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Book Review: Knowing Mandela

Benedict Yeo on 28 Feb 2014

National Library Board


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This biography follows Nelson Mandela as a leader and a human being. An iconic figure in South Africa, Mandela is larger than life and nearly mythical. Can anyone be so saint-like? Can anyone be so charming? In this biography, John Carlin puts forth the same questions, but never quite answers them. Read about Mandela’s mannerisms, his undeniable charm and the strength of his will. Read about his sensibilities, heartbreaks and regrets. Knowing Mandela tells you a lot about Mandela, so much that it leaves you with the knowledge that one as great as Mandela will always be an enigma.

EXTRACT (Page 21):

“The press conference lasted forty minutes, and was an exercise in seduction from start to finish. At the time we had no idea how artfully we were being manipulated. Those of us who asked questions had to identify ourselves by our names and by the news media we represented. He was especially attentive to the half dozen South African reporters who asked questions, almost all of whom belonged to what ANC dogma regarded as the enemy camp. To one from the chief arm of state propaganda and disinformation, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, he responded with a cheery, “Ah, hello! How are you?” To another from a newspaper associated with white free enterprise, “Hi! I am happy to see you!” To a political writer from an Afrikaans newspapers, “Good to see you!” To another Afrikaans journalist whose name he recognized from his own reading of the newspapers, “Ah yes! But I was expecting you to be a little taller and stouter!”

Just as we had expected him to be a little frailer, but he seemed healthy in body as lively in mind. I’d confirm the impression a few weeks later when, to my amazement and delight, his personal doctor agreed to see me. In what may have been a mild violation of his Hippocratic Oath, he told me that prison had not done Mandela’s constitution much harm at all; in fact, the fresh air, the regular diet, the unstressed routine of life, and even the forced labor had done him much good. The doctor, an Afrikaner, said Mandela had emerged from prison, at seventy-one, in the physical shape of a very fit man of fifty.

Was he fit to engage in the protracted political battle with the white state that lay ahead? Did he have his wits about him sufficiently to engineer the peaceful overthrow of apartheid? Mandela answered these questions swiftly enough.”


Author: John Carlin
Publisher: London: Atlantic Books, 2013
Call Number: English 968.065092 CAR
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