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Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 2000

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the 1994 Little Brown & Co. edition.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.   

Overall Impression: A deeply inspiring work by an authentic modern hero, understandably slanted toward the noble original Africans.

A Country Childhood

Born July 18, 1918 in Mvezo to the village chief Gadla Henry Mphakanqiswa and one of his wives, Nodekeni Fanny. Named Rolihlahla ("pulling the branches of trees", connotes troublemaker) Mandela, later acquired clan name Madiba and given Christian name Nelson by first teacher. 

His father was the son of Mandela of the Ixhiba house, a lesser house of the Madiba clan of the Thembu, a Xhosa [or Xhsa, pron. Koh' sa] speaking tribe. Mvezo is in district of Umtata in the Transkei, 800 m east of Cape Town, in SE S Africa, between the Kei river to the S, Indian Ocean to the SE, and Natal to the NE and bordered to the N by the Drakenberg Mountains. NM speaks repeatedly of his love of its rolling hills and fertile valleys. He was raised to be a counselor to the future king Sabata and was not in line to be the hereditary king.

The Nguni are divided into the Northern group (the Zulu and Swazi) and a Southern, the Xhosa consisting of the amaBaca, abeThembu, etc. The Bantus are the larger linguistic subdivision referring to the language spoken south of the line from Kenya to Cameroon, migrants from the area of Niger and more easterly.

The rulers of the Thembu were descended from the great monarch King/Chief Ngubengcka of the Great House, who died 1832. He was succeeded by his son Mthikrakra, whose sons included Ngangelizwe and Matanzima. A son of Ngangelizwe was Jongilizwe Dalindyebo (d. in 1920s), who had sons Jongintaba Dalindyebo (the "regent", d. 1942, father of Justice), Sabata (ruled 1954-), Dabulamanzi, Melithafa, Nxebo, and Meliggili. Matanzima had descendent K. D. Matazima (Kalzer Daliwonga), who later contested leadership against NM. The regent Jongintaba was appointed with NM's father's urging, a favor he later repaid by taking on responsibility for NM.

His father served like the PM of Thembuland but was an appointed, non-hereditary leader, and lost his position after a display of insubordination with the local white magistrate. This led to increased poverty and NM's mother was forced to move to the village of Qunu near Umtata when NM was an infant. Qunu was the village of NM's childhood. Most of the fathers lived away, working in Johannesburg, and his mother tended the crops of maize (corn or "mealies"), sorghum, etc. NM loved to stick fight, fighting boys from other villages. Children were expected not to ask questions of adults. Religion. The abaMfengu were the most educated and adapted to the whites. His mother became a Methodist. 

His father's amaMfengu friends the Mbelkela brothers recommended that NM be sent to school and his parents consented. He started at 7 y/o (1925) and was given the name Nelson by his teacher.

His father died of a lung disease 1927 at 9 y/o. The regent Jongintaba volunteered to become his guardian and his mother soon took him to the Great Place, Mqhekezweni, the provisional capital of Thembuland and royal residence of Jongintaba Dalindyebo and his wife No-England. It was a mission station of the Methodist church and therefore Westernized. Chieftancy and Church dominated his life there. Reverend Matyolo. Mission schools trained the blacks to become clerks, interpreters, and policemen. NM became more religious there. He steals maize from Rev. Matyolo and is punished.

Tribal meetings held there demonstrated the democracy customary in Thembuland--consensus was emphasized. But women were second-class citizens with no voting privileges. NM becomes interested in history, learning about African heroes. Chief Joyi tells of Ngangelizwe's heroism fighting the British and rails against the white man. Joyi says the blacks lived in relative peace until the coming of the white man and the shattering of their fellowship. The Dutch Jan Van Riesbeck arrived at the Cape of Good Hope 1652.

He undergoes ritual circumcision at 16 y/o c. 1934, along with Justice and 24 others, to become a man and put aside childish ways. It was performed by an ingcibi. He acquires his circumcision name, Dalibunga. Chief Meligqili, a son of Dalindyebo, speaks about how the Xhosa are a conquered people, enslaved in their own land, neglected by their god Qamata.

