Nelson Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom By Nelson Rolihlahla

Tenth May dawned bright and clear. For the past few days I had been pleasantly besieged by dignitaries and world leaders who were coming to pay their respects before the inauguration. The inauguration would be the largest gathering ever of international leaders on South African soil.

The ceremonies took place in the lovely sandstone amphitheater formed by the Union Buildings in Pretoria. For decades this had been the seat of white supremacy, and now it was the site of a rainbow gathering of different colours and nations for the installation of South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial government.

On that lovely autumn day I was accompanied by my daughter Zenani. On the podium, Mr de Klerk was first sworn in as second deputy president. Then Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as first deputy president. When it was my turn, I pledged to obey and uphold the Constitution and to devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and its people. To the assembled guests and the watching world, I said:

Today, all of us do, by our presence here….. confer glory and hope to newborn liberty. Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. 

We, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil. We thank all of our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity.

We have, at least, achieved our political emancipation. We pledged ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.

Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!

A few moments later we all lifted our eyes in awe as a spectacular array of South African jets, helicopters and troop carriers roared in perfect formation over the Union Buildings. It was not only a display of pinpoint precision and military force, but a demonstration of the military’s loyalty to democracy, to a new government that had been freely and fairly elected. Only moments before, the highest generals of the South African defence force and police, their chests bedecked with ribbons and medals from days gone by, saluted me and pledged their loyalty. I was not unmindful of the fact that not so many years before they would not have saluted by arrested me. Finally a chevron of Impala jets left a smoke trail of the black, red, green, blue and gold of the new South African flag.

The day was symbolised for me by the playing of our two national anthems, and the vision of whites singing ‘Nkosi Sikelel -iAfrika’ and blacks singing ‘Die Stem’, the old anthem of the Republic. Although that day neither group knew the lyrics of the anthem they once despised, they would soon know the words by heart.

On the day of the inauguration, I was overwhelmed with a sense of history. In the first decade of the twentieth century, a few years after the bitter Anglo-Boer war and before my own birth, the white-skinned peoples of South Africa patched up their differences and erected a system of racial domination against the dark-skinned peoples of their own land. The structure they created formed the basis of one of the harshest, most inhumane, societies the world has ever known. Now, in the last decade of the twentieth century, and my own eighth decade as a man, that system had been overturned forever and replaced by one that recognised the rights and freedoms of all peoples, regardless of the colour of their skin.

That day had come about through the unimaginable sacrifices of thousands of my people, people whose suffering and courage can never be counted or repaid. I felt that day, as I have on so many other days, that I was simply the sum of all those African patriots who had gone before me. That long and noble line ended and now began again with me. I was pained that I was not able to thank them and that they were not able to see what their sacrifices had wrought.

The policy of apartheid created a deep and lasting wound in my country and my people. All of us will spend many years, if not generations, recovering from that profound hurt. But the decades of oppression and brutality had another, unintended effect, and that was that it produced the Oliver Tambos, the Walter Sisulus, the Chief Luthulis, the Yusuf Dadoos, the Bram Fischers, the Robert Sobukwes of our time* – men of such extraordinary courage, wisdom and generosity that their like may never be known again. Perhaps it requires such depths of oppression to create such heights of character. My country is rich in the minerals and gems that lie beneath its soil, but I have always known that its greatest wealth is its people, finer and truer than the purest diamonds.

It is from these comrades in the struggle that I learned the meaning of courage. Time and again, I have seen men and women risk and give their lives for an idea. I have seen men stand up to attacks and torture without breaking, showing a strength and resilience that defies the imagination. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart that its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

In life, every man has twin obligations – obligations to his family, to his parents, to his wife and children; and he has an obligation to his people, his community, his country. In a civil and humane society, each man is able to fulfil those obligations according to his own inclinations and abilities. But in a country like South Africa, it was almost impossible for a man of my birth and colour to fulfil both of those obligations. In South Africa, a man who tried to fulfil his duty to his people was inevitably ripped from his family and his home and was forced to live a life apart, a twilight existence of secrecy and rebellion. I did not in the beginning choose to place my people above my family, but in attempting to serve my people, I found that I was prevented from fulfilling my obligations as a son, a brother, a father and a husband.

