Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Nelson Mandela

I've decided that I really like biographies and autobiographies. My sister gave me two for Christmas and one was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela ("A Long Walk to Freedom"). I thoroughly enjoy it. Mandela has had a compelling life and is not a bad writer either. This great South African Freedom Fighter dedicated his total life to the emancipation of minorities in his country. I think I read somewhere that South Africa was the only country to transition power in such a way without civil war. Yes, there was sporadic violence but not widespread bloodshed. Governmental transitions are rarely so smooth. A lot of credit for that goes to Mandela. For most of his career he advocated non-violence but later he felt that sabotage (of infrastructure, not people) would put the needed pressure on the white government for change. Of course, he later served as President of South Africa.

I have three rather selective observations about his life.

First, He endured 27 years in prison. It is a testament to his spirit and those of his companions that they were able to face the great hardships and brutality with such indomitable perseverance. Certainly it is the loss of hope that truly condemns a person in prison to a kind of living death. Mandela and his companions were innovative and tireless in the different ways they coped, communicated, or fought for greater privileges. He began writing his autobiography during this time.

Second, an amusing story. Prior to his incarceration, and during the time he ran the ANC's military wing (sabotage) he was on the run, hiding in many different places and situations. An odd African habit nearly got him caught. Evidently, some Africans like sour milk, also called amasi. This is essentially unpasterized milk left in the sun to curdle. Mandela was hiding in a comrade's apartment in a white neighborhood. He left a glass bottle of milk on a sunny window sill to curdle and become creamy. He later overheard two Zulu workers comment that it was strange to see milk on the window sill because whites don't drink amasi. It was a close call and he learned to be more careful.

Finally, Mandela sacrificed his marriages for service to his country. I did not know previously that Mandela was twice married and divorced. He admits in his autobiography that he was "married" to his country rather than to his families but this was a sacrifice he was willing to make. He worked constantly and tirelessly for freedom, but could he have done it with out ignoring his family? That's a tough question. Many "great" men have wrestled with that one.


Fredrica said...

How did Nelson Mandela keep his hope up in prison? I assume he wasn't religious?

Duncan Parlett said...

I think there were many low times but there was good commradarie in the prison and this helped a lot. Also, they decided they could continue the fight for freedom even from prison. In fact, many of the ANC leaders, such as Mandela, were able to still run certain aspects of the organizations remotely. I think this sense of purpose made a big difference.