Nelson Mandela Essay
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his winning release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world.
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As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s antiapartheid movement, he was involved in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is respected everywhere as a very important force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. Long Walk to Freedom is his moving and exciting autobiography.
In this book, for the first time, Nelson Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life, an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph, which has, until now, been practically unknown to most of the world. Mandela was raised in the traditional, tribal culture of his ancestors, but at an early age learned the modern, bound to happen reality of what came to be called apartheid, one of the most powerful and effective systems of oppression ever conceived.
He tells of his early years as an impoverished student and law clerk in Johannesburg, of his slow political awakening, and of his pivotal role in the rebirth of a stagnant ANC and the formation of its Youth League in the 1950s. He describes the struggle to reconcile his political activity with his devotion to his family, the anguished breakup of his first marriage, and the painful separations from his children.
He brings vividly to life the escalating political warfare in the fifties between the ANC and the government, culminating in his dramatic escapades as an underground leader and the notorious Rivonia Trial of 1964, at which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He recounts the surprisingly eventful twenty-seven years in prison and the complex, delicate negotiations that led both to his freedom and to the beginning of the end of apartheid.
Finally he provides the ultimate inside account of the unforgettable events since his release that produced at last a free, multiracial, democracy in South Africa. To millions of people around the world, Nelson Mandela stands, as no other living figure does, for the triumph of dignity and hope over despair and hatred, of self-discipline and love over persecution and evil. Long Walk to Freedom embodies that spirit in a book for all time.
Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” didn’t really begin until he became a practicing attorney in Johannesburg. His childhood home was a grass hut with a dirt floor, but his schooling didn’t begin until he was taken in by a well-to-do guardian and benefactor. He first became aware of the white man’s suppression of his people in South Africa when he left school to work in a Johannesburg law office. He learned then that his country harbored many different ethnic and racial groups: the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People’s Congress, the Communist Party, the Afrikaners (people of Dutch descent), the African National Congress (AFC), all under the thumb of the white National Party.
The government was out to “…preserve the status quo where three million whites owned 87 percent of the land, and relegate the eight million Africans to the remaining 13 percent.” But it was the AFC (organized in 1912) that Mandela became a part of. Although he didn’t always agree with the communists in the group, he did subscribe to Marx’s basic dictum: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.” Also Mandela followed Gandhi’s non-violent defense, until the National policy on apartheid (segregation) prompted him to create the MK. It was a branch of the AFC which was designed to commit acts of sabotage, so long as no one was killed.
That was one of the charges held against several members of the AFC in the Rivonia Trial. From the offset, the U.N. Security Council urged the South African government to “end the trial and grant amnesty to the defendants.” (The United States and Great Britain were two of the four abstentions to that U.N. appeal.) However, the leaders of the AFC, charged with treason and sabotage, were found guilty and sentenced to life inprisonment. This group of AFC members spent nearly two decades at Robben Island, their first prison, and 13 of these years was spent at chipping limestone in a rock quarry.
Mandela soon learned that the racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: “there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.” But during the last 7 years of Mandela’s sentence, he and the other AFC members were moved to a more comfortable prison and his last years were spent in a three-room house just outside another prison, where a white warder cooked and kept house for him. During Mandela’s 27 years in prison, the state conspired to set up two different escapes for him, either of which had he tried, would have given the police reason to shoot him. But he avoided both these attempts, mainly because he could do more to fight the apartheid by staying alive.
And when he was finally released from prison as a free man, the AFC was able to begin negotiations with Mr. de Klerk and the National Party. Then in April 1994, millions of Africans, voting for the first time, put the AFC in control of the South African government. After his release from prison, Mandela gave speeches to many thousands of people, all over Africa and other countries. But because of his inability to be with his wife Winnie, both while in prison and on his many tours afterwards, they separated in 1992. In 1993, before Mandela became the leader of South Africa, he and Mr. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
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