One of the fascinating stories of the 20th century is the story of Nelson Mandela and the fight for freedom by blacks in South Africa.
This is Mandela’s autobiography. He was born in a rural village with a poor, but happy childhood. He was able to get an education and then pursued a law degree in Johannesburg. He practices law for a number of years, but his primary passion and engagement is in the struggle against apartheid. Apartheid was the systematic government policy which denied blacks in South Africa of many basic freedoms, including the right to vote. Mandela joins the African National Congress, or ANC, which led the fight against racial injustice in South Africa over an 80 year period. Mandela not only becomes involved with ANC, but he has increasing influence and becomes one of the central figures in the ANC.
At one point Mandela faces arrest because of his involvement in the fight, and he flees from the police. He lives as a fugitive in his own country, and then in exile outside South Africa. Shortly after his return he is captured and arrested.
Mandela would serve 27 years in prison, from age 44 to age 71! Most of this time was spent on an island prison off the coast of Cape Town.
Eventually, because of internal opposition and international pressure, the South African government agrees to negotiate with the ANC for a new government. Mandela leads this negotiation process for the ANC, first while he is in prison and then after his release.
In 1993 blacks in South Africa were allowed to vote for the first time. Not only did the ANC win a majority of the seats in parliament, but Nelson Mandela was elected as president. By this time Mandela was famous throughout the world and had met with many world leaders, including the U.S. president.
How did Mandela achieve this extraordinary accomplishment? First of all, he did not do it by himself, he was part of a team, a team that led a large movement. He was the consensus leader.
Moreover, Mandela and others were indefatigable in their struggle against racial injustice. They simply would not give up and they were willing to pay any price and make any sacrifice.
Mandela was a man of character, of principle, of honor. He was courageous in the battle.
Interestingly, Mandela has a surprising amount of humility. Throughout the book, he understates his role in the struggle and magnifies the role of others. I think he truly saw himself as a servant of the people and not the hero of the people.
Certainly, he and his family paid a high price for this fight. He never lived a normal family life, as he was always engaged in the fight against injustice. He would spend most of his life away from his family – either working in the cause, living in hiding or exile, or his 27 years in prison.
I might note that Mandela did consider himself to be a Christian – specifically a Methodist. However, there is no evidence in the book of him pursuing the Lord.
For a long time I’ve wanted to read this book because Mandela has made such a profound impact upon our world. I would say the book is good, perhaps even quite good, but not a great book. He was a great man, though, and it was fascinating to learn his story.