Heidi Holland is, perhaps, better known as the author of Dinner with Mugabe, a portrait of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, described by the UK’s Daily Telegraph as the most intimate account yet published of Mugabe’s transformation from liberation hero to reviled despot.
Her latest book, 100 Years of Struggle: Mandela’s ANC , was released recently by Penguin. Something persuaded Heidi Holland against writing this as a book about Nelson Mandela when it was first published in 1989 as The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress. This revised edition suggests Holland didn’t totally succeed at not making this a book about the world icon, hence the tampering with the title to make the 100 year-old organization Mandela’s.
As it celebrates its centenary this year, only two epochal landmarks signify the life of the ANC, says Holland – the emergence of the young firebrand who advocated armed resistance against the dove-stance of the old guard and the release of the much older Mandela from 27 years in prison.
Her meticulous research, which took her to the old Transkei of Mandela’s birth, forms the narrative around Madiba’s early years. This she runs concurrently with the birth of the ANC and the – fleeting – tale of the successive Presidents of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
But the greatest spadework for the book, and its earlier cousin, were the interviews in Lusaka, Zambia with leaders of the then banned organization, among others, Thabo Mbeki and the late Steve Tshwete and Joe Modise.
She spoke to people inside the country too, like the late Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Amina Cachalia.
In the research department, this work cannot be faulted. In the beginning, there was a young man born into Thembu royalty in Qunu. He led from the front as apartheid was defeated and a new political order was ushered in. In the hiatus created by his incarceration, the book traces the ubiquitous influence of Mandela from behind prison walls as his daughter Zinzi, reads out his words to a packed Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto to tell the Botha regime ‘only free men can negotiate’.
Like a seamstress, Holland then gets back to her workstation to knit together all the different pieces of this ‘garment’ – the ANC, using Mandela as a thread linking all the patches.
If the essence of a piece of knitwear is to provide cover against the elements, Holland ponders the question whether or not the ANC, built throughout so many years of hard struggle, is able to provide its own raison d’etre – a better life for all.
Such ills as the rampant corruption and unemployment will prove the Achilles heel of the movement of Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu, the author argues.
The task of the contemporary ANC is to introspect to see if they are still on course to achieve what Pixley Isaka ka Seme had in mind when he called men and women, chiefs and peasants, the educated and the illiterate to the hall in Mangaung on 8 January 1912 to chart a way out of bondage.
They have the whole centenary year to ponder this question.
© makatilemedia 03/2012