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Long Walk to Freedom The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela; the former president of South Africa Written by: Mielad Al Oudt Allah Main points covered in the essay: Preparing a leader Mandela’s walk of struggle South Africa: the end of the crisis Non-violent mass struggle; a strategy not a solution Applied lessons to the situation in the Middle East Mandela: the real fighter How the book affected my life The Essay: In a world where frontiers are growing apart while people are getting more and more together, everyday there is an emergence of new born heroes and new experiences that can be considered as higher examples for the seekers of freedom and liberation around the world. Taking into consideration the oppression and the domination that prevailed in South Africa for decades of time, one can say that the existing harmony among all different South African people is a remarkable achievement that needs to be highlighted. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography sheds the light on a part of this achievement and is considered as a call for other nations around the world to pursue their own real freedom. The struggle of the African National Congress Party, to which Mandela belonged, is also a milestone in the history of fighting for the freedom of all people and not just the freedom of a particular race or colour. In his statement: “Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me” Mandela takes the hand of the reader and shows him that everyone is equally subject to oppression and that liberation is a collective need. 1 When Mandela became the president of South Africa, he delivered a speech to his people telling them that he was merely a normal human being just like they were, and that only the conditions that he encountered during his life had made him the person he became. His book “Long Walk to Freedom” managed to convince me that inside each of us there is a hidden “Mandela” waiting for the right moment or the right circumstances to emerge. And this was manifested in Mandela’s vision about the potentials locked up deep inside each human being that are waiting for a wake up call to be pushed to the surface. Hence, and by reflecting upon the South African experience, I consider this book as a wake up call, not just for me, but for every human being pursuing and fighting for his freedom. Below is the analysis of my point of view of Mandela’s life as described throughout his book and how we can all learn a lesson from this great leader: Preparing a leader: Mandela was not born in rich family, nor was he blessed with any extra ordinary privileges; on the contrary he had to work hard on everyday of his life to pursue his goals and to become the person he became. He was born in 1918 in a small village in the region of Transkei. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was designated chief of the town of Mvezo. However, and due to the death of his father in his early years and his mother’s desire to grant him a better future, Mandela had to leave behind his original town and live in a complete different environment. That experience was a main factor in building up his personality and in structuring his system of values. Thus, we see him in his book describing the influence of the democratic nature of the local gatherings in the house of Governor in Mqhekezweni on him as a young boy “where the essence of democracy means that all people enjoy the freedom of speech and that they are all equal in their values as citizens”. In his early years, Mandela was a wild young man; he elected to run away from with his friend looking for a job in the coal mines in Johannesburg because he didn’t want to marry the girl they had chosen for him. And being able to afford his studies, Mandela obtained his B.A from the University of South Africa, to operate later on the law firm of Mandela & 2 Tambo in Johannesburg providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many blacks who would otherwise have been without representation. Mandela grew up in a background where the tradition of considering the whites as better people, just because they are white, had integrated into the minds of people to the extent that they had forgotten to think of their freedom, simply because they thought they were free. However, as the years passed by, Mandela became more aware of the acts of the apartheid practiced against his African people; starting with the Bantu Education Act that was based on racist segregation, and ending up with social, juridical and political discrimination. Subsequently, and since his love for challenging and defying the impossible marked his early years, he had set himself a goal that later became the core of life; to defend and fight for the freedom of South African people. Mandela’s walk of Struggle Mandela didn’t actually “choose” to be a political activist, he rather found himself willingly and spontaneously an activist in the ANC Party; a party whose members are of all colors and races, due to the Party’s belief in the complete political equality as the solution to put an end to the racist segregation. Moreover, Mandela was a prominent member in the ANC ever since he first joined it. He contributed in establishing the Youth League and organized a number of strikes and participated in the Defiance Campaign. First he was a volunteer in the ANC along with his work as a lawyer at that time. Nevertheless, the acceleration of his struggle made him live as a fugitive who never surrendered, but who eventually got arrested and underwent many trials and thus became a national hero. In a press release he issued in 1961 he said: “I have made my choice, I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender… I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days”. The many trials Mandela and his colleagues were subject to were more like toleration tests than tools to achieve the justice. These trials lasted for so many long years during which the Government presented hundreds of evidences and too many witnesses, but each time it would meet failure or the prisoners would be convicted in simple charges for lack of evidence. One can say that Mandela and his colleagues had often managed to 3 reverse the context of the trial putting the government instead behind the bars. