I strongly recommend reading the Chilean American writer, Ariel Dorfman’s Mandela Lecture–reproduced in The Nation Magazine in late January–that also doubles as a review of Mandela’s new memoir “Conversations With
A MythMyself.” (For one it gets the facts right.)
Here’s a sample:
There is another, perhaps even more remarkable, aspect of those letters from Robben Island [published in “Conversations With Myself”]. As we read, we can guess how Mandela has factored the censors in. He is also writing to them, through them, boring into them—you can almost discern their presence in his mind, his certainty that these custodians can be shamed by his words about their cruelty and lack of the most common decency. You realize how he performs a theory of liberation for that sentinel audience; you catch a glimpse of how he is educating his jailers despite their prejudices. And a glimpse, as well, at how he is educating himself, preparing for the task of bridging the racial and class divide that threatened to destroy South Africa. How he is becoming Nelson Mandela.
Maybe that is why he is so disturbed by his transformation into a saint. It was not because he was removed from others, removed from evil, removed from the weaknesses of a frail humanity, that he prevailed. It was by plunging into what was negative in himself and the aching world around him that he was able to develop “whatever is good,” as he puts it in his book. How to do this? One word keeps cropping up, over and over: integrity. His own integrity and his confidence that it exists in everyone on this planet, no matter how harshly hidden by fear and intolerance, and that if you appeal to the best in others, they will, ultimately, respond. But they will do so only if they sense that you are being true to yourself and your values, your desire for a more just and humane world, that you are ready to draw a line in the sand of history.
It is a message that his country needs to heed once again. His wondrous South Africa that is again in danger of losing its way. His land that will soon have to face a long century of renewed struggle for solidarity and truth and peace without Madiba’s guiding presence. The need to face up to that looming absence leads us to the unspoken and hidden heart of this book. Mandela is saying goodbye.
* Thanks to reader Simon Stephens (a history PhD student at Columbia University) who spotted the error re Mandela’s book title)