This is the long-awaited second volume of the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. It has been put together from what he had written before his death, and from his notes. It has been edited with great skill, devotion and commitment by Mandla Langa, the author of “Lost Colours of the Chameleon” and a number of other books. Here, I have to confess that Mandla Langa has been my friend for more than thirty years, since he came into exile in the UK following the Soweto Uprising of 1976. During that time, Mandla took a leading role in the cultural activities of the ANC, and I was one of the chair-people of the London Committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The first time that I met Nelson Mandela was, with Mandla and others, at Madame Toussaud’s in London when his waxwork was being unveiled. So that is my colours nailed to the mast. As someone who was closely involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and in some of the events described in the book, I cannot be described as a neutral observer.
This book approaches those events of the 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa and the first few years of the transition process from the perspective of Nelson Mandela. That is what makes the book fascinating. Nowadays, people regard it as some kind of miracle that Mandela was able, during his Presidency, to end the years of conflict in South Africa. It was not. It was the result of very hard work and of a deep political understanding of what needed to be done. It was Nelson Mandela who did that. This book is an analysis of that process, of the threats, the dangers, the angers and resentments that had to be negotiated so that South Africa did not descend into civil war. It describes, from the inside, what was a remarkable achievement. But it was not a miracle. It did not come out of the blue. It came about because Nelson Mandela understood what had to be done, and then found ways of achieving it.
The first threat came from those who did not want to participate in the election or who were pretending that they did not wish to participate in order to gain an electoral advantage. The threats came from the extreme white right wing and from Chief Mangosuthu (known as Gatsha) Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party. Neither threat was negligible – they could have led to civil war. It needed Nelson Mandela to exercise a great deal of skill and patience to neutralise them.
It was Mandela who steered South Africa through the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) attack on the negotiators at the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), the massacres at Bisho and Boipatong, the assassination of Chris Hani, the AWB attack on Bophuthatswana and a host of other events. It was Mandela who persuaded General Constand Viljoen of the Freedom Front that his organisation should register to take part in the election. It was Mandela who contacted Buthelezi and, despite opposition from recalcitrant in the ANC, such as Harry Gwala, set about asking the Inkatha Freedom Party to join the elections. At many times, and especially following the murder of Chris Hani, South Africa was on the brink of a civil war. It was Mandela who avoided all these disasters. It was his leadership that made the difference. To find out how, you must read the book.
Of course, Mandela did not achieve any of this on his own. There were many people who assisted him. There were many more who were persuaded by him. There were some, like Robert Van Tonder and Boere Weerstand Beweging, who refused to be persuaded but they were few and far between. Fortunately, Mandela was able to neutralise them, but not enough to prevent them killing people with the bombs that they exploded during the election campaigning and on the election days themselves. Of course, it was a collective effort but it was Mandela who provided the leadership. That is now generally acknowledged. That is part of the story of this book.
Nor did the danger pass with the election. I distinctly remember standing there in South Africa House in London on 10th May 1994, wondering whether the South African Air Force would strafe the guests at the Presidential inauguration. That this did not happen was partly because my imagination was over-active but also partly because Mandela had convinced the generals to give the new South Africa a chance to survive. There was a huge effort that had to be put into nation-building, and this is what Mandela made the theme of his Presidency. He made huge efforts at nation-building, in creating a constitution, in establishing the role of Parliament, in establishing the role of the traditional leaders in a democracy, and in transforming the state.
These are the themes of the chapters that take up the tale following Mandela’s swearing-in as President. Most important, however, was the theme of reconciliation. Mandela however was careful not to let people off the hook. He was the driving force behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He made it necessary for apartheid officials to state clearly what they had done before they could be granted amnesty. It was difficult. There were people who refused to apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they knew that any evidence against them had been destroyed. There were people who did not believe in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because they wanted the perpetrators to be prosecuted and go to prison. Mandela recognised that this was not going to happen because the burden of proof was on the prosecution. He sought a way in which the relatives of victims could find out what happened to their loved ones. It proved to be cathartic. There were some, like Craig Williamson, who were not penitent, but the recognition of the grief of so many did help the healing process, or, at least, that is the argument that Mandela would have put forward.
The last chapter is about Mandela on the African and the World Stage. Mandela served as an honest broker for his continent. He was able to help resolve the difficulties in countries such as Rwanda and Zaire. He was able to resolve issues like the prosecution in relation to the Lockerbie bombing. He was feted throughout the world. My particular memory was of Mandela’s State Visit to London in 1996, where he not only spoke to both Houses of Parliament but visited the black community in Brixton.
This book is about the contribution that Mandela made during his Presidency to the healing of the wounds caused by apartheid. It is a book about the contribution of one man. He was not a saint. He made mistakes, which are discussed in this book and which he himself recognised. It is an important book because it discusses how an icon dealt with the issues in front of him. It discusses how he became an icon. It is a clear assessment, based on the writings of the man himself, about the contribution that he made.
For that reason it is astonishing, and that is why you should read it.