Review of Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

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This article aims to shed light on how scholars and critics have carried out reviews on Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. It promises you with succinct and worth reading reviews. Certainly, it helps you with understanding Mandela through Long Walk to Freedom.

Many critics have examined the Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Many of them have analyzed it from the autobiographical point of view and some have analysed it from the historical perspective. Critics have mostly been attracted to Mandela’s sacrifice for bringing democracy. Similarly, some of them have analysed Mandela as a figure above then the status of a normal human being. Munzhedzi James Mafela has examined the Long Walk to Freedom that it is not only the narrative of a person’s experiences rather it carries the combination of political, cultural and educational change in South Africa. Likewise, Keith Somerville presents Mandela as a symbol of struggle against racism both inside and outside South Africa. On the other hand, Martin Legassick found that Mandela lived more for others than for himself, which he had learned in Robben Island. According to Legassick. Similarly, Havidan Rodriguez finds that Nelson Mandela’s convergence with ANC, anti-apartheid movement and international force turned the apartheid down and led to democracy. Another scholar Thomas de Monchaux compares Mandela with 16th US president Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery from the United States of America and moved a step to ensure human rights for all. Mark O Hatfield sheds light on Mandela’s unwavering dedication to the anti-apartheid movement despite his ups and downs in his personal life. Willie Henderson analyses Mandela’s critical and objective personality. And Elleke Boehmer calls Long Walk to Freedom a convergence of Mandela’s personal story and history of South Africa which was yet to be built.  

Critics have called Mandela as a true leader who can liberate people from unbearable trouble, defeat divisive ideologies and bring different faiths of people to join hand in hand for a prosperous, democratic and harmonious nation. For instance, Thomas de Monchaux presents Mandela as an emancipator and negotiator among various thoughts, ideologies, and origins of people. He sheds light on the part Mandela played in a play when he was a student at Fort Hare, although Mandela had played the role of Lincoln’s assassin. He compares Mandela with Abraham Lincoln, US president and liberator of African Americans from racial discrimination. Throughout this article Monchaux focuses on Mandela’s role as a freedom fighter. Monchaux compares Mandela with Lincoln as, “Both men have been called great emancipators and fathers of their nations; Mandela, like Lincoln, is attempting to bring a democratic nation together out of a land that has been fragmented by racism, regionalism, and violence” (286). Therefore, Monchaux wants to present Mandela as a political leader who led South Africa to a common ground the citizens of different backgrounds.

Besides Mandela’s leadership, some critics treat Long Walk to Freedom as a representative voice of entire South Africa, which tells the different facets of South African culture and lifestyle. For example, Munzhedzi James Mafela focuses on the representation of South African culture in Long Walk to Freedom. For Mafela, long walk to freedom is not only a story of personal experience rather a collective story of South African people. According to him, this autobiography covers every cultural aspect and lifestyle of African people. Although Mandela is talking about his own experience as a Thembu boy, his experiences have so much commonality with the living standard of South African people living under the apartheid regime. The exploitation of their natural resources, deprivation of human rights, racial violence and imposition of Western culture in the name of superiority was almost the same. Mafela analyses the autobiography as, “Besides revealing the oppression he and his people experienced, the narrative reveals many cultural matters such as those affecting the institution of marriage, running a homestead, the life of a boy in a rural area, the role of women in the family and kinship relations” (99). Therefore, Mafela highlights the way Mandela represents African culture from the upbringing of a country boy to kinship and gender relations that are completely different from Western culture.

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Alongside, some critics center around Mandela’s courage to dominate his individual and family matters for the sake of national and humanitarian ethos. For instance, Mark O Hatfield’s review “The Indispensable Man” focuses on Mandela’s strength to overcome different family tragedies and long separation from family members for the shake of democracy. Mandela had to leave his first wife for his dedication to the anti-apartheid movement. Besides he also lost his mother and a son during his life in prison. Along with that he also suffered tuberculosis because of cold in prison cell. Despite those many challenges he never gave up the struggle to liberate his people. Hatfield reviews the book as, “Mandela endured decades of incarceration, the crumbling of two marriages, heart-wrenching separations from his family (including, most poignantly, the death of his mother while he was behind bars), and about of tuberculosis brought on by damp prison cells, and emerged from it all, remarkably, with malice toward none” (169). This is what tells us Mandela’s persistence and patience for dismantling the apartheid regime and introducing the democratic society. Mandela suffered so much physical and mental torture both from family and outside but continued his journey to justice, humanity and right.

On the other hand, some of the critics have analyzed Mandela’s days in Prison Days in a positive sense that it taught them good skills that a true leader needs to have. They find that torture and interaction with people from different origins taught Mandela the value of unity among diversity. For example, Martin Legassick examines the Long Walk to Freedom and concludes that Nelson Mandela dedicated his entire life for others rather than for himself. Legassick is also closer to Somerville in the sense that Mandela gathered knowledge for struggle and leadership from prison. And the leadership skills learned in the prison of Robben Island are found throughout the story in the autobiography. Legassick’s comment on the Long Walk to Freedom and Mandela’s personality goes like this, “It seems it was also through his experiences on the Island that there was consolidated in Mandela that generosity of spirit, the ability to get into the mind of and to live for others that percolates from one end of the narrative to the other” (446). It says that imprisonment gave Mandela so much about leadership skills and courage, along with the tortures, to dedicate his priceless life for others.

