Thursday, March 7, 2013

[Book Review] Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Bryan Dyer

Long Walk to Freedom is the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. This work, told in his own words, is the life story of the first black President of South Africa. First published in 1995, just one year after becoming President, the book chronicles Mandela’s rise from a poor upbringing in the Transkei Region of South Africa to his 27 years in prison and his rise to a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of a divided nation. Mandela attributes his transition from a poor “country boy” turned influential leader to the fact that a wealthy and powerful chief took him into his family as a favor to his deceased father, and gave him the opportunity to be formally educated and to attend college as a young man.
Mandela describes his changing perspectives on race as he grew up, first believing that white people were above questioning and unapproachable, and later being able to understand the natural flaws in the system of racial inequality in his country. He began to take a stand against racial inequality and joined the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC), just before the 1948 South African elections marked the rise of the Afrikaner’s infamous Nationalist Party; the party that introduced apartheid and the party which Mandela would spend the rest of his life, up to his ascension to the Presidency, fighting.

Through education, Mandela eventually became one of the few black lawyers in South Africa, enabling him to represent black people who were otherwise powerless against the system which favored whites in land ownership, business rights, and effectively every other issue imaginable. When the ANC became too complacent and unwilling to oppose the injustices against the people they were meant to represent; Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Thambo and Ashley Peter Mda created an ANC Youth League which was considered too radical by the original ANC, but eventually usurped power from the ANC old guard and made the African National Congress, once again, a thorn in the side of the white minority government. Eventually the Nationalist Party banned the ANC and forced them to operate underground.

Mandela believed that it was the oppressor who decides the nature of the battle, and when the oppressive Nationalist Party Government made it illegal to use any peaceful means of resistance against apartheid, Mandela founded Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which became known as the military wing of the ANC (although Mandela originally made efforts to keep Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) separate from the ANC to protect ANC leadership). Eventually Mandela was arrested, along with Walter Sisulu and other ANC and MK leaders, and Oliver Thambo went into exile to become the leader of the ANC. Mandela spent 27 years in prison and eventually became the failing Apartheid Government’s only option as a leader with whom they could negotiate an end to the crisis they faced under pressure from the international community, and their own people to dismantle apartheid. Mandela eventually became the President of a new, free South Africa and will be forever be credited with turning his country into a “Rainbow Nation” which strives for racial and social equality.

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