The darkest moments in humanities history often reveals the brightest of stars. The 20st century was full of these stars, whether war heroes like Dwight Eisenhower, equality activists like Martin Luther King Jr., or Neil Armstrong who showcased that we can put a man on the moon, these guys are what make America such a wonderful place to live in. But America is not the only breeding ground for humanities finest, during one of the darkest times of Africa’s history, Nelson Mandela, rose above and fought for a better, freer South Africa.
I first heard of Mandela when I was playing apples to apples in seventh grade. Not to the surprise of people that no me, I had no idea who he was, and did not pursue knowledge of him either. In tenth grade, my world history class spent about a week on the apartheid that occurred in South Africa, it was then that Mandela came up again; this time, the name was going to stay in my mind.
Mandela’s story is a remarkable one. He started as a member of a royal family in a small South African town, but then got involved with politics. Mandela focused on working toward the liberation of South Africa. The roots of this conflict lead back to the dutch coming to South Africa in 1650’s. After a couple hundred years, dutch farmers, born in South Africa became known as Boers or Afrikaners. They fought with the British in the 19th century who came to occupy South Africa (because of its strategic trade position at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa was highly desirable land). The Zulu’s or native South African people drew the shortest stick, and were further pushed back and enslaved by the Dutch and British. In the early 20th century the British and Afrikaner parties worked together divvying up territory and joint ruling, leaving the majority Zulu population behind. The first major articles of segregation legislation started to pass, and the apartheid era was beginning. It was up to Mandela to stop it.
In 1948, the Afrikaner-majority political group, that supported the apartheid and segregation, was elected to office. By now, South Africa was heavily segregated. Mandela, a member of the African National Congress, ANC, used his political office to protest against the segregative government. For his activities, Mandela was incarcerated and sent to prison in 1964. During this time, the government thought sending Mandela to jail would stop his growing public support, in fact, the opposite happened; Mandela used his time in prison to write detailed letters to the people, building more and more support. When Mandela walked free in 1990, he had huge support in the multi-racial movement. The following four years, Mandela struggled to fully unite the people, but in 1994, in the first free, multi-racial election, the ANC was elected as the political group, and Mandela President of South Africa. Mandela used his time in office to end the apartheid completely and unite South Africa.
That is, in brief, who Nelson Mandela is. I came across a news article of this new book about Mandela that included various writings from throughout his life, working more on his personal side. A Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela’s autobiography, was published a few years ago, but I never picked up a copy and read it. I thought that I should give this new one, Conversations with Myself a read.
I expected that this book would be written by Mandela, sort of like a second autobiography. Within reason, the book is an autobiography, and written by Mandela, but really it isn’t. A team of writers gathered hundreds of Mandela’s diary entries from all over the years, organized them by four themes, not chronologically, which I think makes the book more difficult to understand, and then published it. The actual entries are wonderful, Mandela is a gifted writer with a strong sense of voice and attitude in each writing. The problem though, half of the entries I have no idea what Mandela is talking about or what is going on at that time. The compilers could have added some more commentary between the entries to explain, but didn’t. One other thing worth mentioning, President Obama ‘wrote’ the foreward for the book. Of all the people out there, I don’t think Obama was the right choice. I respect it, but don’t like it. Just doesn’t feel right for this because the U.S. never really supported Mandela until very recently. It was actually our CIA that helped the Afrikaners arrest Mandela in 62′. Since the book requires a heavy understanding of Mandela’s life, and jumps around quite a bit, this book couldn’t get the perfect rating. If your familiar with the apartheid in South Africa, this book is probably perfect for you, if you, like me, just have general knowledge on the subject, I would spend the time and money on Mandela’s actual autobiography.