The Man, The Myth, The Reading List: Nelson Mandela

Play associated audio

Growing up in apartheid South Africa with widespread state censorship, it was hard to get to know our political leaders. The first time I actually saw a photograph of Nelson Mandela was in high school in the mid-1980s.

A braver classmate had managed to sneak a few grainy images into our school — a full-face, younger Mandela, his fellow Robben Island inmate Walter Sisulu and the South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.

We knew bits and pieces about the history of the struggle against white supremacy in our country, since apartheid-era history textbooks told only the manifest destiny-like tale of white settler triumph and the "statesmanship" of figures like the mid-century Prime Minister Jan Smuts.

So, the years since the end of apartheid meant catching up on our own history. After I came to the U.S. in 1995 to study at Northwestern University, I spent my Friday afternoons in the library, watching films that had been banned in South Africa.

And I familiarized myself especially with the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. He is the most recognizable figure in 20th century South African history — and perhaps one of the most recognizable in world history, which I learned was the result of a conscious propaganda campaign on the part of the African National Congress in the 1970s to sway Western public opinion — in addition to Mandela's own talents and charisma.

Since Mandela's release from prison in 1990 the myths and stories about him have grown, through many narratives constructed by journalists and the numerous films made about him and the many books written about his life. But these three, I think, provide a good introduction to this remarkable man, who always insisted that he was part of a larger struggle and a movement.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Customers Bid Farewell To One Of The D.C. Region's Last Video Stores

Longtime movie lovers say they'll miss the shop, but they'll especially mourn the gradual death of an American tradition.
NPR

Tabasco And Beer-Flavored: Not Your Easter Bunny's Jelly Beans

On the eve of Easter and National Jelly Bean Day, let us probe the mysterious origins and unexpected ascendency of the humble candy. And to celebrate, we've sampled Jelly Belly's newest flavors.
WAMU 88.5

Judge Says Ex-Governor McDonnell Can't Withhold Documents From Prosecutors

McDonnell asked to keep the information from prosecutors, saying it would expose his trial strategy, but a judge says prosecutors can't be excluded.
WAMU 88.5

Free Public Wi-Fi Comes To NoMa

The NoMa Business Improvement District has started to provide free Wi-Fi in some parts of the neighborhood, but some users say the service is still too sluggish.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.