London: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. Full leather. This is a signed and magnificently bound British first edition of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, which he began writing clandestinely in prison in 1974 and finished in the 1990s after his release.
The striking and potentially singular binding - clearly a custom commission - is full dark tan morocco with raised and gilt-tooled spine bands. The center spine compartment features a stunning rendition of the six-color 1994 South African flag adopted with Mandela’s personal approval the same year that this book was published and Mandela was elected president of the nation that had imprisoned him for 27 years. The front cover features a raised, leather rendition of a leaping Springbok, a South African symbol indelibly associated with Mandela when he walked onto the pitch during the 1995 Rugby World Cup; wearing Springbok team cap, Mandela shook hands with the predominantly white team members before a predominantly white crowd, creating an iconic moment of racial reconciliation. The contents are bound with vividly hued springbok endpapers and silk head and tail bands. The book is housed in a stout, dark brown buckram slipcase with an R5 coin, minted in 2008 in commemoration of Mandela’s 90th birthday, inset in the right side. Condition of slipcase, binding, and contents is as new. Mandela’s signature "NMandela" is inked in black below his printed name on the title page.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was born Rolihlahla Mandela in the tiny village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape. It was in primary school that he was given the “English” name Nelson. He managed to secure his bachelors degree only after first being expelled for joining a student protest. Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, four years before Apartheid was adopted as a formal policy by the South African government after the 1948 general election victory of the National Party (NP). Mandela helped form the ANC Youth League.
Rising through the ranks, in 1952 Mandela both co-founded South Africa’s first black law firm and began to accrue official charges by the government. As a result of government restrictions placed upon him, Mandela could not openly attend adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. Neither Mandela nor the NP could know that the government’s persecution of Mandela would play a large role in the principles of the Freedom Charter being realized and in Mandela’s own political preeminence.
Mandela continued to accrue arrests, trials, and acquittals while the ANC was formally banned. By late 1961 Mandela had resorted to preparing for armed struggle, undertaking leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. Facing the death penalty on trial for sabotage, in 1964 Mandela delivered his famous ‘On the Docks’ speech. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Less than months after he spoke these resonating words, Mandela and co-conspirators were was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Apartheid applied even to imprisonment. Nelson’s sole white co-conspirator was sent to Pretoria Prison while Mandela and his black co-conspirators were sent to Robben Island.
The NP’s attempt to silence Mandela only increased his celebrity and legitimacy. Mandela was finally released in February 1990 by then-president of South Africa de Klerk. Mandela was integral to negotiations to end white minority rule; he and de Clerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela voted for the first time in his life on 27 April 1994 and was inaugurated two weeks later as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. Item #006286