Nelson Mandela once said, "A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination." The world has been fortunate in having Mandela's own remarkable contributions over the past 86 years and is only now beginning to truly appreciate the scope of his accomplishments. A fiercely intelligent and educated South African, he took his street smarts to the fight when he began battling against Apartheid with the organization of the African Nation Congress in the 1940's.
Over 50 years have passed since Mandela was first arrested in July of 1952 under an absurd charge accusing him of communism. In that time, he has suffered an intolerably long imprisonment and risen above it not only to elevate his country as South Africa's first black president but also to unite it with amazing forgiveness and charity.
Through it all, Mandela's greatest strength has been his message of freedom, equality and human dignity, carried out through his extraordinary speeches, some smuggled from his prison cell on Robin Island. His important thoughts, ideas and messages have been collected in this single volume, In His Own Words, giving phenomenal insight into the mind of one of the world's great leaders.
It is wisely divided into different topics, giving the man's thoughts on education, culture, religion and other areas. Yet, it is easy to skip through and find the evolution of the peacemaker born in the body of a freedom fighter. The speeches run the gambit from his own defense in front of the Pretorian court to his speech on release from prison in Cape Town in which he said, "I have fought against white domination and I 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 idea which I hope to live for and to achieve but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
In later life, he expressed his thoughts prior to his inauguration as President, as he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and on South Africa's new era of hope as he pressed for reconciliation between its people and its former masters. He talks of heroes including the murdered Steven Biko, his partner in the struggle, Oliver Tambo, and his conscience, Archbishop Demond Tutu.
Tutu is just one of the many leaders who come up in this book to praise, introduce and help to explain Mandela's appeal. They include President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
I saw Archbishop Tutu speak of Mandela, the man he calls "Madiba," during Tutu's term at King's College London last year. The extraordinary impact of Tutu's speech was that you came away with a sense of Mandela's deep humanity but also his long journey, awash with flaws. He still carries that idea of Mandela's growth even as his companions thought he was done for. The man who should have come out bristling with anger and violence had risen above his own imprisonment.
In his eloquent speech at King's in January of 2004, Tutu said, "Thus it was that when nearly everyone expected us to be overwhelmed by the most awful bloodbath, when blacks would engage in an orgy of revenge and retribution, were instead awed by the spectacle of South Africa engaging in the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by a President and former political prisoner, terrorist to many powerful ones, who amazed by inviting his former white jailer to attend his Presidential Inauguration as a VIP guest, displaying then and on numerous other occasions quite breathtaking magnanimity and generosity of spirit so that it became a common spectacle for victims of the most appalling atrocities to embrace the perpetrators in a display of forgiveness and reconciliation that was almost without precedent."
Mandela's own thoughts are deeply inspirational as he faces not only a divided country but one that is wrought with other devastating problems. Even as the newly elected president struggled with nation building, development and diplomacy, he was also fighting AIDS, poverty and educational struggles.