CBSE Class X – First Flight – Nelson Mandela – Explanation and Q and A

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Nelson Mandela, who changed the course of history of South Africa, was sworn in as the first black President of the country on May 10, 1994. It was a pleasant bright morning. Heads of State, many dignitaries poured into Johannesburg to pay their courtesies to the man who would be the President of the country soon. Nelson Mandela was clearly overwhelmed. It was billed to be the largest congregation of world leaders in South Africa.

The swearing in ceremony took place in the giant sand stone amphitheater formed by the Union Buildings in Pretoria. This was the citadel of power of the white colonialists. Now, it representatives of nations of all colours and ideologies congregated here to celebrate the ebbing of white power that had dominated the blacks for so long.

Mandela’s daughter Zennai accompanied him on that historic occasion. First to be swoen in on the podium as the second deputy president was Mr. de Klerk. Then Mbeki was sworn in as the first deputy president.

Next to be sworn in as the President was Nelson Mandela. He swore to uphold the Constitution, and devote himself to the well-being of the Republic and the people. His speech was like this.
Today, all of us do ……………………….God bless Africa.

Oral comprehension Check ..
1. Where did the ceremonies ………….. The ceremonies took place in the imposing sandstone amphitheater formed by the Union Building in Pretoria.
2. Can you say how 10 May is …… The season of the year between summer and winter is autumn. Astronomically, it starts with March Equinox and continues till June Solstice in the Southern hemisphere. So, May 10 is an ‘autumn day’ in South Africa.
3. At the beginning of the speech …. President Mandela was alluding to the barbaric treatment meted out to the majority black population by the minority white settlers that spilled so much blood, and caused so much humiliation to his black brothers. It was the Apartheid era.
4. What does Mandela … Mandela, who had emerged from 25 long years of incarceration to become the president, was thankful to the international leaders for having come to jointly reclaim the lost dignity of the black people, and rejoice at their victory for justice and peace.
5. What ideas does he set out .. Mandela pledges to work towards removing the scourge of poverty, deprivation and suffering. He is determined to ensure that no more discrimination is allowed on the basis of gender or colour. He also pledged to stop any more oppression of one race over another.

Soon after Mandela finished his speech, the country’s armed forces staged a march past to show their solidarity with the new government. Air force jets and helicopters flew past the podium where Mandela stood. It was a symbolic show of their subordination to the new government under Mandela. The top brass of the armed forces saluted Mandela very respectfully. Not long ago, the armed forces had seen Mandela as an outlaw and treated him likewise. At the end, a fleet of Impala jets flew overhead emitting smoke in colours similar to the new South African flag.

The day saw unprecedented bonhomie between the blacks and the whites, who till the other day were at daggers drawn at each other. In that historic moment, they chose to forget all the old animosity and build a new bridge of friendship with each other. The old national anthem, and the new one just officially adopted under Mandela’s rule were both played and sung. The two groups sang the two anthems together, with no trace of bitterness or revenge.

In that momentous moment, the emotion-filled Mandela remembered the years after the Anglo-Boer War, when feuding white groups buried their differences and decided to muster their joint strength to lord over the native blacks with brutal force. Nelson Mandela was not born then. They laid the foundations of a society that went down in world history as one of the most unequal, harsh, and inhumane ever. Now, as the twentieth century was drawing to its end, and Mandela had stepped into his eightieth year, the edifice of that brutish and evil structure had been swept off the face of earth, for good. It would never ever return again. All South Africans would savour their rights and freedoms irrespective of their race or colour.    

The glorious day of the country is the culmination of countless acts of courage, and suffering of many a campaigners, who sacrificed their blood and their lives, so that this day could arrive one day. Their contribution and selfless sacrifice could never be repaid. The saga of these selfless patriots was now history, and a new era in the country’s history had dawned. Reminiscing about their sacrifices, Mandela felt a big burden of grief, because those great heroes were not there that day to witness the fruition of their struggle.

The dark period of Apartheid left scores of black crusaders grievously scarred both mentally and physically. The wound is so deep that it would take long to heal. However, the pain and trauma that the protesters suffered did produce some outstanding men, who now have risen to be the new national icons. The leading lights among them are Oliver Tombo, Walter Sisulu, Chief Luthuli, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fisher, Robert Sobulkwe. They will long be remembered for their unmatched wisdom, courage and generosity. Perhaps, the barbarous treatment meted out to them by the white rulers brought out the best in them. Their sterling character was wrought in the harness of monumental tragedy they endured. The country has vast minerals, and precious diamonds under the soil, but the nation’s wealth are its fine people.

These are the comrades who taught Mandela what courage meant. Many men and women have sacrificed their lives on the altar of their ideals. There have been people who endured the worst form of torture without giving in. Their strength and resilience is beyond description. These brave souls taught Mandela that true courage is not banishing fear, but conquering it.

Men and women are born with no innate tendencies to hate fellow human beings for their colour or beliefs. Hate is taught to them, but humans are born with the instinct to love one another. Hate, unless taught or forced, can never be in a person’s nature.

