Hope Springs Eternal: Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk

By Tinashe Chimedza. Tinashe studied Social Inquiry at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He lives in Harare, Zimbabwe. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Nelson Mandela: the herd-boy from Mvezo

In February of 1990, Nelson Mandela stepped out of prison after a gruelling 27 years. The Mandela who emerged from prison was a different person from the boy who herded cows in his father’s village. When he emerged, with a cautious walk, the crowd went electric. It was a unique moment that would re-define South Africa and world affairs. Here was a historical event in the mould of the historic fall of the Berlin Wall. For the few thousands that greeted him it was an exceptionally rare moment. As Mandela’s jailers waved him off, history was being written right before the world’s eyes. The celebrations went beyond the borders of South Africa and Africa because the jailed Mandela had long escaped his jailers. The wild cheers reverberated globally and a few people had tears running down their faces. A few weeks later he would address a crowd estimated at 100,000 in Johannesburg.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was imprisoned in three prisons, from 1962 until 1990, because the South African political system considered him a ‘terrorist’ and wanted to keep him in check. Imprisonment would serve as the proverbial matchstick that lit the world with indignation against apartheid in South Africa. As he made his few steps out of prison and into a new life the hope for a new and changed South Africa became possible. Far too many people had hoped and acted for this moment. What stepped out of prison that day was no longer the same Nelson Mandela who was ‘convicted’ in 1964. This was a different Mandela who had condensed his ideas about the the fate of the human race into his book Long Walk to Freedom.

He stepped out with an outlook about peace, justice and re-conciliation that would go on to inspire millions around the world.  The first democratic election of South Africa was still a few years away but Nelson Mandela stepped out of prison with bold ideas of a new South Africa and how to build a ‘rainbow’ nation of peace, justice and tolerance. It was not going to be an easy task as the political, social and economic forces of apartheid kept de-railing the process. Apartheid was a vicious system that fanned violence, used targeted assassinations and other ways of pushing back the tide of change that Nelson Mandela encapsulated. Against this traumatic violence, Nelson Mandela responded with diplomatic tact, long-drawn patience and deep reservoirs of inspiration in order to forge a rainbow nation from the rubbles of apartheid.

Ideas Can Not Be Jailed

Separated from the most southern tip of South Africa, there is an almost barren land called Robben Island. It is a desolate place only reachable by either boat or by helicopter and at some point used to be a leper colony. It was also a military garrison and it is here that Nelson Mandela and his co-accused were imprisoned. The island is now a museum with the objective of reminding humanity of its history. Three times a day through the year a group of tourists step onto a ferry to visit Nelson Mandela’s former prison. People who travel to that island are witnesses to the ways in which apartheid South Africa traumatised, brutalised and tried to manipulate Nelson Mandela’s call for a peaceful, democratic and a multi-racial South Africa.

Having interacted with his jailers, having been repressed by his tormentors, having been separated from his family, Nelson Mandela made a difficult choice of peace, of reconciliation and of tolerance. Mandela had entered the jail willing to die for his ideas. During the Rivonia trial, he had stated that he had fought against ‘white domination,…and against black domination’ and it is a cause that he was prepared to lay down his life for. His was a journey not only of political sacrifice but a journey that he began with a vague idea of what the future held. As he continued being jailed, more and more people came to realise the injustice. President Barack Obama would say ‘Madiba’s light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Roben Island cell’. His experience in jail was indeed transforming the man as if this was an apprenticeship in leadership.

Nobel Peace Prize and Global Icon

Through suffering under his jailers, further education and meditation in prison, he became a global icon. There was a song that cried out the words Free Nelson Mandela written by Hugh Masekela. This was complemented by a global campaign under the banner Free Nelson Mandela. On the 11th of June 1988 the Free Nelson Mandela Concert was broadcast to over 600 million people across the world. The rallying call was for Nelson Mandela’s freedom but it was also about freedom as a necessary condition for humanity. With that stadium at full capacity, it was clear that the boy from Mvezo was now a global rallying point for human progress and freedom.

