Mandela presents a wealth of information, including character studies of Mandela and Zuma, the historical social background of South Africa, and the effect Zuma has had on the racially divided country. Crew uses his own reflections and insights as well as interviews with many South Africans to color his analysis of historical and current events. This book is a seasoned view of the history and politics of a country that produced one of the most iconic leaders of the world, who wished more than anything else for peace.
Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
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How Nelson Mandela Became an Icon and Got His Christian Name
Nelson Mandela was educated by his black family and relatives for the purpose of — and with a view to — becoming nothing more than a minor civil servant and therefore knowing his place in the white man's wicked scheme of imperial things in the days of apartheid, leaving the grander designs of rebelling, freedom fighting, political leadership, and power politics to others.
All this is clear from reading his aforementioned autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and also from listening to others who knew him or remember him (I have done both). We know that, in his early life, he was parentally and tribally "destined" to accept an arranged marriage — from which he escaped when he rejected it and ran away to Johannesburg — and that he was also groomed to keep his nose out of racial politics. But not being one to bow to his prescribed destiny, he went his own way.
He was parentally and educationally trained to get a good Christian education and become a civil servant dealing with black people and leaving the wicked white men to do their own wicked apartheid thing — instead of which he locked horns with whites and did his own freedom fighting, presidential, and global politics thing, carving for himself and South Africa's blacks a hitherto unimagined place in history (that slowly became very imaginable indeed, painfully slowly!).
Most minor civil servants — of any race or skin color — did not do this sort of thing because they were not temperamentally or otherwise equipped for it or suited to it. They did not have the character for it, which is doubtless why Nelson Mandela did not become the minor civil servant that he was intended to become. His personal character and his nature took over from his nurture and the aims and objects of his education when he finally decided to become the first democratically elected founding-president of South Africa instead! And he became the president impressively so, which was all down to his genes and his character, and not to his family situation, in which, like many of his fellow black men and women, he could have steered clear of leadership in interracial politics and rebellion and settled for being either a cozy civil servant or lawyer. Other outstanding blacks had similarly powerful characters and personal qualities with which to become South Africa's first black president — Mandela was by no means the only one — but his was the character that eventually proved to be the most durable and capable.
Just as he rejected in his early twenties what appeared to him to be the unjust and high-handed behavior of his white Scottish college principal at South Africa's prestigious University of Fort Hare when he went there, by the same token he also rejected outright the decisions and laws of the white man's apartheid later in his life.
When Mandela and other students resigned in disgust from the students' union at the University of Fort Hare in a quarrel with the principal about their inferior food — and the college principal insisted that they could not stay in the college and complete their education unless they rejoined the students' union — Mandela walked out of the college and into the sunset, never to return!
Mandela then enrolled, later on, at Wits University in Johannesburg in order to get the longed-for university degree that he had sacrificed. But his walking away from Fort Hare turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since his law degree gave him opportunities for earning more money and advancement than the civil service diploma he would have received at Hare would have enabled him to do.
But who stands on such a small point of principle?
Well, Nelson Mandela, of course. Let's not forget that his tribal first name — Rolihlahla — meant troublemaker! Clearly, Nelson could be an impetuous and very stubborn young man of ironclad principle from the get-go!
But was he a rebel with or without a cause, or both?
It seems to me that "both" is the answer to this question, given that making such a big deal over such a small matter as college canteen food was not such a big deal and not worth sacrificing one's (educational and career) cause for such a relatively small principle.
It seems to me that Nelson Mandela was a rebel by nature, with or without a cause, regardless of his nurture (which was not to rebel at Fort Hare against his tribal family), and that it was his nature that led him to become a rebel with a very big cause in the fight against apartheid in due course. Had it not been in his nature, even before the cause came along for him personally (it was already there for the taking), the chances are that he would not have succeeded as he did.
Think of Britain's very feeble Neville Chamberlain at the outbreak of World War II — whose nature was inadequate for the task of taking on Hitler and his Nazi government and its massive army — and then think of Winston Churchill, whose nature was more than adequate, and you will get the picture. Think also of the instinctive admiration that Nelson Mandela had for Winston Churchill for standing up to Hitler, as he joined other students at Fort Hare with their ears glued to a single small radio in their dormitory as they listened to Churchill's famously stirring speeches. In my opinion, Mandela acquired his own Churchillian accent (Africa-style) subliminally in this way, and this accent lasted for the rest of his life. It is one that Archbishop Desmond Tutu imitates fondly and with glee to this day (he did so on television at the time of Mandela's death).
