Mandela Reading Week End At Timbooktoo

Wednesday, September 07, 2016
(Friday September 02, 2016 Issue)


Nelson Mandela: Speeches, Letters and Other Writers, Pearson Modern Classics, 2002, 167 pages

In 1964, a few months after Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was jailed by the Apartheid regime, a small compendium of his most notable writings and speeches was published under the arresting title NO EASY WALK TO FREEDOM. In the preface of the edition by Dr Oliver Tambo, the great anti-apartheid hero who for three decades led the ANC while Mandela was in jail, explained the long years that he and Mandela shared as professional colleagues sharing the same legal practice and also working together in the ANC as leaders of the struggle.

Now almost fifty years later, Pearson publishers have re-issued this famous collection of speeches and letters of Mandela from 1949 to 1964, edited and annotated by Professor Ato Quayson of Cambridge University.

This book is indeed a great historical document. It contains the very best of the Mandela style of speech and writing: his legal training made him a great writer and polemicist, who was able to win minds and influence people through is words, spoken or written. All the speeches in this collection are worth reading because they give the perceptive reader an insight into the mind of the freshly departed anti apartheid hero and liberation icon, who was buried a few days ago.

The last speech, the great one he made at Rivonia a few hours before he was sentenced to life in 1964 is particularly worth reading more than once. That speech which he ended by his now iconic phrase ‘But if needs be, it is an idea for which i am prepared to die’ summarises the whole history of ANC struggle against White minority rule from 1912 to 1964.

In this speech, Mandela proved to his accusers that in fact, they should have been in the dock and not him and his colleagues charged with sabotage and treason. He showed the hypocrisy of the apartheid regime: preaching anti Black sentiments to the White population of South Africa, who form a measly 10 per cent of the population, while asking or expecting Black majority to obey and die in subjugation. He used this speech (p.105) to refute the lame apartheid talk of the ANC being a communist organisation. He told his accusers all what the ANC stood for was the total liberation of all South Africans and to install a regime which did not discriminate.

Reading the speeches in this book, one also cannot lose sight of the fact that Mandela was never bitter against his oppressors, which still surprises the world as it was thought that when he was going to seek vengeance. This is why in all the eulogies paid to him last week, one strain was common: he was a forgiven man, who forgave his oppressors and jailers and forged a new South Africa after he was released and elected president in 1994.

I strongly recommend this book as weekend read in memory of our great Nelson Mandela aka MADIBA.

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