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case in Rivonia’s ill-fated trial where Mandela was sentenced to life time prison in charges of co-founding MK’s armed movement and planning for a guerilla war against the Regime. MK (Spear of the Nation) is the military wing of the ANC. Mandela co- founded this movement due to his urgent need of switching from the non- armed to the armed mass struggle, for having perceived that it was the only competent way to fight for freedom. MK started to organize sabotage campaign against military and government targets with the least civil casualties. During the establishment phase, Mandela toured around the African Continent seeking the financial support necessary for the activities of MK among the inclinable African Governments. Meanwhile he himself had received training in Addis Ababa, but the moment he came back from his tour he was arrested before even getting to teach his comrades what he had been trained on. Mandela was charged twice and was convicted both times, in the second (Rivonia Trail) he was sentenced to life time prison where he and other convicts were transferred to Robben Island, and thus became the world’s most famous political prisoner. Even in Robben Island, the apartheid acts were practiced as well, hence, Mandela and his colleagues decided to continue the fighting against racism but inside the prison this time. Unexpectedly, and after long years they managed to make the prison look as if the prisoners were heading the prison and not the other way around. Robben Island Prison was called the “University” because it became a school where political activists learned the political history of different parties and movements in South Africa, and where all their misconceptions were subject to a radical change. It was an opportunity for Nelson Mandela to correct what the political prisoners thought of the ANC as being controlled by the Communist Party. While in prison, things started to develop drastically, police started to arrest prominent ANC leaders and those who were not arrested managed to leave their country and flee. Meanwhile, MK accelerated the sabotage activities and the toll of armed struggle victims was gradually increasing. In the 70s the sense of rebellion started to emerge among the angry revolutionary young generation, which coincided with the emergence of the Liberation Movements across the Continent in general. 4 In his latest days in prison, Mandela believed that the ultimate solution for the crisis in his country would be a political non-militant one. Hence, he took the initiative and a series of tentative meetings took place, laying the groundwork for further contact and future negotiations with the government. Meanwhile, F.W De Klerk became the promising president of the country. South Africa: the end of the crisis Mandela learned when he took his training in Algeria that “International public opinion is sometimes worth more than a fleet of jet fighters”. Subsequently, the South African cause was a hot topic of the International public opinion after Sharpeville Massacre took place where 99 people were killed and over 400 were wounded. Voices from all over the world like the United States, the Security Council and other Governments called the National Party for achieving justice and equality among all the races in the country. Nevertheless, the National Party didn’t manage to deceive the International community by the slight amendments it had made on the segregation laws. Meanwhile, there was a controversy among the members of the ANC that lasted for decades on whether they should conduct negotiations with the racist government or not. Here, Mandela decided to take the initiative, with the International public Opinion on his side. The primary outcome of these negotiations was the release of political prisoners, putting an end to the sanction of some political organizations and the amendment of some regulations and laws. Shortly after that, Mandela was released in February 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, and the state of emergency in the country was called off along with other changes. Even though Mandela was released, he didn’t feel like he was literally free; he was unable to choose the neighborhood to live in, he didn’t have the choice of sending his grandchildren to the school he wanted, he didn’t have the right to vote, nor did he have the right to nominate himself for any elections in his country. Hence, his political struggle took a new turn; it was a time of blood shedding and violence. Here, the mounting International pressure and the ANC refusing to disclaim their core principles had paved the way to 5 setting a date for South Africa's first democratic elections in which full enfranchisement was granted on 24 April 1994. As a