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    Post by Nico10 on Sat 12 Nov 2011, 8:46 pm

    Nelson Mandela’s LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, a work largely based on a document written by Mandela himself while serving a life prison sentence on Robben Island for his political activism, is as relevant today as it was at the time of its publication more than a decade ago. It is a jewel of a book, with many insights not only into South Africa’s history and the life of Mandela, but also into the nature of the human condition.

    LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is not an academic work. Its academic merit can, one supposes, be disputed. It is written from the first person perspective, and, while acknowledging to not being an experienced reader of autobiographical works, I make the assumption this book will be similar to other autobiographical works in the way it is told. For a more balanced view of the life on Madiba, one should look for biographies, instead of this autobiography, and in order to jugde Mandela, the politician, well, I think the better option would be to turn to general history books and articles. The fact is that in the LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Mandela tells of his life in his own words, and in his own way. He is, understandably, at times, very harsh in his criticism. Yet also time and again, Mandela reveals in simple terms exactly why it is that he is such an icon of justice in the world.

    What is perhaps most astonishing about Mandela and others of his generation like Walter Sisulu and Albert Lithuli etc., is the sacrifices these people made. In LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Mandela time and again returns to the issue of the guilt he often felt for sacrificing his life as a family man in order to fight against the apartheid regime. But he didn’t, of course, trade the life of being a father who is there for the family for a life of luxury. The life on Robben Island was more often than not amazingly hard, not merely for the physical hardships that prisoners there endured, but much more so for the emotional embarrassment, the rejection and the animal like manner in which these people were treated.

    But then, time and again, the fact that the ANC started as a non-violent organisation which was greeted by violence and intimidation comes to the fore. As a young man, Mandela displays anger towards whites, but as time goes on, he comes to the realisation that the reason why so many prison guards display such violent behaviour towards inmates is not because they are evil and nasty men in principle, but because they are the products of a system that rewards evil. This is a very important turning point in the life of Mandela. Through many years of careful observation, he mastered the art getting to understand your enemies, and getting to really know why there are such divides between people and how to be sympathetic towards others, even to those who hate us. It is this trade of Mandela that appeals so much to the world, since he is an example to us all.

    LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is thus an important work on many levels. It shows very powerfully how perpetrators became victims. It reveals the nastiness of the apartheid regime, but it often does not condemn the most remarkable faces fronting the evil. Instead it brings us to an even greater truth, namely that more often than not, politicians use innocent people to do their dirty work, in the end not having to take the heat when things ‘go wrong’ for the system. Despite the many many evils of apartheid, there is not a single politician, not even one, which ever ended up in prison. Instead, those working for them, those who were ordered to do the ‘dirty work’, to ‘eliminate’, to ‘torture’ and do other barbaric acts, theý were the ones who took all the heat. But those with the evil plans, those in power, in parliament, in cabinet, those who had these people by the collar, paying their bills and making them slaves of the system, theý got away scot free.

    But there is another important reason why LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is such an important work. In post-apartheid South Africa, South Africans are often confronted with politicians who are power hungry but when it comes to serve their country, they suddenly lose their appetite. Mandela was not such a man. He was a man who gladly sacrificed the most sacred right known to mankind, his freedom, in order to fight for the freedom of others. Young people can learn from this. How often are we as human beings not trained by our communities, by our friends and families and others in our lives to only serve our own best interest? We cannot each and every one be like Mandela, but after reading LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, I am more convinced than ever before, that each and every human being can learn from Mandela by making small changes in their own lives, in order make a difference to the greater good of mankind. In LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, it is often shown how Mandela fought the most blatant and inhumane injustices, not only in his career as a lawyer, but especially as a prisoner. And he mostly did these things, not because he benefitted directly from them, but because he is a man who holds to the philosophy that an injury to one is an injury to all.

    We all have our own talents and we can all serve our country in our own little particular way. And we can learn from Mandela how to do this, and this is why books like these are important to be read, and will continue to be. Perhaps if Mandela wrote this book in South Africa today, the title would rather be FAR FROM FREEDOM. Perhaps this is why LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NELSON MANDELA is even more relevant today than it ever was before.

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