A memoir of Mandela’s term as president of newly democratic South Africa.
Catapulting from prison to executive office soon after attaining freedom, Mandela (1918-2013) pledged two things: he would serve only one five-year term, as opposed to the entrenched presidents who preceded him, and he would ensure that all South African citizens were treated equally under the law. After leaving office, he began writing a memoir of his time in office, but he did not complete it. Working with his drafts, South African novelist Langa (The Lost Colours of the Chameleon, 2008, etc.) delivers a book that is less polished (because it’s told in two voices) than it would have been had Mandela finished it himself and that is a touch remote at times: “What Mandela said in the snap debate was in essence a reprise of his earlier speech in the Senate, but it was accompanied by a reminder of the fundamental goals of transition, and stressed that it was imperative that there should be a national effort to achieve those goals.” Nonetheless, it is a critically important document as the principal firsthand record of Mandela’s tumultuous time in office and the often ingenious measures he took to bring about peace. For instance, he had long steeped himself in the history and language of the Afrikaners, the Dutch-descended white settlers of South Africa who were agents of apartheid but not its authors, since the “Colour Bar was a British colonial invention.” Mandela calculated that if the Afrikaners could be persuaded to act as a bloc in support of the new democracy he headed, then “they would form the backbone of its defense.” So it was that he was able to head off a free-state movement and include Afrikaners, as well as other Europeans, in government. Though without the poetry of Mandela’s memoir Long Walk to Freedom (1994), the book contains many such practical lessons in governance.
Essential to students of Mandela’s political career as well as of modern African history.