"Going to the Mountain"

Love, dignity, and purpose, especially as it relates to torture in the fight for freedom, form the themes of this memoir by Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela, of course, was a fighter against apartheid in South Africa, and its first black president. He was a world-renowned humanitarian, and he died in 2013 in his 90’s.

Ndaba Mandela, the author, was the son of Mkgatho Mandela. Mkgatho was only 12 when his father Nelson went to jail in 1963 for changing his stance from one of peaceful resistance to advocating acts of sabotage against the brutality of the South African regime. Following his release from jail and ascension to the presidency in 1994, he returned to his mission of promoting change through peaceful means.

Ndaba lived with his grandfather from the age of 10 to adulthood. His own parents had a volatile relationship and did not live together. Although Ndaba’s father was a lawyer, as was Nelson Mandela, Ndaba’s father did not provide a stable existence for his child.

Ndaba relates many of the customs of his country. Although men often had several wives, and many children, this was not considered unusual even in the late 20th century. Divorce was not acrimonious. The positive result of this is that there were many family members to care for each other no matter what the connection. Ndaba recounts his closeness to his many aunts who helped raise him and to his cousins who were important in his youth and still are.

Ndaba describes the ritual that many South African men experience when they are circumcised, usually in their teens when a parent figure deems them mature enough to be a man, meaning able to set a good example for others, to take care of family, to do good in the world.

Ndaba writes that spending his three weeks in a ritual that many would consider very difficult taught him about spirituality, heritage, and family, and he emerged much more confident and strong. It led him to his current position at age 36 (in 2018) as an executive director of UN AIDS with a mission to end discrimination around HIV/AIDS. His own parents died of AIDS.

The main focus of “Going to the Mountain” is Ndaba’s unique experience of living with a man honored and revered around the world. Ndaba had insight into his grandfather’s daily living patterns, his habits, his thoughts and his discipline. To read how Nelson Mandela conducted himself around the most famous people in the world (the Obama’s and Queen Elizabeth were good friends) is inspiring. To read how a man read eight newspapers a day front to back, exercised, kept a schedule, talked about worldviews patiently with his grandchildren, sets a standard that one can only admire.

Ndaba learned from Mandela that it is important not to hold a grudge against the past, to not focus on the hatred that black men endured in South Africa, and not to cling to the memory of the atrocities black men and women underwent in the 20th century. Ndaba learned from Mandela that to make a change means to embrace social media, to recruit and involve young entrepreneurs, to embrace creative thinkers. To combat ignorance and to promote justice worldwide requires a sophistication and focus that can’t be deterred by political or cultural prejudices. (President Trump’s recent reference to certain countries as being “shitholes” set Ndaba’s mission back a few years, he believes, as did the ban on immigration from Muslim countries).

Ndaba Mandela was recently named one of the “28 Men of Change” by BET Television. After reading this book, I am glad such a person as Ndaba Mandela is in our world. I am pleased that Nelson Mandela’s legacy is being carried on by someone who grew and learned from this great humanitarian.