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Quoting Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom during the summer.

It’s an incredible book in which Mandela tells the stories of the changes that took place in South Africa during his lifetime.

Mandela wrote much of the book secretly when he was imprisoned for 27-years on Robben Island by the apartheid regime.

Long Walk to Freedom was published in 1995, the year after South Africa’s first national elections and Mandela’s inauguration as the country’s first black President.

It’s a story of humility, hardship, resilience and ultimately triumphs that is all the more powerful for being written in the first person.

It’s a book that everyone should read. I’ve marked-up and scribbled throughout my edition.

Here are some of the sections that I found inspirational for their lessons in humanity, leadership and life. I hope that you find them as insightful and uplifting as I did.

Language

“Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry or savour their songs.”

Roots

“I have always thought a man should own a house near the place he was born, where he might find a restfulness that eludes him elsewhere.”

Education

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

Democracy

“Suggestions for a new constitution were to come from the people themselves, and ANC leaders all across the country were authorised to seek ideas in writing from everyone in their area. […] The most commonly cited demand was for one-man-one-vote. There was a recognition that the country belongs to those who have made it their home.”

Sacrifice

“I have always believed that to be a freedom fighter one must supress many of the personal feelings that make one feel like a separate individual rather than part of a mass movement. One is fighting for the liberation of millions of people, not the glory of one individual. […] In the same way that a freedom fighter subordinates his own family to the family of the people, he must subordinate his own individual feelings to the movement.”

Leadership

“As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come. These are victories whose glory lies only in the fact they are known to those who win them.”

[…]

“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, must sew seed, 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 preserved and eliminate what cannot succeed.”

Modern media

“What struck me so forcibly was how small our planet had become during my decades in prison; it was amazing to me that a teenage Intuit living at the roof of the world could watch the release of a political prisoner on the southern tip of Africa. Television had shrunk the world, and had in the process become a great weapon for eradicating ignorance and promoting democracy.”

Love

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was 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.”

Sacrifice

“In life, every man has twin obligations – obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country. In a civil and humane society, each man is able to his own inclinations and abilities. But in South Africa, it was almost impossible for a man of my birth and colour who attempted to live as a human being.”

Mandela’s long to walk to freedom has reached its end. May he rest in peace.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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