Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review of "A Long walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela

A Long walk to Freedom – a long book to finish. 544 pages altogether.

Have seen this book in the NUS library but have never picked it up partially due to its thickness.... Long walk to freedom - a long book to finish. To be honest, I was just going through the motion the first half of the book? However, I was still glad to have read the remaining half that I see in balance in Mandela - perhaps, we all pick the lessons that we want ourselves.

Was keen to pick it up in Aug 2010, as I read before that it was one of the life changing books for Richard Branson and... that I wasn't feeling so good and low in my life in that period - wanted some inspiration from another great man. Sadly, it was like the Gandhi's experiment with truth - rather heavy going. Perhaps, all great men story is not meant to be lighthearted.

It was rather interesting to read of the African tribe consulting method where the chief will listen to everyone talk first, including criticizing him, before he steps forwards to sum up. Seems similar to the Obama method where he throws the problems and let the council comes up with the solutions instead of he comes into the meeting with preconceived solutions.

As Mandela puts it: “A leader is like a shepherd, he stays behind, let the most nimble go first, others follow,unaware all along they are lead from behind”
It was also sad to read for another great man that the women in his life suffered for his cause only to be divorced again later. Just like Lance Armstrong and his first wife.

Well, Mandela himself asked in the book: “Is freedom struggle is of a higher moral order than taking care of One's family? It is not; they are merely different.”

It was also "inspiring" to read about a leader who was willing to work with the enemy, perhaps practical in his methods and yet forgiving in his heart. How Nelson Mandel moved from non violence approach to a limited guerrilla warfare to bring about the end of apartheid; how he was able to see beyond his peers and negotiate with the enemy when he was finally confined alone - not doing so meant that a bloody revolution was the final and only solution and god knows how long will that take. It was with that same mindset he chose to continually work with the then white prime minster – Mr. F. W. de Klerk, even though in the book, Mandela claims that Mr de Klerk has consistently revoked on his promise and stirred racial riots in the background while promoting peace as a front.

As Mandela puts it: “ To make peace with an enemy one must work with the enemy,and that enemy becomes one partner”

As Mandela puts it (roughly), it is important to show his white voters he is making a right choice by working with the African National Congress (ANC), no point getting more violent and losing the faith of the white voters who agree in working with ANC for the black people rights. Last but not least, it was extremely amazing to read how Nelson was pleased that ANC won more than half the votes but less than two thirds such it was still the ruling party but could not pass laws without the support of other parties. In this case ANC cannot be put as “dictatorial" or passing laws without the support of the people.

It was Mandela's far sightedness in seeing it was better to have compromise and balance to create a South African that took care of both the black majority and the white minorities. If the whites saw that they were to lose everything overnight, they will never have supported the end of apartheid. If a overwhelming call to black nationalism was the call with no emphasis on equal rights regardless of colour, we should see either genocide of the whites or/and exodus of the whites with the end of apartheid.

Perhaps, if I am allowed to make such an analysis... It was Mandela’s practical mindedness to change from non violence to guerrilla warfare that force the end of apartheid, and yet his contradicting open heartedness to work with the enemy and embrace them at the same time, that allowed the bloodless and relatively quick end of apartheid. Perhaps, the willing to kill and that paradoxical willingness to forgive and embrace is one of the hardest traits to find in a leader, and Nelson Mandela is one of the few.

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