I was not born with a hunger to be free. I was born free – free in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields near my mother’s hut, free to swim in the clear stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the stars and ride the broad backs of slow-moving bulls. As long as I obeyed my father and abided by the customs of my tribe, I was not troubled by the laws of man or God.

It was only when I began to learn that my boyhood freedom was an illusion, when I discovered as a young man that my freedom had already been taken from me, that I began to hunger for it. At first, as a student, I wanted freedom only for myself, the transitory freedoms of being able to stay out at night, read what I pleased and go where I chose. Later, as a young man in Johannesburg, I yearned for the basic and honourable freedoms of achieving my potential of earning my keep, of marrying and having a family – the freedom not to be obstructed in a lawful life.

But then I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did. That is when I joined the African National Congress, and that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on anyone of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.

I knew that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free is I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.


The Inauguration

It was 10th May, the day of oath with a bright and shiny sun. Nelson Mandela was supposed to take oath as the first black President of South Africa. A large number of leaders all from around the world had gathered there to be the witness of the swearing-in ceremony of Nelson Mandela as the first black President. The inauguration ceremony took place in a big open building in Pretoria  where the first democratic non-racial government was to be installed.

The Swearing-in Ceremony of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was accompanied by his daughter Zenani. Mr de Klerk was the first person who took oath as second Deputy President followed by Mr Thabo Mbeki who swore as the first Deputy President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela sweared as the first black President of South Africa. He pledged to obey and uphold the Constitution and to devote himself to the well-being of the people. He also promised to make the nation free from poverty, deprivation, suffering and all sort of discrimination.

Display of the Military Power of South African Jets

When Mandela had taken oath, South African jets displayed the military power. It also showed the loyalty of military to democracy. The highest military generals saluted him. He recounted that they would have arrested him many years before. It was followed by the playing of two national anthems. The whites sang ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ the old song and the blacks sang ‘Die Stem’ the new song which marked the end of the ceremony.

Apartheid and South Africa

Nelson Mandela reminiscences (remembers) about days gone by which soon be the part of history where the whites had formed a system of racial dominance against the blacks. It was the basis of the harsh societies which is now overturned. He says the policy of apartheid (policy of racial segregation ) created a deep and lasting wound on his country and its people.

Now it is the system that recognised the rights and freedom of all people.

Regret of Mandela and Remembrance of Freedom Fighters

On the auspicious day, Mandela regretted the loss of thousands of people and remembered their sacrifices for the freedom from discrimination. He thought of himself as the sum of all those African patriots who sacrificed their lives before him. He was pained that he couldn’t thank them.

He recalled great freedom fighters like Oliver, Tambos, Walter Sisulu, Chief Luthuli, Yusuf Dawood etc who were the men of uncommon courage, wisdom and generosity.

He said that the country is rich in minerals but its greatest wealth is its people.

Goodness and Duties of a Man

The author says that being white or black is not the token of your goodness or superiority. No one is born hating other, people should love one another which comes without force as it is natural. It is man’s essential goodness.

A man has to perform duties to his family, community and country which he didn’t see in his country before he pushed himself to fight for the blacks. A black man was punished if he tried to live like a human being and forced to live apart from his own people. So, he was not allowed to perform his duties to his family.

Meaning of Freedom by Mandela

As a kid, Mandela had different meaning for being free as he wanted to run in the fields and wanted to stay out at night. As he grew older, he wanted the freedom of livelihood for himself and his family.

But soon he realised that such freedom was only an illusion. He realised that his brothers and sisters who looked like him were not free, so joined African National Congress (ANC). His hunger for freedom became great for the freedom of his people. He desired that everyone should be given the right to live his life with dignity and respect. He wanted the oppressor and the oppressed to be liberated. As no one is free if one is taking someone else’s freedom. Only such feelings can bring true freedom for everyone.