result, Mandela won the elections and became the first black president of South Africa. As a president, Mandela issued a work agenda that was far from being a fictitious one “do not expect to be driving a Mercedes… or swimming in your own backyard pool”. The laws of the country were changed to embody the message of the Freedom Charter of the ANC and aiming to reach a state of reconciliation and reviving the trust and harmony among all people. South Africa is still nowadays recovering from the effects of the apartheid policy, the political discrimination, and the lack of equal rights and opportunities. Non-violent mass struggle a strategy not a solution Gandhi had initiated the non-violent mass struggle while he was in Johannesburg working as a lawyer in 1906. Later, in the early years of the ANC, the Party committed itself to this same concept in its struggle against apartheid acts. However, Mandela and his comrades realized at a certain point that non- violence was a useless strategy; therefore, they suggested establishing an armed wing for the ANC. Subsequently, the MK was born and Mandela was assigned as a leader of this wing. Mandela didn’t perceive non- violence as a success talisman or a moral principle but rather as a “strategy” and thus the effectiveness of this strategy is subject to the prevailing conditions. Mandela admired Martin Luther King and Gandhi’s methods of fighting; however, he knew they were not applicable in South Africa’s case. “In India, Gandhi had been dealing with a foreign power that ultimately was more realistic and far-sighted. That was not the case with the Afrikaners in South Africa. Non-violent passive resistance is effective as long as your opponent adheres to the same rules as you do. But when peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end…... there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon”. Moreover, “the conditions in which Martin Luther King struggled were totally different from my own: the United States was a democracy with constitutional guarantees of equal rights that protected non-violent protest (though there was still prejudice against blacks), South Africa was a police state with a constitution that enshrined inequality and an army that responded to non- violence with force”. 6 In this cruel world, and as the killing is rising in Iraq, Sudan, Nepal and other spots around the world, the need for developing the non-violent culture becomes indispensable. However, the contexts in which and how the violence is used should be defined taking into account the civilians and innocent victims. This is how Mandela and his comrades had designed and oriented the MK movement for organized violence. Applied lessons to the situation in the Middle East As the tension grows in Iraq and Lebanon, and with absurdity of the Palestinian Cause, the reader can find between the lines of “Long Walk to Freedom” an implicit message addressing these global issues. In 1994, South Africa put an end to the Apartheid acts, the ANC came to power attempting to heal the wounds of the past and lead the country for a better future. The fact that colored and black people during the apartheid system, unlike the white ones, couldn't get the proper education, the health care or the equal opportunities has never set the people back from fighting for a regime that unites all colors and races in one country. Likewise, the Palestinians should realize that obtaining equal political rights is long termed fight; each Palestinian citizen should be equal to the Israeli citizen in all aspects of life. And despite Israel's and its allies around the world constant objection to grant them these rights, Palestinians should be more aware of their new goal and should initiate the struggle towards achieving it. If we carefully examine the contemporary history of South Africa, ever since the enforcement of the apartheid laws, we can detect how likely it is to today’s Israeli-Palestinian struggle; oppressing the minorities, massacres of the majority, the armed mass struggle, and the fighting of the oppressed to take the power…..etc And if we take a closer look at the details of the similarities between the two situations, it becomes clear in our minds that the only solution for this struggle would be having one united state and believing that this same struggle can at a certain point obtain the support of the Public Opinion and finally achieve the justice. Mandela, during the campaign of the first just presidential elections in South Africa, "felt that the campaign should about the future not the past". Thus, his strong powerful will is all what our Arabic-Israeli 7 struggle necessitates; to set the “better future” as our ultimate objective and work on achieving it regardless of our disagreements. South Africa is still in the process of healing the wounds of the bitter past with the help of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Hence, if people continued to be haunted by the past, Europe wouldn't have united, nor Hiroshima would have been reconstructed, and South Africa wouldn't have achieved political equality. As for Lebanon, the sectarian fanaticism had been stirred up only to enable certain parties to be in power. Thus, Lebanon is badly in need of a National Unity Government where disagreements are put aside and where everybody works for a higher collective interest. Mandela throughout his long struggle loved his enemies but hated the system that created the hatred between the people of his country. This would teach us that political systems are merely traps put to stir up the