‘The long walk to freedom’
‘The Long Walk To Freedom’, Nelson Mandela, Gollapudi Musings, Gollapudi Maruti Rao. When my son visited South Africa to watch the 2003 World Cup tournament hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, he was at The Newlands, Cape Town. It was then he visited a ‘temple’ for all the freedom-loving people of the world called Robben Island. This was where a prisoner was kept for 18 long years.
When my son visited South Africa to watch the 2003 World Cup tournament hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, he was at The Newlands, Cape Town. It was then he visited a ‘temple’ for all the freedom-loving people of the world called Robben Island. This was where a prisoner was kept for 18 long years.
The prisoner, who rose like a Goliath, represented all that is honourable, indomitable and lasting – the free world. His name was Nelson Mandela. My son purchased the only gift for me there. It was the autobiography of Nelson Mandela-A Long Walk to Freedom. It was an engrossing tapestry of South African struggle against apartheid, the fascinating journey of its brave warrior Nelson Mandela.
According to Publishers’ Weekly review it was “a fluid memoir that matches Mandela’s stately grace with wise reflection on his life and importantly his indomitable spirit’’. I was working on my autobiography then and amidst the many lives I went through Mandela’s stood towering and haunted me for several years.
Here was a man who fought the tyranny of a minority White regime, silently suffered 27 years of jail sentence, slept on a straw mat on the damp concrete floor in a jail cell of 8x7, worked in a quarry breaking rocks into gravel, broke lime stones in a quarry without goggles costing permanent impairment to his eyes, isolated for months –with only one visitor seeing him once in six months, receiving heavily censored letter, that too, only one in six months.
Jail wardens particularly harsh on this political prisoner but stunningly he never ever divorced three traits -forgiveness, lack of malice and objective understanding. These three principles astounded the enemy and his resilience struck like a thunder.
When P W Botha, the then Prime Minister of South Africa offered to release him if he assured them of shunning violence, he flatly refused and courted imprisonment for yet another decade. It was a towering tribute to his undying spirit. Soon an international campaign lobbied for his release which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife.
Earlier he was given the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1979 by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations "for his outstanding contribution to the promotion of international understanding, goodwill and friendship among people of the world".
The money constituent of this award was Rs 2.5 million. As he was still in jail his wife Winnie Mandela has applied to the South African government for permission to visit India to receive the award on his behalf. But it was denied. The life at Robben Island where he stayed for 18 years was a saga of human endurance and dignity. Here are a few lines from his narrative: “…to survive in prison, one must develop ways to take satisfaction in one’s daily life.
One can feel fulfilled by washing one’s clothes so that they are particularly clean, by sweeping a hallway so that it is empty of dust, by organising one’s cell to conserve as much space as possible. The same pride one takes in more consequential tasks outside of prison one can do in doing small things inside prison.’’ He started writing his autobiography clandestinely during his imprisonment at Robben Island in 1974.
His co-prisoners Mac Maharaj (Sathyandranath Ragunanan) and Isu Chiba with their unique calligraphic skills preserved and smuggled the copy. But, how to take it out to the world at large? It was an adventure he along with his other inmates did. They laboriously made copies of the manuscript and meticulously smuggled the papers. It was a stupendous ordeal.
The original books were kept in porridge containers and they used to dig holes in the garden and bury them. Only when the secret news reached them that they safely reached the destination, they would destroy the original here. But as the destiny would have it, the jail authorities could locate the hidden places and confiscated the manuscript. But blissfully by then the copy of the manuscript had reached the destination.
That was how a major part of this great chronicle survived the time and the security vigil of the jail staff. Mandela eventually completed the book after 16 years when he came out of prison. There was a change of guard at the top echelons of governance and De Clarke replaced P W Botha as its Prime Minister. Soon the negotiations started with African National Congress and slowly a free South Africa emerged.
Mandela became the first President of the South African Republic. Both the leaders who were at the helm - Nelson Mandela and De Clarke - together made history by sharing the Nobel Peace prize, perhaps the first time when the two leaders of the warring factions sharing the coveted prize! And from then on Mandela was virtually decorated with the highest honours of every country - Bharat Ratna by India, Honorary Citizenship of Rome, Greece; Star of International friendship from German Republic, International Peace and Freedom Award, Stockholm; United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, Soviet Order of Lenin to name a few, and some sixty universities honoured him with doctorates. It was the finest hour for “world peace’’. Nelson Mandela was its sole Ambassador.
Nine years ago President of India A P J Kalam visited the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela at his residence. He was escorting Kalam to the doorstep walking with his hand on his shoulders dispensing the walking stick when Kalam asked him, “Who was the forerunner of the fight against apartheid in South Africa?” Mandela said with a smile, “A person called Gandhi.”
He said, “You gave us M K Gandhi and we returned a Mahatma to you.” In the coming days, the world will see one of the biggest funerals attended by almost all living presidents of United States, Queen Elizabeth, British Prime Minister and leaders and statesmen of some 100 countries, an unparallel homage paid anytime to anybody in the living memory.
The Rainbow Nation which stayed dormant for centuries under white rule has given the apostle of peace to the world, who reinstated the faith in enduring human spirit to the entire world and became a Mahatma transcending the time. Nelson Mandela represents the undying indomitable spirit of man anywhere under the sun - the lone reverberating voice of democracy and peace.