Chapter Sketch


About the Characters


Chapter Highlights

  1. 10th of May was a day of freedom for South Africa and there was huge gathering of international leaders and dignitaries.
  2. Inauguration ceremony or swearing-in ceremony was being held in Union Building in Pretoria and first non-racial government took the charge.
  3. Nelson Mandela gave speech on the victory for justice, peace and human dignity.
  4. Mandela pledged to liberate his people from poverty, suffering and discrimination.
  5. A colourful show by jets and helicopters to show military’s loyalty took place.
  6. Singing of two national anthems was done – the old ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ by the whites and the new ‘Die Stem’ by the blacks.
  7. A new system that recognised the rights and freedom of all people was formed.
  8. Mandela remembered and thanked the people who sacrificed their lives for the freedom.
  9. Salutation to some great freedom fighters – Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chief Luthuli, Yusuf Dadoo and others.
  10. Mandela said in speech that a country is rich because of its people not because of the minerals. Courage is not the absence of fear but the victory over it. People should love others and not hate them due to colour  or religion. Love comes naturally not by force, which is the natural goodness.
  11. He also stated that a man should try to make a balance between his duties – duty to his family and duty to his community and country. A black person was treated badly and allowed to perform his duties.
  12. According to Mandela, freedom has many aspects like – for a kid it is to run and play, for an adult it is to fulfil the needs of his own and his family. Real freedom means equal rights for everyone.
  13. Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC). He desired people to live with dignity and respect. He wanted the oppressor and the oppressed to be liberated.
  14. Patience and perseverance guided by discipline and system yield the desired result.

Word Meanings

apartheid : policy of racial segregation

autobiography : life story (biography) of a person written by himself

amphitheater : large open theatre

dignitaries : eminent persons

oppression : torture

jubilant : joyful, happy

dawned : came out

besieged : surrounded

decades : period of ten years

supremacy : being superior

installation : placement

non-racial : raceless

uphold : to keep up

well-being : state of cheerfulness

glory : grace

outlaws : those who do not observe laws or rules

rare privilege : uncommon right

distinguished : very famous

possession : control

emancipation : freedom from restriction; liberation

bondage : slavery

deprivation : state of not having one’s benefits

discrimination : state of being treated differently

glorious : beautiful, grand

awe : respect and fear

spectacular array : attractive display

troop carriers : vehicles carrying soldiers

pinpoint precision : complete / perfect order

demonstration : show

gedecked : decorated

unmindful : not knowing

chevron : a pattern like V

trail : line

symbolised : was like a symbol

despised : hated

overwhelmed : overflowed

patched up : finished

erected : built

racial domination : control due to race

structure : forming of something, fabricature

harshest : most stern

inhumane : not humane

unimaginable : which can’t be thought of

sacrifices : offering something valuable for slaughter

wrought : done

generation : single stage in a family history

profound : deep and strong

brutality : cruelty

unintended : not thought of

generosity : large heartedness , kindness

minerals : metals etc, taken from the earth

torture : to treat cruelly, to make one suffer physically

resilience : ability to deal with any hardship, elasticity

defies : (here) that can’t be explained

conquers : gets victory

grimmest : saddest, serious

pushed to our limits : (here) pushed to the wall

glimmer : a little shine

humanity : humanism

extinguished : put out

obligations : duties

humane : (here) kind

inclinations : natural tendencies, leanings

attempted : tried

isolated : made lonely

inevitably : unavoidably

ripped : (here) taken away

twilight existence : (here) a little life

secrecy and rebellion : having secrecy and opposition

roast mealies :  bake maize corns

abided : obeyed

transitory : not permanent

yearned : desired deeply

obstructed : hindered

curtailed : reduced

dignity : respect , grace

animated : (here) gave life

law-abiding attorney : lawyer who obeys rules

virtuous : full of virtues

oppressor : one who oppresses others

oppressed : one who bears tortures

bars : rods

prejudice : hatred, bias

narrow-mindedness : state of having narrow beliefs about religion etc.

Questions and Answers

NCERT Solutions

Oral Comprehension Check (Page 18, 19)

Question 1 : Where did the ceremonies take place ? Can you name any public buildings in India that are made of sandstones?

Answer : The ceremonies took place in the campus of the Union Building of Pretoria, which were attended by dignitaries and leaders of many nations.

In India; Rashtrapati Bhavan and Red Fort are buildings made of sandstone.

Question 2 : Can you say how 10th May is an ‘autumn day’ in South Africa?

Answer : 10th May is an ‘autumn day’ in South Africa because on this day there was the largest gathering of international leaders on South African soil for the installation of South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial government.

