Young Mandela

(First published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, June, 2010 )

UK book cover for Young Mandela by David James Smith

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Nelson Mandela is the world’s greatest idol, universally recognised as a leader who symbolises moral authority. He has been mythologised as a flawless hero of the liberation struggle. But how exactly did his early personal and political life shape the triumphs to come?

This book goes behind the myth to find the man who people have forgotten or never knew – Young Mandela, the committed freedom fighter, the ‘terrorist’ enemy of racist white South Africa who left his wife and children behind to go on the run from the police in the early 1960s.

For the first time, we have evidence of a specific personal motivation for Mandela’s fight against apartheid, and the book sheds light on the significant extent to which Mandela relied on white activists – a part of South African history the ANC has ignored or tried to bury. Mandela’s historic achievements came with a heavy price – this biography graphically describes the emotional turmoil he left in his wake.

After meticulous research, and taking a lead from Mandela’s trusted circle, the author discovers much that is new, with many surprising, sometimes shocking details which will enhance our understanding of the world’s elder statesman. Sanctified, lionised, it turns out that Mandela is a human being after all, only too aware of his flaws and shortcomings.

This re-evaluation of Nelson Mandela’s political and personal life before his long imprisonment dramatically revises our view of its subject. With unique access to people and papers, culminating in a meeting with Nelson Mandela himself, David James Smith has written the single most important contribution to our knowledge of this global icon.


Latest News

  • The Sleep Of Reason – The James Bulger Case by David James Smith:
    Faber Finds edition with new preface, available September 15th, 2011.

  • Young Mandela the movie – in development.

    From The Guardian
    Read the article

    In the Diary column of The Independent, April 13th, 2011

    More on my previously unsubstantiated claim that the writer-director Peter Kosminsky, creator of The Promise, is working on a drama about Nelson Mandela. I’ve now learnt that the project is a feature film, in development with Film 4, about the young Mandela. Kosminsky is currently at work on the script and, given the complaints about the anti-Jewish bias of The Promise, it is unlikely to be a standard bland portrait of the former South African president.

Latest Review

    New York Times – J. M. Ledgard
  • Nelson Mandela was circumcised as a 16-year-old boy alongside a flowing river in the Eastern Cape. The ceremony was similar to those of other Bantu peoples. An elder moved through the line making ring-like cuts, and foreskins fell away. The boys could not so much as blink; it was a rite of passage that took you beyond pain. read full review

See David James Smith…

Jon Venables: What Went Wrong
BBC 1, 10.35
Thursday, April 21st, 2011