A few weeks ago I went through a phase where I was inhaling books far faster than we could find decent book shops. As a result, I decided no more books less than 700 pages. So after a couple weeks, I finally finished the captivating memoirs of Nelson Mandela titled Long Walk to Freedom.
Mandela's life was so different than the rough image I had outlined in my head. For one, his life is far more exciting and inspiring than his speeches. Also, prior to reading his book, I associated Mandela with Gandhi or MLK, especially with respect to the latter two's idealism and strict adherence to the principal of non-violence. While it is true that he leveraged non-violent techniques, it is also true that Mandela was an effective strategist, and pragmatist; he later became a major proponent in the ANC for waging a violent campaign, ultimately founding, funding, and leading the ANC's guerilla arm called Umkhonto we Sizwe. Speaking in his own defense in the trial which saw him locked up for life, Nelson Mandela says:
We of the ANC have always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence -- of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country, and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to use peaceful methods. [...] it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial state by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism. [...]
Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. [...] Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force.
The photos in this post are from our recent trip to Robben Island, where Mandela and other anti-apartheid political prisoners were locked up.
This is the limestone quarry where Mandela smashed rocks for much of his life:
And his prison cell:
My wife, Ameen, is shown chatting with our guide, who was a prisoner sentenced to life in prison who served 13 years. He was caught after a botched power station bombing attempt. I asked him how it felt to live on the island guiding tourists through the prison he spent so much of his life in. He said it felt great to tell the freedom story of South Africa every day.