He went to prison at the age of 42, spent 10,000 days and was out at 71years. 27years altogether. “Of course you cannot know a man completely, his character, his principles, sense of judgement, not till he’s shown his colors, run the people, making laws. Experience, there’s the test.”
You really never know what you told till you read it. Back in primary, history was taught that in South Africa a man fought against apartheid and the unison answer was Nelson Mandela. What really happened? Where did it all begin? In his autobiography, he takes a reader through his life, the struggles, happy moments, grief, pain and celebration. Here’s my review of my fourth book this year…
Well, his birth name wasn’t Nelson neither was it Mandela. Did you know that? Rolihlahla was the name his father gave him on 18th July 1918, which meant pulling the branch of a tree in Xhosa and troublemaker the colloquial meaning. In a family of 13 children at Mvezo, Umtata District, capital of Transkei-home of Thembu people; member of Madiba Clan and son of the fourth wife, Nosekeni Fanny. Mandela was his grandfather and the family was known to take over the chieftainship but this was stripped off after Nelson’s father was involved in a dispute that lead to lose of fortune, land, herd, revenue and title.
Life took a U-turn when his mother took him and siblings to Qunu where he spent most of his childhood playing and fighting with village boys. It was here that he acquired knowledge through observation, imitation, emulation and not by asking questions. Customs, rituals and taboos shaped his way of life. Through his mother’s Christianity ways this became his ticket to acquire education when he was baptized at Methodist Church and sent to school at the age of seven. Tying a blanket around his shoulder was his mode of clothing and with no uniform to him his father cut off his pair of trousers to knee length, tied the big waist with a piece of string just to make sure his son was educated. He began his British education and it is here that his teacher gave him his English name, Nelson (aha, now you know where it came from).
Endless coughing took the life of his father when he was nine years and luckily enough Chief Jongintaba, a royal family that lived in Mqhekezweni took him in as his son. Notions of leadership were influenced by observing the regent and his court in the great palace and the passion in African history grew day and night. He was later circumcised at 16years, passed his standard V and was admitted at Clarkebury Institute. At 19 he went to Wesleyan College then to University of Fort Hare at 21 years where he majored in English, Roman Dutch Law, Politics, Anthropology and Native Administration. Having been elected as a representative of the Student Council he boycotted the elections and this saw him expelled from the university. Back at his royal home his guardian planned his marriage and this led to his escape to Johannesburg together with the chief’s son Justice.
In Johannesburg he worked from mines to been a watchman before word was sent out by the chief that his sons should be arrested and brought back home. This made them shift from friend’s houses to another, worked as a clerk in a law firm and this is where blacks were mistreated in the white’s midst. His quest to finish his education made him enroll in a university where he passed his B.A Degree and later enrolled for a bachelor in law. He met his first wife, Evelyn Mass and they were blessed with four children but the second born died while she was 9months old. This marriage did not last for long as his desire to finish apartheid made him far apart from his family, with late night’s meetings, bans, arrests and lack of support from Evelyn.
“Our own people, our own language, our own land,” was the slogan of the Transvaal African National Congress where he was elected as executive committee. Leaders were banned from attending meetings but Mandela stood up for his people, planning on the next course of action. His brevity not to stand down led to his arrest in 1956 where he was charged with treason and the verdict was death. However, he was released on bail with commencement of trial. Love came his way and in 1958 he married Winnie, an activist who on many occasions just like her husband was arrested, received bans, violated them, fought for women’s and children rights and served her jail term. (They really complemented each other I must say). Together they had two daughters.
Treason trial was shifted to Pretoria from Johannesburg and this aroused suspicions of many as this meant they wanted to keep things low and the public would not have access to this place. Adding salt to injury, Pan African Congress was born- a rival to ANC that objected their every move. Moreover, another tragic happened, Sharpeviile shootings that took the life of women and children. The ANC declared a national-stay-at-home holiday to mourn loved ones and this is where martial law took over after a state of emergency was declared. He was arrested again and taken to Pretoria Prison where diets, jail uniforms, rooms, interactions shone bright that the whites were superior to blacks. The trial continued for 9months.
In 1961, the treason trial commenced and he was found not guilty but upon his release he decided not to go home. Spear of the nation/ Umkhonto we Sizwe/MK joined efforts with Mandela where they debated that they would use violent activities like sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, open revolution and bring an end to this apartness. In order for him to do so he needed support from African countries with funds, trainings, ammunitions, advices and he embarked on one major tour. It all started at Dar es Salaam to Khartoum, Accra, Ethiopia, Zambia, Egypt, Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, Bamako, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Dakar and ended in London. From here, he left again to Ethiopia for a 6months military training that ended before it could begin when ANC came calling back in South Africa.
Only his ANC counterparts knew of his whereabouts and so not to provoke chaos he pretended to be a chauffeur to his white friend to make a quiet comeback. In Rivonia he outlaid his master plan and arranged on how the MK would travel for military training. Lady luck was not on his side as he was later arrested and prisoned for 5 years-3 years for inciting people to strike and 2years for leaving the country without a passport. Robben Island became his prison, moved back to Pretoria prison and while his Rivonia plan was discovered he was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 12, 1964 and taken back to Robben Island.
Darker days reigned in this island as they would go to the mines then to the ocean for manual labor. Unfair treatment still ruled, death of his mother and later of his son took a turmoil when he could not even attend their burial. Planning of the next step of ANC made him forget his sorrow even though his inmates’ friends were far apart, they still had their way of communication. From one disease to another, media out roar, denial of freedom, a change in prison guards lightened his next step in life as he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison.
Talks with the enemy started in this prison where he even had his own garden where he grew vegetables that were provided to the kitchen to ensure fellow prisoners had a good meal. After 21 years imprisonment, visits changed to contact visits and for the first time in many years he was able to hold his wife and children. Unexpected twist of events happened in 1985 when parliament state president offered him his freedom with the ultimatum to reject violence as political instrument but he threw away the offer.
Victor Verster Prison became his last home in 1988. This was the best ever prison he had ever been as it was more of a cottage, had a chef to cook whatever he craved for, was allowed to travel and see the city and hold meetings with leaders. He even received political guests and to him freedom was smiling a corner away. President de Klerk announced the release of 8 political prisoners all of whom were Mandela’s colleagues in 1989. Furthermore, de klerk dismantled the apartheid system and in February 11 1990, Mandela was released. He later separated from his wife to take charge of the nation, elected as president of ANC in 1992, won the Nobel Prize in 1993 and April 1994 was declared election day after the white minority conceded defeat and turning power to the black majority. May 10, 1994 Mandela became the President of South Africa.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances freedom to others. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that sorrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
PS: That’s my summary of the entire book and if interested in political affairs this is the book. For his deeds to this nation he shall forever be remembered. You want a soft copy, you know how to reach me.
Blessed week y’all.