My walk towards Mandela

By Carlos Velazquez   -  12 December 2013

Last summer, whilst reading the news on the BBC, I came across an article about Mandela’s health. He had been hospitalised. I clicked on the headline and read the full text. The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Mandela is going to die soon’. The hero, the fighter, the invincible… was about to die. 

I realised I did not know him as much as I would have liked to. Such an important figure, and yet I could not fully appreciate to what extent his legacy was crucial to human kind. I instinctively googled him and devoured his Wikipedia’s page. It felt like my stomach after eating pasta: full and satisfied when finished, starving an hour later. It was not enough. I had made up my mind; it was time for me to cull my ignorance on the topic and learn more about, according to many, one of the most inspirational people still on earth.

After a quick search on Amazon and ten-day waiting period, 'Long Walk to Freedom' arrived in my life – I still wonder how the postman managed to insert such a thick book through the letter crack on my door. It was a warm summer evening in August when started my own walk:

Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “troublemaker”. I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered.

The brick-sized book would become my loyal companion for the next two months. It made me fly over the magical landscapes of South Africa, whilst everyone else around me suffered the hassles of Jubilee Line in rush hour. It broke my heart; arose my anger and fuelled my frustration whilst my oblivious housemates drunk tea in our garden. It accompanied me to bed where it combated my nightmares with messages of hope, commitment and passion whilst the hectic London’s life carried on restlessly outside my bedroom.

In 1964, at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was defending his life after being accused of having recruited people for sabotage and guerrilla warfare for the purpose of starting a violent revolution. This paragraph stuck in my head for weeks:

During my life time I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and 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 hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

I finished 'Long walk to Freedom' in October. I never felt as inspired as I did then. I found his secret – Mandela was not a hero nor invincible. He was human. As human he started a revolution, fought against racial discrimination, suffered imprisonment and became a national leader. As human he also felt in love, was scared, made mistakes and regretted some of his decisions. Now that he is resting in peace, and so much has been said about him in the media, I try to remind myself his main message: there were no superpowers, no magic tricks but only, a passionate and hopeful man. A man committed to freedom.