Book review: Long walk to freedom

Whenever I visit a new city/country, I always tend go online weeks prior & book a walking tour with a local. On these trips, they normally take us around the popular & not-so popular landmarks in the city, telling about the myths, stories and history of the city & landmarks.

Hearing the history of the cities normally made me think of my own country’s history and whether I actually know much about it to really tell others the facts, as these locals. The answer was My curiosity grew that much and inspired me go on and purchase Nelson Mandela’s book ‘Long walk to freedom’ as a start.

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This book takes you on a journey and see the history of the South African apartheid era through someone’s eyes that lived during that time. You get to see what SA looked like back in those days, the turmoil that was endured by a nation, simply because of the color of their skin. But those oppressed fought for our freedom, many have lost their lives in doing so, but in the end rose victorious in that struggle. We are indeed free!

What an incredible trip back in time & through time. I recommend this book to all historian book lovers. I am not going to go into the exact details of the content/biography of the book, as these can be found when you read the book, summaries thereof online, such as Wikipedia.

Before reading this book I had quite a few questions that I wanted answered, which are as follow:

Q: If non-whites were oppressed, not even allowed to walk around freely anywhere, how did he get the opportunity to study & become a lawyer?

A: After his father passed away he went to go live with a chief, who could afford to send him to a good school, as well as tertiary education. The chief had a good reputation and this also helped him get into the better school and the University of Fort Hare. He got the opportunity to work at a law firm in Johannesburg and after a number of years of working, opened his own law practice with his good friend, Oliver Tambo. During his time in prison on Robben Island he also got the opportunity to continue his studies in the law faculty at the University of London.

Q: What does life underground really mean – how did they hide in plain sight?

A: He was acting as a farm worker when on a farm, a chauffeur when he was driving, gardener when he was just outside, practically blend into the environment he found himself in. He also grew his beard and hair to appear different and did not stay too long in one place. He also got a fake pass with another name and made people believe that he was then a David. 

Q: How did he fight in the struggle whilst being in prison?

A: He was not actively fighting the cause on the outside, during the majority of his prison life. The government did a good job keeping them out of touch of what was happening on the outside – deprive them from reading news papers (it is remarkable how they managed to get hold of the daily news during that time), limiting letters (two per year and cutting out most of the content thereof, as they feel that it is not appropriate content), limiting and sabotaging visitations. The next book that i am interested in reading is Oliver Tambo’s autobiography, as he was the president of the ANC during the time that Mandela was in jail and would probably best describe the dealings during that time, such as the uprising of the youth of 1976. Nelson Mandela also fought a lot of battles inside prison – better food, long trousers, opportunity to study, defend himself and other prisoners during court cases, mediate between the prisoners and prison personnel.

Q: Why him? How did that first negotiations begin with the government?

A: Reading the book, it was clear that he was set aside to be that one – everything in life prepared him to be the most famous freedom fighter. His walk was stern, but graceful, he fought against the unjust, but without violence. He was always selected to be the spokesperson by the prisoners, to speak to the authorities, as well as the reporters  that came to visit the prison. During these interactions, he was always poise and communicated his message well and in an intelligent manner. Due to this the authorities saw him as one that could be negotiated with. They slowly tried to integrate him back into society – transferred him and other political prisoners to a bigger and more comfortable prison, named Polsmoor, the warders took him for a ride around town without handcuffs every so often and ultimately in a beautiful two bedroom house, with a chef.

Q: How was he able to forgive and convince an entire country to forgive all the hardships they had to endure?

A: Nelson Mandela just has a presence of reasonableness and had the ability to convince a nation to be better. Like he said himself, it was Gods work in his life.DSC00214

Two things I did not expect before reading this book:

1. I knew Nelson Mandela was an intelligent man, but the words that he used in this book was honestly words I had never heard about in my life. I had to keep my dictionary by my side every time i open this book, because almost every other page there was a word i did not know. This book really expanded my vocabulary. Words such as

  • portentously – done in a pompously or overly solemn manner so as to impress
  • vociferously – expressing or characterized by vehement opinions; loud and forceful
  • stoically – without showing one’s feelings or complaining about pain or hardship
  • surreptitious – kept secret, especially because it would not be approved of

2. All the coincidences or are they? I am a firm believer that nothing is coincidental and everything happens for a reason and i found myself nodding every time i realise what happened previously that prepared him for what he was facing at that time. If he wasn’t on trial or prison he would not have built good reputation with the government to start negotiations. If he did not practise law and the courts did not know what kind of a man he was, his trials would have been much tougher. If he did not open his own law firm with a friend, he probably would not have gotten such a lot of popularity amongst the people that ended up fighting to get him out of prison. Without studying law he would not have known how to strategically defend himself and other whilst on trial/specially the Rivonia trial. If his father had not passed he would not have gone to live with the chief and probably would not have gotten the opportunities to good school and university. If his father was not smart and an adviser to the chief and took an unpopular decision, which ended up the correct one, he would probably not have been in the position to negotiate with the chief to take his son in.

It took me about 5-6 weeks to read all 751 pages of this book and every second of this journey was incredibly insightful.

May your soul rest in peace Tata Madiba! As South Africans, we are forever thankful for your role that you played to see s through the apartheid era. Due to your selfless fight, i can sit in the trains and busses in Europe to & fro work, reading about your amazing journey.

” It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

“Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another… The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!” – Nelson Mandela (10 May 1994)


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