This is a great little true story that sheds much light on the swiftly forming character and attitudes of Nelson Mandela in his early life. In chapter two of his autobiography, Mandela tells us that he was "sabotaging" his academic career at Fort Hare "over an abstract moral principle" that he realized "mattered very little," yet he could not help himself for all that. He concedes that it was "foolhardy" for him to leave Fort Hare, but at "the moment I needed to compromise, I could not do so." And the reason he could not do so was because he "resented" his principal's "absolute power over my fate," the "injustice" of which "rankled" with him. So here we see his very stubborn and highly principled character from the beginning.
He remained obsessive about abstract moral principles, however small they may be — the mark of a truly moral and intellectual character — and he seriously resented the unjust power of others over his fate (the mark of a man whose character was without doubt his fate, determining its own fate, and would not under any circumstance suffer an unjust fate at the hands of others, however trifling or abstract the injustice and the power may be!).
For those of us who have to put up with all manner of minor or not-so-minor injustices and compromise our principles in our daily lives in order to get our jobs done or generally to survive the rough and tumble of everyday life, we detect a kind of veiled fanaticism in Mandela's character here. This is because many of us in our educational or working lives have walked away and let the college principal or our boss have his or her own way, in order not to sabotage our education, career prospects, jobs, or promotions, and to get a result, if only to repay those who have provided for us to go into higher education with our gratitude at least, or to provide for our families in life rather than to sacrifice them for our own principles (Nelson Mandela was unable to provide for his own family for twenty-seven years when he was behind bars on Robben Island).
But there was no compromising or walking away for Nelson Mandela in those days because he was made of sterner stuff. Compromise came later on, when he was in power and had more to lose, but not when he had nothing to lose. Compromise came when it made sense to do so. But he was no fanatic, for all that, and his fanatical streak, for want of a better way of putting it, had to be seriously provoked in the first place. It was more of a thinking man's intellectual streak, left to its own devices.
If we are white and not black, maybe we do not understand the depth of wounded feeling and pride that a black student feels when being overruled by a white college principal who is being unjust. Maybe we do not understand what it feels like to be humiliated. For my money, the principal was being marginally unjust to student Mandela (but none of us is perfect!). The principal — a graduate from Edinburgh University — did not have to make membership of the students' union a strict condition of Mandela's staying on at Fort Hare just as Mandela did not need to take the matter so personally and seriously. But then, not being black and not coming from an apartheid background, what do I know about how it was for Mandela? I just regret — as he clearly did later on — that he could not have brought himself to back down on this occasion. It is worth putting one's foot down on big points of principle, in my view, but not on little points, because there are too many of them, and life is too short.
While the young Mandela was almost certainly wrong to put his foot down as a matter of tiny principle in his dispute about the canteen food at Fort Hare, he was absolutely right, which goes without saying, to put his foot down and say enough is enough in his greater dispute with apartheid, yet he could not see the difference between the two (or, if he could, he could not help feeling as strongly about the first smaller issue as he did about the second, vastly bigger issue).
On the occasion of apartheid, when Nelson Mandela dropped out yet again — out of his job as a lawyer, out of society, and out of oppression — he did so quite rightly, because of its racially repugnant and deeply immoral treatment of its black subservient and oppressed society that was having its nose rubbed in the mire daily! In his anti-apartheid cause, it was much more to his brave and heroic credit that he dropped out in order to become an ANC political campaigner and freedom fighter instead and to show his people the way — but not without, first of all, his taking the wise precaution of completing his education and qualifying to practice law at Wits University. This time he was standing up for a massively more important and challenging principle, for which he was risking much more, including his family life with his wife and children, his freedom, and his very life that he was prepared to sacrifice for millions of people he did not know (how many of us would be prepared to do such a thing?). This was when he gave up the law to become a freedom fighter, for which he was tried and could have been convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
While Mandela's quarrel with apartheid was all too obviously monumentally bigger, more important and much more dangerous than his dispute with his Scottish college principal at Fort Hare, the point is that his character was such that he was always one to stand on his principles — large or small — and to fight for what he believed, risking all if necessary. He was never one to play safe and walk away with a shrug of his shoulders, as a great many of us do. He was no yes man. He was always concerned about the little principles as well as the large ones and, one might add, the little people as well. He went out into the streets to talk to ordinary people to find out what they were thinking and saying because, he said, he could never trust the racist South African newspapers and their publishers with their vested racist, political, and other interests to tell him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so he went and talked to the people directly to make up his own mind about them (he would have made a great investigative reporter), rather than believing of necessity what the papers were saying about them, especially the white man's papers.
