Madiba - In his own words

By Drum Digital
13 October 2010

THE life of one of the world’s greatest heroes has been covered extensively in biographies, books, movies and documentaries. But who Nelson Mandela really is remains an interesting mystery.

A new book, Conversations with Myself, gives readers some valuable insight into the man behind the public figure, through his personal letters, notes, diaries, speeches and discussions with confidantes.The book was compiled by a team of archivists and researchers from the Nelson Mandela foundation under the leadership of Verne Harris. They painstakingly assembled a lifetime of material into a publication which, according to Verne, depicts the great man “not as a saint or an icon, but as a person”.

Madiba himself says, “These archives contain traces of my life and those who have lived it with me. it is a treasure house filled with surprises, painful reminders and unanswered questions.” Here is an exclusive extract from the book.

From a ‘special letter’ to Winnie Mandela, dated 16 July 1969, on the death of his son, Thembi. (A special letter is one that is not taken from their quota. Permission was usually given for letters after a death or in connection with studies.)

This afternoon the Commanding Officer received this telegram from attorney, Mendel levin: ‘Please advise Nelson Mandela his [son] Thembekile passed away 13th instant result motor accident in Cape Town.’

I find it difficult to believe that i will never see Thembi again. On february 23 this year he turned 24. i had seen him towards the end of July 1962 a few days after i had returned from the trip abroad. Then he was a lusty lad of 17 that i could never associate with death. He wore a pair of my trousers which were a shade too big and long for him.

The incident was significant and set me thinking. As you know, he had a lot of clothing, was particular about his dress and had no reason whatsoever for using my clothes. i was deeply touched, for the emotional factors underlying his action were all too obvious.

For days thereafter my mind and feelings were too agitated to realise the psychological strains and stresses my absence from home had imposed on the children. i recalled an incident in December 1956 when i was an awaiting-trial prisoner at the Johannesburg Fort. At that time Kgatho was 6 and lived in Orlando East. Although he well knew that I was in jail he went over to Orlando West and told Ma that he longed for me. That night he slept in my bed.

But let me return to my meeting with Thembi. He had come to bid me farewell on his way to boarding school. On his arrival he greeted me very warmly, holding my hand firmly and for some time. Thereafter we sat down and conversed. Somehow the conversation drifted to his studies, and he gave me what I considered, in the light of his age at the time, to be an interesting appreciation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which I very much enjoyed.

We had been corresponding regularly ever since he went to school at Matatiele and when he later changed to Wodehouse.

In December 1960 I travelled some distance by car to meet him. Throughout this period I regarded him as a child and I approached him mainly from this angle. But our conversation in July 1962 reminded me I was no longer speaking to a child but to one who was beginning to have a settled attitude in life. He had suddenly raised himself from a son to [a] friend. I was indeed a bit sad when we ultimately parted. I could neither accompany him to a bus stop nor see him off at the station, for an outlaw, such as I was at the time, must be ready to give up even important parental duties.

Read the full article in DRUM of 21 October 2010

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