Personal Notes on A Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela’s Autobiography
This is an incredible book about an incredible life. He is truly devoted to freedom in a way that I only aspire to be and will serve as constant inspiration. It’s also a great look into the freedom struggle in South Africa and it’s interesting as a model for how a struggle can evolve and what it could look like. I cannot recommend reading this enough. So good. <3
Sorry about any typos and stuff :)
Apartheid / capitalism
- it stands to reason that an immoral and unjust legal system would breed contempt for its laws and regulations
- in south africa, to be poor and black was normal, to be poor and white was a tragedy
- no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones - and south africa treated its imprisoned african citizens like animals.
- an oppressive system cannot be reformed, it must be entirely cast aside
- as a student, i had been taught that south africa was a place where the rule of law was paramount and applied to all persons, regardless of their social status or official position. i sincerely believed this and planned my life based on that assumption. but my career as a lawyer and activist removed the scales from my eyes. i saw that there was a wide difference between what i had been taught in the lecture room and what i learned in the courtroom. i went from having and idealist view of the law as a sword of justice to a perception of the law as a tool used by the ruling class to shape society in a way favorable to itself. i never expected justice in court, however much i fought for it.
- with the banning of the ANC, PAC, and the Communist Party, the Black Consciousness Movement helped fill a vacuum among young people. Black consciousness was less a movement than a philosophy and grew out of the idea the blacks must first liberate themselves from the sense of psychological inferiority bred by three centuries of white rule. only then could the people rise up in confidence and truly liberate themselves from repression.
- [about whites] “you are a strange people, full of greed and envy, who quarrel over plenty.”
- “Freedom in our lifetime, long live the struggle.”
- he thanked the lord for his bounty and goodness, for his mercy and his concern for all men. but then he took the liberty of reminding the lord that some of his subjects were more downtrodden than others, and that it sometimes seems as though he was not paying attention. the minister then said that if the lord did now show a little more initiative in leading the black man to salvation, the black man would have to take maters into his own hands. amen.
- i had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand sights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisioned my people. there was no particular day on which i said, From hence forth i will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, i simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.
- i discovered for the first time people of my own age firmly aligned with the liberation struggle, who were prepared, despite their relative privilege, to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the oppressed.
- we took up the struggle with our eyes wide open, under no illusion that the path would be an easy one.
- On the Indian civil disobedience campaign
- for two years, people had suspended their lives to take up the battle. mass rallies were held; land reserved for whites was occupied and picketed. no less than two thousand volunteers went to jail, and mrs. dadoo and naicker were sentenced to six months’ hard labor.
- Ismail Meer and J. N. Singh suspended their sutdies, said good-bye to their families, and when to prision. ahmed karhrada, who was still a high-school student, did the same thing. i often visited the home of amina pahad for lunch, and then suddenly, this charming woman put aside her apron and went to jail for her beliefs. if i had once questioned the willingness of the Indian community to protest against oppression, i no longer could.
- they reminded us that the freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, holding meetings, passing resolutions and spending deputations, but of meticulous organizing, militant mass action, and above all, the willingness to suffer and sacrifice.
- when a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.
- [Luthuli] “who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door?”
- [End of his closing court statement while on trial that could have resulted in capital punishment] during my lifetime i have dedicated myself to this 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 ope to live for and to achieve. but if needs be, it is an ideal for which i am prepared to die. (full closing statement pate 363)
- after a discussion among ourselves, i informed counsel that whatever sentences we received, even the death sentence, we would not appeal… in light of the bold and defiant line we had taken all along, an appeal would seem anticlimactic and even disillusioning. our message was that no sacrifice was too great in the struggle for freedom.
- the government had always utilized divide-and-rule tactics when dealing with Africans and depended on the strength of ethnic divisions among the people.
- the insidious effect of bans was that at a certain point one began to think that the oppressor was not without but within.
- the government was to create an african middle class to blunt the appeal of the ANC and the liberation struggle
- prior to the [defiance] campaign, the ANC was more talk than action. we had no paid organizers, no staff, and a membership that did little more than pay lip service to our cause. as a result of the campaign, our membership swelled to 100,000. the ANC emerged as a truly mass-based organization with an impressive corps of experienced activist who had braved the police, the courts, and the jails. the stigma usually associated with imprisonment had been removed. this was a signification achievement, for fear of prison is a tremendous hinderance to a liberation struggle. from the Defiance Campaign onward, going to prison became a badge of honor among Africans.
- all campaigns should be judged on two levels: whether the immediate objective was achieved, and whether it politicized more people and drew them into the struggle.
- Freedom Charter
- The National Action Council invited all participating organizations and their followers to send suggestions for a freedom charter. circulars were sent out to townships and villages all across the country. “IF YOU COULD MAKE THE LAWS… WHAT WOULD YOU DO?” they said. “HOW WOULD YOU SET ABOUT MAKING SOUTH AFRICA A HAPPY PLACE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN IT?” some of the flyers and leaflets were filled with the poetic idealism that characterized the planning: “we call the people of south africa black and white - let us speak together of freedom!… let the voices of all the people be heard. and let the demands of all the people for the things that will make us free be recorded. let the demands one gathered together in a great charter of freedom.”