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Moreover, some other critics have stressed on the favorable national and international environment that helped Mandela to introduce more tolerant and democratic South Africa. This shows that Mandela was a key figure but many other factors have a significant amount of contribution at the last moment of the struggle. For instance, Havidan Rodriguez sheds light on Mandela’s good co-operation with other leaders of the movement, common people and the international community. Such a good combination of Mandela with other stakeholders led South Africa to the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of inclusive democracy. It ensured the participation of different communities into the different institution of South Africa:

Similar circumstances emerged in South Africa, with the convergence of African National Congress (ANC), the leadership of prominent figures such as Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid movements and protests, and international pressures aimed at elimination of apartheid, leading to the development of a process leading towards democracy and democratic participation in South Africa”. (395)

Although so many factors contributed to overthrow the apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s name is highlighted as a prominent figure in the movement. Mandela’s initiation led the anti-apartheid movement to the summit.

On the other hand, critics also pose Mandela more than a common individual. His fame across the world despite the state’s continuous suppression of voice is counted as Godly position. Because of his unyielding stand for truth and justice, his voice easily crossed the concrete walls of different prisons and even the nation’s border. For example, Keith Somerville locates Mandela above human beings. Though he was imprisoned for almost three decades, his enthusiasm and dedication to democracy were never confined. During the imprisonment, he kept on gathering support and sympathy from around the world. As Somerville examines the autobiography, “He became more a myth than a man. The power of example reached out from his cell on Robben Island, and later Pollsmoor Prison, to encourage resistance and struggle within and among South African exiles and to demand and receive the solidarity of millions around the world who supported the fight against racism and repression” (60).

Therefore, Somerville’s idea tells us that Mandela was an extraordinary personality, who connected himself around the world crossing the walls of prison through his vision for inclusive democracy. The imprisonment made him stronger to gather national and international support for the anti-apartheid movement.

Many critics have read this text as a personal narrative that reveals the formation of the inner content of subjectivity on the part of the author. The author’s personal quest to free his nation also represents the melting down of two layers in the formation of the subject: personal and political. The political Mandela arises from the personal endeavor to free the nation from British rule. For instance, Elleke Boehmer opines that Long Walk to Freedom is a convergence of personal account of Mandela and his nation which was yet to be built and also believes that people outside and inside Africa regard him as an incarnation of the nation. In this way, Boehmer takes this autobiography as a text that has a national history along with a personal story. Boehmer opines:

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Long Walk to Freedom emphasizes, in particular, the convergence between the individual life and the story of the coming-into-being of the nation, here specifically the story of anti-apartheid resistance. This convergence indeed confirms the convinced view of South Africans and non-South Africans alike that Mandela or Madiba (‘old man’, a customary term of respect) is, in fact, an incarnation of the nation. (72)

Boehmer focuses on the historical side of Long Walk to Freedom. His account of this autobiography regards its historical piece of the nation rather than a personal record because it carries national issues more than personal issues.

Furthermore, critics have also examined Mandela’s selfless and unbiased eyes towards truth. Neither he raised voice only of his community nor looked upon other community with hatred and feeling of revenge, rather he accepted the value of every South African in nation-building. Willie Henderson sheds light on Mandela’s critical behavior to every person and institution. According to him, Mandela’s treatment to any other was not guided by biases, rather he always examined things on the basis of the system they were functioning in. He saw fault in the system and mindset, not in the race itself. For him, Mindset matters more than skin color and origin. As Henderson analyses Mandela’s personality, “Mandela’s respect for others, his thoughtful judgements and generosity, the positive as well as critical statement about Afrikaners, the careful consideration of his relationship with the communists, his sense of outrage and of discretion, of himself and of his public duty, are all embodied in the writing” (293).

In this respect, Mandela looks at an objective man who judges things on the basis of their effects rather than biases. He does not judge others in a wholesale manner, rather looks into small parts that are important.

Many critics have examined Long Walk to Freedom, but nobody raised the issue of tension between tradition and modernity. Munzhedzi James Mafela has examined Long Walk to Freedom that it is not only the narrative of a person’s experiences rather it carries the combination of political, cultural and educational change in South Africa. Likewise, Keith Somerville presents Mandela as a symbol of struggle against racism both inside and outside South Africa. On the other hand, Martin Legassick found that Mandela lived more for others than for himself, which he had learned in Robben Island. According to Legassick. Similarly, Havidan Rodriguez finds that Nelson Mandela’s convergence with ANC, anti-apartheid movement and international force turned the apartheid down and led to democracy. Another scholar Thomas de Monchaux compares Mandela with 16th US president Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery from the United States of America and moved a step to ensure human rights for all. Mark O Hatfield sheds light on Mandela’s unwavering dedication to the anti-apartheid movement despite his ups and downs in his personal life. Willie Henderson analyses Mandela’s critical and objective personality. And Elleke Boehmer calls Long Walk to Freedom a convergence of Mandela’s personal story and history of South Africa which was yet to be built.  

Written by Bharat Kumar Karki

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