A Nation In Transition… Revisiting Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom


THE 638-page autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom, is an engrossing account of extraordinary times in an extraordinary country; it’s about the trials and triumphs of the human spirit, the paradox of the inherent capacity of man for good or evil, accentuated by circumstances of his time and a sombre reminder that freedom is never delivered to a people on a platter of gold.

Democracy in recession This review comes on the heels of disconcerting incidents in South Africa. The horrifying scenes of opposition MPs being forced out of parliament by armed security officers for insisting President Jacob Zuma respond to the question on his alleged corruption scandal during his state address in February, 2015.

The release in June, 2015 of the report of inquiry into Marikana massacre of August, 2012, which left 34 protesting miners dead from police bullets.

One recalls that ominous discussion at the Editorial Board, the synopsis of which was published on April 20, 2009, two days to the general election in the former apartheid enclave, titled, “Jacob Zuma: As South Africa’s President?” “…

we are more exercised about the likely emergence of a president who is allegedly engulfed in a series of scandals such as racketeering, money laundering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion…

It would have been preferable if Jacob Zuma, in the interest of the ANC, South African democracy and African democracy – in general – had stepped down from the race to the presidency and allowed a candidate without any ‘cloud of suspicion hanging over him’ to lead South Africa into the next decade… Finally, we urge South African voters to vote wisely.

Ultimately, they will have to live with the consequences of their choice.” Indeed, South Africans have been living with the consequences of their choice.

All men can aspire to the leadership of a country but not all men are imbued with the gift of statecraft. Political demagoguery is not the equivalent of statesmanship.

South African democracy faces a bleaker future with the alleged conflict of interest in the events that culminated in the Marikana carnage by the current deputy president and a likely successor to the presidency – except strong institutions replace strong men! Learning from Nigeria I think it’s sheer act of the gods that it was on the same South African soil that our newly inaugurated president made one of his most profound comments in recent times, reminding Nigeria of the road it had marched and, in a way, urging South Africa to learn from Nigeria.

Said President Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian community in Johannesburg on June 16, 2015: “No matter what you say about the British colonialists, they built institutions for us, unfortunately we have destroyed those institutions… If he (Obama) had come to Nigeria, he would have known that it was strong Nigerians that destroyed the strong institutions…”

Learning from South Africa President Buhari actually spoke from his heart. He said he would have wished to be president at a younger age.

For me, Buhari’s age, with his anti-corruption reputation at this material time in Nigeria, is an asset. We also need to learn from the road South Africa had marched from 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the president via the first nonracial multi-party elections.

Given now the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Mandela, relying on his immense clout, should have been involved directly or indirectly in the process that would lead to the emergence of men of vision, integrity and public spiritedness to continue the institutional development for the next one, two or three decades.

This, clearly, would have made it impossible for corrupt and visionless political demagogues to mount the saddle of leadership in South Africa and reverse the gains of the past, even if they contested in credible, free and fair polls.

President Buhari should not only be encouraged to complete two terms so as to make our institutions stronger than individuals, entrench the culture of the rule of law and financial accountability but in addition, democratically promote the candidature of any Nigerian with a track record of integrity and public spiritedness to succeed him in 2023.

Of course, politicians will insist such a successor must come from the South in line with the principle of rotation, but for me, who cares! From Rolihlahla to Nelson Born on July 18, 1918 at the time when Africans, except a few, did not enjoy private title to land in South Africa but were tenants paying rent annually to the white government, Mandela’s life, like most Xhosas, was shaped by custom, ritual and taboo.

Though named Rolihlahla, his teacher peremptorily renamed him Nelson on his first day in school, the British having no regard for African name or culture.

He was often addressed by his clan name, Madiba, “a term of respect”. How their paths crossed At the University College of Fort Hare, Nelson met Oliver Tambo on the soccer pitch; they both taught Bible classes on Sundays in neighboring villages.

He once heard his school mate make critical comments against the Boer and British, whereupon he was told he (the school mate) was a member of the African National Congress, “an organization that I had vaguely heard of but knew very little about.” His cousin introduced him to an estate agent, Walter Sisulu, who connected Mandela with his white lawyer-colleague, Lazar Sidelsky, a Jew.

He became a law student of University of South Africa by correspondence and an articled clerk with Sidelsky. It was more of the persuasions of his senior and a white colleague at the Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman law firm that somehow got him interested in political agitation.

Apartheid as state policy In the 1948 general election, the Afrikaner party, led by Dr Daniel Malan, stunningly defeated the ruling British party, headed by General Smuts.

