Saturday, 30 January 2021
Wednesday, 20 January 2021
Nelson Mandela started writing his autobiography while serving a life sentence in prison for plotting to overthrow the apartheid government of South Africa. The book was written secretly and a copy was discovered by prison authorities & confiscated. The original, however, was kept by two of his friends who were able to keep it safe until Mandela got out of prison. He restarted it after he was released from prison in 1990.
Long Walk to Freedom is a detailed account of Nelson Mandela’s life and was published in 1994. He describes his upbringing in the Transkei, a large territorial division in South Africa that had its own King and was part of the Xhosa nation. Although Mandela’s father could neither read nor write, he was a respected man and a custodian of Xhosa history. He was a valued counsellor to kings and placed great value on education.
When Mandela’s father died, the King became his guardian out of gratitude to his father. He treated Mandela as a son and gave him the opportunity to study law at university. This was not an opportunity that was available for many Africans. It was while attending university that he experienced firsthand the evils and restrictions of apartheid and in 1943 he decided to join the African National Congress (ANC) and take an active role in the struggle against apartheid.
‘To be an African in South Africa means that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth...An African child is born in an Africans Only hospital, taken home in an African Only bus, lives in an African Only area and attends African Only schools, if he attends school at all.
When he grows up, he can hold Africans Only jobs, rent a house in African Only townships, ride African Only trains and be stopped at any time of the day or night and be ordered to produce a pass, without which he can be arrested and thrown into jail. His life is circumscribed by racist laws and regulations that cripple his growth, dim his potential and stunt his life.’
The South African National Party government stepped up its implementation of the separation of races in 1948, cementing apartheid into law. The government, fearing the power of African unity, placed different races into ethnic enclaves, often forcibly, resulting in more than 80 percent of South Africa’s land being set aside for the whites who only made up about 13 percent of the population.
The author describes the irony of the government’s position when he observed that the Afrikaners had fought and died fighting against British Imperialism and now those same freedom fighters were persecuting the black Africans. The oppressed had become the oppressors.
The ANC grew over the years and used strikes, sit-ins and other non-violent methods of protests to bring about change but the government’s response was to clamp down even more with bans on ANC members restricting them to certain areas or putting them on house arrest.
In 1953 the government took over education which in the past was run by foreign churches and missions. These institutions had set up schools and provided opportunities for Africans to be educated since the early 1900’s. The government thought that black Africans should only be trained for menial jobs. This intervention restricted Africans to low-paying jobs and made it extremely difficult for them to escape poverty.
After years of non-violent struggle, the ANC made the decision to move into armed resistance, hoping to pressure the government and attract international attention and condemnation. They began plotting acts of sabotage on government facilities while trying to avoid loss of life. As a result, a State of Emergency was declared by the National Party and the media was banned from reporting on the situation.
‘...newspapers are only a poor shadow of reality; their information is important to a freedom fighter not because it reveals the truth, but because it discloses the biases and perceptions of both those who produce the paper and those who read it.’
The Sabotage Act of June 1962 was worded in such a broad way that an act of trespassing or illegal possession of weapons could result in a charge of sabotage. For some time Nelson Mandela went underground and became known as the ‘Black Pimpernel,’ but he was later captured, along with other leaders of the ANC, and put on trial. Each of the leaders expected the death penalty but by this time the rest of the world was starting to put pressure on the government with sanctions and embargoes and they were sentenced instead to life imprisonment.
'Prison was a kind of crucible that tested a man's character. Some men, under the pressure of incarceration, showed true mettle, while others revealed themselves as less than what they had appeared to be.'
Long Walk to Freedom is an incredibly detailed autobiography that covers Nelson Mandela’s earliest years through to his release from prison after twenty-seven years incarceration. It begins slowly and it took me a while to get my head around all the organisations, their acronyms and the many African and Afrikaner names the book contains. However, once I had read perhaps the first quarter of the book’s 768 pages it was riveting and I was annoyed that it had taken me so long to get to read it - my husband was given the book for his birthday in 1995 and read it back then. I was doing some research for a Year 6 book that Michelle Morrow and I are co-writing for the My Homeschool curriculum and that was what spurred me on to start it at the beginning of this year.
There is so much I could say about this autobiography but I will just focus on some things that struck me most.
Nelson Mandela fought for a non racial South Africa, a ‘rainbow nation’ that included people of all races. He not only had opposition from the National Party but also from his own people. The Pan Africanist Congress was born in 1959 and expressly rejected the multiracialism of the ANC. According to Mr. Mandela, they divided the people at a critical moment and that ‘their actions were motivated more by a desire to eclipse the ANC than to defeat the enemy.’
Apartheid, ‘apartness,’ besides being completely evil was actually ridiculous in its implementation. The campaign to improve conditions in prison became part of the apartheid struggle.
‘Like everything else in prison, diet is discriminatory. In general, Coloureds and Indians received a slightly better diet than Africans...So colour-conscious were the authorities that even the type of sugar and bread supplied to blacks and whites differed: white prisoners received white sugar and white bread, while Coloured and Indian prisoners were given brown sugar and brown bread.’
