Parts 1–3

This autobiography explores the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela, the South African activist and leader.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. colloquial
    characteristic of informal spoken language or conversation
    In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “troublemaker.”
  2. euphonious
    having a pleasant sound
    The Xhosa are a proud and patrilineal people with an expressive and euphonious language and an abiding belief in the importance of laws, education, and courtesy.
  3. misnomer
    an incorrect or unsuitable name
    That is a misnomer in that no such title existed, but the role he played was not so different from what the designation implies.
  4. introverted
    shy, reserved, or inward looking
    Justice and I became the best of friends, though we were opposites in many ways: he was extroverted, I was introverted; he was lighthearted, I was serious.
  5. preeminent
    greatest in importance, degree, or significance
    The power and influence of chieftaincy pervaded every aspect of our lives in Mqhekezweni and was the preeminent means through which one could achieve influence and status.
  6. propitious
    presenting favorable circumstances
    Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution.
  7. panegyric
    a formal expression of praise
    At the very end of the council, a praise-singer or poet would deliver a panegyric to the ancient kings, and a mixture of compliments to and satire on the present chiefs, and the audience, led by the regent, would roar with laughter.
  8. adjudicate
    hear a case and sit as the judge at the trial of
    Though not lawyers, these men presented cases and then adjudicated them.
  9. camaraderie
    the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability
    These last few days of boyhood were spent with the other initiates, and I found the camaraderie enjoyable.
  10. stoicism
    an indifference to pleasure or pain
    Circumcision is a trial of bravery and stoicism; no anesthetic is used; a man must suffer in silence.
  11. hurly burly
    a disorderly outburst or tumult
    I enjoyed the discipline and solitariness of long-distance running, which allowed me to escape from the hurly-burly of school life.
  12. quandary
    state of uncertainty in a choice between unfavorable options
    I have never had a problem in staying up through the night, but during one such night I was put in a moral quandary that has remained in my memory.
  13. interloper
    someone who intrudes on the privacy or property of another
    I predict that one day, the forces of African society will achieve a momentous victory over the interloper.
  14. platitude
    a trite or obvious remark
    From the start, I saw that Oliver’s intelligence was diamond-edged; he was a keen debater and did not accept the platitudes that so many of us automatically subscribed to.
  15. sabotage
    destroy property or hinder normal operations
    Was I sabotaging my academic career over an abstract moral principle that mattered very little?
  16. vacillate
    be undecided about something
    I did not dwell on the situation at Fort Hare, but life has a way of forcing decisions on those who vacillate.
  17. penchant
    a strong liking
    The regent believed Justice and I brought out the worst in each other, or at least Justice’s penchant for adventures and high-jinks influenced my more conservative disposition.
  18. ubiquitous
    being present everywhere at once
    The noise was harsh and ubiquitous: the rasp of shaft-lifts, the jangling power drills, the distant rumble of dynamite, the barked orders.
  19. solicitous
    showing hovering attentiveness
    He was a friendly, solicitous man, and after I had been there a short while, I told him that my real aspiration was to be a lawyer.
  20. threadbare
    thin and tattered with age
    I was embarrassed by my threadbare clothing and crossed to the other side hoping she would not recognize me.
  21. liaison
    a means of communication between groups
    Justice had formed a liaison with a young woman, and I knew he had no intention of going home.
  22. polyglot
    having a command of or composed in many languages
    The WNLA compound was a multiethnic, polyglot community of modern, urban South Africa.
  23. impromptu
    with little or no preparation or forethought
    During lunch breaks he would often give impromptu lectures; he loaned me books to read, recommended people for me to talk to, meetings for me to attend.
  24. perfunctory
    hasty and without attention to detail; not thorough
    The Advisory Board meetings were perfunctory and bureaucratic, but the ANC meetings were lively with debate and discussion about Parliament, the pass laws, rents, bus fares—any subject under the sun that affected Africans.
  25. apartheid
    a social policy of racial segregation
    I befriended Tony O’Dowd and Harold Wolpe, who were political radicals and members of the Communist Party, and Jules Browde and his wife, who were liberal champions of the anti-apartheid cause.
  26. epiphany
    an inspiration or divine manifestation
    I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.
  27. jeopardize
    put at risk
    He enjoyed the relationships he had formed with the white establishment and did not want to jeopardize them with political action.
  28. meticulous
    marked by extreme care in treatment of details
    They reminded us that the freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, holding meetings, passing resolutions, and sending deputations, but of meticulous organization, militant mass action, and, above all, the willingness to suffer and sacrifice.
  29. monolithic
    characterized by rigidity and total uniformity
    The often haphazard segregation of the past three hundred years was to be consolidated into a monolithic system that was diabolical in its detail, inescapable in its reach, and overwhelming in its power.
  30. subservient
    serving or acting as a means or aid
    The policy was supported by the Dutch Reform Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species.
  31. equitable
    fair to all parties as dictated by reason and conscience
    We advocated the re-division of land on an equitable basis; the abolition of color bars prohibiting Africans from doing skilled work; and the need for free and compulsory education.
  32. amenable
    disposed or willing to comply
    He was not very knowledgeable about the ANC nor was he an experienced activist, but he was respectable, and amenable to our program.
  33. ethos
    the distinctive spirit of a culture or an era
    Both laws epitomized the ethos of the Nationalist government, which pretended to preserve what they were attempting to destroy.
  34. pervasive
    spreading or spread throughout
    This type of raid was something new and set a pattern for the pervasive and illegal searches that subsequently became a regular feature of the government’s behavior.
  35. mitigation
    the action of lessening in severity or intensity
    The greatest jolt came when Dr. Moroka tendered a humiliating plea in mitigation to Judge Rumpff and took the witness stand to renounce the very principles on which the ANC had been founded.
Created on April 15, 2014 (updated August 20, 2018)

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