is that, “A nationshould never be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowestones...” how it treats its prisoners and for him South African prisoners weretreated like animals then. However one wonders how much has changed with thefreedom and independence we have gotten as South Africa, Zimbabwe or any otherAfrican country. Do we treat the poor people as we treat the rich or have wejust replaced white rule with black elite rule? Have we just replaced racialoppression with class oppression?

One of the things that has had me baffledfor years is how Mandela could easily forgive his oppressors. I must admit forme it is so much easier to forgive a person who actually acknowledges they havedone wrong and then I feel they may deserve it. But the whites never apologisedfor apartheid or colonialism for that matter. In fact they believe it civilisedus, brought us closer to them and believe it or not I have heard several blackswho agree with them!!! But this man forgave them and the amazing thing is thateven before freedom when he chronicles tales on Robben Island, in the grimmestmoments he could see glimmers of humanity in the cruel guards. He believed inthe natural goodness of men and that circumstances can make us evil but“goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” It has takenme many years to understand this even though I am a Christian and truly believein forgiving your enemies. It took me an experience in Kenya during myfellowship with Acumen Fund, to understand the dangers of my own attitude. Ithought being black automatically makes you some sort of kin but seeing howpeople of different tribes could hate each other so much enough to kill each othermade me realise that hate and anger can destroy you and you can pass that on toyour own children and basically you don’t progress. They is more power andprogress in forgiving, even your enemies than continuing a fight that does notyield any progress. This does not obviously mean that the enemy deservesforgiveness but then forgiveness is never for the enemy it is for you becauseit benefits you- it liberates you.

I admired Mandela for his resilience. Notso much for braving the fight and staying alive and positive in prison but foracknowledging his inner everyday emotional battles and being honest withhimself. He constantly had to choose between commitment to his family andcommitment to the struggle ad he has been criticised for letting his familydown even his wife Winnie. But life is about choices and we all pay a price forthe choices we make as well as reap rewards from them. We can never makeeverybody happy, especially in our culture where we constantly have thatstruggle whether to please the extended family or your nuclear family,community versus the individual, Zimbabwe versus the West and so on and soforth. It is a complicated and difficult process and Mandela clearlyacknowledges his weaknesses, recognizes the choices he made, the price he paidfor them and the price other people paid for his commitment and still remainfocused on the vision- and there lies the true mark of a leader.





March 14, 2011 at 6:01 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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