Book Review: Long Walk To Freedom

The official autobiography of Nelson Mandela

All the top media outlets gave this autobiography of the Nobel Peace prize winner Nelson Mandela five stars. Los Angeles Times labeled it “Irresistible” and added that “Long walk to Freedom must be one of the few political autobiographies that’s also a page-turner”. Newyork Sunday Newsday described the book as “Long walk to Freedom is one of those rare books that  become not only a touchstone but a condition of our humanity”.

After my reading habit slipped away due to various reasons, I decided to get back to my reading ways with the autobiography of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, one of the greatest people ever to grace our world. The memoir takes a reader on a journey from the truly African way of life at his birth place Transeki to his arrival in Johannesburg at his late teens, from his observation of the traditional high rank council of parliamentarians in his village to the speech he gave at the American Congress and keeps one tied to the book as it discusses his transformation from the first African legal councilor to the most wanted man in South Africa.

Each chapter raises a number of stories, events and decisions that later shape the first democratically elected President of South Africa. His keen observation, evaluation  and decision-making skills are quite impressive and educational for any reader that picks up the book. One of my favorite involves Mandela comparing the way white and black families help their kids gain knowledge. In there states

Like all Xhosa children, I acquire knowledge mainly through observation. We were ment to learn through imitation and emulation, not through questions. When I visited the homes of whites, I was often dumbfounded by the number and nature of questions that the children ask of their parents – and their parents’ unfailing willingness to answer them. In my household, questions are considered a nuisance; adults imparted information as they considered necessary.

After completing his education to become a lawyer, Mandela slowly moved into politics and started ascending to the helm of the African National Congress which led the struggle against apartheid. When non violence struggle policy of the ANC were crushed heavily by the regime, Mandela started a clandestine armed movement and visited a number of African countries to get assistance. It is then when Mandala visited Ethiopia and got his military training from his Ethiopian trainers Lieutenant Wondoni Befikadu and Colonel Tadesse. Even though he visited a number of African countries, Mandela couldn’t hide his special affection to Ethiopia.

Mandela’s Ethiopian Passport

Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.

His long-lasting struggle at the later part of the books discusses the extremely sinister nature of apartheid and makes a reader feel sorry for Mandela and his people but at the same time admire his strength to finally came out victorious taking different challenges everyday. His top-notch debating, mediating and negotiating styles are there to see at different chapters of the book. For example  during a secret negotiation with apartheid for a peaceful solution he was non compromising on some essential points and at the same time the other party was accusing him of being a communist. When straight forward denials didn’t satisfy his opponents, Mandela’s sharp mind came up with this witty but powerful reply to the accusations:

You gentlemen consider yourself intelligent, do you not? You consider yourself forceful and persuasive, do you not? Well, there are four of you guys and only one of me, and you cannot control me or get me to change my mind. What makes you think the Communists can succeed where you have failed?

My only reservation was that the later section of the bio seemed a bit rushed but all in all it is a must read book especially for Africans and people with ambitions in politics or legal system.


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