Soon he goes to Clarkebury Boarding Institute in district of Engcobo c. 1934, the highest institution of learning for Africans in Thembuland. Taught by Rev. Harris, works in his garden. He is mocked as a country boy initially but becomes friends with Mathona, his first female friend.

He attends the Weslayan College at Healdtown near Ft. Beaufort 1937 19 y/o, largest school for Africans S of equator, also a mission school. Principal Arthur Wellington promotes English ideals. Meets other language speakers incl. Sotho and begins to develop a wider identity as an African, not just a Thembu or Xhosa. Takes up long-distance running and boxing. Xhosa poet Krune Mqhayi visits, exhorts the students and speaks boldly and anti-European about the clash between European and African cultures. He galvanizes a new sense of African nationalism in NM but also makes a confusing appeal to Xhosa identity.

In 1939 at 21 y/o, he moves on to University College at Fort Hare in Alice municipality near Healdtown--it is the only residential center of higher learning for blacks in SA. Gets his first suit. Meets his older nephew K. D. Matazima, and learns from and looks up to him. NM expresses generally favorable attitudes toward the missionaries, though they held colonialist attitudes. Meets Prof. Z. K. Matthews and Prof. D. D. T. Jabavu. Studies English, anthro, politics, native admin, and Roman Dutch law. Wants to be a clerk or interpreter in Native Affairs. Elected to House Committee. Does soccer, running, plays Lincoln and learns his speeches, dancing. Meets Oliver Tambo, a science scholar.

After outbreak of WWII, deputy PM Smuts advocates going to war against Germans. But Nyathi Khongisa, an ANC [African National Congress] member, think Smuts is a racist. SA, a member of the British commonwealth, declares war against Germany 1939 and Smuts becomes PM. 

Meets Paul Mahabane, son of Rev. Zaccheus M., twice president of ANC. Paul stands up to racist white magistrate who expects subservience.

Elected to Student Representative Council but comes in conflict with Dr. Kerr and decides to resign. Dr. Kerr tells him he must rejoin in order to return the following year.

The regent has arranged marriages for him and Justice. They decide they must flee to Johannesburg to avoid the marriages and NM's quandary at the school. They sell two of the regent's oxen to raise money. Problems with requirement for native passes. Meet Chief Mpondombini in Queenstown. They leave a trail of lies and deception, offending the chief. A friend's mother drives them into J. Arrive 1941.


Gold mining at Witwatersrand (a ridge or reef S of J.) is a major draw for workers. Meets mining headman Piliso. Regent wants them returned but they refuse. Meet Dr. A. B. Xuma, president general of the ANC. More lies. Arrested for possession of NM's pistol. Meets Walter Sisulu, who runs a real estate office and helps him land a job with lawyer Lazar Sidelsky as an articled clerk. Moves in with Rev. J. Mathubo of the Anglican Church. More lies lead to his having to depart and move in with nearby Xhoma family. He continues to work at night with UNISA (Univ. of SA) to earn his BA. Meets fellow employee Gaur Radebe, a member of the ANC and prominent member of the communist party (CP). NM now 23 y/o. Sidelsky warns him to avoid politics. Nat Bregman becomes his first white friend and tries to convert him to communism, takes him to many meetings, which were mixed racial gatherings. Meets Michael Harmel.

Leads a life of exhilarating relative freedom and poverty in Alexandra Township, where Africans could own property. First place he has lived away from Transkei. Goes hungry. Early loves: Phyllis Maseko, Ellen Nkabinde (a Swazi), and Xhoma's daughter Didi.

Regent visits without showing signs of acrimony toward NM, but Justice initially refuses to return home.

NM moves in 1942 to the Witwatersrand Native Labor Association (WLNA) compound, which was free. Experiences many new tongues there: Falagalo (an amalgam), etc. Meets visiting chiefs incl. Mabtsebo Moshwesgwe from Lesotho (then Basutoland). His queen criticizes NM for failing to learn the languages of his people--they are one people with multiple languages. He has a growing sense of African unity and solidarity.

