The book Long Walk to Freedom is a vivid delineation of Mandela’s trials and tribulations in the country of his birth where an arrogant racist European minority had imposed its misrule over an indigenous majority.
The book is divided into eleven parts which includes Mandela’s childhood; his trying times in the city Europeans call Johannesburg; his transformation from someone who had run away from his homeland to Transkei in order to avoid a pre-arranged marriage; his formative days in the ANC and its Youth League up to the time he and others were charged with treason; his underground life and connection to the famous Rivonia Trial; his life on Robben Island prior to and after the Rivonia Trial; the initiative he took in proposing talks with the racist regime without the knowledge and approval of his organization nor other liberation movements and his subsequent release from prison.
The Long Walk to Freedom is an invaluable source of information on the political history of South Africa and the ANC although it is fraught with ethnic and organizational biases. If Mandela is a leader of all people of South Africa, he should transcend these tendencies. For example, those unfamiliar with the South African life may end up thinking that Xhosas and Zulus are the major inhabitants of South Africa, as one reviewer recently did.
The African anthem which translates as God Bless Africa has both the Sesotho version (Morena Boloka Sechaba sa Afrika) and Nguni version but nowhere in the book does Mandela refer to this anthem in its Sesotho name. Mandela himself is an Nguni speaker. In fact, during the raising of South Africa’s new flag, only the Nguni version of this song was sung, followed by the settler colonialists’ anthem Die Stem.
Although the book is an invaluable source of information on some aspects of South African history, it has some historical inaccuracies. For example, Mandela writes that gold was discovered in 1886 on the Witwatersrand (p 55). In fact, South Africa has the earliest gold, iron and copper mines in the world going back to thousands of years.
Mandela claims that the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania is ‘anti-white’ (p 264) and criticizes the Black Consciousness Movement for excluding whites (p 422). Some of the criticism Mandela leveled at the PAC are ridiculous and border on the absurd. For instance he writes: “Their actions were motivated more by a desire to eclipse the ANC than to defeat the enemy” (p 206). Mandela also claims the views and behaviour of the PAC are immature. The philosophy of Black Consciousness according to Mandela is also immature and he also labels one of the greatest African leaders of African descent, Marcus “Mosiah” Garvey as an extremist. Garvey is at the same time described as an African hero.
The forerunner of APLA, POQO is described as “irresponsible” and labeled “terrorists” (p 295). But nowhere does Mandela label the white supremacist terror group Afrikaner Weestandbeweging (AWB). Instead he refers to them as a “militant right-wing” group (p 530).
Mandela writes that he was saddened by the bombing to death in Mozambique of Ruth First, Joe Slovo’s widow but never mentioned anything about Onkgopotse Ramothibi Tiro let alone his tragic bombing by white South African agents in 1974 in Botswana. Tiro, a founding member of the Black Consciousness Movement, was probably the first South African to be parcel bombed and the first martyr of the Black Consciousness Movement. There is also no mention of Bantu Biko or the cruel way in which his life was ended in a South African jail. Biko was one of the founding members of the Black Consciousness Movement.
Mandela also claims that the PAC was not interested in unity. But in Preparing for Power: Oliver Tambo Speaks which is a collection of the late Tambo’s speeches and has Nelson Mandela’s foreword, Tambo reveals that it was the ANC which was not interested in unity (p 117).
This book gives me the impression that Mandela thinks white supremacy can be combated through preaching of racial reconciliation. White supremacy is a global power system which needs to be vehemently attacked and exposed for the sham it is. I do not think Africans should care a lot about racial reconciliation when we were not the ones who opened this can of racial worms. What Mandela is, in essence, suggesting is that when a foreigner comes into your house, rapes your spouse, kills some of your children, abuses others and usurps your dwelling and wealth, you should smile and say thank you.
Despite the above mentioned glaring and disturbing shortcomings and some self contradictory statements, this book is worth reading.
By Sam Ditshego
(This article was a book review which appeared in a Botswana newspaper, Mmegi/The Reporter, Vol 12, No.1, 13 – 19 January 1995)