hatred and detestation among the people, and that our fight should be the one aiming to overthrow these systems. This is the lesson that Lebanon should learn from Mandela. Moreover, Mandela highlighted the "transparent chains" that detain our freedom with out seeing them. When he was young he thought he enjoyed the freedom of going back home late, of choosing who to get married with… but as he grew older, he came to realize that he and his people were far from being free. Nowadays, America aims to "spread the democracy" in the Middle East; a democracy of mere political freedom disregarding economic and other kinds of freedom. Thus, people of the region should be able to decide the kind of democracy they want to adapt, and should not agree on any pre- made imported recipes of freedom imposed by the "more developed" countries. The negotiations process with the Government that took place in South Africa was absolutely self-reliant, then why would Lebanon need an International Court in its people's search of justice while they have professional Lebanese judges? And why would we need the mediation of the United States in the Arabic-Israeli struggle when we know that America is exploiting this need to achieve its interests in the region? Countries of the Middle East should learn from the experience of South Africa how to be self reliant in solving the internal conflicts without allowing the intervention of the International Community. 8 Mandela: the real fighter It is inevitable that every real fighter shall suffer and that suffering shall become indispensable and inseparable from his walk of struggle. Likewise, Mandela, during his "long walk to freedom" suffered from imprisonment, trials, segregation laws, the separation from his family and his deprivation from living a free dignified life. In his book, Mandela describes thoroughly the inner conflict that he had to live with for so many long years. In each day of his life he wondered and questioned if he had made the right decision of choosing to fulfill his duty towards his people over fulfilling his obligations towards his family. He couldn't be at his daughter's wedding nor was he present when his mother or his two children died. His children grew up away from him, and when he finally came back to them, he was then the father for the entire nation. Mandela's fight for freedom made him once a fugitive, other time a vagabond with no home or family, he lived like a monk even though he was a lover of life and nature. Nevertheless, he fought for his own people's freedom, and while being in prison, he wrote a speech that his daughter Zindzi delivered saying "I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom". Mandela spent 27 years in a prison where one is destined to be dispossessed of his identity. However, he managed to confront everyone armed with hope and self dignity and refusing to submit to oppression or fear, and even in the moments where his trust in humanity was shaken he didn’t surrender to despair. Mandela's statement “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it” demonstrates a greatness that he shared with all great people of the 20th century like Che Guevara who fought for the social justice of South American People, Gandhi who struggled for the liberation of India in the 1920s, Martin Luther King and many other anonymous heroes who fought for the freedom of their people and their liberation from oppression and domination. 9 How the book affected my life Reading “Long Walk to Freedom” will revive the hope inside each and everyone who reads it, it is one of the few books that stimulates our revolutionary sense of struggling and fighting and declining to surrender. The book succeeds in making the reader travel through the time to picture himself by Mandela’s side during his consistent walk of struggle, challenging and defying his own imperfections not allowing them to stand in the way of his determined struggle. It teaches the reader that there is nothing “impossible” and that the consistent hard work and hope are the key elements of success at any time. I learned after reading the book that human beings, despite their differences in terms of race or mentality or culture, are capable of putting their hands together and working to achieve one higher goal, they are capable of transforming this goal into reality. The book taught me that life is full of love, and that the hatred that some societies develop towards certain groups can be transformed into love and harmony “for love comes more naturally than its opposite”. I also learned that the walk of struggle is a dangerous path with no guaranties whatsoever; human beings choose this path with full awareness that they might sacrifice their dearest and most valuable things, but they equip themselves with the faith and the belief that the future will be a better one. The book gave me the hope that all the exerted efforts during our daily struggles are never in vain. Mandela’s book is highly significant, in every page and every line there is a lesson to be learned. And as Mandela says: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb” signifying that the struggle for freedom is an infinite one. The book of the former president Nelson Mandela motivated me enormously to remain a fighter during my entire life, It was as well a source of hope and knowledge about a remarkable experience in the human history; the experience of South Africa in its struggle for freedom. - All the sentences in Italics and between converted commas are extracted from Mandela’s book 10
"Long Walk to Freedom"