119 pages 3 hours read

Nelson Mandela

No Easy Walk to Freedom

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 1973

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Summary and Study Guide


No Easy Walk to Freedom: Speeches, Letters, and Other Writings is a collection of essays, speeches, letters, and trial transcripts that the anti-apartheid activist and eventual South African president Nelson Mandela wrote between 1953 and 1964. The collection was first published by Heinemann Educational Books in 1965, with Penguin Books publishing the edited version (including Ato Quayson’s Introduction and editorial notes) in 2002. The original publication as well as the edited version include the 1964 Foreword by Mandela’s friend and comrade, Oliver Tambo. The collection illustrates the linear evolution of the political outlook, strategies, and activities of Mandela, the ANC, and other resistance movement participants during an 11-year anti-apartheid struggle. This guide references the 2002 Penguin Books edition.

Content Warning: No Easy Walk to Freedom discusses apartheid and racial conflict at length, with references to violence and imprisonment. This guide also reproduces the term “Coloured” as a racial category, used historically in South Africa to denote multiracial (and sometimes multiethnic) heritage.


Part 1, “Streams of African Nationalism,” consists of two essays. Chapter 1, “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” is the text of Mandela’s 1953 address to the ANC discussing the aftermath of the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the plan to shift the resistance movement into mass mobilization through consolidation of the Congress apparatus. Chapter 2, “The Shifting Sands of Illusion,” reproduces a 1953 essay critiquing the South African Liberal Party and reiterating the anti-apartheid movement’s shift beyond constitutional and democratic means, given the inaccessibility of those means to the South African masses. 

Part 2, “Living Under Apartheid,” contains three essays discussing the apartheid policies that barred opportunity and advancement for the South African people. Chapter 3, “People are Destroyed,” consists of a 1955 essay emphasizing the plethora of government policies and tactics meant to keep the South African masses in a state of deprivation and to crush the resistance movement. Chapter 4, “Land Hunger,” dates to 1956 and discusses the coercive measures that the government and the white economic elite used to create a cheap Black labor force from the populations confined to the Native Reserves, or what later came to be known as the Bantustan. Chapter 5, “The Doors are Barred,” is a 1957 essay focusing on the Bantu Education Act and the Separate Universities Education Act—two apartheid schemes to use education to maintain white domination by miseducating Black students. 

Part 3, “The Fight Against Apartheid: Our Tactics and Theirs,” provides insight on the mass mobilization tactics of the resistance movement and the repressive tactics of the Nationalist government. Chapter 6, “Freedom in Our Lifetime,” reproduces a 1956 essay discussing the Congress of the People and their adoption of the Freedom Charter, as well as noting the unprecedented nature and size of the multiracial and multi-political alliance formed to resist the fascist policies of the Nationalist government and demand the democratization of South Africa. The focus of the 1958 essay found in Chapter 7, “Our Struggle Needs Many Tactics,” is boycotting as a tactical weapon; it also considers the necessity and correctness of other tactics in achieving the movement’s goals. Chapter 8, “Verwoerd’s Tribalism,” consists of a 1959 article on Bantustan policy, including both its stated intent and its true purpose: the denial of self-determination and political representation to the African people. Chapter 9, “A Charge of Treason,” contains excerpts of the transcript from the Treason Trial of 1956. The excerpts contain Mandela’s views on a variety of subjects, including the African National Congress, the Communist Party, the Liberal Party, white supremacy, and imperialism

Part 4, “Resistance from the Underground,” includes essays, speeches, and letters written after the government banned Mandela and issued a warrant for his arrest. Chapter 10, “The Struggle for a National Convention,” consists of a 1961 essay articulating the demands and resolutions adopted by a diverse body of delegates at the All-In African Conference. This essay illustrates the launching point for a campaign of noncooperation designed to pressure the government to meet the people’s demands for a national convention and democratic constitution. Chapter 11, “General Strike,” also dates to 1961 and analyzes the impact of the first phase of noncooperation while addressing concerns about the trajectory of the resistance movement. Chapter 12, “Letter from Underground,” reproduces a post-strike letter announcing the next phase of the noncooperation movement and expressing Mandela’s commitment to continuing the struggle from underground. Chapter 13, “A Land Ruled by the Gun,” contains Mandela’s 1963 address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa as a delegate for the ANC. At this conference, Mandela explained the violent situation in South Africa and called on continued international support for the South African freedom struggle. 

Part 5, “On Trial,” consists of trial transcripts. Chapter 14, “Black Man in a White Man’s Court,” is the transcript from the 1962 trial where Mandela was charged with inciting African workers to strike and with leaving South Africa without valid travel documentation. He conducted his own defense and cross-examined several government officials and supporters, drawing out testimony illustrating the government’s violent and coercive measures to oppress the African people and crush the resistance movement. Chapter 15, “The Rivonia Trial,” reproduces Mandela’s 1963 defense of himself and several other ANC members charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, as well as with assisting armed invasion of South Africa. The trial transcript provides insight on the ANC’s shift to violent strategies and tactics in the face of governmental repression.