When I was young, South Africa lived under apartheid, a system that segregated whites and blacks. Living conditions for the blacks were horrendous. The White government responded to protest rallies with violence. And Nelson Mandela, a black man who was the face of resistance to apartheid, sat in jail encouraging hope, and continued protests. The rest of the world looked on and tried to figure out what they could do to end the situation in South Africa. In the United States, protesters encouraged investors to divest themselves of any stock in companies that did business in South Africa. The world looked to the hero, Nelson Mandela. Within the year after the Berlin wall came down, apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Great change was indeed possible.
Kadir Nelson’s strikingly beautiful book about Nelson Mandela pictures him, above all, as a man of incredible strength. In each of the illustrations, Mandela is powerful. It appears there is no weakness in him, nor any doubt about the necessity of ending apartheid. The book follows Mandela from his boyhood home to law school to his political work in trying to end apartheid. When the government issued an arrest warrant for him, he went underground and continued to organize protests against apartheid. He was caught and jailed for 27 years. Then apartheid ended and Mandela was freed. He became the first black president of South Africa. Mandela’s view is that in this new South Africa all races are welcomed.
The story is told in Kadir Nelson’s strong illustrations and in short sections of prose that read almost like poetry. In the back of the book is a two-page spread detailing Nelson Mandela’s biography.
To this day, Nelson Mandela is, in my mind, a symbol of refusal to accept oppression. Kadir Nelson’s book will introduce new generations to Nelson Mandela the man and Nelson Mandela the symbol.