Madiba’s memories

2010-11-24 00:00

BOOK REVIEW:

Conversations with Myself

Richard Stengel

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

CONVERSATIONS With Myself is yet another instalment about the iconic Nelson Mandela, but this time we are taken into his prison life, the letters he wrote to his wife Winnie and his kids, to other struggle stalwarts and to conversations with the writer, Richard Stengel.

We also get to learn about his trips to various countries, meeting other statesmen and rekindling relationships between First World countries and South Africa after his release from Robben Island, and how he worked towards uniting conflicting groups, both political and traditional.

In one of his letters to his daughters and wife, Madiba assures them that not all prison warders are rogues. In his own words, he says that from the beginning there were warders who felt that prisoners should be treated humanely. He says they would argue among themselves with some wanting to give newspapers and radios to prisoners while others disagreed. This gave prisoners a sense of hope.

There were difficult times though, when he would be taken into solitary confinement, and when that happened officials would make sure that he saw no living soul other than warders. His food would be brought in by a warder, and he would be let out for 30 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon when all the other prisoners were still locked up.

Despite the fact that he was denied an opportunity to attend the funerals of his mother and son, in one of his letters to the family Madiba spoke kindly of the magistrate who made the ruling, saying that once he was free, he would invite him over for dinner. He said that even if the magistrate had wanted to do things differently during the trial, he was bound by orders from above.

In one of his writings he takes a swipe at erstwhile revolutionaries who had easily succumbed to greed. He says the tendency to divert resources meant for the public for personal enrichment ultimately overwhelmed them. This sounds like a prophecy, given the state of affairs in government to date.

This is a wonderful book. The advice is to get a copy and take your time going through the prison experiences of the greatest statesman of our time.

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