- Though the Congress of the People had been broken up, the charter itself became a great beacon for the liberation struggle. like other enduring political documents, such as the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter is a mixture of practical goals and poetic language. it extols the abolition of racial discrimination and the achievement of equal rights for all. it welcomes all who embrace freedom to participate in the making of a democratic, nonracial South Africa. it captured the hopes and dreams of the people and acted as a blueprint for the liberation struggle and the future of the nation.
- my sense of the country was that relatively few people were ready to make the sacrifices to join the struggle. we should meet the people on their own terms, even if that meant appearing to collaborate. my ideas was that our movement should be a great tent that included as many people as possible
- it is best to rely on the freely given support of the people; otherwise, that support is weak and fleeting. the organization should be a haven, not a prison.
- sometimes one must go public with an idea to push a reluctant organization in the direction you want it to go
- moses was an old-line communist, and i told him that his opposition was like the communist party in cuba under batista. the party had insisted that the appropriate conditions had not yet arrived, and waited because they were simply following the textbook definitions of lenin and stalin. castro did not wait, he acted - and he triumphed. if you wait for textbook condition, they will never occur.
- now, mandela, you are creating a liberation army not a conventional capitalist army. a liberation army is an egalitarian army. you must treat your men entirely different than you would in a capitalist army. when you are on duty, you must exercise your authority with assurance and control. that is no different from a capitalist command. but when you are off duty, you must conduct yourself on the basis of perfect equality, even with the lowliest solider. you must eat what they eat; you must not take your food in your office, but eat with them, drink with them, not isolate yourself
- theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage
- inspired by the Defiance Campaign, the COD was formed in late 1952 as a party for radical, left-wing, antigovernment whites. the COD, though small and limited mainly to Johannesburg and Capte Town, had an influence disproportionate to its numbers. its members, such as michael harmel, bram fischer, and rusty bernstein, were eloquent advocates of our cause. the COD closely identified itself with the ANC and the SAIC and advocated a universal franchise and fully equality between black and white. We saw the COD as a means whereby our views could be put directly to the white public. The COD served an important symbolic function for Africans; blacks who had come into the struggle because they where antiwhite discovered that there were indeed whites of goodwill who treated Africans as equals.
- Bram [white] was a free man who fought against his own people to ensure the
- freedom of others.
- if a particular method or tactic enabled us to defeat the enemy, then it should be used. the state was far more powerful than we, and any attempts at violence by us would be devastatingly crushed. this made nonviolence a practical necessity rather than an option. this was my view, and i saw nonviolence in the Gandhian model not as an inviolable principle but as a tactic to be used as the situation demanded. the principle was not so important that the strategy should be used even when it was self-defeating, as Gandhi himself believed. i called for nonviolent protest for as long as it was effective.
- in india, Gandhi had been dealing with a foreign power that ultimately was more realistic and farsighted. that was not the case with the Afrikaners in South Africa. non-violent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. but if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. for me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.
- I responded that the state was responsible for the violence and that it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle. if the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently. in our case it was simply a legitimate form of self-defense. i ventured that if the state decided to use peaceful methods, the ANC would also use peaceful means. “it is up to you, not us, to renounce violence.”
- I wanted to reaffirm to the world that we were only responding to the violence done to us. i intended to make it clear that if i emerged from prison into the same circumstances in which i was arrested, i would be forced to resume the same activities for which i was arrested.
- violence would begin whether we initiated it or not
- [at tribal meeting] everyone who wanted to speak did so. it was democracy in its purest for. there may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer. people spoke without interruption and the meetings lasted for many hours. the foundation of self government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens.
- the meeting would continue until some kind of consensus was reached. they ended in unanimity or not at all. unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. democracy meant that ll men where to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. majority rule was a foreign notion. a minority was not to be crushed by a majority.
- I voted near the where John Dube, the first president of the ANC, was buried. This African patriot had helped found the organization in 1912, and casting my vote near his grave site brought history full circle, for the mission he began eighty-two years before was about to be achieved…. I did not go into that voting station alone on April 27; i was casting my vote with all of them.
- the policy of apartheid created a deep and lasting wound in my country and my people. all of us will spend many years, if not generations, recovering from that profound hurt.
- perhaps it requires such depth of oppression to create such heights of character
- i learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. i felt fear myself more times than i can remember, but i hid it behind a mask of boldness. the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
- i always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. no on is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. even in the grimmest times in prision, when my comrades and i were pushed to our limits, i would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and eke me going. man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.
- i am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but i found that i could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms i was allowed when i knew my people were not free. freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were changes on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.
- i knew as well as i knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. a man who takes away another mans’ freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. i am not truly free if i am taking away someone else’s freedom use as surely as i am not free when my freedom is taken from me. the oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
- the truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. we have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. for to be free is not merely to cast of one’s chains, but to live in a way that respect and enhances the freedom of others. the true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
- I have walked that long road to freedom. i have tried not to falter; i have made missteps along the way. but i have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. i have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a few 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.
General life lessons
- I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate. Even as a boy, i defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.
- it is important for a freedom fighter to remain in touch with his own roots, and the hurly-burly of city life has a way of erasing the past
- [this is just the most touching thing to me] the students of London Universtiy elected me president of their Student’s Union, in abstention. [he was taking correspondence courses there while in prison]