The world remembers Nelson Mandela for being a father of South Africa and a champion of reconciliation but he was so much more. Nelson Mandela was a family man, a pan-African icon, a husband, a rebel and a hero. The humanity of Nelson Mandela is bared for all to see in his letters which are soon to be compiled in a book by Liveright. The editor-in-chief, Mr Robert Weil rightly said, “I always felt that this was the grail; that just getting Nelson Mandela’s actual words to reflect his courage, his wisdom and the unspeakable horrors he went through would be something of extreme historical importance.”
To appreciate Mandela the man behind the superhero, one needs to read and appreciate the struggles and victories he went through. Here was an ordinary man who chose an extraordinary fate.
Mandela the Father
In 1969, Nelson Mandela wrote to his daughters Zeni and Zindzi just after their mother, Winnie Madikizela Mandela was arrested. He emboldened his daughters in a letter that in part read, “This is not the first rime mummy goes to jail. In October 1958, only four months after our wedding, she was arrested with 2,000 other women when they protested against passes in Johannesburg and spent two weeks in jail. Last year she served four days, but now she has gone back again and I cannot tell you how long she will be away this time. All that I wish you always to bear in mind is that we have a brave and determined mummy who loves her people with all her heart.”
He added, “When you become adults and think carefully of the unpleasant experiences mummy has gone through, and the stubbornness with which she has held to her beliefs, you will begin to realise the importance of her contribution in the battle for truth and justice and the extent to which she has sacrificed her own personal interests and happiness.”
On the 1st of March in 1971, the fallen hero again wrote Zeni who had turned 12 in the preceding February. He told her, "Your birth was a great relief to us. Only three months before this, mummy had spent fifteen days in jail under circumstances that were dangerous for a person in her condition... Do you understand that you were nearly born in prison? Not many people have had your experience of having been in jail before they were born."
“How can they (the West) have the arrogance to dictate to us who our friends should be?” – Nelson Mandela.
Mandela the Romantic
On the second of April in 1969, Nelson penned a letter to Winnie and after much “dispassionate” updates and inquiries, he let out the romantic in the freedom fighter, “Finally Mhlope, I should like you to know that if in the past my letters have not been passionate, it is because I need not seek to improve the debt I owe to a woman who in spite of formidable difficulties and lack of experience, has nonetheless succeeded in keeping the home fires burning and in attending to the smallest wants and wishes of her incarcerated life companion. These things make me humble to be the object of your love and affection.”
He was not done! He also told her, “You are in my thoughts every moment of my life, “and then sent her, “A million kisses and tons and tons of love.”
Mandela the man who gave his life
Appreciating the humanity of Mandela allows the world to appreciate how much he gave up for democracy. In his letter to Zeni for her twelfth birthday, he wrote of the privilege of being a present father that he lost due to the struggle for freedom. In his letter to both Zeni and Zindzi, he also spoke of the comforts the two would have to give up because their parents were fighting for equality. In his April 1969 letter to Winnie, he was a lover demanding much from a woman and coming to realise he could never repay the support he had received from her.
In April 1964 as he prepared for his statement from the dock in the Rivonia trial, Mandela jotted down a few points. The last of these was particularly poignant and telling. He wrote, “If I must die, let me declare for all to know that I will meet my fate like a man.”