A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation
A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for his Nation, is an accessible, if flawed, biography of Nelson Mandela, oriented to young readers in North America (there is not a South African publisher, that the reviewer could identify). Young readers are introduced to the one of the great world leaders of the Twentieth Century, who personifies the struggle against the Apartheid system in South Africa, a virulent form of institutional, government sanctioned racism. Mandela, is portrayed as the heroic central figure in the struggle for freedom in South Africa; a man committed to constructing a color-blind, equitable society in the post-Apartheid era.
The author portrays Nelson Mandela as the central personage in the struggle for freedom and the in the transition towards a democratic, post-Apartheid South Africa. The author emphasizes Mandela’s commitment to peace and to racial harmony in the creation of a post-racial society.
The book includes two timelines as “appendices” that are helpful but incomplete. For example, the second and longer timelines, starts at 1652, the arrival of the first Europeans in what is today South Africa. The timeline does not include any references to the history of South Africa prior to European incursion. There are no references to the development and expansion of indigenous nations in South Africa that were autonomous from Dutch and British colonial intrusions along coastal South Africa. Nor is there mention of sustained resistance to European conquest.
It would be helpful if the author had included a glossary of South African terms. While it is admirable that the use of South African place names and terms are included in the narrative, North American seven-year-olds will not appreciate these references absent a glossary. For example, on page four the author writes: “Anger blazed in Nelson Mandela like a grass fire in the African bushveld.” A brief explanation of bushveld and of the expansiveness of grass fires at the end of the dry season, would enable young readers to more fully appreciate the power of the metaphor employed in this sentence. There are a number of other places where a glossary would assist young readers in appreciating the text—e.g. Karoo, rusks, etc.
At several places in the narrative the author uses the identifier, “dark-skinned people,” a term that the reviewer never heard used in a positive way in the more than two decades of engagement with South Africa. It would be more helpful if the author used racial classification used in Apartheid South Africa: African/Black; European/White; Asian; Coloured, with a brief explanation in the suggested glossary. If the author thinks this would be tedious for young North American readers, the use of “people of color,” which is familiar to the intended audience, would be more appropriate and relatable than “dark-skinned people.” Relatedly, on page six, the author refers to “mixed race” people. While this term is not incorrect in the South African context, it is incomplete. The peoples classified as Coloured, include people of “mixed race,” but also the indigenous Khoi-San people, and the large Cape Malay population, etc. (glossary)
A glaring omission is the lack of attention—could be just a paragraph, of the central importance of the mass struggle that took place across the country, outside of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. South African historians recognize that this struggle was just as important, if not more so, than the external work of the ANC. Recognizing this reality beyond the cursory one sentence lip-service on page 25, does not lessen or detract from the role of Nelson Mandela in the liberation of South Africa, but it would significantly improve young readers’ understanding of the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
Finally, the passing reference to “Nikosi Sikelel’iAfrika!” (God Bless Africa) on page 28 gives no context to the pivotal role this hymn played in the struggle for freedom; no recognition that this “struggle song” is a central part of the national anthem of democratic South Africa.
Prior to this book Lindsey McDivitt had published biographies for young readers. In her Author’s Note she shares that although she was raised in the U.S. she was born in South Africa to parents from the Huguenot-Afrikaner community who had lived in South Africa since the late 17th century. She briefly shares her gradual coming to terms with the pervasive personal and structural racism in South Africa during family visits back to South Africa while growing up. Her decision to write this biography of Nelson Mandela was clearly influenced by her personal connection with South Africa.
Reviewed by John Metzler, Ph.D. retired Michigan State University
Published in Africa Access Review (June 14, 2021)
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