As young and old, men and women around the world wait for some good news to come out of the hospital where the ailing South African leader Nelson Mandela is being treated for recurring lung infection, I recall how it was like reading through his autobiography.
I read the “Long Walk to Freedom”, the autobiography of the anti- apartheid icon, early this year amid reports of his hospitalisation. That’s how I got introduced to the legend – his life and struggle.
A remarkable read it was. After reading it, I strangely felt closer and intimate with the writer. Got to know the cell he lived in, the kitchen garden he tended and the quarry he worked at during incarceration at Robben Island.
Anyone of his stature and league could only be found in myths and legends. Mind whirls while trying to think about the vastness of this man and the perilous ventures he undertook, what exceedingly difficult paths he tread on, and the impediments he managed to negotiate and came out victorious of.
The world literature is rich that it has a first hand account of an epic struggle for freedom. An account that sheds light over the dark alleys of prejudice, injustice and misrule in South Africa under the erstwhile British Raj.
It convincingly chronicles for the future generations how one person with little or no resources merely on the strength of his belief, determination, steadfastness and self-sacrifice can change the way the world viewed racial rift in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela gave away a huge and better part of his life to a cause that many viewed at that time as difficult to achieve. He gave to his people more than any human could ever give to his fellow beings. Twenty- seven years (1964-90) of incarceration under circumstances unimaginable for ensuring the basic rights for the Africans in South Asia. On why it took him no less time than it did in fighting the battle for people’s rights, he writes at one point:
’It is said that the mills of God grind exceedingly slowly, but even the Lord’s machinations cannot compete with those of the South African judicial system.’
He couldn’t meet his wife and children for years on end. At one point he writes, his daughter Zani he had last held in his arms when she was a tiny little girl, could only hug him when she was a grown up married woman and came with her baby to have her named by Mandela. Mandela named the baby Zazawi, which means hope.
He further elaborated, ‘the name has a special meaning for me, for during all my years in prison hope never left me – and it never would. I was sure that this child would be a part of a new generation of South Africans for whom apartheid would be a distant memory- that was my dream.’
The 94-year-old Nelson Mandela remains on ‘life support’ now.
The inevitable moment that no living being can escape may be near as her daughter Makaziwe Mandela is reported to have said that he is ‘ critical’ and ‘anything is imminent’. But if and when he passes away, he will be leaving behind a legacy that will make the world proud.
The love and reverence for this person transcends across the geographical and racial boundaries as people of all continents, races and religion hold him in high esteem.
It is only seldom that we will find a hero who has lived that long – as is generally believed heroes die young – so loved and idolised by people from diverse backgrounds.
The book that encapsulates the struggle of nearly four decades ends in visioning more struggle, charting out on a new journey that is far more strenuous and challenging. That’s how he chose to end his book:
‘I have discovered the secret after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken here a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.’