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Long Walk to Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom
Author Nelson Mandela
Cover artist Allan Tannenbaum
Country South Africa
Language English
Subject Autobiography
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Macdonald Purnell
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Pages 630 pp
ISBN 0-316-87496-5
OCLC 39296287

Long Walk to Freedom is an autobiographical work written by South African President Nelson Mandela, and published in 1995 by Little Brown & Co. The book profiles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. Under the apartheid government, Mandela was regarded as a terrorist and jailed on the infamous Robben Island for his role as a leader of the then-outlawed ANC. He has since achieved international recognition for his leadership as president in rebuilding the country's once segregated society.[1] The last chapters of the book describe his political ascension, and his belief that the struggle continues against apartheid in South Africa.

Mandela dedicated his book to "my six children, Madiba and Makaziwe (my first daughter) who are now deceased, and to Makgatho, Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi, whose support and love I treasure; to my twenty-one grandchildren and three great-grandchildren who give me great pleasure; and to all my comrades, friends and fellow South Africans whom I serve and whose courage, determination and patriotism remain my source of inspiration."


Within the first parts of the autobiography, Mandela describes his upbringing as a child and adolescent in South Africa, and being connected to the royal Thembu dynasty. His childhood name was Rolihlahla, which is loosely translated as "pulling the branch of a tree", or a euphemism for "troublemaker".

Later in the text, Mandela describes his education at a Thembu college called Clarkebury, and later at the strict Healdtown school, where students were rigorously put in routines. He mentions his education at the University of Fort Hare, and his practice of law later on. He also then writes; "Democracy meant all men to be heard, and decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be clashed by a majority." (p.29)

Within the second part of the book, Mandela introduces political and social aspects of apartheid in South Africa, and the influences of politicians such as Daniel François Malan who implemented the nadir of African freedoms, as he officially commenced the apartheid policies. Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1950 and describes his organisation of guerrilla tactics and underground organisations to battle against apartheid.

In 1961, Mandela was convicted for inciting people to strike and leaving the country without a passport and sentenced to five years imprisonment. However, Mandela was shortly thereafter sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage in what was known as the "Rivonia Trial", by Justice Dr. Quartus de Wet, instead of a possible death sentence. (p. 159)

Mandela describes prison time on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. His 28-year tenure in prison was marked by the cruelty of Afrikaner guards, backbreaking labour, and sleeping in minuscule cells which were nearly uninhabitable. Unlike his biographer Anthony Sampson, Mandela does not accuse the warder James Gregory of fabricating a friendship with his prisoner. Gregory's book Goodbye Bafana discussed Mandela's family life and described Gregory as a close personal friend of Mandela. According to Mandela: The Authorised Biography, Gregory's position was to censor the letters delivered to the future president, and he thereby discovered the details of Mandela's personal life, which he then made money from by means of his book Goodbye Bafana. Mandela considered suing Gregory for this breach of trust.[2] In Long Walk to Freedom Mandela remarks of Gregory only that 'I had not known him terribly well, but he knew us, because he had been responsible for reviewing our incoming and outgoing mail.'[3]

Later on in his sentence, Mandela met South African president, Frederik Willem de Klerk, and was released from prison in 1990. Unlike his friend Anthony Sampson's account, Mandela's book does not discuss the alleged complicity of de Klerk in the violence of the eighties and nineties, or the role of his ex-wife Winnie Mandela in that bloodshed. Mandela became the South African president in 1994.


The book won the Alan Paton Award in 1995, and has been published in numerous languages, including an Afrikaans translation by Antjie Krog.

Film adaptation

Long Walk to Freedom has been adapted into a film titled Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom directed by Justin Chadwick, written by William Nicholson, and produced by Anant Singh. Mandela personally awarded the film rights to the book to Singh's company some years before 2009. Singh believes that as the film is based on Mandela's own writing, it will be the "definitive" biopic of him.[4] English actor Idris Elba portrays Mandela in the film.[5] The film was limited released on 29 November 2013 in the United States. Full release happened on Christmas Day 2013 in the United States.[6] When the film was shown in London for Prince William and his wife, it was announced that he had died during the film.

Ghost writer

In an obituary of Mandela, The Times reported that the later chapters had been "ghosted by a skilful US journalist", and that Mandela had later started work on a second set of memoirs without a ghost writer.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Spencer, Clare. "The pitfalls of naming places after famous people". BBC News. 29 July 2011.
  2. ^ Mandela: The Authorised Biography, p. 217.
  3. ^ Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, p. 614.
  4. ^ Staff (13 March 2009). "Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom to be adapted into film". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 13 March 2009. 
  5. ^ Jefferson, Lucette (22 February 2012). "Confirmed! Idris Elba set to play Nelson Mandela in Biopic". Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Nelson Mandela and Saths Cooper spent Christmas in prison together". 12 December 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Times Obituary: Nelson Mandela". The Times (London: Times Newspapers Ltd.). 5 December 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 

Further reading

  • Anthony Sampson Mandela: The Authorised Biography; HarperCollins; ISBN 0-00-638845-0(1999)
  • Nelson Mandela; Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela; Little Brown & Co; ISBN 0-316-54818-9 (paperback, 1995)

External links