Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Nelson Mandela: a life reported, an ebook I recently edited,  tells the Nelson Mandela story as seen through the eyes of the Guardian and the Observer.

From the first mention of him organising African independence movements in March 1953, to the reporting of his funeral, 60 years later, both papers have covered all the key moments of Mandela's life. This collection of news reports, interviews and commentary, offers a unique perspective on one of the 20th century's greatest statesmen.

It was during the early 1960s and the emergence of the so-called ‘Black Pimpernel,’ that the papers started to regularly write about Mandela.

The Observer in particular took a keen interest in South African affairs. David Astor, the paper's editor, founded the Africa Bureau in 1952 as a focus of anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid in London, and his Sunday paper led the way in rousing British opinion against the racist system

Colin Legum and later Anthony Sampson became the Observer’s experts on South Africa, and they were among the first to spot the potential of the ANC. The paper covered the 1964 “treason trials” in great detail and campaigned for the men to be spared the death penalty. Mandela also asked Sampson to cast his eye over the famous ‘Why I am ready to die’ speech.

During the long years of Mandela’s incarceration on Robben Island, the papers would print the occasional interview or scrap of information. However, it wasn’t until the launch of the campaign to free him in the early 1980s that Mandela’s name began to appear again.

The book mixes news reports with more personal pieces by writers like Mary Benson who knew Mandela in the 1960s (she showed him around London when he was on the run).

However, neither paper has shied away from carrying more critical pieces such as Chris McGreal’s Stain on the icon, a honest assessment of the Mandela presidency. But there is also commentary from the likes of Gary Younge who sought to restate Mandela as a determined political activist, rather than a kindly old gent.