Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela
December 05, 2013
Today Nelson Mandela went to be with God and World has lost a tremendous leader today. He was 95. In his life of 95 years, he spent 27 years in prison. But in his 95 years he has packed more substance than so many of us together.
I read his book "Long Walk to Freedom" and would love to share about what I got from that book. The best thing is to read the book. This is just the essence of the book.
"I never thought that a life sentence truly meant life and that I would die behind bars. Perhaps I was denying this prospect because it was too unpleasant to contemplate. But I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man."
Nelson Mandela grew up in a traditional village in the Transkei region of South Africa, hundreds of miles from either Johannesburg or Cape Town. A member of theThembu tribe that forms part of the Xhosa nation, his father was both a tribal chieftain and the chief adviser to the Thembu king, and Mandela was groomed to follow in his father's footsteps. The name given to him at birth was, prophetically, Rolihlahla. In his native Xhosa, the colloquial meaning of the name is "troublemaker."
The first member of his family to go to school, Mandela was given the English name Nelson. He recalls an idyllic Transkei childhood of animal herding, stick fighting,and storytelling, but after his father died he was moved to the Thembu capital to live under the wing of the tribal chief.
In his early years, Mandela says, he saw the white man more as a benefactor than an oppressor, and was enamored of British culture and its political system. But he came to realize that the Xhosa was a conquered people, with most of the men having to slave away in the gold mines for minuscule pay or work on whiteowned farms. Mandela observed: "No matter how high a black man advanced, he was still considered inferior to the lowest white man."
Early lessons, lifelong contacts
As a student, Mandela was introverted and not brilliant, but worked hard. He was placed in an English-style secondary college for blacks, met young people from other tribal backgrounds, and began to get a sense of being "African" as opposed to simply Thembu or Xhosa.
At Fort Hare University College, run by missionaries and with black professors, he studied English, anthropology, politics,native administration, and Roman Dutch law. At this time his ambition was to be a low-level civil servant, a clerk or interpreter in the Native Affairs Department.
For a black South African, Mandela's education was privileged, and he believed that a BA would be his ticket to prosperity. Only later did he realize that there were many people without degrees who were smarter than him, and that character was the greater ingredient in Competing in cross-country running in college taught him that he could make up for a lack in natural ability by hard training. In his studies, he observed: "I saw many young men who had great natural ability, but who did not have the self-discipline and patience to build on their endowment."
Back home from college for a break, Mandela found an arranged marriage waiting for him on which he was not keen, and fled to Johannesburg. After trying to get work in the offices of a gold mine, he eventually found an articled clerkship in a liberal Jewish law firm. He was paid a pittance and often had to walk miles into thecenter of Johannesburg from his township. Slowly he began to get involved in politics and the African National Congress (ANC), but for a number of years was more observer than activist. It was at this time that he met ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu, a real estate agent when blacks were still allowed to own some property.
A black lawyer was a great novelty, and when Mandela enrolled in the University of Witwatersrand for a Bachelor of Law degree in 1943 he was the only African student in the faculty. His discomfort was lessened by a circle of supportive whites and Indians, who would later prove to be important in the struggle for black freedom.
Beginning the fight
On a platform of "the nigger in his place," in 1948 the Nationalist party came to power in South Africa. Though the idea of apartheid ("apartness") had been around for centuries, the Afrikaner Nationalists entrenched it in hundreds of oppressive laws designed to create a brutal hierarchy: whites at the top, blacks at the bottom, and Indians and coloreds in the middle. Afrikaans, the language of the original Dutch farmersettlers,took over from English as an official language. With race as the basis for South African society, elaborate tests were required that often broke up families. "Where one was allowed to live and work could rest on such absurd distinctions as the curl of one's hair or the size of one's lips," Mandela notes.
The defiance campaigns that the ANC organized, involving stay-at-homes and gatherings to protest against new laws, only made the new government more iron-willed in keeping black people downtrodden. School education was scaled down, whole towns were razed to make way for white housing, and the pass system made it extremely difficult for non-white people to move freely. The 1950 Suppression of Communism Act was only partly related to curbing communism; its real purpose was to allow the government to imprison anyone on a trumped-up charge.
Despite this harsher climate, in 1952 Mandela and Oliver Tambo established the first black law office in South Africa. It was inundated with cases from the first day and was highly successful. In those days, Mandela admits he was a "hotheaded revolutionary" without a great deal of discipline, and that he enjoyed wearing smart suitsand driving around Johannesburg in a large American car. He even bought land in the Transkei with a view to moving back home.
