Long Walk sales spike
Book has 20 errors, while film’s omissions are glaring
Sales of Nelson Mandela’s memoir, A Long Walk to Freedom, have rocketed after the death of the book’s protagonist.
Sales are set to continue to spike with the global release of the film version and another reprint by Abacus, this time featuring Idris Elba on the cover as Mandela.
In the UK, Amazon’s chart which tracks sales upsurges, said all four editions had peaked with increases of thousands of percentage points.
The book has fought it out with former soccer boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s biography for the top of the bestseller list.
And Long Walk was published almost 20 years ago.
Mediamark, one of the companies selling commercial deals for the movie, claims the book’s sales stand at 15 million copies.
This would mean Mandela has outsold classics like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Amazon UK marks a similar trend in the sales of copies of the Mandela-themed film Invictus, which was up 700% at one point.
There is no doubt that there is extraordinary interest in Mandela’s story – but researchers at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton warn against accepting the movie as historically accurate.
Even the book, says the centre’s director Verne Harris, contains recently discovered inaccuracies.
The historian said researchers at the centre had found 20 such mistakes – even after Mandela had scoured each page of the memoir with his old friend Ahmed Kathrada as they had done with the original manuscript on Robben Island.
The main errors involve Madiba’s father. Long Walk places his death in 1927.
Research shows it was 1930. The circumstances around his being deposed are also contested by new findings for the centre by noted historian Professor Phil Bonner.
Harris says Madiba related the oral family history handed down to him. “His father wasn’t a traditional chief; he was appointed by the state.
The way he was removed is also significant. He attended the magistrate’s deposition ruling. He was not simply a heroic figure resisting the colonial state, the reality is far messier.”
Many of the mistakes in the book are small, but those in the film are glaring – mostly by omission.
Says Harris: “We were consulted on the script and we pointed them out. But in terms of movies, poetic licence results unavoidably in occlusions and the collapsing of several events into one.”
Central to Mandela’s story are his personal papers and the original Long Walk manuscript.
These, says Harris, will be the subject of a R1 million preservation project next year.
Acid in paper causes it to go brown and disintegrate over the passage of time. Now the US embassy has provided funds to deacidify the documents in batches at the National Library.
In February next year the centre will host a dialogue on Mandela’s legacy to mark the advent of 20 years of democracy.
“We are hoping to ask the tough questions. We’re looking at his legacy as an individual and family man, a member of the party and the leader of a liberation movement. It’s a contested legacy.”
Harris says that in Mandela’s farewell address at the centre he stressed that his legacy should be interrogated.
“You don’t have to protect me,” he told staff.
“It’s fair to say that historians, journalists, everybody, have been intimidated by Nelson Mandela the living man. Once we have come to terms with him no longer being with us, there will be an ability to be more critical,” says Harris.
The film rights to Long Walk were awarded to producer Anant Singh by Mandela himself in a process that began while Singh was still at school.
“I was very involved in the liberation movement at high school and started writing to Mandela then to ask if I could tell his story,” Singh has said in recent interviews.
He met Mandela just after his release and the rights were eventually granted in 1997.
Singh has had a long walk himself to bring the book to screen.
Researchers say the most notable aspects of the book that were left out of the movie are:
» Madiba’s friendship with Walter Sisulu not being given prominence
» The Treason Trial of the 1950s being obscured
» Madiba depicted as being captured on his own on August 5 1962 – in fact, he was travelling with Cecil Williams
» Madiba’s 1962 trial being all but dismissed
» Madiba addressing the nation after the Boipatong massacre rather than after Chris Hani’s assassination