Nelson Mandela: A Biography was written by Peter Limb and published by Greenwood Press in 2008. The book, one of many on Nelson Mandela, distinguishes itself by providing a comprehensive, albeit concise look at Mandela’s personal and political life. At 136 pages, it is very readable, and a recommended introduction to readers wanting to learn about Mandela and his struggle to free his country and people from the Apartheid regime.
Limb arranges the book in chronological order, starting with Mandela’s family and childhood, his education and youth, his marriage, onto his world of politics, his involvement with ANC as well as his long imprisonment, his freedom, his presidency and life after that.
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Qunu. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was a chief councilor to the paramount chief of the Thembu people. His mother, Nonquaphi Nosekeni Fanny was the third of his father’s wives. His sisters were Baliwe, Notancu (Mabel) and Makhutswana. As a member of the royal line, Mandela was destined for an education and not the working-class life of a miner. Mandela learned many principles of living and leadership in childhood. Mandela left Great Place to begin his secondary education at Clarkesbury Boarding Institute.
In 1939 Mandela joined Native College (University of Fort Hare) where he met his lifetime friend Oliver Tambo. Mandela’s initiation to politics and racial inequality coincided with his nomination to the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). His formal education was to come to an abrupt and unexpected end in November 1940 when he was expelled. Fortunately, a young African nurse who had observed Mandela’s predicament contacted her friend Albertina Totiwe who soon helped Mandela meet Walter Sisulu, a meeting that changed Mandela’s life. He was soon offered a job as an articled clerk with Sisulu’s client. There, he combined his job with studies for his Bachelor of Arts degree in law by correspondence.
It was at Fort Hare that he discovered that blacks and whites used separate teacups and realized how entrenched racism was. It was here that he learned about the ‘pass’ laws, the supreme symbol of segregation which later bore apartheid.
At the urging of Sisulu and Rabede, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) where he gradually moved to the centre of the party’s activities. His preoccupation with ANC affairs was so great that he was largely an absent father to his elder children, Thembi, Makgatho Lewinika and Publa Makaziwe.
Mandela later met, fell in love with and married Evelyn but his family life fell in tatters. He later married Winnie Zanyiya Madikizela, and the couple had two daughters, Zenani, and Zindziswa, or Zindzi. Winnie was to curve her own political space as leader of the ANC Women’s League.
Mandela was sent to Pretoria Prison and together with his co-accused was charged with conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid regime by violent revolution. He and his co-accused where later transferred to Robben Island. With the ANC banned in the late 1960s, the Black Consciousness Movement, led by charismatic student leader Steve Biko pressed for the release of Mandela and other political prisoners. And, around the world, the anti-apartheid movement became truly global, uniting students, church, labor and political groups. By the1980s, the widespread global protests had thoroughly tainted the Apartheid regime and the white government was willing to negotiate.
Apartheid leader, P.W. Bother initiated talks with Mandela and the ANC. When he resigned as president, the negotiations continued with the new president, F.W. de Klerk who was later to free Mandela. The events following Mandela’s release moved fast, with ANC leaders returning from exile and joining with United Democratic Force (UDF) to form an experienced negotiating.
In February 1992, de Klerk accepted the ANC demand for a government of national unity under an interim constitution. On April 27 1994, South Africans lined up for the first time in an election, and, at the age of 76, Mandela won with 62.6 percent of the vote. Mandela administration lasted only five years, from 1994 to 1999 and achieved impressive advances in establishing democracy and encouraging reconciliation, providing cheap housing, electricity and clean water for millions of people in black townships as well as securing economic stability.
In 1996, Mandela and Winnie were to finally divorce under considerable public rancor. Mandela appointed his former wife as a deputy minister but she became so outspokenly critical of his government and its controversial business operations that Mandela dismissed her.
On July 18 1998, his eightieth birthday, Mandela married his third wife, Graca Machel, widow of the assassinated president of Mozambique. Mandela eventually handed over to Thambo Mbeki.
With this book, Limb presents a balanced image of Mandela that recognizes his courage and leadership, while exposing his human frailties.
Moses Kibe Kihiko holds a Master’s degree in Leadership Studies. He recently published his book “Public Leadership: The Ten Defining Moments How Leaders Acquire & Handle Fame, Power & Glory “with Miraclaire Publishing, Website: www.miraclairebooks.com). Moses is the CEO of Practicum Leadership, a training, consultancy, writing and research firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.