A WhatsApp message, about Mr. Nelson Mandela, caught my eye and I pulled out his memoirs “Long walk to Freedom” that was collecting dust on my bookshelf. The WhatsApp story claimed that Nelson Mandela, after becoming president of South Africa, met one of his former prison guards and invited him to lunch. Once the man had left, Mandela explained to his companions that the man used to be a guard in the prison where he was jailed.
“Often, after the torture, I was subjected to, I used to scream and ask for a little water. The very same man used to come every time and urinate on my head instead,” Mandela is quoted as saying.
The guard probably expected some sort of retaliation, “but this is not my character”, Mandela said.
The story, I realized was utterly false! Mr. Mandela himself claimed in his book and in many places that he was not subjected to any physical torture. However, I was ridiculed in many groups for pointing out this mistake.
Somehow in today’s small world, Whatsapp has emerged to be a bottomless well of abundant knowledge! People believe in many such obnoxious, often fake messages propagating them further with religious zeal. As the saying goes “A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth”. Same with Whatsapp forwards.
However, the Whatsapp message invigorated me to read Mr. Mandela’s account in his own words. How could a man live in prison for 28 years, in an island, without meeting his wife and kids, while I could not live without my phone for even half an hour! It intrigued me.
Well, Mandela tells us his upbringing in the countryside of South Africa as Rolihlahla, his birth name. Country upbringing same anywhere in the world, I realized- country games, playing with animals and in farms, swimming in lakes, basically a healthy outdoor life, without much care about events happening in the outside world.
Tribes and the tribal hierarchy played an important part in South African life then and Rolihlahla was groomed to be one of the advisors to the future Thembu king, as he had Thembu royal lineage. Fortunately for him, he says, he was not destined to be mining gold for the white men, prominently Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers who ruled the country. He was picked up at a very early age to be in politics. Sometimes I feel, everybody’s fate is pre destined. What if someone else was groomed and what of Rolihlahla was asked to go to the mines?
In his primary school, there was a tradition of naming pupil with Christian names and that is when Rolihlahla became Nelson.
After his circumcision, he was sent to Clakerbury Institute, then Healdton, where his conscience was made aware of the condition of his motherland, where a spark of fire was ignited in his heart about the atrocities the indigenous people, them, were facing in the hands of foreigners. Finally, he was selected to go to Fort Hare, one of the top universities in South Africa, where his rebellion and activism took shape.
South Africa was so divided in those days that the natives had separate passes, which they had to carry with them all the time. If they could not produce the pass, when the white police asked, they would be jailed. They had separate busses; separate schools even separate living quarters assigned! All of this in their own country!
His activism as a part of ANC took him to prison many times and also attracted bans on him. He was severely restricted to leave certain cities and enter certain cities. Nothing stopped him from attending meetings of the ANC and his protest against the white government. ANC was following Gandhi’s principles and were very closely following the Indian independence movement as well. In the meantime, he was studying to be a lawyer. He, soon raised in the ranks of ANC and was instrumental in starting a Youth division within the ANC.
After the famous Rivonia trial cemented Nelson Mandela’s stature as a leader of his people. Soon he was banned again, before he got caught in a dramatic almost Hollywood-style sequence. Nelson Mandela, we know has been a symbol of peace, but I was surprised to know that, when he found none of the peaceful protests working, he resorted to violence, building a secret military unit within ANC. He was the commander in chief!
That was the last time he was free, for the next 27 years! I wondered how could a man, cut off from the world, be instrumental in liberating his people from Apartheid. Well, even in prison he fought for political prisoner’s rights, constantly appearing before international commissions who toured the prison. He had shed his violent school of thought completely and embraced nonviolence, much like Gandhi. In his book, he writes about how they had to eat the same meal every day- mealie pap or porridge, how his family was not granted permission to meet him in prison, how his wife was subjected to discomfort, and many more such incidents. The man never saw his children for 16 years, when they were first allowed to meet him! What a man! He sacrificed his entire life for the injustice his people suffered! There were many of his comrades in prison too, some for 22 years, some for 26, and many more for more than 27.
Eventually, he initiated direct talks with the Government authorities from prison which culminated in the abolishment of Apartheid, after many secretive discussions.
I felt truly thankful for that fake whatsapp message. I learnt about a great man! an inspiration, to live and to believe, to fight against injustice.