Former South African president Nelson Mandela’s anguish at the suffering his political activism caused his wife and children is revealed in a book published yesterday.
The collection of his letters, diaries and conversations shows a husband and father sacrificing personal happiness for political ideals as the leader of South Africa’s liberation struggle. The book also expresses anxiety that the world should not regard him as a saint.
Conversations With Myself includes a letter sent in 1969 to daughters Zenani and Zindzi, then aged nine and 10, after his then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was detained by police, a harassment she would often endure during his 27 years of imprisonment.
“For long you may live like orphans without your own home and parents, without the natural love, affection and protection Mummy used to give you,” Mandela wrote. “Now you will get no birthday or Christmas parties, no presents or new dresses, no shoes or toys.”
In the same year he was not allowed to attend the funeral of Thembi Mandela, the elder of two sons from his previous marriage, who died in a car crash aged 24.
“When I was first advised of my son’s death I was shaken from top to bottom,” he wrote.
In a 1970 letter to Madikizela-Mandela, when she was detained in a Pretoria prison, he wrote: “I feel I have been soaked in gall, every part of me, my flesh, bloodstream, bone and soul, so bitter am I to be completely powerless to help you in the rough and fierce ordeals you are going through.”
Some of the exchanges with Madikizela-Mandela are romantic, tender and full of yearning.
In 1976 he wrote that his main problem was “my sleeping without you next to me and my waking up without you close to me, the passing of the day without my having seen you.”
However, in 1987 he wrote to a friend about his wife’s anger when he told her how well their two daughters had grown up: “She reminded me: ‘I, not you, brought up these children whom you now prefer to me.’ I was simply stunned.”
Much of Conversations With Myself, which has a foreword by US President Barack Obama, is based on a never completed autobiography Mandela intended as a sequel to his international bestseller, Long Walk to Freedom.
The first extracts appeared in the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK and its namesake in South Africa. Revenue from the book will go to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
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