Few individuals have experienced a life like Nelson Mandela’s. His autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom, is brilliantly written into a compelling story with great attention to detail. His ability to entertain the reader with even the smallest of stories, like his young love affairs with Ellen the Swazi and Didi the daughter of the Xhoma, is a remarkable trait. This autobiography gives a modest perspective on the history and continuous development of the country of South Africa. It also illustrates the primitive thought process of race superiority by the Western European countries within the Apartheid time period. Although this autobiography gives a biased view to the reader, Mandela writes in such a way to be fair and just in his judgement. He is truly a remarkable man.
My view of South Africa has drastically changed just from reading this book. Reading about his humble beginnings in the country and his poor primitive life style in the village of Qunu allowed me to take on a different perspective regarding the country. Mandela contrasts how different the lifestyles of each culture are through these stories. In a time where technology is increasingly advancing civilization, the people of Qunu and the majority of Africans around the country are not being educated and can not enjoy what others take for granted. The African people are still living in small shacks with meager possessions and are not allowed ownership to the majority of their inherited land. Mandela’s father, being a disbanded advisor, had enough sense to push his son toward education. While he is obtaining his rudimentary schooling, I recognized the western spin that the teacher was imposing on the young students. At the age of 7, (originally called Rolihlahla) is where he is officially given his “western” name Nelson Mandela. He is also introduced to the biased western version of history where young africans are to believe that whites are the superior race. Another major topic of the school was Christianity. Nelson’s big break is when he is adopted by the regent of Mqhekezweni. This is where he can further his education and have the means to seek “higher” employment. Regardless of how much knowledge Nelson obtains, he will still be treated like a second class citizen along with his fellow Africans. The white people essentially want to oppress the locals but still maintain an appearance of fair opportunity, so that, the other races will be less likely to revolt.
Raping the natural resources and reaping the profit, the British capitalists take advantage of the divided country of South Africa. Mandela shows early on his book how each group of native Africans are involved with a certain tribe and usually hold tensions with other tribes. The problem with this notion is that because of this separation the industrialists can come in and unjustly turn profits on another people’s land. You can see Mandela’s transformation as he furthers his education from where he associates himself with his tribe to where he associates himself as a full blown African. He eventually commits to the Nationalist belief and the ANC where he seeks fair opportunity for all races and no dominance over one another. The only way Africans will ever be allowed to regain their rights as full citizens is if they unite their efforts toward a common cause.
The racial superiority factor introduced in the book was a hard perspective to grasp. Coming from a generation of increasing tolerance in America, it is hard to relate to such primitive way of thinking. The abuses of cheap labor within the gold mining like Witwatersrand is a prime example of the so called white supremacy. They repressed whole races of people and limited opportunities so that Africans or other cultures could never be more than white people. Mandela put it best when he realizes that no matter how much an African achieved in work or education they were always going to be less than the lowest white citizen.
Another interesting element in the book is the constant battle between democracy and communism. In a time where the Cold War will take shape and fully develop, South Africa is another battle ground for the two contrasting ways of thinking. Mandela is introduced to many communists who constantly try to persuade him to the party. Mandela doesn’t rush into one side or another and wisely makes his decision on his own grounds. After uprisings like the Miner’s strike of 1946 and even the Indians passive resistance of 1946, you can start to see the government crack down on the unsettled people. South Africa is really no different than America in the aspect where until the Civil Rights movement things like the Jim Crow laws were especially prevalent for racial segregation. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela sought for guerilla tactics from the ANC as a means to an end.
Mandela’s imprisonment at Robben Island is where you can really see the true nature of South Africa at the time. It is a corrupt and unjust government that harshly represses people like Mandela who simply want change in their government. It begins to feel hopeless for Nelson until the nation slowly starts to become more enlightened when de Klerk is put into office. His combined effort with Mandela is what ultimately demolished the Apartheid regime. Discontent still was present with things like the fighting in Natal in 1990 but with the signing of a record of understanding and the drafting of a new constitution, the country is headed toward real progress. I am very interested into following up on the present situation that South Africa is in. With the apartheid not very long ago, it will be compelling to see what strides the country has made.
As Abraham Lincoln was destined as our president in arguably the most crucial point in our Nation’s history, I believe Nelson Mandela’s destiny was to lead a diverse country out of racial segregation and into truly fair prosperity. Although, it is still a constant battle to try to change a thought process that dates back over countless generations, Mandela puts it best saying, “I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended” (625).