Book Review: Nelson Mandela – Conversations With Myself

Today is Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, and International Mandela Day

Wikipedia: “Mandela Day is an annual international day adopted by the United Nations. Individuals, communities and organisations are asked to donate 67 minutes to doing something for others, commemorating the 67 years that Nelson Mandela gave to the struggle for social justice.”

“Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself”

A few years ago I read Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, and was very impressed with the style as well as the content ; Mandela is extremely gifted at using words to express his ideas precisely and concisely.  It was therefore a little strange when I started reading Conversations With Myself, since Mandela did not actually write it… They are indeed all his words, but are presented in a collection of interviews, letters and transcripts of conversations, selected by a team of nine.

However, after a few pages I had already adapted to the style, and was soon engrossed in this historical insight into the life and imprisonment of one of the world’s most known and loved freedom fighters.

This man’s story is so important.

Vaclav Havel said: “We need politicians willing and able to rise above their own power interests, or the particular interests of their parties or states, and act in accordance with the fundamental interests of humanity today…”

Nelson Mandela is such a man, and was such a political figure. His integrity and humanity are present at every stage of his story. His compassion knows no bounds: he wrote to his children that it is

“never wise to single out individuals and lay blame on their shoulders… They may merely be the means through which more powerful forces operate” 

forgiving his guards for their part in his imprisonment, and the judge who sentenced him to separation from his family. Respect towards his imprisoners, and an incredible capacity for forgiveness mark Mandela as an example to us all.

There is no sentimentality here, but passion – both for his cause and for his wife. His letters to Winnie Mandela were passionate and honest, and the harsh reality of his 27-year imprisonment – the hard conditions and inhumane treatment – seems secondary to the pain he felt at being separated from his family, and at being unable to protect them. Mandela wrote that he was convinced that social equality is the only basis of human happiness, and in a letter to his wife in 1970:

“One day we may have on our side the genuine and firm support of an upright and straightforward man, holding high office, who will consider it improper to shirk his duty of protecting the rights and privileges of even his bitter opponents…”

Mandela also worried constantly during his time in prison about, among other things, the fact that he had perhaps not shown enough appreciation for the kindness of others who had helped him… Yet here was a man enduring terrible conditions where a new razor blade, a letter, or a little beef stock in his food once a week were major events, recorded in his journals.

If you’re looking for a chronological history you will be disappointed. This is more an insight into Mandela’s character and his outlook on life… a remarkable outlook and a remarkable man.

Nelson Mandela on his 90th birthday in 2008.

(Picture: wikipedia)

News on Mandela’s 94th birthday:  (Birthday Song)