With all the attention bestowed upon South Africa in recent weeks due to the global audience for the World Cup, we thought it to be a good time to spotlight the recent and very comprehensive updated reissue of Martin Meredith's "Mandela: A Biography."
Despite an unusually large number of books chronicling the life and struggle of the African continent's most famous 20th Century leader (including his own 1994 autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom"), Meredith's work covers perhaps the widest berth of information available on the lawyer turned revolutionary who finally prevailed on reversing years of injustice in the South African nation. Meredith, a Brit, has written extensively on the plight of the African continent - from the diamond mines to Zimbabwe, from Mugabe to the making of South Africa itself.
In "Mandela: A Biography", Meredith recounts the history of the man alongside the history of the nation. From tales of the nineteen-century Xhosa-speaking peoples, to the rise of African nationalism, to the development of Johannesburg, and the influence of the Communist party, the story of South Africa and the story of Mandela are inextricably intertwined. No detail is left out in following Mandela from life as a barrister to his emergence as an anti-apartheid revolutionary and the way in which his work went on even as he was exiled to a life sentence in prison through his supporters (and the Free Mandela movement) and his wife Winnie Mandela.
A rich combination of stories make up the chapters of Mandela's own story, from the work of the African Resistance Movement (ARM) to various trials and protests, the actual plight of the many victims of various apartheid laws and conditions and their effect on everything from migrant workers to black-owned businesses, the imprisonment of desenters, to the final settling of differences between the ANC and the government. Even through accusations of Mandela's own improprieties and the leader's own divorce, Meredith covers every significant turn with extensive research and attention to detail.
What emerges is a tale, not just of struggle, but of a revolutionary overturning of rampant injustice; the golden age of a `rainbow nation,' yet one that somehow still did not bring justice to all and over time created an opportunity for the emergence of a new black middle class, (as well as an ultimately re-corrupted ANC) while eventually - post-Mandela - reversing course through policies of self-enrichment that resulted in many of the most impoverished still left behind.
Based on both its breadth and research, as well as a very personalized portrait of the man himself, Meredith's `Mandela' is a well recommended read.