Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book: Mandela, Sampson

As a leaving gift, a friend gave me Sampson's authorized biography of Nelson Mandela. I had already read his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, and did not expect to get a lot more out of this book. I am pleased to say that I was wrong. I found this book even more inspiring than the autobiography, partly because Mandela is too modest, but Sampson also conducted hundreds of interviews, so the book is filled with different peoples perceptions and interactions with Mandela. It was a great read.

I finished it too long ago to give a proper review, but the one thing that has stayed with me is Mandela's sense of dignity. I decided to write a bit about this now, because of the many courageous people across the Arab world who remind me so much of my impression of Mandela. The Yemeni and Bahraini people who continue to stage peaceful rallys despite brutal crackdown is inspiring and in some ways reminiscent of Mandela and his contemporaries in South Africa.

What set Mandela apart with an unyielding sense of moral courage, and dignity in the face of adversity. Mandela was not just willing to die for his cause in the way that anyone fighting for freedom takes risks, during the Rivonia trial instead of following sensible legal advice and trying to deny the charges or reduce the sentence, Mandela chose to make a statement from the dock, explaining why he committed the alleged charges, and in doing so expected the death penalty. He was not just taking an abstract risk, he thought we was about to become a martyr when he concluded:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
The book is also filled with anecdotes about Mandela treating servants, millionaires and politicians equally. His capacity for forgiveness and treating his enemies with respect is well documented. If only more politicians were like this; Mandela describes a situation where instead of greeting settling Israelis with violence and hatred, they could have sent a small Palestinian girl with a bouquet of flowers offering to show the great hospitality of her people. Mandela lives his life they way I wish everyone did, and this book honestly changed the way I live mine. Everyone should read it.

I leave you with a poem that Mandela drew strength from in jail, it was moving enough that I can write it now from memory. Mayhap some people currently living under oppression have something equal to draw strength from:

Out of the night that covers me, black as a pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade,
and yet the menace of the years, finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.


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