While Nelson Mandela’s jailers clanked the keys, kept him under lock and subjected him to indignity, he was on his journey to propel his idea, escaping the geography of his isolation. He also turned his attention to what sort of future the human race can focus on.  In his speech, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he said the following seminal words:

‘Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates. Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.’ (Nelson Mandela: Noble Peace Prize Speech, 1993).

The ideas of Nelson Mandela that were once imprisoned shined into people’s houses on that day as he was given the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a rare moment in history that brought together the world in the hopes for a better world. The jailed Mandela had become a world leader and his journey had started from a small Qunu where now he lies buried but his tall legacy follows him still to this day in world events.

Hope Springs Eternal

When Nelson Mandela died, he brought together the highest number of Presidents in one place. The world conversed about his legacy to humanity. This was the impact of a man who started his work and journey not knowing himself fully and where he would end up. In 2018, President Barack Obama presented the Nelson Mandela Public Lecture in front of over a 17,000 people.  President Obama said the following words:

‘And during the last decades of the 20th century, the progressive, democratic vision that Nelson Mandela represented in many ways set the terms of international political debate. It doesn’t mean that vision was always victorious, but it set the terms, the parameters; it guided how we thought about the meaning of progress, and it continued to propel the world forward.’ (President Barack Obama, 2018)

These words powerfully summed the journey that Nelson Mandela travelled from a herd-boy, law school, political activism, prison and the triumph to be the first President of a democratic South Africa.

The canvas of Mandela’s shows the possible transformation of humanity through time. If an artist were to paint a canvas of President Mandela’s life, it would have two sides: one side of injustice and another one of pursuing justice. The unjust side of the canvas will be grim, painted with the agonies of jail, painted with the tears of repression and fashioned by apartheid. It will be a world of no hope. Another side to the canvas will have the painting where ‘hope springs eternal’.  This is the side that made the world embrace Nelson Mandela.

President Mandela’s life fulfils abundantly Michel Foucault’s admonition about the journey from ignorance and committing to ‘become someone else that you were not in the beginning’. The Nelson Mandela that was eulogised by President Barack Obama, as a man who went from ‘prisoner to President’, was a different Nelson Mandela than the herd-boy from Mvezo.  Although jailed and isolated on a barren island, Nelson Mandela became an inspiration for how to face injustice. Nelson Mandela might not have known exactly who he was, not have known the twist and turns of his life, but through his commitment to certain principles he became someone else — a global Nelson Mandela. A paragon of justice, healing, peace, tolerance and re-conciliation.

The herd-boy became a Nobel Laureate and a President.

50 comments on “Hope Springs Eternal: Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk

  1. Albert Edgar Manyuchi on

    This is a well researched, inspiring and insightful article. I think Mandela continues to inspire hope and forgiveness in many ensnared by the tentacles of various forms of oppression, especially in Africa. Tinashe manages to vividly illustrate this point.

    • Peace Murimba on

      Freedom came at cost – the young generation must and should celebrate the selfless sacrifices of generation of Mandela. Our call is to now deepen democratic space and build an inclusive economy that gives young people an opportunity to participate and contribute.

      Thank you Tinashe – there is still hope for Africa.

  2. Sam Gumbo on

    This is a very written article Tinashe. Presidents Obama’s views about this African giant should inspire young Africans to bring down oppression. May your Soul continue to Rest In Peace Madiba

  3. Ronald on

    This is a good read Tinashe. Well researched. Mandela was a true icon of reconciliation. After been tormented for so long he still preached peace.

  4. Ricky Mukonza on

    The story of Mandela is one that gives us hope about our continent Africa, if our continent could produce this giant that went on to influence the world’s thinking on ideals such as peace, justice….then there could be much more good that is still to come from Africa. The fact that he grew up from an ordinary family village and led an ordinary life but went on to achieve the extraordinary through sticking to certain principles also gives hope and a roadmap to many Africans out there. Thanks Tinashe for the insights!

  5. Chaka Chirozva on

    This is a well-written article highlighting how Madiba morphed into a new creature. It demonstrates the power of endurance and hope. You have painted vividly those unforgettable scenes as Nelson emerged from incarceration – his wit unparalleled and armed with a charisma to lead through reconciliation. No doubt his story is one that changed the world’s political map more like the collapse of the Berlin Wall. A post-apartheid South Africa hinged on a sense of hope for humanity was born. If only we could take a small dose of that original spirit of this remarkable founding father, the world would be a better place.

