Learnings from the “Terrorist” – Book Review: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela in front of an audience
Long Walk to Freedom audio book
Long Walk to Freedom on Audible

During the past two weeks, I’ve been caught up by Nelson Mandela‘s autobiography. As I am a slow reader I preferred to listen it as an audiobook. Nonetheless, it is a book which will stay in my thoughts for long.

Although traditional African childhood is surely not too familiar for a Nordic woman, Mandela captured my full attention after the first few chapters. When Mandela joins African National Congress political party co-finding it’s more activism-based Congress Youth League in Johannesburg 1944, the action truly starts. Only my Swedish exam could stop me from listening. (Not even gym as I was listening while doing my work out.)

Young Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, a young freedom fighter

Still very recently, South Africa was a colony of the Great Britan. Mandela was freed from prison on the year 1990 at the age of 72. While my parents had eaten breakfast in the Finnish bubble of happiness, Mandela had been piling up rocks, rebelling against racist food regulations and smuggling newspapers in a prison island (even gardening his own garden which he told was one of the rare joyful things there). The major part of the last century, white race was still oppressing blacks in Africa. Colonialism ended, South Africa held it’s first democratic elections and Mandela became the president on the same year as I was born 1994.

Rex theatre
Nelson Mandela's prison cell in Robben Island, South Africa
“This is the Island! Here you will die!” said a warder to Mandela after he was moved to a prison on Robben Island 1962

Nelson Rolihlala Mandela (1918 – 2013), also known as Madiba among his people, was en extremely remarkable person. However, he wasn’t born special. Mandela was an original man who was sculptured by his surroundings and the sense of justice. Sure he had some natural virtues but he wasn’t born as the president we know. He became a wise leader with a board vision of the world, partly by the experiences and partly by constant self development and studying. There are a lot anyone could take away from the story of Madiba.

“I learned that courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.”, “The brave man is not the one who does not feel the fear but he who concurs it.”

Surely Mandela knows about fear. He spent most if his life in horror, not to mention over 27 years in prison. Still, however, after the story has lead the reader through all injustice and inhumanity, Mandela states:

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

On the last chapters of Long Walk to Freedom, one can see the most remarkable achievements of Mandela: Even after decades of racism and apartheid, it was crucial to leave the past behind. The only way for better future and end of the bloody violence which had risen during the freedom struggle, was to get blacks and whites, oppressed and oppressors, work side by side for the new South Africa. After a lifetime of mistreatment, Mandela saw the importance of forgiveness.

Nelson Mandela voting in 1994
Mandela voting for the first time in his life 1994

Less than a decade ago from now, Mandela was CIA searched “terrorist” (according to the commentary track). Many Europeans had a very different view than today. Mandela was the bad guy, and the whites, people who were almost like me, where oppressing his race. The villain of the story today can be the hero of tomorrow. We must see the humanity behind everyone. There is no terrorist whose glimmer of humanity couldn’t be found. I think it is pretty important idea to remember on these days of refugee crisis and terrorism in Europe.

Long Walk to Freedom is as captivating as it is teaching. If everyone read it, the world would be a better place.

Long Walk to Freedom book cover
Mandela’s autobiography is a lesson of leadership, human nature and African history tied up in a beautiful storytelling.
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
“And if they can learn to hate, they can be thought to love.” – Nelson Mandela

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