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Long Walk to Freedom
The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
- Read in 21 minutes
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- Contains 13 key ideas
Nelson Mandela's A Long Walk to Freedom (1994) is one of the most famous autobiographies of recent times. It tells the story of his life, from his humble beginnings in the South African countryside to his work as an iconic anti-apartheid freedom fighter, and ends, after chronicling his twenty-year prison sentence, with his final victory and release.
Key idea 1 of 13
Nelson Mandela's interest in social justice began during his childhood in rural South Africa.
Nelson Mandela hardly needs an introduction. His life story is a classic tale of one man's struggle against oppression, and we'll certainly be telling it for years to come.
Mandela was born in 1918, in Mvezo, a small village in the South African countryside. He belonged to the Xhosa tribe, a proud ethnic group that highly valued law, courtesy and education. At birth, he was named Rolihlahla, which means “trouble maker” in the Xhosa language.
Mandela's father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief in the tribe, a distinction that traditionally would have endowed him with high social status in the community. The British influence, however, had weakened the authority of tribal chiefs, so the position carried little political clout at the time.
Additionally, the British could oust anyone who threatened their authority, because each chief had to be ratified by the government. Mandela's father was very headstrong and often challenged them, and it wasn't long before the British revoked his status as chief.
When Mandela's father died, another regent of the tribe, Jongintaba, offered to become Mandela's guardian. This would end up having a huge impact on his life.
As a child, Mandela often attended tribal meetings at the regent's court, where he learned about the plight of his people. One of the most prominent figures there was Chief Joyi, an elderly chief with royal lineage who railed against white supremacy.
Chief Joyi taught that the surrounding tribes had lived peacefully until white Europeans arrived and sowed the seeds of conflict. The white man, he said, was greedy and stole land that should've been shared, shattering the tribes' unity.
Later in his life, Mandela would learn that Chief Joyi's history lessons hadn't always been correct. Nonetheless, they influenced his life dramatically: they opened his eyes to social injustice.