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The Invictus in Ethiopia

June 24, 2013

In his bestselling Autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela wrote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

This is the enduring Madiba’s iconic status. He forgives his jailers, He forgives his haters, he forgets what is inflicted in him by the apartheid regime in a nearly 3 decade imprisonment. For some he was ‘a freedom fighter’, for others he was ‘a terrorist’. But, by his release from jail he unifies the two extreme views into one – become the symbol of love and Freedom.
The whole world talks about Madiba and his legacy since forever and there are many stories hang around. Here I want to share Madiba’s Ethiopia via his Autobiography and later developments.
The first time Madiba landed in Ethiopia was 1962, when he came for OAU meeting. Madiba puts his first Flight experience to Ethiopia as of the following:

We put down briefly in Khartoum, where we changed to an Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis. Here I experienced a rather strange sensation. As I was boarding the plane I saw that the pilot was black. I had never seen a black pilot before, and the instant I did I had to quell my panic. How could a black man fly an airplane? But a moment later I caught myself: I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat, and chided myself for such thoughts. Once we were in the air, I lost my nervousness and studied the geography of Ethiopia, thinking how guerrilla forces hid in these very forests to fight the Italian imperialists.”

Madiba’s Ethiopia seems a historic and gigantic, that is why he explain his imagination to Ethiopia as:

Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. And he continue to imagine the meeting with the then Ethiopian emperor as:Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.

However, Ethiopia of Madiba’s imagination fails to fulfill what he thought. Ethiopia seems a a bit embarrassing and he confess his first real Ethiopian experience in a saddening way:

Our first stop was Addis Ababa, the Imperial City, which did not live up to its title, for it was the opposite of grand, with only a few tarred streets, and more goats and sheep than cars. Apart from the Imperial Palace, the university, and the Ras Hotel, where we stayed, there were few structures that could compare with even the least impressive buildings of Johannesburg.

Moreover, Madiba witness the then Ethiopia’s political sphere as of:

Contemporary Ethiopia was not a model when it came to democracy, either. There were no political parties, no popular organs of government, no separation of powers; only the emperor, who was supreme.

Madiba imagines meeting with the emperor as ‘shaking with history’ and when he meet with the emperor, he says:

His Imperial Majesty, who was dressed in an elaborate brocaded army uniform. I was surprised by how small the emperor appeared, but his dignity and confidence made him seem like the African giant that he was. It was the first time I had witnessed a head of state go through the formalities of his office, and I was fascinated. He stood perfectly straight, and inclined his head only slightly to indicate that he was listening. Dignity was the hallmark of all his actions.

In a 2010 released book, Conversations with Myself that was printed after a transcribed 50 Hour conversation with the editor and the then ghost writer of Madiba’s Autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Richard Stengel, Again Madiba put his raw Memories of Emperor Haileselassie as:

That was an impressive fellow, man, very impressive. It was my first time to watch…a head of state going through the formalities… the motions of formality. This chap came wearing a uniform and he then came and bowed. But it was a bow which was not a bow –he stood erect, you see, but just brought down his head…then…took his seat and addressed us, but he spoke in (Amharic)…Then, at the end of the conference he saw every, each delegation…and Comrade Oliver Tambo asked me to speak for our delegation, to speak to him. And I explained to him very briefly what was happening in South Africa…He was seated on his chair, listening like a log…not nodding, just immovable, you know, like a statue…The next time I saw him was when we attended a military parade, and that was very impressive (whistles), absolutely impressive. And he was then giving awards…to the soldiers; everyone who had graduated got a certificate… A very fine ceremony-a very dignified chap- and he also gave medals. There (were) American military advisors… (and) groups of military advisers from various countries …And so he gave medals to these chaps too. But to see whites going to a black monarch emperor and bowing was also very interesting.

Later in the same year for the second time, Madiba found himself in a passport name of a driver named as David Motsamayi in Ethiopia. This time for military training. That would long for six months.


Madiba’s Ethiopian Passport

In his Autobiography, he express about his training and his trainer:

I was lectured on military science by Colonel Tadesse, who was also assistant commissioner of police and had been instrumental in foiling a recent coup attempt against the emperor.

Madiba’s trainer Colonel Tadesse Biru with Madiba

During the training Madiba’s discontent with Ethiopia continues and he report:

The country was extremely backward: people used wooden plows and lived on a very simple diet supplemented by home-brewed beer. Their existence was similar to the life in rural South Africa; poor people everywhere are more alike than they are different.

But, the planned six month training can’t goes as it is planned, because of ANC’s call for Madiba to join them in the main land South Africa. Madiba farewell to Ethiopia was:

Colonel Tadesse rapidly arranged for me to take an Ethiopian flight to Khartoum. Before I left, he presented me with a gift: an automatic pistol and two hundred rounds of ammunition. I was grateful, both for the gun and his instruction. Despite my fatigue marches, I found it wearying to carry around all that ammunition. A single bullet is surprisingly heavy: hauling around two hundred is like carrying a small child on one’s back.

After he released Madiba,was in Ethiopia to give thanks for those help South African’s in their battle against apartheid and here is a video of the former Ethiopian president Mengistu Hailemariam with Madiba that, Madiba declares his ‘Manness’:

Recently, on Sheger FM [A Local Radio], a former security guard to Nelson Mandela, during his time in Ethiopia – Shambel Gutta Dinaka [76] speaks [Amharic] about the plot to kill Mandela and how it was foiled. Moreover, Capitan Gutta gives an extended interview of the plot against Mandela on a local Talk Show called Late Night Show with Seifu Fanthahun as of:


And the plot is being part of the Movie Long Walk To Freedom.


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One Comment
  1. Asrat permalink

    I want to read the first TPLF program please post it again.

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