/ 18 July 2023

Top 10 Mandela must-reads

Doc Cecile Bio Mandela
Late former president Nelson Mandela. Photo: Alexander Joe/AFP

Almost nine years after the death of Nelson Mandela, his legacy continues to guide South Africa’s pursuit of a free and non­racial society. Imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island, alongside other struggle veterans, Mandela’s journey to becoming the country’s first democratically elected president in 1994 remains inspirational the world over in the personal and political arenas. 

Although the majority of books written about Mandela have been biographical, there are bodies of work that highlight the key lessons from his life and the relationships he fostered. Here’s a list of the top 10 books written about Mandela. 

‘Mandela: The Authorised Biography’

Written by the late journalist Anthony Sampson, this biography was published in 1999, just five years after Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Having had a relationship with Mandela since 1951, Sampson’s account of the struggle veteran’s life is hailed as the most comprehensive and informed with respect to detailing Mandela’s beginnings as a lawyer, his political career, imprisonment and eventual election as the first black president of South Africa. Sampson had access to Mandela’s prison memoir and interviewed Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and others, coupled with years’ worth of in-depth and meticulous research. —Published by Knopf, R277

‘Nelson Mandela: A Biography’

Published in 1998 and written by historian and journalist Martin Meredith, this biographical portrait of Mandela is an intimate retelling of his journey from imprisonment to presidency. It is also a deep dive into the beginnings of apartheid, its key figures and how black South Africans and the liberation leaders were systematically brutalised. Meredith, who has produced a number of other books on Africa, paints an accurate picture of the segregationist system in South Africa, the struggle for liberation and the defining moments in South Africa’s tumultuous journey to democracy. — Published by St Martin’s Press, R100

‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation’

After his release from prison, Mandela focused on how he could use the success of the national rugby team to foster unity among South Africans during the gestation stages of democracy. Written by John Carlin and published in 2008, this book tells the story of how Mandela’s support of the Springboks, and his backing of the national captain, Francois Pienaar, saw South Africa winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It is this body of work that was adapted into the 2009 film Invictus, which was directed by Clint Eastwood and which starred Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman. — Published by Penguin Books, R224

‘I Remember Nelson Mandela’

Curated by Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, and released in 2018, I Remember Nelson Mandela is a collection of the memories of those who worked closely with him during his tenure as president. It contains personal stories showing the generous, empathetic and human side of the statesman who advocated peace and liberation. From heart-warming anecdotes to humorous tales, the anthology also serves as a repository for the memories created by those who knew Mandela while he was still alive. — Published by Jacana Media, R230

‘The Freeing of Nelson Mandela: February 11th, 1990’

While many books have focused on the totality of Mandela’s life, in this 2004 account, writer Liz Gogerly zooms in on the moment that Madiba was released from prison, the significance of that moment, the backstory of how he had come to be imprisoned and how he was eventually released. Furthermore, the book highlights the leader’s key successes after his release and how the South African sociopolitical landscape changed as a result. — Published by Raintree, R255

‘Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage’

Stepping away from documenting Mandela’s life in a biographical sense, this compact book distills 15 vital lessons from the South African leader. From “gambling on goodness” and “wearing a brave face” to “creating a sacred zone”, these are just some of the golden nuggets one can glean from the book to experience a life that is not only inspirational but fulfilling — despite the tribulations. Written by Richard Stengel and first published in 2009, Mandela’s Way is a testament to the extraordinary will of the human spirit regarding love, life, and courage. — Published by Crown Publishers, R480

‘Madiba A-Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela’

Writer Danny Schechter adopts a different approach to the biography and opts to leverage his 40-year relationship with Mandela by producing uniquely themed chapters that correspond to a letter in the alphabet. From major to minor themes, it is a fascinating book that gives the reader unexpected insight into Mandela’s life, as well as his effect on people. From being an athlete, a bully and a comrade to a militant and a prisoner-turned-president, these are just some of the themes explored in this 2013 book. — Published by Jacana Media, R230

 ‘Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather, Nelson Mandela’

A welcome respite from the documenting of Mandela’s political life by those outside of his immediate family, Going to the Mountain was written by his grandson, Ndaba Mandela. The book delves into the details of Ndaba’s complex relationship with his grandfather, their living together when he was 11 years old and his coming-of-age journey as a Xhosa boy expected to go to initiation school. Ndaba also writes of the guidance he received and the many lessons he learnt from his grandfather. — Published by Hutchinson, R433

‘Good Morning, Mr Mandela’

The book is a poignant retelling of Zelda la Grange’s upbringing in an Afrikaans family during apartheid and how she became the personal assistant to Mandela during his term as president. She writes of how her long-held prejudices as a white South African came to break down as her friendship with Mandela progressed, and of the end of that relationship after she was reportedly ejected from the family when he was on his deathbed. It’s also an important read in that it uncovers the misconceptions that many white South Africans still hold regarding racism in the country. — Published by Penguin Books, R246

‘Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life’

A carefully curated account of Mandela as a husband, father, prisoner and politician, this book includes photographs capturing moments in his life. For those interested in beautiful visuals, Charlene Smith’s offering is a photographic keepsake preserving a rich past of meaningful memories and happenings in Madiba’s life as well as his overall legacy. Originally published in 1999, an updated version was released in 2012. — Published by Struik Publishers, R357