Fate had other ideas. At 35 Mandela was banned from any involvement with the ANC, which meant that any work he did for the organization would have to be secret and risk long-term imprisonment. His roles as freedom fighter and family man were never compatible, and from this point on he would live with the constant anguish of having made the people he loved secondary to the larger struggle for freedom.
Criminal and outlaw
In the famous 1958-61 Treason Trial, the Nationalist government charged Mandela and others with trying to overthrow the state. Though the prosecution lacked real evidence, the trial dragged on for years. By this time Mandela's marriage had collapsed, and the time required to be away from the law practice saw that, too, fall apart.
When the members of the group were acquitted, the authorities' embarrassment was so great that it made them even more determined to quell insurrection. In 1960, 70 black demonstrators were killed at Sharpeville, a township south of Johannesburg, when they peacefully surrounded a police station. Many were shot in the back trying to flee the gunfire. South Africa came under a State of Emergency in which the rights of blacks were further curtailed.
Mandela knew that he would soon be rearrested for something, so he decided to go underground, moving from place to place with the help of disguises. He grew his hair and wore the blue overalls of the worker and, because he had a car, pretended to be driving it for his baas (white master). During this outlaw existence, when there was a warrant for his arrest, the newspapers began calling Mandela "The Black Pimpernel." For several months he actually left South Africa to visit various African states including Sudan, Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, and Egypt to seek support for the ANC's cause, solicit donations, and learn about guerrilla warfare. The trip was the first time Mandela had experienced freedom and had seen blacks either running their own states or being treated as equals, and it only inspired him further. However, back in South Africa he let his guard down, and in 1962 he was captured on a road leading into Cape Town.
At his trial, Mandela tried to put the onus of guilt on to the government, and wore traditional clothing to symbolize that he did not recognize the white legal system and the charges it was making against him. He received a five-year sentence without parole. However, much worse was to come. As the ANC's philosophy of non-violence was clearly not working, Mandela had founded a covert military affiliate that began a sabotage campaign on government property. In 1964 he was charged with sabotage and conspiracy, along with a number of other ANC members.
The death sentence was expected, and in his address to the court Mandela said that he was prepared to die for the cause of justice. Perhaps because of international pressure, however, the men "only" received life sentences. This seemed like a great victory.
Mandela would spend the next 18 years in the notorious Robben Island prison. The first decade involved hard manual labor, terrible food, and a climate of fear and abuse. However, the political prisoners were kept together and so could continue their discussions. Denied virtually all outside contact, the acquisition of a newspaper was prized almost above food. The men's political struggle was reduced to within the prison walls, and they had to fight for any kind of improvement in their daily life. For the slightest infraction they could be thrown into a solitary confinement cell for days on a diet of rice water. Mandela writes: "It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones—and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals."
The years on Robben Island made Mandela a virtual stranger to his family, and he often wondered whether the struggle was worth it. His mother died while he was there and he was not allowed to attend the funeral. On the rare occasion that he was allowed family visitors, he was given only half an hour with them. Because of the restrictions on her movements, he did not see his second wife Winnie Mandela for two whole years, and his children were not allowed to visit before the age of 15. The nadir of Mandela's time on the island came when he received news that his 25-year old son had been killed in a car accident.
In the latter years of his imprisonment, as his legend grew, Mandela was moved to mainland prisons and received special treatment, ending up with his own house and cook, and was able to receive visitors.
He had been seeking dialog with the government for some time, and after 75 years of bitter antipathy white politicians began to listen to his ideas for a fully democratic South Africa. They knew that history was not on their side, and the country was becoming explosive.
Amid great euphoria, Mandela was released in 1990, having spent 27½ years in jail. Four years later, after the country's first nonracial elections, he was elected President of South Africa. In the meantime there had been much bloodshed, but the worst years were behind the country.
Long Walk to Freedom is simply but skillfully written, and even at 750 pages you feel that it only skims the surface of one of the twentieth century's great lives. This commentary, in turn, only highlights a few points; reading the book cannot be more highly recommended.
Today we think of Mandela as a grayhaired statesman, a legendary figure, but his memoirs allow us to get behind the image. We see that he was a normal man who was willing to react positively to extraordinarily bad circumstances. He got through his ordeal because he was an optimist, and could therefore inspire himself as much as others. The key to his success as a leader was the sense of inevitability he created—the power of his belief. The message he gave out that things would change wasso great that even prison warders came around to his way of thinking. The end result was a new nation based on fairness and dignity in the place of a rotten police state.
Though he received a privileged education and was groomed for leadership, neither of these things was a cause of his future success as a leader. As the state gave himless and less to work with, he parlayed even these meager opportunities into positive action.
In a tight situation or a long struggle for recognition or success, we would do well to remember Mandela, and to have even an ounce of his mental discipline and bravery.
We will miss you Madiba!