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Nelson Mandela remains to be a role model to many, because of his courage and endurance during his struggle against racism. Through his unwavering courage and good leadership, he was able to terminate apartheid that was very rampant in South Africa and create a country where people are treated equally without segregation on the basis of one’s color.
Many scholars have written a lot about this African hero. One such person is Martin Meredith, who has also written about other African leaders like Robert Mugabe. His biography about Mandela is one of the most recent and exemplary works to be produced about this leader. Meredith follows up and writes down the most significant events in Mandela’s life. He tries to do this as accurately as possible. His work has attracted a lot of praise as well as criticism from different quarters.
The book “Mandela: A Biography”
This is one of the well written books which talk about the life and struggles of the African leaders. In the book, Meredith chooses to focus on Nelson Mandela, one of most famous African leaders. He narrates in details the events of his life from childhood to the period he enters into politics, in a bid to free his country from the vice of apartheid and the consequences of this choice he makes in life. Achieving his dream does not come as easily as he probably thought during the initial stages of this struggle. It costs him a lot in life.
For example, he is separated from his family for a long duration of time while in prison. The suffering that his family goes through is depicted by his young son, Thembi, who asks, ‘where does daddy live?’ This happened around 1950 when Thembi was five years and he only saw his father occasionally.
Mandela is not afraid to lose his private life and sacrifices much of it for the sake of seeing his country freed from apartheid and other vices that were oppressing the citizens of South Africa. He shows a lot of courage even while in prison as stated by Meredith (p 288). Mandela together with other prisoners never did anything to show signs of weaknesses. This is an example the strengths of this leader.
One of the weaknesses that the author points out is his blind belief in his wife, Winnie’s, innocence despite it being clear that she was involved in criminal activities (Meredith p 442). He firmly affirms his belief despite being absent during her trial.
Having heard a lot about this African hero, the book serves as an eye opener to me concerning the many things I never knew about Mandela. It is amazing to learn the perseverance that he shows through all the struggles and more surprising is the fact that he is not bitter with his political enemies, even after he is out of prison. He exhibits a forgiving heart, unlike many people who go through such experiences.
I would recommend this book to anyone who desires to understand Mandela better because; it is the events in his life that have shaped him to be who he is. The book is also resourceful to anyone who would like to understand the modern day South Africa. Lastly, the book offers a lot of insights and valuable lessons in life when one is going through the various stages in life.
A summary of the main developments and themes in the book
In the book “Mandela: A Biography”, the author, Meredith, narrates the story of Mandela together with that of the nation of South Africa. The stories range from the history of an ethnic group called ‘Xhosa’ and their way of life during the 19th century and the emergence of the concept of nationalism in Africa.
The various stages of development of major towns such as Johannesburg together with the impacts that the communist party had on the people, are also part of Meredith’s great work. According to Meredith, it is hard to separate the story of the country South Africa with that of the leader Nelson Mandela.
This is because their stories are closely interwoven. He explains in details Mandela’s life from when he started his carrier as a barrister to the period when he ventured into anti apartheid campaigns. As a result, his life changed drastically when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Despite this tragic turn of events, Meredith notes that his work did not stop. The campaigns he had started on continued to be done by his supporters, through a movement called the ‘Free Mandela Movement’. His wife, Winnie Mandela, was also an active participant in these campaigns.
Mandela’s life is full of incidents worth noting. His participation in the African resistance Movement and the subsequent trials are just some of the many incidents that characterize his life. Mandela was also an active participant in protests against the apartheid regime and the breach of human rights that this system led to.
During his struggle against the injustice upon the people because of apartheid, another problem emerged. This was the problem of a black middle class, which was not there before. This worsened the problem of class discrimination, whereby the poor remained poorer and did not benefit much from this struggle for emancipation. This biography is very rich in information that Meredith has researched in depth and also his personal view of this leader.
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Meredith’s book is the only full-scale biography about Mandela, which explains the hardships that this leader has gone through. Traumatic events including his imprisonment in the Robben Island and the transfer from the Island to Pollsmoor in 1982 are all captured in the book. However, what emerges clearly is the courage that Mandela faces all these struggles with.
Meredith takes his time to write an in depth analysis of Mandela’s life from his childhood to the time he is engaged in political struggles. In the process, he reveals Mandela’s strengths and weaknesses because he details not only his works but also his personality. His love life, his past mistakes and how they haunt him during and after he leaves office are all described in details.
