by Ruby Gege (yeah, I’m using Gege now because I’m obsessed with ancient Chinese princesses drama. Haha)
Aside from our love for shopping malls, food and having bitchy difficult opinions about almost everything, the Three Chinguz also share the same love of reading. We may not have lots of time to but we love love love to read. From fiction to non-fiction, I’d say that I have a pretty balanced equation of love towards both.
I have this general belief that people don’t read history or autobiographical books for fun. Or to feel butterflies in their stomach. Or to feel happy. No. People read history mainly because they want to know more about subjects they are interested in. Instead of seeking fun, history fans seek to be inspired and learn from the past history of people they admire.
After watching the Mandela film, I bought the autobiography from which the film was adapted. The deeply revered figure, who died just last year, left a remarkable mark in history. Almost everyone on earth know who he was, and the oppression he was fighting against. He became the symbol of freedom, of hope, patience and perseverance.
The book surprised me in many ways. Firstly, as I was reading the book, it was as if I could hear Mr Mandela’s voice narrating his story to me. The language he used is very simple – no big fancy words – which makes the story very easy to follow. His style of writing is also very heartfelt – he began the autobiography with his childhood days as an innocent child, then to his school days, post-graduation, work and family life, his fight against apartheid and his imprisonment, followed by his release.
Here is the breakdown of the chapters in the book.
“Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlala. In Xhosa, Rolihlala literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “troublemaker.” I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered. My more familiar English or Christian name was not given to me until my first day of school. But I am getting ahead from myself.”
Slowly and very smartly, Mr Mandela’s storytelling absorbed and overwhelmed me. I grew more curious to the story, finding it hard to put down the book. I want to listen more to the wise man’s words, his beliefs, his personal principles, his pain, his suffering and his joy and satisfaction as a freedom fighter.
There are MANY SUPER INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES in the books. In every page, I dare say at least one sentence inspires you to live your life for the better and to be grateful for the freedom that we have.
The most famous quote is, of course, Mr Mandela’s final words during the Rivonia Trial right before he was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
“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.”
He knew he wouldn’t win the trial and would most likely be sentenced to death. Nevertheless, he did not fear dying for his country and for the freedom of his people. There and then, I knew that his determination had became rock solid. He would not flinch. His strength, right there, was awe-inspiring. It displays to us that fear should never be an obstacle in standing up for what we believe in. For freedom. For justice.
*damn it, FEELSSSS!!!!*
There are also a number of paragraphs in the book where Mr Mandela was narrating about the garden he cultivated in prison. He described the withering state of his plants as a metaphor to his life and leadership.
“In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden: he, too, plant seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies preserve what can be preserve, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”
The passage was melancholic to me as Mr Mandela, who was deemed leader of his community, was not able to lead his people during his incarceration. He served them in whatever capacity he could as an adviser and endured for as long as possible. As a leader, whatever decisions he made would be on him. One mus never look back. One must be brave and courage. The values enshrined here is in line with the “I am Prepared to Die” speech above.
Later, he also narrated how he wrote his wife a letter about his dying tomato plant. He told his wife how he wished for their marriage to not wither away like the plant. However, he felt that, indeed, as a prisoner, he “had been unable to nourish many of the most important relationships” in his life, ending the passage with a poignant remark – “Sometimes there is nothing one can do to save something that must die“.
It was the first hint of his marriage’s impending doom. Even though Mandela and Winnie were optimistic in their marriage in the beginning, slowly, I think, the hope of any romance and passion to remain dies as they remained separated. They were married for about thirty years but managed only to function as husband and wife during the first five years of their marriage. Nevertheless, their devotion for each other and also for the fight against the apartheid system was incomparable. Notwithstanding whatever huge sacrifices Mr Mandela had to make, he always knew in his heart that the future of the nation and the fight for freedom will ALWAYS prevail over individual happiness.
Sad, but true. Still, super sad. But super true.
The book also teaches one a lot of things about governance and the practice of democracy from the South African perspective. At that time of history, South Africa, which population was dominated by black Africans, was ruled by a minority white government. The white leaders were reluctant to let go of their power but sought Mr Mandela’s assistance in achieving internal peace between the whites and the blacks. Mr Mandela replied:-
“Majority rule and internal peace are like the two sides of the same coin, and white South Africa simply has to accept that there will never be peace and stability in this country until the principle is fully applied.”
Later, once he had been released by the government after many years in prison, he recalled how he was brought from places to places to meet up with his followers and plan the African National Congress’s next step. No time must be wasted. The fight must go on. Justice must be achieved. As a free man, Mr Mandela carried the hopes of the entire nation on his shoulders. However, he wrote melancholically that:-
“My dreams upon leaving prison was to take a leisurely drive don to the Transkei, and visit my birthplace, the hills and streams where I had played as a boy, and the burial ground of my mother, which I had never seen.”
The sentence illustrated one of the many sacrifices Mr Mandela had to make, where he let go of his desires and dreams selflessly to serve his people. For the freedom of others, he let go of his. For others to have a better future, he forgot about his own.
No matter how great a national leader that Mr Mandela was, he often reiterated in his book about the tremendous love he had for his children. However, he could not be there for them and for the most of their childhood, he was an absent figure. Such conflicts had to be faced by children of great men and women. A sad passage illustrated Mr Mandela’s lasting sadness and regret over giving up his family life for his country:-
“”We watched our children growing up without our guidance,” I said at the wedding, “and when we did come out (of prison), my children said, ‘We thought we had a father and one day he’d come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become THE FATHER OF THE NATION.'” To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.”
In all honesty, I felt like crying whilst reading this passage. It summarized Mr Mandela’s sadness so beautifully. Maybe because I, like many children of successful men who spent little time with family, can relate to it. Despite the great love and constant devotion, to fight for a better future will always be a priority to our parents. They want to ensure we will have a better life than theirs. Thus, they would do anything in their power to do as such. I believe Mr Mandela did what he did for his children and the children of many others. The fight against apartheid would ensure that the children of South Africa are treated justly and equally for the essence of being human beings. He wanted to ensure that they won’t be oppressed just because of their skin colour and experienced the same sufferings his generations did. It was a great sacrifice that he made but he had no regret.
I can’t possibly rate this book. I am not worthy to do as such. This book should not be rated. This book should be experienced. It has become the best autobiography I have ever read. Through this book, I have learned a great lesson about patience and perseverance. He served 27 years in prison for going against the racist Apartheid system, he was oppressed and his life was taken away by the authorities. Yet, he endured and endured until the end. Thus, how can one privileged youngster like me complain about having a difficult life? It teaches me not to be impatience and to always be calm and strong in facing obstacles. Bravery is a must. Courage is indispensable. And whatever happens, always look at things positively.
If only I can have 1% of Mr Mandela’s spirit, I’ll be a happy enough woman.
I am going to end this review with the book’s final passage, that should really be adopted as everyone’s principle in life. Mr Mandela wrote:-
“I have walked that long walk to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Thank you, Mr Mandela.