Summary of Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela


This essay is all about summarising Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. The summary is presented in the succinct paragraphs below. I hope this summary serves you as an amenity to understand Long Walk to Freedom. Let’s read the synopsis first.

Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the Thembu Dynasty that was the ruling family in Transkei. His original name was Rolihlahla and later he was named Nelson Mandela by his school teacher. He fought against the apartheid government in South Africa and finally overthrew the apartheid and got an opportunity to serve as the president of South Africa. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his unwavering struggle for inclusive democracy and peace. His biography, Nelson Mandela: The Herald of Freedom, introduces him as follows:

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born 18 July 1918) served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 . . . Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC)… Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years in Robben Island. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. (9)

Therefore, Mandela was a freedom fighter, people elected president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He spent his twenty-seven years of more productive age in prison in the struggle against the racist ruling system. But he was never corrupted by the feeling of revenge against the oppressors, rather he played a significant role as a negotiator among the diverse South African Society.

Long walk to Freedom (1994) is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. He began writing this autobiography when he was in the prison of Robben Island which covers his life from childhood to presidency. Similarly, this book can be considered as the entire story of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa because it provides details of every character and event that contributed to the struggle. Thomas de Monchaux comments on the autobiography as: “But the book also paints a picture of Mandela’s life before and after that period of long imprisonment, and reveals a sense of the patient, persistent, observant, distant, and wry man behind the national symbol” (287). This statement also summarizes the most important events as well as the turning point in Mandela’s life. This autobiography is concerned more with the society and history of South Africa rather than the personal record of Mandela.

Long Walk to Freedom was written when Africa was colonized by Dutch White rulers called Afrikaners. Native people were denied equal education, voting rights and even the ownership of land. They had to carry passes to travel even inside their own country. The rulers used to justify their mission as a mission of civilizing native people. Internationally, Mandela was born just after the Russian revolution in 1917 AD and during the massive World War-I. As a young boy he also experienced involvement of South Africa in the World War-II. Similarly, he also observed the Communist revolution in China in 1949. Mandela’s life also experienced the Cold war between the Soviet Union-led communists nations and the United States of America-led countries of the west and the Vietnam war. The cold war effects were also playing important role to provoke the anti-apartheid directly or indirectly. The Western interest to prevent communist influence in Africa was also involved in the rise and fall of the anti-apartheid movement. Similarly, the independence of South Africa’s neighbouring countries and rise of the radical Marxist government were also crucial things in the movement.

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Mandela started writing this autobiography in his fifty-seventh in 1975 when he was passing his life imprisonment in the prison of Robben Island. He tells us that he had a connection with Thembu royal house and also clarifies that he was not the heir to the throne. He was born at Mvezo, a tiny village at the bank of Mbashe river in the district of Umtata, the capital of Transkei. Mandela’s father was chief by blood and custom and was not only an advisor of the king rather he played decisive roles in nominating Jongintaba as the chief of Transkei.. Nelson was his name given by a teacher in the school. After his father’s death when he was small, he was offered a guardianship by Jongintaba leading life towards an unexpected direction.

While adapting himself with the life of Great Palace Mandela also learned traditional Thembu leadership skills from the environment of the Great Palace. At the age of sixteen, he was admitted to the Institute of Clarkebury, the highest institute of learning for Africans in Thembuland. When he was nineteen, he joined Wesleyan college at Healdtown. Then, he was accepted by the university college of Fort Hare which was like Oxford and Cambridge for African students. All those schools were Methodist mission schools. As he insisted on not withdrawing the decision of resigning from the student’s union, he was expelled from college before completing a BA degree. When he returned to Mqhekezweni, the regent decided to arrange his and Justice’s marriage and even sent the bride price. Both Justice and Mandela escaped to Johannesburg to avoid their marriage. They reached Johannesburg and worked in the gold mine until leaving the mine for telling lie about the reason for their visit to Johannesburg. Then, Mandela joined a law farm named ‘Sidelsky and Eidelman’ with the help of one of his cousins.

After a frequent interaction with communists and ANC activists finally, Mandela decided to remain detached from the Royal house of Transkei. At the end of 1942, Mandela reappeared the examination and passed the BA.  Then, Gur started persuading him to join the African National Congress. Gur’s commitment to the freedom struggle also impressed him. In the meantime, Mandela also joined Witwatersrand for a bachelor of law degree. He was only one African student in the faculty. Dr. Xuma was president of ANC at that time and youths wanted to form its youth league. Mandela was its young member and opposed the idea of including whites and communists in the movement. Mine worker’s strike in 1946 helped to shape his political career. In the general election of 1948, the Anti-British National Party got the victory. Mandela read communists’ ideology and became ready to co-operate with them in the freedom struggle. In 1950 government passed the Population Registration Act and classified people on the basis of their race. And separated people from one community to next by bringing another act, Group Area Act. Opponents of government were defined as communists and penalized under the suppression of Communism Act. Mandela became one of the four deputy presidents of ANC under the presidency of Chief Luthuli at the annual conference in 1952.

