Long Walk to Freedom is an autobiographical work written by South African President Nelson Mandela, and published in 1995 by Little Brown & Co. The book profiles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. Under the apartheid government, Mandela was regarded as a terrorist and jailed on the infamous Robben Island for his role as a leader of the then-outlawed ANC. He has since achieved international recognition for his leadership as president in rebuilding the country’s once segregated society. The last chapters of the book describe his political ascension, and his belief that the struggle continues against apartheid in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.
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LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is his moving and exhilarating autobiography, destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history’s greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life–an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.
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Within the first parts of the autobiography, Mandela describes his upbringing as a child and adolescent in South Africa, and being connected to the royal Thembu dynasty. His childhood name was Rolihlahla, which is loosely translated as “pulling the branch of a tree”, or a euphemism for “troublemaker”.
Later in the text, Mandela describes his education at a Thembu college called Clarkebury, and later at the strict Healdtown school, where students were rigorously put in routines. He mentions his education at the University of Fort Hare, and his practice of law later on.
Within the second part of the book, Mandela introduces political and social aspects of apartheid in South Africa, and the influences of politicians such as Daniel François Malan who implemented the nadir of African freedoms, as he officially commenced the apartheid policies. Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1950 and describes his organisation of guerrilla tactics and underground organisations to battle against apartheid.
In 1961, Mandela was convicted for inciting people to strike and leaving the country without a passport and sentenced to five years imprisonment. However, Mandela was shortly thereafter sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage in what was known as the “Rivonia Trial”, by Justice Dr. Quartus de Wet, instead of a possibledeath sentence.
Mandela describes prison time on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. His 28-year tenure in prison was marked by the cruelty of Afrikaner guards, backbreaking labour, and sleeping in minuscule cells which were nearly uninhabitable. Unlike his biographer Anthony Sampson, Mandela does not accuse the warder James Gregory of fabricating a friendship with his prisoner. Gregory’s book Goodbye Bafana discussed Mandela’s family life and described Gregory as a close personal friend of Mandela. According to Mandela: The Authorised Biography, Gregory’s position was to censor the letters delivered to the future president, and he thereby discovered the details of Mandela’s personal life, which he then made money from by means of his book Goodbye Bafana. Mandela considered suing Gregory for this breach of trust. In Long Walk to Freedom Mandela remarks of Gregory only that ‘I had not known him terribly well, but he knew us, because he had been responsible for reviewing our incoming and outgoing mail.’
Later on in his sentence, Mandela met South African president, Frederik Willem de Klerk, and was released from prison in 1990. Unlike his friend Anthony Sampson’s account, Mandela’s book does not discuss the alleged complicity of de Klerk in the violence of the eighties and nineties, or the role of his ex-wife Winnie Mandela in that bloodshed. Mandela became the South African president in 1994.
For the story of the making of this book featuring the editor from Little Brown who created it, William Phillips, see