Monday, September 22, 2014

#Diversiverse Review: Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela needs no introduction.  When he passed away late last year, I heard a lot of news reports about how he worked tirelessly to end apartheid in South Africa and the many, many years he spent as a political prisoner.  But I wanted to know more about him as a person.  And so, like many other people the world over, I decided to read his autobiography.

Long Walk to Freedom is Mandela's account of his life, from his birth to his election.  That's a lot of time to cover, and this is a hefty book.  I did it on audio, and even with the hours I spend commuting every week, it still took me a full three weeks to finish it.  But I didn't mind one bit.  Mandela was a powerful speaker, but he also penned his own speeches, and that skill is in abundant evidence here.

Many political leaders write their memoirs to justify or explain their reasons.  Or share their thought processes so other people can understand.  Mandela certainly does that - he talks about how he was slowly won over to socialism and even communism (two political paths that he feels work very well in traditional African structure).  He was not a violent man but he was not above using violence to achieve his aims - equal rights for the black majority in South Africa.  He also had a gentle sense of humor and was cognizant of how his actions affected the people around him.  He seems to have gotten along well with everyone who knew him.  That said, he was also a very capable leader who knew when to gain consensus and when to go rogue.

In several ways, Mandela reminded me of Abraham Lincoln, another excellent leader who was well-liked by everyone who knew him (personally, that is - probably not that much by people in the Confederacy).  He never held a grudge; on the day he was released from prison after more than 20 years behind bars, he felt sad that he wasn't able to say goodbye to any of the wardens with whom he had shared so much time over the past several years.

I also didn't realize just how much work Mandela and the African National Congress did while he and several of the party's other key leaders were imprisoned.  Mandela continued to support a caseload of clients fighting for civil rights, and he challenged the prison system for better living conditions for all prisoners.  Much of this came at the expense of his own family, though.  He divorced twice and never seems to have forgiven himself for missing the entirety of his children's childhoods.

After reading this book, I appreciate even more just how strong a person Nelson Mandela was, and just how hard he worked to create a South Africa that was equal and free of animosity between its different groups of people.  He was a true inspiration, and the world is richer for his having been in it.  Highly recommended.
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.


  1. Anonymous9/22/2014

    This one is sitting on my shelf, awaiting the inspiration to tackle it. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  2. Mandela was certainly inspirational. I'm glad you got to learn more about him. I should probably do the same!!


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