When Mandela was in prison along with his comrades, the guards used to routinely unleash insufferable torture on him. But, during this grim ordeal, Mandela could see a momentary flicker of goodness in the guards. This fleeting sign of humaneness assured Mandela that the guards were not all demons. There was some compassion left in them. The flame of man’s goodness can be hidden, but not extinguished.

A man has twin obligations in life. He has obligation to his immediate family members – wife, parents and children. He has obligation too, towards his community, people and country. In a civilized society, a man fulfills them in ways that suit his inclinations and abilities. Mandela, however, found it almost impossible to discharge those obligations. Conditions in South Africa were so deplorable that a man who wanted to work for his people almost always was forced to lead a secretive life as a fugitive. Family pleasures became a distant luxury for him. Mandela was a family man to start with, but as he began to serve his people, he found himself increasingly isolated from his near and dear ones till he had to severe all relations with them.

Mandela was born free. He was not born with chains. He could indulge in all innocent pleasures of his childhood if he obeyed his father and abided by his tribe’s customs. No law, not even God troubled him.

As he grew up, it dawned upon him that those little freedoms were no longer available to him. He pined for them. When he was a student, he wanted to study anything he liked, stay out late into the night, and travel anywhere he wanted to go. Later, in Johannesburg, he wanted to take up a job, earn money, marry and settle down to a normal lawful life.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that he couldn’t fulfill these normal aspirations of life. Others among his friends also were debarred from pursuing their dreams. It was the turning point of his life. Mandela joined the African National Congress. The hunger for his fulfillment in life merged with the collective hunger of his people to live their normal lives. Achieving dignity and self-respect of his brethren became the paramount goal for him. From then on, Mandela had to forgo all the pleasures of family life. Being on the run most of the time, he could never meet his family members. He had to lead a reclusive life, like a monk. When his people languished without freedom, Mandela found it absurd to even think of enjoying family pleasures even in a limited way.  Empathy with them defined his way of life and struggle.

Mandela felt the oppressor is as blighted by his oppressive instincts as his black fellowmen were stifled by the lack of freedom. In a way, both were deprived, and both needed to be liberated. Prejudice and narrow-mindedness robs a man of his sense of fairness. He is as much a prisoner of his beastly instincts as the victim who endures the indignity and oppression. The oppressor and the oppressed, both need deliverance.

Oral comprehension check  ..

  1. What ‘twin obligations’ does Mandela mention?  .. A person has one set of obligations to his family, and near and dear ones. He has to provide them with financial, physical and emotional security. He has another set of obligations towards his community, people and country.
  2. What did being free as a boy ….. When he was a boy, Mandela could wander around, swim in streams, ride piggy back on slow-moving bulls, roast mealies under the stars, and many such innocent pleasures. The only condition was he must not disobey his father or do anything against the tribe’s rules. When he grew up, he wanted to read whatever he wanted to, take up a job of his choice, and enjoy the basic freedoms of life. Sadly, he was deprived of these freedoms. The transitory freedoms of his childhood were, therefore, not of any benefit to him in real sense.
  3. Does Mandela think ……  Mandela is convinced that the oppressor is chained to his dogmas, and his regressive desire to lord over others. So, he may seem outwardly free, but in practice, he isn’t so.

Thinking about the text … 

  1. Why did such a large number of ….. In South Africa’s history, this was undoubtedly, the most momentous day. After long years of violent struggle, the dark apartheid system was going to be pulled down. The new president, Nelson Mandela, who had spent 25 long years in jail, was going to be sworn in. All these changes were going to happen in the most non-violent way. Never in the history of the world, any such change of government taken place in such non-violent manner. The uniqueness of the event brought world leaders to converge on the capital to experience the moment when history was being made.     
  2. What does Mandela mean when he says … Mandela expresses his deep gratitude to his predecessors for their inspiring crusade to bring equality and justice to every victim of discrimination. Mandela learned many valuable lessons from them, and fashioned his own life and philosophy according to them. This is why he says that he is the ‘sum’ of all those gone before him.
  3. Would you agree that … The more cruel is the oppression, the stronger is the character of the victim. Mahatma Gandhi suffered much humiliation both in South Africa, and in India. He was thrown out of a train compartment, sent to jails, and mocked for his scanty dress. All these sufferings made him emerge stronger from the ordeals. He became braver, and more spiritual. 
  4. How did Mandela …. On growing up, Mandela’s life changed. He studied in colleges, developed  mature mind, wanted to  read book of his choice, and take up  job of his choice. However, he was sad t see that the freedoms have been fettered and there were hurdles imposed on his way. The simple pleasures of childhood held no meaning for him any more. He concluded he was a bonded man.
  5. How did Mandela’s hunger … Mandela tried to wage a battle to ensure freedom for his people, but soon found himself in the wrong side of law. He had to go underground to evade arrest. He could n’t look after his family in any manner. He became a reclusive ‘monk’.  



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