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Meanwhile, ANC had to operate underground due to the ban order. In 1951, Mandela completed his articles and left ‘Sidelsky and Eidelman’ and opened his own law farm relieving South African people from racist law farms operated by the Whites. At the same time, the government established Bantustans to suppress the voice for democracy. On 5 November, Mandela was arrested for high treason and taken to Marshal Square prison, where he had also spent a few nights in 1952 during the Defiance Campaign. Soon after they were moved to Johannesburg prison popularly known as Fort. After two weeks in prison, they were taken to the court and on the fourth they all of them were released on bail. After thirteen months of preparatory examinations, the magistrate ruled that he had found sufficient reason for putting them on trial in the supreme court for high treason. In 1958, after six months of preparatory hearings, Mandela and his comrades’ trial began. Most of the judges in the court had close ties with the ruling party of South Africa. In 1959, a new political party Pan-African Congress established vehemently opposing the multiculturalism adopted by ANC.

In 1959, parliament passed the Bantu Self-government Act createing eight separate ethnic Bantustans confining seventy percent of the population within thirteen percent of the land along with the provision that the Africans would get citizenship only in their homeland. At the same time government also introduced Extension of University Education Act to bar non-White students from racially open universities. On 3 August 1959, two years and eight months after their arrest the real trial commenced in Pretoria. Prosecutors collected all the documents written; speeches delivered by ANC leaders as evidence to prove them guilty. On 8 April, both ANC and PAC were declared as illegal organizations under the Suppression of Communism Act. On 29 March 1961, all the prisoners including Mandela were found not guilty by the court’s decision and were discharged from the prison. Shortly after the verdict, Mandela went underground to conduct the struggle. The second meeting of ANC in 1961 accepted Mandela’s proposal to move to the armed struggle through its youth organization i.e. Umkhonto we Sizwe or MK for short. They planned four steps of violent activities to weaken the economy in any way.

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After returning from the long visit in different African nations, Mandela wanted to rethink ANC’s alliance with Whites and communists, which Chief Luthuli and other members of ANC sharply rejected. Mandela got arrested again with the charge of ‘inciting African workers to strike and leaving the country without any valid travel document’. This time, Mandela was sentenced three years for inciting workers to strike and two years for leaving the country without any valid travel document. He was directly taken to the Pretoria Local from the court. In 1963, Mandela and the other three prisoners were transferred to the prison of Robben Island. Mandela was again returned back to Pretoria showing the reason that he was under the threat of PAC prisoners. After nine months in prison, Mandela and his comrades have again appeared in court as their secret documents were found during Rivonia Raid. Mandela and his comrades were taken to the supreme court in Pretoria, which is popularly known as Rivonia ‘Trial’. On 12 June 1964, Mandela and his comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment and again he was taken to Robben Island.

After the Rivonia Trial, the underground structure of ANC had been uprooted. After a few years, it had been revived again and an armed struggle began across Southern Africa from the middle of the 1960s. In later years the environment of the prison had become a bit liberal. Robben Island was considered to be a university at that time because many prisoners had received university degree and so much knowledge was exchanged among the prisoners.  In 1975, Kathy and Walter planned to celebrate Mandela’s fifty-seventh birthday by beginning to write Mandela’s memoirs to be published on the sixtieth birthday. The aim of writing was to be connected with the public. Mandela wrote it and buried under the wall. Later it was discovered by the authority and even the study privileges granted for them were banned for four years. During the Robben Island, years minister offered him to return to Transkei and take a long rest, but Mandela Refused.

Despite some hope of negotiation Mandela was refused the permission to accept Jawaharlal Nehru Human Rights Prize and Oliver Tambo had to accept it. Then, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor prison with more facilities than before and contact visits were also granted in 1984. In Mandela’s seventy-first birthday, the entire family was allowed to visit him. In the meantime, PM Botha resigned and F.W. de Klerk became the Prime Minister. On 10 Oct., de Klerk released Walter Sisulu and seven other prisoners. In 1993, Mandela was awarded Nobel Peace Prize jointly with President F.W. de Klerk. The first election with voting rights for all adult voters of South Africa in April 1994 gave a majority to ANC and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the president of democratic South Africa on 10 May 1994.


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