The first time I heard about apartheid was back in elementary school in my history class when we were learning about African Colonization History. All we learned in class was more of a three-act story; how South Africa failed under the bores, how apartheid slowly and brutally diffused and in the end how South Africa was freed. On top of that, we were thought about the great leader Nelson Mandela and how he stayed in prison for more than 27 years fighting for his people’s freedom.
But reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, enlightened me not only about the freedom movements and the dark apartheid system but also finally proved to me that Mandela was an ordinary person who chose to become the person he is today which in the end made him a legend and a myth.
The best part of the book for me was that it introduced me Mandela as a person; not only as the politician and the freedom fighter Nelson Mandela but I also got to know the personal ups and downs he encountered starting from the days he used to be a shepherded in Transkei to the moment he chose his career and to the time he was imprisoned for life and until the day he was elected as a president.
The book has a total of 630 pages that tell captivating stories starting from his very childhood until the day he became a democratically elected president. Generally it is a 76 years journey of an average person who chooses to follow his passion as well as a 50 years plus journey of a freedom fighter who dedicated his life to his people even though he could have lived otherwise.
Mandela never had the chance to go to school until the age of seven and he was just a country shepherd in Transkei who had no idea about the vast world outside, let alone practicing law and being involved in politics and ending up leading a nation as big and complex as South Africa. Even after he finished high school and joined college to study law, he went through many dark days which he refused to give in for. He walked 12 miles per day to save a bus fare, he used candle light to study until he completed college, he wore an old suit his boss gave him for 5 years straight, “In the end of the fifth year, it was more patches than a suit.” he said on his book (Part Two, Johannesburg, page 67), he fall in love two times with two different women in two different times, he went through the dreadful divorce process with his first wife Evelyn because in the end they found themselves in different sides of life where none of them were in a position to accommodate each other’s needs.
Sometimes he doubted himself wondering if he has made the right decision in his life and if it was worth the pain of being away from immediate relatives, family and children, he fall in love again and got married for the second time with Winnie who became his right hand who never failed to stand by his side tolerating the government assaults and countless psychological traumas just for being his wife and sometimes taking part in the anti-apartheid movements, he was allowed to have visitors only once in six months when he was in Robben Island (and when he had visitors after that long, they were only allowed to see each other through thick glass windows under the surveillance of a prison guard), he was not given permission to attend the burial of his eldest son followed by his mother who both passed away when he was in prison, and so and so. These and many other stories in his book are the ones that inspired me the most and showed me the very personal side of the great Nelson Mandela who will most likely be a myth years from now, for the great leadership skills he had that finally freed South Africa.
Furthermore, Mandela briefly and repeatedly told the stories of his colleagues, comrades and friends who were also the very big part of the journey and who were holding hands through thick and thin. He was inspired by them as they were always inspired him; they were his strength and his other halves where Mandela himself admitted that the journey wouldn’t have ended the way it did had it not been for them. So in the end I understood that the final result of the freedom was basically the sum of courageous and extra ordinary leadership skill in combination with undying and realistic ambition along with optimism and preservation.