During my time as a volunteer at the Foundation, I had the incredible opportunity to transcribe one of Nelson Mandela’s diaries. This diary particularly focused on his travels across Africa in 1962, months before he was arrested. He is seen as a moral compass figure across the world. The purpose of his travel across the African continent was to gain support for the African National Congress's (ANC’s) new political, economic and military campaign to overthrow the Apartheid government. He travelled for months to different countries such as Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria.
In 1961 the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress were banned in South Africa and Mandela wanted military support for the struggle against the apartheid regime. The journal I transcribed was insightful in terms of understanding how dedicated and preoccupied he was about fighting for a democratic South Africa. Mandela began his travels in January 1962, using the alias David Motsamayi, and first leaving South Africa for Botswana, after which he travelled to Tanzania where he met the Prime Minister Julius Nyerere in Dar es Salaam. He also travelled through Kenya and Nigeria to eventually reach his final destination, Ethiopia, all the while mobilising support for the ANC’s armed struggle.
In Ethiopia, Mandela visited a military camp, attended a Pan African Freedom Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECSA) conference with Oliver Tambo and addressed the conference. He later flew to Cairo, Egypt to receive even more military training. Mandela expanded his military training in Morocco with Algeria's National Liberation Front. In Morocco, at the Zegangan Training Base, he was exposed to firearms. Throughout his travels across the continent, Mandela gained political and financial support from countries such as Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Libya, and Liberia. He also travelled to London to meet with various journalists and politicians. Nelson Mandela eventually returned to South Africa on 23 July 1962.
On 5th August that year, Mandela was arrested as he was returning to Johannesburg after briefing ANC President, Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip. Mandela received a five-year sentence for leaving the country illegally and for inciting workers to strike. While serving this sentence he was charged for sabotage in what became the Rivonia Trial, and later sentenced to life imprisonment.
Transcribing this dairy was an incredible opportunity for me to learn more about Mandela’s irrepressible resilience and devotion to the armed struggle. He put his life at risk, embarking on this journey across the continent by leaving the country illegally under an alias. The diary was initially difficult to decipher, but as I became more familiar with his handwriting, I could grasp the words, sentences, and sequence of events. As much as I developed an understanding of his handwriting, I still needed to do further research to gain the necessary context to be fully empowered and to develop the confidence needed to transcribe his diary.
There has been significant progress in South Africa in terms of political power but unfortunately, there has not been enough progress in terms of economic power and development. South Africa has the highest Gini coefficient (an index of per capita income distribution) in the world*, meaning that inequality is the world's highest.
South Africa's pedestrian economic development can outweigh the political progress of the country. This has led to constant protests, instability and insecurity about the future. Mandela’s personal understanding of the issues the continent would face once freedom was achieved is captured in these words, “We need to exert ourselves that much more, and break out of the vicious cycle of dependence imposed on us by the financially powerful: those in command of immense market power and those who dare to fashion the world in their own image.” (This quote is from the speech Mandela delivered at the Organisation of African Unity summit in Yaounde, Cameroon on 8 July 1996.)
*According to the Word Bank.