If I could describe Nelson Mandela in one word it would simply be, WOW! Mandela is to South Africa what Abraham Lincoln is to the United States, and we all know that Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a big deal in grade school history classes. Mandela has received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, Time’s Person of the Year, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Ghandi Peace Prize, just to name a few. I don’t think even honest Abe can really compete with that. He has completed tasks and gained awards that would take many people multiple lifetimes to achieve, all while coming from an impoverished African background. Also in this time he has managed to tell the world about his life, influence, and accomplishments in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
Mandela is known as an incredible South African leader, known most famously for his great leadership abilities, as well as work ending the apartheid movement. However, if you dive into his autobiography it is clear that he was indeed a mischievous child, and had his fair share of struggles throughout his life. His autobiography is written from a very mature standpoint, taking most matters quite seriously, with a few jokes here and there from his childhood. Mandela makes it clear how driven of a person he was and how he could still succeed living off of minuscule food, and wearing a patched suit to work, “with more patches than suit.”
Prior to reading this autobiography, I probably only knew as much about Mandela as an average American teenage kid would. He was big on apartheid, was a good leader, and could probably change places with Morgan Freeman and not many people would know the difference. However, once I started reading his life story I realized how influential of a person he really was. He was influenced anywhere from his father, to his caretaker, the regent, to his school companions and coworkers. During this whole time he seemed to be a listener. For most of his early life Nelson Mandela seemed to listen to everyones conflicting views. He listened to all sorts of rules, learned about the animosity towards white people, learned how much power they had, and learned about different democratic and communist viewpoints on government. Throughout his time at school and his early work career he listened and established his own viewpoints.
Overall, I think that his autobiography was a great thing to read prior to this trip. I think it will help us as a class understand what life was/is like in a lot of parts of South Africa based on Mandela’s description of his childhood. I also think that there is a lot to learn from his time spent on Robben Island. For a man to go through that much struggle and still come out of it more compassionate and forgiven than ever says a lot about him. Mandela has strong character and his book was a great read to really see firsthand what South African culture can be like. Now that I have read it I cannot wait to finally get there and see for myself.