Regent dies 1942, Justice takes his place as chief. NM passes exam for BA through UNISA. Graduation attended by his mother, No-England, and K. D. Matanzima (Daliwonga). He wants NM to return to the Transkei, but NM knows he is moving toward a different and broader commitment to the people of SA as a whole.

Gaur says the ANC is the engine for change and favors revolution. In Aug. 1943, he participates in Alexandra Bus boycotts. Gaur resigns from law firm to allow NM to progress in getting articled.

In 1943, enrolls at U of the Witwatersrand in atttempt to earn LL.B. as the only black law student. Encounters mixed racist and liberal attitudes. Did poorly academically. 

White friends: Meets Joe Slovo, an ardent Communist with his wife Ruth, both children of Jewish immigrants. Also George Bizos (from Greek immigrants) and Bram Fischer (of Afrikaner stock). Tony O'Dowd, Harold Wolpe (CP members). Jules Browde.

Indian friends: Ismail Meer (became key member of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC), J. N. Singh (in CP), etc. Arrested when trying to ride a train with them though not allowed as a black "kaffir". Defended by Bram Fischer and promptly acquitted.

Birth of a Freedom Fighter

Discussion of abuses of government, segregation, indignities. ANC creates a charter, African Claims. Walter's house is a mecca for activists. Meets Anton Lembede (a Zulu from Natal), who lectures against the black inferiority complex and for "Africanism", advocates the melting away of ethnic differences, sees Afrikaner nationalism as a prototype for African (black) nationalism, the only antidote for foreign rule and imperialism. Sees British paternalistic colonialism as an illusion, favors militant African nationalism. Also meets A. P. (Peter) Mda, who is more practical. Also meets Dr. Lionel Majombozi, Victor Mbobo, William Nkomo (med student, CP), Jordan Ngubane, David Bopape (secy of ANC and member CP). 

Dr. Lionel Majombozi promotes formation of a more activist Youth League of the ANC. He and a contingent with NM go to Dr. Xuma, head of the ANC, to promote this idea, but he opposes it, but they form it anyway Easter 1944. Lembede is made president, NM is on Exec. comm. "African nationalism was our battle cry, and our creed was the creation of one nation out of many tribes, the overthrow of white supremacy, and the establishment of a truly democratic form of government." Rejected idea of trusteeship by the whites. They are wary of communism as a foreign ideology.

NM spends much time and lives for a while with Walter Sisulu. Meets Evelyn Mase, a nurse in training from Engcobo in the Transkei, marries her [c. 1945].

Miner's strike 1946 led by African Mine Worker's Union AMWU (J. B. Marks president, member of CP). Ruthless retaliation by police. NM meets with Marks to discuss role of communism. Marks and others arrested.

Increasingly repressive government acts. Asiatic Land Tenure Act (Ghetto Act) 1946 provokes Indian passive resistance 1946, many arrests. This breaks the fear of prison for many, enhances strength of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). 

In 1946, he moves with Evelyn to house in Orlando East and soon to 8115 Orlando West in what will become greater Soweto. This was the first home of his own and is the home he remembers fondly in prison. Son Madiba Thembekile born 1946, NM's sister Leabie joins them. Rarely at home.

In 1947, completes the 3-year period of articles with Sidelsky et al and resolves to become a full-time student at Wits to earn LL.B. Daughter Makaziwe born, dies at 9 months. Lembede dies, succeeded by Peter Mda (pres. of Youth League). NM remains wary of communism, breaks up CP meetings, and does not favor Indian participation in ANC (at this time).

1947 Elected to Transvaal EC (Exec. Committee) of the ANC. The "Doctor's Pact" unites the TIC, the NIC, and the ANC against their common enemy, later joined by the African People's Organization (APO, a Coloured group). Though the groups faced different problems, this laid the foundation for future cooperation...

Victory of the repressive National Party in 1948 over Smut's United Party. Led by Dr. Daniel Malan, who advocates apartheid incorporated into law, not just de facto. Afrikaners no longer dominated by the British. NM and Youth League favors blacks over Indians and Coloureds. New repression by govt. mobilizes ANC activism. Dr. Xuma resists activism--Youth League promotes his ouster in favor of J. S. Maroka as new pres. of ANC. NM still wary of role for Indians and communists.

