(Article changed on November 27, 2013 at 07:37)
(image by Schechter/Seven Stories)
"[W]hen he was released from prison, people said "Well now you're free. And he said, "No, we're free to be free.'"
As one of the world's living icons who has recovered from his latest brush with death, and on the heals of the release of the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,  the beloved Nelson Mandela has received another stunning tribute--the twenty-six astonishing reflections in the biographical abcdarium Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.
With a forward by the newly released film's producer, Anant Singh, this latest written tribute to the Nobel laureate comes from a firsthand witness of the lifting of the Apartheid, Danny Schechter, whose favorite country in the world is South Africa. This renowned media critic, prolific author, filmmaker, television producer, and radio interviewer knows both Nelson Mandela and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu personally, among many other heroes of this epochal revolution--from the late Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer to Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president of South Africa. Schechter has spent activist time in South Africa since 1967, from the Apartheid era through its liberation to the present.
Schechter has written and directed six documentary films on this country, as well as Globalvision's television series South Africa Now for public television that ran for three years, while banned in South Africa. He has read a slew of other biographies of Mandela and quotes freely from them as well.
The only American documentary filmmaker to be allowed into Mandiba's team since his release, Schechter weaves "I" easily in and out of the otherwise third-person narrative--this is a primary, secondary, and picaresque source rife with accounts of Mandela from "Athlete" to "Zuid Africa."
Trying to bookmark significant passages in Mandela from A to Z was a project that ended up too "fringed" to help, so that the following summary can't begin to encompass vital information. There's no substitute for reading this book from cover to cover. Not only Mandela (Mandiba is his tribal name) but vitally important issues he and his people confronted come to the fore. The history of South Africa at that explosive time, with important details that explain so much so succinctly, is another A to Z Schechter generously interweaves with a book that reads like a film montage. . . from A to Z, totally absorbing and undemanding, involving all of us in an era that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the glasnost that broke up the Soviet Union and hence the Cold War, and finally the fulfillment of an impossible dream with all of its triumphs and pitfalls. Might I call this a culmination, the ultimate cry for peace and transcendence of the war-torn twentieth century?
The final South African leader Apartheid president, with whom Mandela had established rapport, F. W. de Klerk, told Schechter:
"Fundamental changes were taking place. . . . In the end, I could not have put together the package . . . if the Berlin Wall did not come down. . . . Suddenly the threat of Communist expansionism in South Africa lost the sting in its tail."
No biography or analysis offers a complete picture. Each is colored by its source. Coming from Schechter, Madiba A to Z can also be called a dissection or, more of a stretch, a montage of multiple associations, memories, impressions, histories. Chronology comes as an afterthought after the alphabetical section, for those who need it. It may also be read first, in anticipation of a huge expansion from the deeds to the actor, a "high-energy snack food" consisting of "essentially short essays" from the most to the least personal, from "Bully" or "Forgiveness" to the "Negotiator" reaching beyond himself toward compromise. Section titles range from simple adjectives to nouns to phrases and it may be significant that the final title is a phrase that reaches from "Zuid-Afrika to .za." From the Dutch territory to the twenty-first century Internet domain, "and beyond."
".za": back to A, which is for "Athlete," and Schechter defines its significance for Madiba, who said that "sport has the power to change the world." In the prison cell the size of a double bed where he was confined for so many years, Mandela stayed healthy by running in place and doing push-ups and stomach crunches. Boxing was the passion of this peaceful soul who resorted to violence as a solution only when all else had failed.
". . . But his talks were met with silence,
So as a last resort he turned to violence . . ." (from a school song)
The letter N stands for "Negotiator," a skill that went far toward freeing Mandela from what had been a lifelong sentence to Robben Island. He became indispensable as his homeland erupted into violence when the people's requests went unheeded. This most excellent of all the entries (in my opinion) recounts crucial history.
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