This is a book of desire denied, of what the pain of that impotence drives people to do, and how it makes them unwilling contortionists and even co-conspirators in their oppression. From ‘The Transformation of Harry’: “And there we all were; in an uncertain country, ourselves uncertain. A land with a sly heart; and ourselves ready to be deceived.” For if colonialism was any one thing it was denial: denial of land, denial of African culture, denial of any form of psychic nourishment—including hope—denial of black existence itself. And neocolonialism is the denial that any of that is still happening. First published in 1978, The House of Hunger speaks, or rather shouts, forward from its own time to 2017. Perhaps the most painful parts of the book to read are those that show how little has changed in thirty-nine years. For if colonialism was any one thing it was denial: denial of land, denial of African culture, denial of any form of psychic nourishment—including hope—denial of black existence itself. And neocolonialism is the denial that any of that is still happening.
When my mother passed away, my world came tumbling down. How could this happen? At first, it felt impossible to speak about her passing or about her life. As our family gathered to mourn her passing at the age of 70, and after we hugged and cried and silently thought about our regrets of what we should have told her or done for her before she died, something happened. We started using her favourite sayings and turns of phrase and when one of us five siblings did this, a smile would come to all our lips.
This event taught me something important, I think: Sometimes words at first seem too blunt, potentially too self-serving, too clumsy, often too self-important and appropriating and too lacking in precision to accurately capture what you feel or how a person has affected your life. For me, the hours after my mother passed away was such a moment. This morning, as news of the passing away of the father of our nation reached me, felt like another. However, I recall how our mothers’ words soothed us, so in order to honour the memory of the late Nelson Mandela I assembled some of his quotes. The words of our late President testify more eloquently than I ever could to what a remarkable man he was.
“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 than its opposite.” – The Long Walk to Freedom
“We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people. I am also here today as a representative of the millions of people across the globe, the anti-apartheid movement, the governments and organisations that joined with us, not to fight against South Africa as a country or any of its peoples, but to oppose an inhuman system and sue for a speedy end to the apartheid crime against humanity.”- Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1993
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“When there is danger, a good leader takes the front line; but when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back of the room.” – in 2001 to Oprah.
“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. Any nation that is progressive is led by people who have had the privilege of studying. I knew we could improve our lives even in jail. We could come out as different men, and we could come out with two degrees. Educating ourselves was a way to give ourselves the most powerful weapon for freedom . . . the more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are.” – in 2001 to Oprah
“To spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy . . . but there are very positive aspects, too, because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes. I also had the opportunity to read very widely, especially biographies, and I could see what men — sometimes from very humble beginnings — were able to lift themselves with their bootstrings and become international figures.” – in 1990 to US TV network
“Many people in this country have paid the price before me and many will pay the price after me.” – November 1962 in his speech in mitigation of sentence.
“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” – from an unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in prison in 1975
“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Interview in 1994
“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.” – at the International Press Institute Congress in 1994
“I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison.” – 12 July 1976. Letter written to commissioner of prisons while on Robben Island
“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” – speaking on HIV and AIDS in Norway in 2005.
“In South Africa, to be poor and black was normal, to be poor and white was a tragedy.” – 1994, Long Walk to Freedom
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.” – In a speech in 2005
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” - Speaking at the launch of Britain’s Make Poverty History campaign.
“If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.” – Date unknown
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Date unknown
“If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” – Speaking to South Africa’s trade union congress, July 1993
“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones” – Long Walk to Freedom
“I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.” – Larry King Live, 16 May 2000
“You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with and a sense of humour and a complete relaxation, even when you’re discussing serious things, does help to mobilise friends around you. And I love that.” – From an interview with Tim Couzens, Verne Harris and Mac Maharaj for Mandela: The Authorised Portrait , 2006, 13 August 2005
“Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Date unknown