General Strike organized for May 1, 1950 leads to shootings by police of 18. National Day of Protest June 26, 1950 ("Freedom Day") protests these killings and the Suppression of Communism Act. ANC closes ranks with the SA Indian Congress (SAIC), the APO, and the CP, which NM now supports.

NM's son Makgatho born 1950.

His hard attitude toward communism is softening. Decides to study the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. Some of it hard to understand, but relates well to Marx's call for revolutionary action. This was why he became more accepting to participation by the communists.

More govt. repressive acts. Population Registration Act, Group Areas Act 1950, Separate Representation of Voters Act, Bantu Authorities Act lead to more demonstrations. Sisulu suggests deliberate imprisonment. NM still fears participation of Indians and Coloureds, but after a national vote confirms their participation in the ANC, NM acquiesces and changes his mind from then on. Plan mass demonstrations April 6, 1952 (Defiance Campaign) unless demands met. NM's Driver's test. Discusses whether actions should follow Gandhi and be nonviolent (satyagraha), as advocated now by Gandhi's son Manilal, a member of the SAIC. NM arrested. ANC membership rises.

Public Safety Act 1953, Criminal Laws Amendment Act allows corporal punishment of prisoners. Marks banned, NM elected pres. of Transvaal ANC. Trial of 21 incl. NM in Sept 1952, convicted of "statutory communism", NM receives suspended sentence. Defiance Campaign ended.

The Struggle is My Life

Chief Albert Luthuli elected new pres. of ANC (b. Southern Rhodesia, educ. Natal). NM banned. NM develops the "Mandela Plan" for how the ANC should function underground after it becomes illegal...

Works for different law firm. Has given up on studying for LL. B. after failing exams repeatedly. Passes a qualifying exam to practice law w/o LL.B., starts his own practice 1952, joined by Oliver Tambo--the only solely black practice in SA, becomes very much in demand.

Government relocation of blacks of Sophiatown under Western Area Removal scheme... NM rashly publicly advocates violence and his opposition to Gandhi style passive resistance. Criticized for this by the ANC as premature. NM suggests that Walter Sisulu try to arrange for guns from China (unsuccessful).

NM is forced to resign from the ANC and banned, restricted to Johannesburg 1953. Effort to disbar him. The final Sophiatown removal of Feb. 1955. Racist education, passing of the Bantu Education Act promoted by Verwoerd. School boycott 1955. 

ANC draws up a list of its principals, the Freedom Charter, and calls for a national Congress of the People or convention. Invites participation by 200 organizations incl. the SA Coloured People's Org. (SACPO) and the Congress of Democrats (COD). The Congress of the People meets 1955, but the police break it up. Its charter, the Freedom Charter becomes a guiding document. Some object to its socialist flavor and excess influence of communism.

1955 travels to Transkei, enjoys African music, sees mother and sisters, visits Cape Town. Sees that few people in the country are ready to make major personal sacrifices for the cause.

Govt. plan hatched by Verwoerd to develop separate Bantu areas (bantustans). NM banned 1956. Takes up boxing more seriously. 


Arrested Dec. 1956 for high treason along with 141 others, accused of conspiracy for committing violence and overthrow of the govt. and replace it with communistic state. 

Marriage to Evelyn unraveling. Has 2nd daughter Makaziwe. She leaves and takes the children and all furnishings c. 1957. His tender feelings for his son Thembi, then 10.

The trial preparations. Defense fund supported by Alan Paton.

Meets Nomzamo Winifred "Winnie" Madikzela, from the Transkei and working as a social worker at a hospital. He courts her and files for divorce with Evelyn. Marries 1958. 

Planned general strike 1958 is an ANC failure.

Problem of requirement of passes for women. Winnie joins in protest and is arrested with many others.

His trial shifted to Pretoria. Oct. 13, all charges of indictment are withdrawn, but new charges are soon reinstated. Their daughter Zenani born 1958. 

