Monday, November 29, 2010

My hero was Nehru not Mahatma: Nelson Mandela


My hero was Nehru not Mahatma: Nelson Mandela


• Posted by GandhiServe Foundation on November 24, 2010 at 11:24am in Mahatma Gandhi News Digest


My hero was Nehru not Mahatma: Nelson Mandela


By Reji John


Champion of anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and its first democratically elected president Nelson Mandela is perhaps the world’s greatest living statesman. His iconic status and universal appeal ensured several authorised, semi-authorised and completely unauthorised biographies in the recent years. The latest one that will reach bookstores soon is Conversations With Myself, a memoir by Mandela with a foreword by the US president Barack Obama.


From the most mundane musings to exceptional reflections, the book gives readers access to the private man behind the public figure.


Like his weight recorded on different days (67kg, body mass without clothes on 19 August, 1987), blood pressure readings taken at different times (170/100 at 7am and 160/90 at 3.45pm on 5, July 1989), trouser size noted as 34R and his disappointment about the ending of the Oscar award winning film Amadeus. “Exciting story but the ending struck me as somewhat flat,” he wrote on his calendar dated February 7, 1986.


But on the other hand, the book also provides significant insights into what motivated his historic decisions. His thoughts about communism, his Christian beliefs, the armed struggle, and the inevitable backlash by the authorities against the innocent bystanders, as well as the perpetrators. “In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickly, strong and weak, famous and infamous,” writes Mandela.


In a conversation with Richard Stengel, who ghostwrote Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom that sold over six million copies worldwide, Mandela says Mahatma Gandhi is not his hero. “But, (Jawaharlal) Nehru was really my hero,” he writes in Conversations With Myself. In the same conversation, Mandela went on to claim that he and many of his peers did not believe in non-violence as a principle.


“Because, when you regard it (non-violence) as a principle you mean throughout, whatever the position is, you’ll stick to non-violence. We took up the attitude that we should stick to non-violence only insofar as the conditions permitted that. Once the conditions were against that we would automatically abandon non-violence and use the methods which were dictated by the conditions,” Mandela wrote in his memoir.


The book draws on Mandela’s personal archive of never-before-seen materials, journals kept on the run during the anti-apartheid struggle of the early 1960s, diaries and draft letters written on Robben Island and in other South African prisons, notebooks from the post-apartheid transitions, private recorded conversation (with his great friend Ahmed Kathrada), and speeches and correspondence written during his presidency.


While other books about Mandela recounted his life from the vantage of the present, Conversations With Myself allows for the first time an unhindered insight into the human side of Mandela’s remarkable life.


“Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man. Like all of us, he has his flaws. But it is precisely those imperfections that should inspire each and every one of us,” writes US president Barack Obama in the foreword.


Verne Harris, the project leader of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Dialogue, writes in the introduction to the book that the form of Conversations With Myself is inspired most directly by Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. “A volume of thoughts, musings and aphorisms penned in the second century AD.” In fact, the original title of Aurelius’ book translates literally as “To Himself”, a prime reason to title the book as Conversations With Myself.


Published by Macmillan, Mandela dedicates the book to his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela, who passed away tragically in an accident on June 11, 2010, the opening day of the World Cup Football in South Africa.


While this is the closest that anyone can get to know about Mandela, there are observers who think that the 92-year-old statesman has many more secrets that the public will never know about.


“I have a feeling he will go to his grave carrying secrets. For example, how much did he know about his wife Winnie’s reign of terror in Soweto in the late Eighties that brought great shame to the name Mandela? I have it on good authority that he was apprised of the details throughout those terrible days, and yet there is barely a passing mention here or in any of the other authorised books. Such omissions mean we shall probably never know the whole truth about Nelson Mandela,” writes Graham Boynton in UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.


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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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