Question 3 : At the beginning of his speech, Mandela mentions ‘an extraordinary human disaster’. What does he mean by this? What is the ‘glorious human achievement’ he speaks of at the end?

Answer : By ‘an extraordinary human disaster’ Mandela means to state the practice of apartheid in South Africa. During this, there was a racial segregation based on colour and the blacks suffered a lot. They were not allowed to demand freedom or any right. Mandela himself did spend many years on infamous ‘Robben Island’ as a prisoner where he was beaten mercilessly.

He considered it as great human achievement that a black person became the President of a country where the blacks were not even considered human beings and were treated badly.

Question 4 : What does Mandela thank the international leaders for?

Answer : Mandela felt very privileged to welcome the international leaders at the wearing-in ceremony because not too long ago, the South Africans were considered outlaws. He thus thanks all of them for having come to witness the historical ceremony. This was a gesture of international recognition to a newly born free democratic nation and it could be considered a common victory for justice, peace and human dignity.

Question 5 : What ideals does Nelson Mandela set for the future of South Africa?

Answer : Nelson Mandela set the ideals of liberating people from bondage of poverty, deprivation and suffering. He also set the ideal for a society where there would be no discrimination based on gender or racial origins.

Oral Comprehension Check (Page 21)

Question 1 : What did the military generals do? How did their attitude change and why?

Answer : The highest military generals of South African Defence Force saluted Mandela and pledged their loyalty which was of great significance as during apartheid era they would have arrested him. The change in their attitude was because of struggle and sacrifices put in by many heroes of South Africa. This struggle not only ensured the freedom of a nation struggling with apartheid, but also brought a change in mindsets of many. He believed that love can also be taught and human being is naturally inclined towards love rather than hate.

Question 2 : Why were two national anthems sung?

Answer : On the auspicious occasion of the inauguration, two national anthems: one by the whites and the other by the blacks symbolising the equality of the blacks and the whites were sung.

Question 3 : How does Mandela describe the systems of governments in his country (i) in the first decade, and (ii) in the final decade, of the 20th century?

Answer : (i) In the first decade of the century, the whites erected a system of racial domination against the blacks, thus creating the basis of one of the harshest and most inhumane societies the world had ever known.

ii) In the final decade of the 20th century, the previous system had been overturned and replaced by one which recognised rights and freedom of all people regardless of colour of their skin.

Question 4 : What does courage mean to Mandela?

Answer : For Mandela, courage does not mean the absence of fear but a victory over it. According to him, brave men need not be fearless but should be able to conquer fear.

Question 5 : Which does Mandela think is natural, to love or to hate?

Answer : For Mandela, love comes more naturally to the human than hate.

Oral Comprehension Check (Page 24)

Question 1 : What ‘twin obligations’ does Mandela mention?

Answer : Mandela mentions that every man has twin obligations. The first is to his family, wife and children; the second obligation is to his people, his community and his country.

Question 2 : What did being free mean to Mandela as a boy, and as a student? How does he contrast these “transitory freedoms” with “the basic and honourable freedoms”?

Answer : Like any other kid, for Mandela freedom meant to make merry and enjoy the blissful life. Once one becomes an adult, antics of childhood looks like transitory because most of the childish activities are wasteful from an adult’s perspective. Once you are adult, you have to earn a livelihood to bring the bacon home. It is only then when you get an honourable existence in the family and in the society.

Question 3 : Does Mandela think the oppressor is free? Why/Why not?

Answer : Mandela does not think that the oppressor is free because according to him, an oppressor is a victim of hatred who is behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. He realises that both the oppressor and the oppressed are robbed of their humanity and peace.

Thinking about the Text (Page 24)

Question 1 : Why did such a large number of international leaders attend the inauguration? What did it signify the triumph of?

Answer : To be the part of the inauguration, international leaders showed a gesture of solidarity from international community to the idea of end of apartheid. It was the significance of the victory of good over evil and triumph of a tolerant society without any discrimination.

Question 2 : What does Mandela mean when he says he is “simply the sum of all those African patriots”, who had gone before him?

Answer : By saying that he is simply the sum of all those African patriots, Mandela, wants to pay his tribute to all the people who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom. He says that he is grateful to those who had gone before him because those heroes of past had paved the path of cooperation and unity for him. Therefore, he could try to come to power to bring equality for his people with their support.