A rival to the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) forms April 1959 under Robert Sobukwe pres. (and Potlako Leballo natl. secy), favors militant action and pure Africanist (black) membership, opposed to interracial cooperation, acts repeatedly as a spoiler to the ANC and engages at times in deceptive practices toward it. Gaur joins it, despite its explicit opposition to communism (which led to its favor by the American state dept over the ANC).

1959 opposition to bantustans increases. The trial. PAC demo. The Sharpeville massacre slays 69 black unarmed demonstrators Mar. 21, 1960.

NM rearrested Mar 1960. ANC declared illegal April 1960. Defense withdraws, Mandela and others conduct their own defense. NM testifies Aug. 3. Daughter Zindziswa born c. Dec.1960. NM makes plans to go underground if trial won. Attends All-in Conference Mar. 1961 in Natal. Found not guilty Mar. 26, 1961 after 4 years in court, reflecting the essential fairness of the judiciary system.

The Black Pimpernel

Immediately goes underground, called the Black Pimpernel. ANC debates taking up violence. NM cites Castro's success. ANC makes decision to organize a military movement separate from it, called the Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation, or MK), headed by NM. He recruits Joe Slovo, reads the works of revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, Mao, Castro, Menachim Begin.

Chief Luthuli wins Nobel peace prize.

NM hides in various safe houses, finally at Liliesleaf Farm at Rivonia. Begins sabotage campaign against power and telephone lines, power plants, military installations, transportation links, government offices, etc. Pledged initially to spare human life. Bombings commence Dec. 16 [1916?], Dingane's day, when whites celebrate the defeat of the Zulu leader Dingane in the Battle of Blood River 1838. Police launch a concerted counteroffensive.

NM invited to attend the Pan African Freedom Movement for East Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) in Addis Ababa Feb. 1962. Travels to Lobatse in Bechuanaland (Botswana), then Mbeya in Tanganyika (a black country ruled by blacks, now western Tanzania and eastern Zaire), Dar es Salam (in Tanganyika [Tanzania]), Accra (in Ghana!, after stopping in Sudan at Khartoum), back to Khartoum, and finally Addis Ababa in Ethiopia... Meets many leaders of other countries. Goes to Cairo, Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, Bamako (Mali), Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Senegal, London. Gets military training in Addis Ababa. Returns in secret to Johannesburg.

Rivonia [Trial]

Arrested Aug. 5, 1962 and charged with inciting strike and illegally leaving country. UN sanctions begin against SA in 1962. NM sentenced to 5 years. Demeaning treatment in prison.

Sabotage act 1962. Transferred to Robben Island (off Cape Town coast) May [?1963]. Humiliating and demeaning treatment, his resistance to it. Rivonia raided by the police July 1963, discover incriminating materials against NM, he is charged with sabotage, a capital offense.

Oct. 1963 Rivonia trial begins. His family members are persecuted. His defense and defense of the ideals of the ANC. "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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 ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." He is found guilty and decides not to appeal. Receives life sentence June 12, 1964.

Robben Island: The Dark Years

He is placed in section B of Robben Island. Crushes stones. Forced to wear shorts. Dietary and other racial discrimination. Restrictions on his visitors, letters, and banning of his picture or words in public. Winnie's visits. Work in the lime quarry. The struggle for news and newspapers. Hunger strike 1966. 

Verwoerd dies. Successes of the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) in Namibia. Political organizing in the prison. Cruelty of warders. Investigation by MP Mrs. Helen Suzman.

Increasingly brutal police state, SA Defense Force SADF. Liberation movements and ANC fighting in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia. Luthuli dies 1967. Hostility by the PAC toward the ANC. The ANC High Organ formed on Robben Island. 

Mother visits and dies soon after in 1968. Winnie arrested May 1969.

Robben Island: Beginning to Hope

Improvements. Church and Christian services. Plot to assassinate him. Beatings of prisoners investigated, deposed warden Badenhorst show his humanity on leaving.

Influx of highly militant MK soldiers. Harvesting kelp. "The University" within the prison. Syllabus organized by senior ANC prisoners to educate new prisoners about ANC. His legal defense work for others.