Black prisoners didn’t get sugar or bread!
Nelson Mandela was forty-six years of age when he was sent to prison for life but he always believed that one day he would be free. In 1988, South Africa was still in turmoil and yet again under a State of Emergency. International pressure was increasing and secret talks began between the National Party, under President P. W. Botha, and Nelson Mandela. When the President resigned due to ill health, F.W. De Klerk took his place and it was felt that the tide had turned. But,
‘Despite his seemingly progressive actions, Mr de Klerk was by no means the great emancipator...He did not make any of his reforms with the intention of putting himself out of power...He was not prepared to negotiate the end of white rule.’
After much parleying between the ANC and the government, in 1990 President F.W. De Klerk released prisoners who had been gaoled for political reasons and Nelson Mandela was free at last.
'As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt- even at the age of seventy-one - that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were at last over.’
A perpetual struggle was the impact of his involvement in the freedom movement upon his family. He paid a very high price for his stance.
‘The freedom struggle is not a higher moral order than taking care of your family. They are different.’
I was impressed with the graciousness of this man. At first he was angry at the white man, not at racism, but he outgrew his earlier outlook and recognised later that the young men in the Black Consciousness movement that surfaced in the 1970’s mirrored his own earlier ideas. As an elder statesman he saw his role as that of helping them move on from their sectarian ‘intermediate view that was not fully mature.’
When accused of using violence to gain his ends when he professed to be a Christian and was told that Martin Luther King never resorted to violence, he replied that,
‘...the conditions in which Martin Luther King struggled were totally different from my own: the United States was a democracy with constitutional guarantees of equal rights that protected non-violent protest (though there was still prejudice against blacks); South Africa was a police state with a constitution that enshrined inequality and an army that responded to non-violence with force.’
In 1994 the vote was given to the black people of South Africa for the very first time, the ANC won the country’s first democratic election and Nelson Mandela became President.
Long Walk to Freedom tells an incredible story and I highly recommend it. I’ve scheduled it in our modified Ambleside Online Year 11 this year.
Linking this post to the 2021 Nonfiction Challenge hosted by Book’d Out for the category of Biography.
Monday, 11 January 2021
Elizabeth Goudge is an author whose stories linger with you long afterwards. Somehow she manages to explore character, spirituality, and heavy themes with grace and perspective. She is never black and white, which is a quality I didn’t understand when I was younger. Life is so much easier if you can separate people and ideas into these two categories. Grey requires understanding, wisdom, and the hard knocks of life. Not that I believe there is no right or wrong, but when it comes to people, it’s not over until life is over. Growth and change are always possible and Goudge consistently weaves this theme into her writing.
The background of The White Witch is the English Civil War and its aftermath. The book’s chapters tend to focus either on the war and those fighting in it or alternatively, those left behind in Oxfordshire who are not actively involved.
Goudge allows her readers to understand and empathise with her characters. There are a couple of unlikeable personalities in this book but for the most part she redeems them in some way. I’ve always appreciated this aspect of her writing.
The White Witch of the title refers to Froniga, a healer and part gypsy; a woman who has her feet in two camps but belongs to neither. Goudge spends some time describing gypsy belief and superstitions and does so in a refreshingly realistic and unsentimental way. Froniga’s synergistic approach to faith is likewise handled objectively and without censure. At first I was put off by some aspects of magic that were described, Froniga’s use of Tarot cards, for example. However, later on there is an encounter between Froniga and a ‘black witch’ where Froniga realises that there is a line that she must not cross. In another situation, a desperate one that involved a person she loved, Froniga accepts her inability to change the situation through her attempts at magic. Magical power is a controlling force that she ultimately rejects.
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the war accounts very much. The descriptions of King Charles I, his wife, Henrietta Maria, the Royalist leaders and Oliver Cromwell before he took power, gave me a better sense of their personalities than any historical title ever had. The grey areas of conflicting beliefs between family members and residents of the town were sensitively probed, and as in real life, no easy path was found around them.
'He had hoped that all the religious fanatics were on the other side, for extremists set his teeth on edge. Well, one's friends could not be cut to one's private and personal pattern...'
This unusual historical novel is replete with splendid descriptions of the setting (Oxford mostly) and the natural world. And Elizabeth Goudge's characters are not easily forgotten.
'Books were living things to those who truly loved them.'
Saturday, 2 January 2021
It's been raining here all week, the very opposite of this time last year. Last January we had 'unprecedented' bushfires in Australia which destroyed 3,094 homes, 2,439 of those were here in NSW. 33 people died, 9 of whom were firefighters. 6.7% of the state of NSW was burnt, the total area possibly the largest ever in a single recorded fire season for eastern Australia. 48% of the land on Kangaroo Island off the South Australian coast was burnt also. A large number of major fires burnt for months and air quality was terrible during this time. Estimates based on NSW and Victoria alone put the loss of mammals, birds and reptiles at over one billion, and that doesn't take into account those that died from injuries, lack of food or predators later on. This figure also doesn't include the loss of perhaps hundreds of billions of insects. *More details here.
