This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for quite a while and it’s a daunting prospect as it’s 600+ pages long. However Madiba has been in hospital for over 50 days now and since he has been on my mind more than ever I thought it a better time than ever to read it.
I’m so glad I did. 600+ pages or not I have read it every night before going to bed without fail putting it down only because I could no longer keep my eyes open. He has an incredible voice and great humour. You may think that this book is only about his political life and the struggle against inequality and later Apartheid but as he explains his personal and political lives were later inextricably linked. This book is not actually about the great atrocities committed in the name of Afrikaner Apartheid. As a young South African I know from history classes that a great deal of the violence has been left out. What he communicates, though, is his philosophy, his character, how he came to be the leader of the struggle.
I loved this book. I loved it because of all the culture he tells us about, all the stories from South Africa long gone. I enjoyed hearing what times were like in those days especially for a Xhosa man in the Transkei. He has such a wealth of cultural knowledge and that was one of the parts of the book I loved the most. I particularly enjoyed the part where he talks of the great Xhosa Commander of the Xhosa army fighting in the 4th Xhosa War. A man 6 feet tall called Nxele (aka Makanna) who was banished to Robben Island. He tried to escape the island by boat but drowned and since then “…the memory of that loss is woven into the language of my [Xhosa] people who speak of a ‘forlorn hope’ by the phrase Ukuza kuka Nxele…” Naturally it was very interesting to read what part each of the great men in the struggle played. Hearing about those times through Madiba’s eyes was incredibly eye opening.
This book is about the man, the real man. Not the man we think we know or the man Madiba has been made out to be. He was not this perfect idol but he was indeed a great man as well as a normal man. This book is him setting the record straight in a sense. So we would know him in context. The message I received was that he never intended to dedicate his life so wholly to the struggle it turned out that way because he simply could not turn away from it but that it had nevertheless been a long and difficult struggle – a long walk to freedom – with a great many sacrifices. This is without doubt the most interesting and captivating autobiography I have and will ever read. Every South African must read this book in fact every person from the African continent must read this book. If you have any interest in Nelson Mandela or South Africa, you must read this book. I highly recommend it.