Sentimental compendium of a famous life

2007-02-01 00:00

THIS book promises an “intimate in-depth look at Mandela the man rather than the politician”. What it delivers is a readable if slightly sentimental compendium of Nelson Mandela's life which is drawn seemingly entirely from secondary sources: most of the well-known literature available on Mandela, including his own published autobiographies. There is no evidence of any interviews with any of Mandela's associates, family members or friends.

While this is not necessarily a problem, it does leave you wondering why the book was written at all. Who is Anné Mariè du Preez Bezdrob and what is her relationship to the subject? What “intimate” perspective can she bring to Mandela's personal life?

The book's blurb says she's an award-winning political journalist and author of Winnie Mandela - A Life and Sarejevo Roses, based on her experiences as a peacekeeper in Bosnia at the height of the Balkan War. But I'm still no clearer on why she would tackle such a project.

Perhaps the answer lies in the aspirations of the book's publisher, Samoja Books, which is based in Kestell in the Eastern Free State, also the home of the book's author.

Samoja Books, I am told by its website, is a new publishing house with a unique approach.

“Our policy is to publish selected books that will inspire readers and broaden their perspectives. In addition, we will bring more affordable books to our readers, publishing some copies of each edition in low cost paperback format ... The Nelson Mandela Story is our inaugural publication; and who better as a choice for inspiration and the broadening of perspectives than the man who is considered a global mainspring ...” Fair enough, but who is the audience that requires inspiration and a “broadening of perspectives”?

I had another small gripe: the individual chapters aren't numbered in the book, although there's a contents page in the front which sets out the chapter numbers. Quotes from other sources often appear in their entirety in the text without any reference to their author, so I found myself constantly turning to the front to check the number of the chapter and then to the back to find the source of a quotation. I felt more could be done here to contextualise the quotes and their sources within the text itself.

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