Monday, 18 July 2011

Nelson Mandela and translation

In honour of Nelson Mandela's birthday today I thought I would do a related post on the translation of his book Long walk to freedom.

Long walk to freedom was written in English. With the success of the book there was a call for translations. Having been written in English and directed to a worldwide audience, there were many African concepts which were familiar to South Africans such as 'knobkerrie' and 'lobola' which had to be paraphrased. In the Xhosa translation other hurdles were encountered.

Peter Mtuze, the Xhosa translator wrote a paper entitled "Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom: the isiXhosa translator's tall order" highlighting the difficulties of translating an English book into Xhosa. Some of the challenges of translating highlighted were the title of the book, the spelling of Madiba's name, kinship terminology (concepts differ between western audiences and African audiences), clanship, culture-boound expressions, specific political entities and acronyms, amongst others. It is a very interesting paper to read and I can help you get your hands on a copy if you are interested. The translator worked very closely with Nelson Mandela in the translation and in the conclusion he rightly states "it would be interesting to know how Madiba felt when reading the translation in his mother-tongue because an unusual situation has arisen whereby he wrote in his second language and the book has now been translated back into his first language".


  1. Hiya,
    I know this is quite an old post but I've just come across it and I would love to get my hands on a copy of the article you mention if at all possible? Sounds fascinating! :)
    Thanks in advance and also thanks for some really interesting articles,

    1. With pleasure! Drop me an email and I'll email it or leave me your email :) My email address is under "contact" on this page.