The 10 best ... books from the generation of the struggle (other than Long Walk to Freedom)

2013-12-15 10:50

As we bid our first citizen farewell on the road to his final journey, Charles Cilliers compiles a list of the 10 best books that encapsulate the spirit of those who were at the forefront of the fight

1 Odyssey to Freedom by George Bizos

Legal legend George Bizos’ life was dedicated in almost every respect to defending the ideal of human rights. Barely 13, he had to flee his ­native Greece during the Nazi occupation in 1941 (after helping to save six New Zealand soldiers). He and his ­father arrived in Joburg with just the clothes on their backs. At the start, ­Bizos was unable to speak any English, but he went on to be part of the defence for the Rivonia Trial, the Cradock Four and so many more. This autobiography is an absorbing read and it passes the 600-page mark without breaking a sweat. A tome for all time.

Published by Umuzi, R288.64 on

2 When Hope and History Rhyme by Amina Cachalia

Cachalia and her husband, Yusuf, represented everything that was inspiring and hopeful about the ANC-led march to change in South Africa. It’s also clear in this book that Madiba always nursed a playful crush on the lovely Amina, who helped to organise the 1956 women’s march and arranged the escape of Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe and others from Marshall Square Prison in 1963. In these pages, which Amina wrote shortly before her death this year aged 83, Mandela’s ­generation comes to life?–?sometimes inspiringly and often with quite unflattering honesty.

Published by Picador, R212.93 on

3 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

This book is based for the most part on a journal that Madikizela-Mandela kept while imprisoned by the security police for 18 months. Starting in 1970, the book provides a painful insight into the psychological torture that Madiba’s then wife was subjected to. While the more recent years may have tarnished her image, this window into the psyche of a determined anti-apartheid voice is a reminder of why Winnie has been the mother of the ­nation and why her views of what should have happened in South Africa post-apartheid have been so radically different to Madiba’s.

Published by Picador, R156 on

4 Memoirs by Ahmed Kathrada

As a fellow Robben Island political prisoner and a highly reflective intellectual presence, Kathrada became the trusted confidant of Madiba, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other political prisoners on Robben Island. In his small patch of garden on the island, Kathrada buried the original draft of Long Walk to Freedom, ­until it could be unearthed and smuggled to London by Mac Maharaj. Only one of several books by Kathrada, this one offers unique glimpses into the lives of the biggest names of the anti-apartheid movement.

Published by Zebra, R216.47 on

5 The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa by Denis Goldberg

As a young civil engineer, Denis Goldberg campaigned with the ANC and joined Mandela’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe. He was sentenced to life in prison with seven of the other trialists, but was not sent to Robben Island as the prison system, like everything else, was racially segregated. After Goldberg’s release in 1985, he went into exile in London and continued his work with the ANC. This tireless activist memorably said: “Being black and involved [in the struggle] meant you had the support of many people and it meant you got to be part of a community. Being white and involved meant ­being isolated.”

Published by STE, R195 on

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6 Walter & Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime by Elinor Sisulu

Authored by the Sisulus’ daughter-in-law, this political love story spans five decades. It is a warm contrast to the tragic pairing of Madiba and Winnie. Walter and Albertina grew up just a few villages apart in the Eastern Cape and not even history’s greatest forces were able to ultimately separate them. As Walter saw out his 26 years in prison with Mandela, Albertina played a crucial role in keeping the ANC alive underground, waiting for the husband she knew would return to her some day.

Published by New Africa Books, R177.01 on ­

7 Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid by Alan Wieder

The Slovos were at the forefront of the struggle and constantly presented an enormous challenge to the apartheid state, from within its borders and later from exile. Joe was at the helm of much of Umkhonto weSizwe’s armed struggle and Ruth lost her life to a letter bomb posted to her by an apartheid spy. This is the first extended biography of the couple and Wieder weaves together the existing documentary record with his own interviews, collected over many years, to paint a remarkable portrait of two people united by love and a common cause.

Published by Jacana, R257.07 on

8 Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary by Stephen Clingman

Fischer turned his back on all he had been raised to believe in after his birth into a prominent Afrikaner nationalist family. He went on to lead the legal defence at the Rivonia Trial and was himself later sentenced to life imprisonment for his activities against the apartheid state. Like Mandela, he was forced to go underground and spent nine months in disguise, becoming South Africa’s most wanted man. This book paints a compelling portrait of how dedication to a higher cause ­supersedes loyalties to race, culture and even family.

Published by Jacana, R239.04 on

9 No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

Madiba’s close friend and fellow Nobel laureate has written several books, but this one chronicles Tutu’s life in the lead-up to perhaps his most defining period as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Written with all the honesty and wit that we have come to associate with the Arch, Tutu points out the important lessons from the TRC for other parts of the world that have to deal with the aftermath of painful political division and conflict.

Published by Rider, R157.84 on

10 Armed & Dangerous: From Undercover Struggle to freedom by Ronnie Kasrils

Kasrils’ autobiography begins with the underground resistance of the 1950s and 1960s in the SA Communist Party and how he fled the country after the arrest of Mandela. He went on to set up Umkhonto weSizwe training camps as far away as Cuba and became notorious as the Red Pimpernel, slipping in and out of South Africa in disguise on secret missions. The book ends with the description of Kasrils’ involvement in the disastrous march on Bisho in 1992, which ended in yet another, but final, apartheid-era massacre.

Published by Jacana, R225.50 on

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