||CHAPTER 1: PREFACE||Page 2|
In a few pages of lucid prose, he explains how he came to be an activist:
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.
Even in prison he and his colleagues maintained their activism: "we regarded the struggle in prison as a microcosm of the struggle as a whole. We would fights inside as we had fought outside. As a result, "there were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair."
Mandela illustrates throughout his book the skills of affiliation. Although he often found himself on the losing side of policy debates, he would always swallow his pride and respect the collective decision. At times he learned from his errors and changed his opinion; at other times it was his views that eventually convinced the others and prevailed. It was always a process of patience, of listening, and of growth:
I have always believed that to be a freedom fighter one must suppress many of the personal feelings that make one feel like a separate individual rather than part of a mass movement. One is fighting for the liberation of millions of people, not the glory of one individual.
At the same time, however, there were moments when he had to make decisions alone - such as his decision to initiate discussion with the apartheid regime:
I knew that my colleagues upstairs would condemn my proposal, and that would kill the initiative even before it was born. There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.
Mandela describes the importance, the difficulties, the successes and failures of personal integration. Through two marriages and a law practice which was eventually destroyed, he remained in touch with his need for family:
When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.
Finally, we can learn much of leadership and world historic consciousness from his example. He was never sectarian. Despite differences with tribal leaders, despite challenges from a new generation, despite outright sabotage from the PAC and Chief Buthelezi, he always maintained a dialogue with them, seeking to convince them of the values of unity and learning whatever he could from their experiences and perspectives.
Mandela and his colleagues have added greatly to our understanding of non-violence through their constant struggle over the issue:
I saw non-violence on the Gandhian model not as an inviolable principle but as a factor 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 non-violent protest for as long as it was effective.
In what is perhaps his greatest contribution, he sought out and maintained dialogue with the oppressors. In the spirit of Gandhi, he knew "that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed." In explaining how he could accept the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with South African President de Klerk, he says, "To make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes your partner."
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