Question 3 : Would you agree that the “depths of oppression” create “heights of character”? How does Mandela illustrate this? Can you add your own examples to this argument?

Answer : I agree with the statement that depths of oppression create heights of character. Nelson Mandela illustrates this by giving examples, of great heroes of South Africa like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and other swho were inspired to sacrifice their lives in the long freedom struggle.

India is full of such examples. During our freedom struggle there was a galaxy of leaders of great characters and the oppression of British rule created and encourages people of noble characters like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, JL Nehru, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Sardar Bhagat Singh and many more. If we compare them with the quality  of political leaders India is having today, then Nelson Mandela seems to be absolutely right.

Question 4 : How did Mandela’s understanding of freedom change with age and experience?

Answer : With age and experience, Mandela understood the real meaning of freedom. As a young boy, he thought that he was born free and believed that as long as he obeyed his father and abided by the customs of his tribe, he was free in every possible manner. As he grew older, freedom to raise a family and freedom to earn livelihood started dominating his thoughts. Gradually he realised that he was selfish during his boyhood. He slowly understood that it was not just his freedom that was being curtailed, but the freedom of all blacks. It was the freedom from fear and prejudice. Age and experience widened his perspective of freedom.

Question 5 : How did Mandela’s ‘hunger for freedom’ change his life?

Answer : Mandela realised in his youth that it was not just his freedom that was being curtailed, but th efreedom fo all blacks. This changed the fearful man to a fearless rebel. He sacrificed the comforts of a settled life to fight for a greater cause. He joined the African National Congress and this changed him form a frightened young man into a bold one who fought against racial prejudice.

Thinking about the Text (Page 24, 25, 26)

Question I : There are nouns in the test (formation, government) which are formed from the corresponding verbs (form, govern) by suffixing – action or ment. There may be change in the spelling of some verb – noun pairs : such as rebel, rebellion; constitute, constitution.

Make a list of such pairs of nouns and verbs in the text.

Noun : Verb

Rebellion : Rebel

Constitution : Constitute

Answer :

Noun : Verb

Rebellion : Rebel

Constitution : Constitute

Formation : Form

Government : Govern

Obligation : Oblige

Transformation : Transform

Discrimination : Discriminate

Deprivation : Deprive

Demonstration : Demonstrate

Oppression : Oppress

Imagination : Imagine

Question II. Here are some more examples of “the” used with proper names. Try to say what these sentences mean. (you may consult a dictionary if you wish. Look at the entry for ‘the’)

i) Mr Singh regularly invites the Amitabh Bachchans and the Shah Rukh Khans to his parties.

ii) Many people think that Madhuri Dixit is the Madhubala of our times.

iii) History is not only the story of the Alexanders, the Napoleons and the Hitlers, but of ordinary people as well.

Answer : i) This means the Mr Singh regularly invites famous personalities as of the calibre of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan to his parties.

ii) This means that Madhuri Dixit is compared to a landmark in acting in the form of legendary actress Madhubala.

iii) This means that history is not only the story of the great fighters and leaders like Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler, but also of ordinary people.

Question III. Match, the italicised phrases in Column A with the phrase nearest meaning in Column B.

(Hint: First look for the sentence in the text which the phrase in Column A occurs.)

1 I was not unmindful of the fact i) had not forgotten was aware of the fact

ii) was not careful about the fact

iii) forgot or was not aware of the fact

2 When my comrades and I were pushed to our limits i) pushed by the guards to the wall

ii) took more than our share of beatings

iii) felt that we could not endure the suffering any longer

3 To reassure me and keep my going i) make me go on walking

ii) help me continue to live in hope in this very difficult situation

iii) make me remain without complaining

4 The basic and honourable freedoms of …..earning my keep……. i) earning enough money to live on

ii) keeping what I earned

iii) getting a good salary

Answer :

1 I was not unmindful of the fact i) had not forgotten was aware of the fact
2 When my comrades and I were pushed to our limits iii) felt that we could not endure the suffering any longer
3 To reassure me and keep my going ii) help me continue to live in hope in this very difficult situation
4 The basic and honourable freedoms of …..earning my keep……. i) earning enough money to live on

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