These incidents also help to keep the book interesting and bring out the amazing journey undertaken by this African icon in his life and the ways in which he failed and also succeeded. His vehement affirmation against Winnie’s involvement in any criminal acts brings out one of his weaknesses.
This is because he is quoted to have said, ‘my faith in her has been fully vindicated’ (Meredith, p442). Despite being absent from the court proceedings during her trial, he firmly asserts that his wife, Winnie, was not aware of the presence of a stranger at the back of their house.
Lessons from the book
Reading this biography was an enjoyable experience to me, specifically because of Meredith’s unprejudiced opinion about Mandela’s life. He is not afraid to point out his shortcomings both in his leadership and his role in the family. This is unlike many writers, who portray renowned leaders in a superficial way. The leaders are often portrayed as super humans, who lack any weaknesses and who do everything in a perfect manner. This presentation of such leaders is often misleading and lacks credibility.
This biography, however, steers clear from such presentation, which brings more credibility to his biography. Learning about his shortcomings does not however, change my view of this Mandela as being a great leader and an activist who is very courageous.
This book is a must read for anybody who is interested in understanding the modern South Africa. The book explores Mandela’s life from the time he held a strong belief that Africans were the ones supposed to lead his country alone without interference from those from another race. He viewed the other races with a lot of suspicion and lack of trust and responded violently to any attempts by them to gain control over the blacks.
This, however, does not remain so forever because, after his release from prison, Mandela becomes the leader of all races and is comfortable with the races co-existing harmoniously. He does not harbor feelings of revenge and calls for a united South Africa. This depicts a humble man, with a forgiving heart and ready to lead his country by example. It is no wonder that he has become a role model to many people not only in his country but also globally.
Meredith also notes that, Mandela had a unique way of relating with people. He is a man who is more comfortable when around strangers than when he is with the people one would consider as his friends.
How the book validates the concept of culture and leadership
Dealing with issues of culture in leadership is often a tiresome and a hard task, according to Connerley and Pedersen (p 2). Consequently, most of the leaders choose to pay no attention to culture in a bid to avoid dealing with the enormous burden that comes with it when one tries to handle it as a leader.
However, Connerley and Pedersen (p 2) suggest that this should not be so because ‘…leaders need to acknowledge their own cultural baggage as they understand the importance of gaining awareness of culture’ (Connerley and Pedersen, P 2). Overlooking culture is further compared to a person driving a car but along the way, they decide to remove their hands from the steering wheel and expect to get them to their intended destination.
Connerley and Pedersen (p 2) say that such a person should not expect to reach where they were going because the vehicle is going to move to a direction that the driver did not intend. Integration of culture in leadership is therefore an important aspect.
Multiculturalism should be embraced by every leader if they intend to achieve cohesion of the people in the society they are leading. Nelson Mandela is an example if a leader who believed in multiculturalism during his tenure as the president of South Africa. He ensured that every citizen was treated fairly and enjoyed their rights as citizens of South Africa.
Another aspect in relation to Nelson Mandela and his leadership that validates the concept of culture and leadership is pointed out by Meredith (409). He states that Mandela goes through hardships in an attempt to free his people from any form of injustices meted on them during the era of apartheid.
Due to this, Mandela is seen as a leader who is fighting for multiculturalism and is against separation. Separation is defined by Connerley and Pedersen (P 4) as ‘rejecting all cultural values except your own’ (Connerley and Pedersen, P 4). He is not ready to give up until he sees his country become a place where all the races are able to live together in peace and without any form of oppression or discrimination on the basis of ones color.
Meredith (409) further notes that as a result of Mandela’s whole hearted involvement in fighting for what he believes in, the family suffers and is expose to lack of security that the father in the family offers.
His ability to forget what lay behind and move on with life after serving his jail term and taking the presidential seat is also incredible. Speaking of his sunset years after retiring, Mandela is quoted to have said, ‘it becomes important, the older you get, to return to places where you have wonderful recollections’ (Meredith, p 1).
Nelson Mandela is an example of a selfless leader who put the interest of others before his own. His struggle to achieve what he believes in is an example of how nothing is impossible if one holds on to their dreams. Meredith has effectively captured the events that have contributed in shaping the life of this hero, without leaving out his weaknesses.
Connerley, Mary and Pedersen, Paul. Leadership in a diverse and multicultural environment: developing awareness. London: Sage Publications Limited, 1992.
Meredith, Martin. Mandela: A Biography. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.