Winnie again imprisoned. Bram Fischer dies. Escape considered, but it is a setup and he decides not. NM writes memoirs, which are smuggled out but apparently lost (they comprise the major part of this book, not clear how or if they wre recovered).

Overtures from minister of prisons Jimmy Kruger. Soweto uprising 1976. The Black Consciousness Movement. He is allowed to garden, tennis. 

Winnie internally exiled 1977. Botha succeeds Vorster. Free Mandela campaign 1980.

Sabata deposed by K. D. Matanzima in Transkei 1980. NM transferred to Pollsmoor prison, a mixed blessing producing more comfort but greater isolation from his colleagues in Robben Island.

Talking With the Enemy

His comfortable surroundings. Contact visits with Winnie allowed 1984 on.

MK car bomb attack 1983 killing 19 incl. civilians escaltes the level of ANC violence. 1984 Bishop Desmond Tutu awarded Nobel prize. NM offered freedom 1985 in exchange for renouncing violence, refuses.

Secret feelers for negotiations begin. 1986 State of Emergency declared. Meets with Justice Minister 1986 Kobie Coetsee. Working Group meetings begin 1988 between NM and several high officials. NM refuses to renounce armed struggle, disassociation of ANC with CP, or the idea of majority rule. NM contracts TB pleuritis.

1988, gets new prison home at Victor Verster, a nice cottage complete with a cook. He receives visits from the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and enjoys greater freedoms.

Winnie gets in trouble with her bodyguards, one dies.

F. W. de Klerk takes over as head of National Party after Botha resigns (though Botha remains pres. of SA). NM meets with Botha July 4, 1989. In Aug. Botha resigns as SA Pres. and De Klerk becomes pres of SA. Many political prisoners released Oct. 1989. Efforts begin per De Klerk to dismantle apartheid. NM meets with de Klerk Dec. 13, 1989. He is freed from prison in Cape Town Feb. 11, 1990 to great tumult.


Parade and confusion in the mobs of supporters in Cape Town. Meets with ANC in Lusaka Zambia Feb. 1990. Rising opposition to ANC by the Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and chief minister of KwaZulu, and by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini. Fighting breaks out in Natal Mar. 1990, fomented secretly by the SA police, and the police do nothing to investigate. Police attack ANC demonstrators.

NM travels to Qunu to honor his dead mother and to Robben Island to persuade MK prisoners to accept amnesty. Travels to Europe and North America, NM sees Eskimos.

Violence in SA worsening. ANC agrees to suspend the armed struggle Aug. 1990. Increasing rural violence with police complicity and involvement of a Third Force. IFP makes savage attacks July 1990 and on ANC Nov. 1990. Oliver Tambo returns to SA 1990 (he has served a vital diplomatic role on behalf of the ANC over the many years of his exile). NM meets with Chief Buthelezi, but cannot conclude a peace with IFP yet.

Winnie convicted of kidnapping Feb. 1991. 

Convention for a Democratic SA (CODESA) talks begin Dec. 1991. De Klerk becomes combative but is countered firmly by NM. Govt. is funding covert attacks on ANC. Referendum Mar. 1992.

He announces separation from Winnie Apr. 1992 for unspecified personal reasons.

Impasse in CODESA2 talks. ANC plans mass actions June 1992. IFP attacks ANC people June 1992. General strike Aug. 1992. Govt. makes threats against ANC. A Record of Understanding is signed Sept. 1992 between NM and the SA govt.

NM gets new house. Chris Hani of the MK shot. Tambo dies.

Interim constitution. NM wins Nobel peace prize 1993. Election campaign. Buthelezi agrees to participate at the last minute in return for assurances. Election April 26, 1994. ANC wins 62.6%. De Klerk makes gracious concession speech. New govt. inaugurated May 10, 1994. Emphasis on democratic nonracial govt.

His celebration of the people of SA, their goodness and generosity. His regrets for not being able to properly serve his wife, mother, and children. His hunger for freedom for his people. The long walk to freedom is not yet ended.