At Fort Hare he had risked losing a good education, which he did indeed suspend and temporarily sacrifice for a tiny principle — just as in his struggle against apartheid, he risked sacrificing and losing his life when he finished up sacrificing at least twenty-seven years of his freedom instead — and in both cases this is what a great many of his fellow men would not have done, their natures and characters being very different from his (a handful would have and did so, but not many). As we have heard, in theory and on paper Nelson Mandela was supposed to have become a civil servant in a quiet backwater, dealing with his fellow blacks on behalf of his apartheid white overlords (he ticked all the right boxes for this). Not many (or perhaps any) civil servants or lawyers — black or white — would have chosen the path that Mandela chose. Had his character been different, he probably would not have done so either. So he would not have invited his personal and public fate in the way that he did, and he would not have mastered the awesome fate that his awesome character brought upon himself, while also mastering the fate of all South African blacks with it (and ironically the fate of whites, for the better, as well, not that they realized it at the time).
Without doubt one can say that Nelson Mandela's character was his fate — it invited his fate, brought it on, accelerated the speed of it, and finally overcame and resolved it victoriously. Fate did not have its way with him. He had his way with it.
He took his fate into his own hands and remolded it like clay to his own and his people's ends, and he did this at a time when he could just as easily have chickened out and done nothing about it, leaving it to others to see what transpired. He was fated in every conceivable way to be an oppressed victim of apartheid, like all his fellow black men and women, but with his character, he turned that fate around and remolded it big-time.
It stands to reason that those with the best character-reading skills were the ones who best read and understood the character of Nelson Mandela (and others besides, for that matter). They understood how and why his character developed over the decades, and they had the best insights into it. But one person who completely misread and misunderstood his character was Margaret Thatcher, Britain's prime minister, who wrote him off as nothing more than a terrorist who would never come to power, let alone be a president, as did many others besides in Britain, the United States, and South Africa's white community in the days of apartheid. Clearly, these guys did not have good character-reading skills. The same is true today of people who are hearing about Nelson Mandela for the first time and trying to understand his character after his recent death — they, too, need the character-reading skills and the insights.
"To be or not to be," was the question for the ever-thoughtful and ever-patient Mandela (procrastinating, like Hamlet, or otherwise being patient) when wearing his Hamlet hat, and like the intellectual Hamlet, Mandela thought very much about questions of morality, ethics, and philosophy, and he articulated them accordingly. Why not forgive South Africa's whites for their apartheid regime and reconcile the hatred between them and the blacks they oppressed? He knew, as Hamlet did, about the futility of life in general and of much misguided action in particular, and he shared Hamlet's sense of intelligent frustration on this account, but he did not have Hamlet's melancholy, infirmity of purpose, or feeble character that made Hamlet incapable of meeting the demands of his destiny. Mandela asked himself many times the question "to be or not to be," but not because, like Hamlet, he was incapable of being or not being, but because he was intelligent enough to consider the matter. Nor did Mandela have revenge in common with Hamlet, who revenged himself for the murder of his father; but Mandela did have Hamlet's very contemplative nature, and the "sanity and health of the whole state" was his chief preoccupation, as was Hamlet's ("something rotten in the state of Denmark" was Mandela's concern about something rotten in the state of white South Africa and, indeed, the larger world).
While Mandela did not feign madness like Hamlet, he did demonstrate, as Hamlet and Shakespeare did, that a mirror should be held up to nature, including human nature, for our careful contemplation of all its different aspects. Mandela held up his mirror — in his writings, speeches, representations as a lawyer in court, and his moral political leadership — to the need for racial reconciliation and racial equality as the only way forward. Both Mandela and Hamlet really were similar "to be or not to be" intellectuals, weighing all the pros and cons and sharing the author's art — an art invented by Shakespeare arguably more than any other English-language writer — of being mindful of every possible meaning of all the words they used, outmaneuvering and outthinking others to this end. No wonder Mandela — and his fellow prisoners on Robben Island — were, as we have seen previously in these pages, so keen to study Shakespeare when a copy of his works was smuggled into the prison. Shakespeare spoke to them in the twentieth century in the same way that he had spoken to others in the seventeenth century.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mandela"
Copyright © 2013 Bob Crew.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 How Nelson Mandela Became an Icon and Got His Christian Name 1
Chapter 2 An Agonizing Political History 39
Chapter 3 In the High Bright Shadow of Nelson Mandela 63
Chapter 4 Nelson Mandela's Miserables 100
Chapter 5 To Kill a President 116
Chapter 6 Good and Bad Zulus and Good and Bad Dutch-Afrikaners 125
Chapter 7 Have the Dutch-Afrikaners Really Forgiven the Dutch in Holland? 159
Chapter 8 The Mysterious Death of Heidi Holland 180
Chapter 9 Citizen Number One or Enemy of the People? 190
Chapter 10 In Conclusion: No Zuma or ANC for 2013? 199