Malan had campaigned on the platform of “Apartheid” or “apartness”, white supremacy over Africans, Indians and Coloureds. Even Smuts, despite the British oppression of blacks, described apartheid as “a crazy concept, born of prejudice and fear.”

Malan’s pernicious program included his announcement to curb trade union movement, abolish limited franchise to Indians, Coloureds and Africans, enactment of Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, Immorality Act, criminalising sexual relations between white and non-white, Population Registration Act, which labelled people by race, the Group Areas Act, giving separate urban areas to each race, relocating African communities, towns and villages or appropriating any land for white use, and the Bantu Authority Act, which abolished the Natives Representative Council, “the one indirect forum of national representation for Africans.”

The Bantu Education Act passed by the Nationalist-dominated Parliament in 1953 sought to downgrade African education: Bantu education “must train and teach people in accordance with their opportunities in life.

There is no place for the Bantu in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor,” according to the apartheid-inspired law.

I think the colonial Nigeria, through Lord Lugard, once such sentiments: “The chief function of Government primary and secondary schools among primitive communities is to train the more promising boys from the village schools as teachers for those schools, as clerks for the local native courts, and as interpreters.” It underscores the magnitude of contempt the European colonialists had for Africans. Defiance as response The battle line was drawn.

The Youth League of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela called for a radical change, from protests within the law to outside it. By this time, Nelson had become well known in Johannesburg: “I wore smart suits; I drove a colossal Oldsmobile.”

Treason On December 5, 1956, Mandela and other leaders of the Congress Alliance were arrested and charged with treason. The offence carried a death penalty. They were released on bail on the fourth day of the trial.

Bail was £250 for whites; £100 for Indians; and £25 for Africans and Coloureds. “Even treason was not color-blind!” Mandela wrote on page 205.

In the meantime, ANC had ensured a few of its leaders, including Oliver Tambo escaped from the country to bolster international support. “Mandela and Tambo”, the law firm of the duo, was also being wound down. The Black Pimpernal Mandela went underground to plan the May 29, 1961 stay-at-home protest.

He was dubbed the Black Pimpernal as police was unable to track him down, even though his statements were published in the press: “My most frequent disguise was as a chauffeur, a chef, or a ‘garden boy.’ I would wear the blue overalls of the field-worker and often wore round, rimless glasses….”

While underground, he was able to form an armed wing of ANC. It was named Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) or MK. On June 1961, the press carried his release: “I am informed that a warrant for my arrest has been issued… I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won.

The struggle is my life….” (Page 276) African tour/ support ANC was invited to attend a pan-African conference in Addis Ababa in February 1962.

Oliver had established ANC offices in Ghana, England, Egypt and Tanganyika and contacts in other European states. Mandela narrated the oppression of his people before the conference presided over by Emperor Haile Selassie.

From Bulhoek massacre in 1921, “when army and police killed 183 unarmed peasants, to Sharpeville 40 years later, when 69 unarmed African demonstrators were killed by the police and about 400 wounded.” He thanked in particular Ghana, Nigeria and Tanganyika, “who spearheaded the successful drive to oust South Africa from British Commonwealth.”

Treason Trial – Robben Island I Having briefed Chief Luthuli on his trip outside and need for ANC “to take the lead among the Congress Alliance and make statements on its own concerning affairs that affected Africans”, he left Durban and was arrested on his way to Johannesburg.

He was charged with inciting African workers to strike and travelling without valid documents. “The state clearly did not have enough evidence to link me with Umkhonto we Sizwe” which would have attracted a charge of treason. He was sentenced 3 years for inciting people to strike and 2 years for leaving the country without a passport.

Rivonia Trial – Robben Island II The police had raided Liliesleaf Farm (where ANC operated underground) on July 11, 1963 and saw, among others, a document: “Operation Mayibuye, a plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa.” “In one fell swoop, the police had captured the entire High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Everyone was detained under the new Ninety-Day Detention Law… We were all charged with sabotage.”

He had only served 9 months of his initial five-year sentence. It was in the course of the the Rivonia Trial, on Monday, 20th April, 1964 that he made his famous statement: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.

But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Question mark Does the current leadership of South Africa cherish “the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”?

Will Nigerians be patient enough to allow the current transition to run its full course so that the nation can reclaim its glory? •Soyombo, public affairs commentator, sent this piece via densityshow@yahoo.com

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THE 638-page autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom, is an engrossing account of extraordinary times in an extraordinary country; it’s about the trials and triumphs of the human spirit, the paradox of the inherent capacity of man for good or evil, accentuated by circumstances of his time and a sombre reminder that freedom is never delivered to a people on a platter of gold.


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