  6. Tamuka Chirimambowa on

    Brilliant article which dares us to imagine a new Post-Colonial Africa where different races can live in harmony. Mandela’s life challenges us to go beyond our suffering and create a new life but for this to yield something had to give in, hence reconciliation and justice. No easy solutions but indeed a long walk to freedom. After 27 years of imprisonment but still never sought vengeance and only pursued principles: justice and freedom. This is the challenge that lies before us. In the age of populism and reincarnation of racial politics in Africa, this article calls for a rethink. On what principles do our politics lie?

  7. Terence Chitapi on

    Well researched article. This leg of Africa’s liberation these guys did a great job. The battle for economic emancipation is Africa’s current hurdle. Is it possible that the foundation that Mandela and others left was not firm enough to guarantee economic freedom for Africa?

  8. Edgar on

    Great work of art articulating the life of an Icon symbolism of the tragedy faced by Africans at e hands of colonialism. A research that depicts Mandela as the true son of the soil, an illustrious son of Africa from
    Cape to Cairo and not only SA. Keep it up this standard and don’t forget another research on his fellow brother R.Mugabe and his two worlds of the good and bad.

    • Farisayi Musonza on

      Though Mandela was in prison ,he emerged a different person .He really made a decision not to focus on the negative things which happened within the prison ,but to focus on the his future as an individual and South Africa at large .If only we as Africans can learn from this great leader Africa will be a GREAT CONTINENT

  9. Darlington Chimedza on

    Well researched, visions and ideas transcend prison walls. The art of being able to forgive, empowers the forgiver more. Great lessons there.

  10. Danford Damba on

    If anything this article reaffirms the belief that Africa has the potential to breed leaders of extraordinary ability. At a time when upheaval and bad leadership is causing havoc across the continent this article breathes positive energy and hope for a brighter future. Yes the ordinary can do the extraordinary and inspire the nation if not the whole world.

  11. Mlungisi Dube on

    Thought provoking article. Mandela learnt a lot from being imprisoned. He learnt reconciliation, he didn’t allow bitterness and vengeance to shape his life. He came to understand being pragmatic. I always listen to the radical far left berating him as a sellout or lacking radicalism when he walked out Victor Vester prison in 1990. I think on contrary Mandela understood that change must be gradual

  12. Vongayi on

    This is inspiring, motivating and challenging (what’s my part in this life, what legacy am I leaving behind?). Thoroughly and passionately researched. Thanks to the writer for doing justice to our African icon.

  13. Ashley Zindi on

    What an inspiring world icon Mandela was .
    The pursue for justice did not transform him only, but the whole world. Uthatha Rolinhlanhla Nelson (Madiba) Mandela was a legend indeed.

  14. Batanayi Gwangwawa on

    Inspiring article Tinashe, l have just been inspired to know that my beginnings do not define who l can become, and that no one has the power to steal my dreams and or jail them. In good time, all falls into place. Sleep in peace giant Mandela

  15. Mazviie on

    Great article. Well researched and full of heart. The depth and rawness of the article and the way the article as a body is carefully yet deliberately constructed draws a reader in. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  16. Munjodzi Mutandiri on

    SG this is brilliant and encouraging. The idea that Mandela when he set off in this course had a vague idea of what the future could hold is both inspiring and scary. The conceptualization of ideas and locating the role of intellectualism in our struggles is possible a task we have for too long neglected. Thank you for the conciousness.

  17. Tendayi Zindi on

    I enjoyed reading the article you wrote on Nelson Mandela. I appreciated your clearly written and thought-provoking article. Great work indeed.
    Thank you for your thoroughly researched artile and clear writing.

  18. Earnest Mhdzengi on

    This is inspiring considering that Africa has fast degenerated into the direction of the dehumanizing habits that Mandela stood against. At a time that we are, again, drowning into dehumanising systems of violence, endemic corruption and manipulation , it is necessary for us to be reminded of the rehumanising spirit that was in Mandela.

  19. depolagi on

    You can certainly see your enthusiasm within the article you write.

    The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    All the time follow your heart.

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