♦ This insightful investigation of an often downplayed side of politician and activist Nelson Mandela from South African journalist Cruywagen (Brothers in War and Peace) provides a nuanced understanding of how faith influenced the renowned civil rights activist. The book begins with rich biographical details, providing context to frame Cruywagen’s claim that spirituality (though perhaps not organized religion itself) guided Mandela. Born into a royal lineage, Mandela’s father followed traditional religious practices, and it was not until Mandela’s mother became a Methodist that he was exposed to Christianity. His farseeing father realized that for his son to succeed in colonized South Africa, Mandela would need a Western education. At the time, the only way for black South Africans in his area to access education was through the schools offered by Methodist missionaries, so Mandela converted. Religion again played a key role in his life when the apartheid government imprisoned him. Throughout his time on Robben Island, he was exposed to the teachings of various religions, as religious leaders were among the few visitors the isolated prisoners were allowed to see. Though Mandela was publicly circumspect about his religious views, Cruywagen’s well-researched book offers a clear account of how religion threaded through his life.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Though South African journalist Cruywagen acknowledges that the life of Nelson Mandela has been examined by others in exhaustive detail, he argues that one important aspect of the iconic leader’s life has been largely ignored: his deep spirituality and the Methodist beliefs he inherited from his mother and learned in more detail through being educated in Methodist schools. One reason for this absence has been Mandela’s own reluctance to discuss such issues publicly, thinking as he did that acts of worship and spirituality are private matters. Cruywagen changes that in this spiritual biography. With his focus on spirituality and religious beliefs, the author tends to skate over the surface of Mandela’s early life. It’s not until Mandela has begun his 27 years in prison that Cruywagen undertakes his detailed examination of the leader’s spiritual life. Though the book, originally published in South Africa, may occasionally presume too much knowledge on the part of its American readers, it is nevertheless illuminating and an essential addition to studies of Mandela’s life and work.
1. Spiritual Origins
2. A Methodist Education
3. The Runaway
4. Politics, Before Anything Else
5. Taking Up Arms
6. An Imprisonment of the Spirit
7. The Sacrament Behind Bars
8. Confessions of Faith
9. A Transcendental Leader
10. Last Rites