I do not share the nostalgia with which my parents or my elder siblings now talk about the hey days of the African liberation movements. Growing up in Nigeria in the early 90s, my first encounter with the word Aparthied came in the form of an audacious quote written on the light-blue wall of my sister’s room.
APARTHIED IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.
This in itself was a crime – an act of defiance against a house-rule sternly upheld by my father. You didn’t need to chalk a string of words on his beautiful wall to draw his ire. Something as light as leaning against the wall or dragging your body innocently along it peeved my dad so bad, you get punished.
My father liked to articulate your wrongs to you when you are being punished.
This is why you are being punished.
When you do not eat the onions that your mother took her time to splice into your fried egg, you deprive your body of the flavonoids and antioxidants and the vital chemicals that your body needs to grow strong and healthy, and you throw it in your mom’s face that she’s wasted her time trying to make your food special. Do you understand?
When you do not say ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’ when you greet an elder, it means you don’t see them any different from your friends who are of the same age as you, and that is not a way to show respect. It rubs badly on you as a good boy and on me as your father who is supposed to train you to be a good boy. Do you understand?
Yet days turned to months and then years and I’d yet to see my sister answer for her crime. In that period of teenage self assertion typically noted for rebellion and constant parental warring, not once did the topic of the defaced wall come up.
It took me many years to figure it out. For one, my dad must have been secretly proud that at least my sister was learning something positive from school that a clean wall suddenly mattered no more.
Indeed APARTHIED IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, maybe censorship for taking a stand for this is too.
Those words remained with me initially for a privately convenient purpose. I had really believed that it would become my hall pass with my parents for any misdemeanor that would have otherwise got me in trouble with them (though I never really got to use it). Later the real meaning moulted out of the puerile and has remained a mantra of social justice with me ever since.
But much more was the figure, whose larger- than- life image bounded my father and my sister together in an unusual, if tacit alliance for once, Nelson Mandela!
When you have a gazillion books waiting to be read, the luxury of choice can quickly turn into a struggle. Sometimes it’s numbing. I don’t like to research books beforehand. I like to walk into a book not knowing what to expect or with as little information as possible but there are not enough tabula rosas on the biography front. Especially a Mandela biography.
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom had been on my TBR list for a very long time. Every time somebody mentioned Nelson Mandela’s name in a discourse or a picture of him flashed across the screen, I would feel a stab of guilt. I would often console myself that this wasn’t a book to be rushed. I wanted to remember everything when I get around to reading it. I wanted so much to imbibe the spirit which with Mandela fought, to experience in fellowship the suffering of a people, to be inspired by this great stalwart of liberty and freedom.
Many a time, I had passed over this book, leaving it like a wine in a cask waiting to mature. Except of course, I was the one who needed to step up. Because I’ve admired Mandela for so long, I felt I couldn’t read his memoir merely to check it off my list.
So, before the madness of 2016 settled in (though Olamide’s back- to- back statement had set the social media agog. Isn’t that the very playground for madness?) I ensconced myself in the sedate dawn of the New Year, away from the maddening goons of social media, picked up the book and read the incredible story of this illustrious African son in apartheid South Africa.
Mandela was a leader of thought in civil rights and that for me is enough in a world so subversive to ideologues. To be incarcerated for 27 years in prison where the conditions were no better than that of a hovel is a lesson in endurance that I cannot even begin to imagine. I can’t begin to talk about how I feel reading this book but here is a snippet that aptly captures the man Mandiba.
“I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
Surprising that as a prisoner held in the gallows of his own conviction in spite of several entreaties within and without to make him give up the fight for what he believes in, he still spared a thought for his oppressors.
I find this very inspiring knowing how he had to sacrifice his health, his dignity when he could have done nothing. Indeed it was a long, torturous walk to freedom for the South African people and the ANC leaders who were at the forefront against the white Germans. Mandela’s patriotic fervor did not waver; he was dogged and resilient to the very end. Sadly, there are not many of him around anymore.
Not reading this book early enough was a mistake, albeit an honest one. This is not a one-time kind of book. Now, I can’t remember much about it except the profound sense of pride I felt as an African (and I sense that on its own is enough). I imagine I’ll be reading it ever so often (so help me God) and will have my kids emblazon the words/legacy of Mandela on their walls, their workroom spaces, their lockers, the walls of their heart, anywhere they may choose to.