While all this was going on, my five sisters and I had the 'unprecedented' loss of our mother at the end of January. Unprecedented, not because we weren't expecting her to die at some stage. She was eighty-one and had survived a couple of heart attacks in her fifties as well as the loss of her only son (one boy in the middle of six girls) from a brain haemorrhage. He was 46 and we didn't expect her to live through that devastation, but she did. Our Dad died a year before our brother so we weren't strangers to this sort of thing. In some respects I was closer to my brother and my Dad than I was to Mum and perhaps that was why her loss was so difficult. I grieved for all that had not been.
I left home just before I turned seventeen and lived on the opposite side of the country to the rest of my family for years before most of them moved over this way. Before Mum died I visited her in hospital just after she had surgery to relieve her pain and she said to me, 'We haven't had much time together, have we, Carol?' During January she began to show signs of vascular dementia to the extent that one day she didn't recognise me. Unprecedented - I never expected to feel the extreme sense of loss that I did. And we certainly didn't expect her to die from an aggressive tumour when most of her life it was her heart that troubled her.
I started this post with the sad, now here's some good and beautiful. My daughter sent me this splendid bouquet on Christmas Eve for my birthday which is on Christmas Day - hence my name.
My husband had been working from home one day a week for about a year before the COVID situation and then in March work at home became fulltime. He has loved not commuting to work but he was doing his work at the kitchen table - conference calls etc. Very inconvenient for everyone else, but when one of our sons decided to move in with his brother who had left home about 18 months previously, we acquired a spare room. This was turned into a study and peace reigned once more.
In the early part of our COVID restrictions my husband and I got into the habit of going for bush walks regularly. We decided to support a local café to help keep them in business during lockdown so we'd go walking and get a coffee at the same time. Our regular activities such as swimming, orchestra, youth music practice and some other things, stopped for a few months so Hails and I decided to make a quilt for her brother. He turned 21 at the end of November and we hoped to have it finished by then. That didn't happen, partly because I needed some material for the backing and I wanted to be able to see the fabric for myself before I bought it, but it was finished by Christmas so he got it then.
My reading time increased significantly this year but my writing didn't keep pace. An area I focused on was nutrition and health, subjects I've had a long-term interest in. A friend of mine pointed me to Dr Michael Greger's website (thanks Betty!) and I found out he did podcasts so I listen to them fairly regularly. I also have enjoyed the podcasts from the Physician's Committee that discuss the benefits of a plant based whole food diet and the latest news on medical issues. I'm interested from a health point of view because I don't have a great family history when it comes to heart disease and I am so frustrated by the conflicting advice on diet - eggs are bad, no, now they are good, etc. Low Fat, Keto, Low Carb. There is much misinformation, especially on the Internet, where anybody with a high profile and good physique can promote their own version of healthy nutrition.
The China Study by .T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D and Thomas M. Campbell, Ph.D - I have to say I didn't really engage with this book although parts of it were interesting. I didn't like the defensive tone of the writing and there were a lot of statistics that weren't really helpful to the average layperson. As with some of the other books I've read on the Whole Food, Plant Based way of eating, it looks at the health issues that occur when people move away from their traditional diets and start eating a Western diet.
How Not to Diet by Dr Michael Greger - I like this author's writing. It is engaging, humorous and full of puns. I wanted to read another of his books, How not to Die, but I found this book at the library and read it first. I plan on reading How Not to Die this year. How Not to Diet looks at the latest medical and nutritional research regarding health, disease, weight loss and premature death. He explains how nutrition and lifestyle changes can prevent certain diseases or reverse them and how some foods may be more efficacious than medication. This isn't some lifestyle guru dispensing his own ideas. 176 pages of reference notes, an introduction that outlines the inspiration behind his decision to study medicine and the long and winding road that brought him to where he is now. Excellent book.
Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright - I listened to this via an audiobook over about 6 months after my eldest son recommended it. I've listened to the author on the Ask NT Wright Anything (podbean.com) podcast and respect his intellectual prowess coupled with his humility. This biography of the Apostle Paul was inspiring and presents him in a way that brings him and his times to life for the modern reader. There is a very good review of the book here.
I'm starting the year with a book a friend gave me for Christmas, Beholding and Becoming, the Art of Everyday Worship by Ruth Chou Simons. It is an exquisitely lovely book illustrated by the author.
In the Steps of the Master by H.V. Morton is a book I thought I'd schedule for Hails this year either as a devotional and/or for geography. I have enjoyed it so much and am about halfway through its 375 pages. It is set in Palestine, written in 1934, and is so wonderfully evocative of Biblical times. It's a great book for an older teen and a good companion while reading through the Gospels.
'It was the habit in ancient times to treat any stranger as if he might be a wandering Christ, and this beautiful courtesy still exists in out-of-the-way parts of the earth. We have lost it, and with it something fine and beautiful has gone from our lives.'