"For long you may live like orphans, without your own home and parents” – Nelson Mandela’s heartbreaking letter to his daughters

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The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela edited by Sahm Venter is available from all leading bookstores.
The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela edited by Sahm Venter is available from all leading bookstores.

Spanning the 27 years of his imprisonment, the collection of Madiba’s letters written during his time in jail has been assembled from both the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The South African National Archives.

We’ve been privy to so many moments from uTata's life, but in this new book, edited by prolific journalist Sahm Venter, we’re given glimpses into never before seen correspondences written by Nelson throughout his time on Robben Island.

Recently launched and available for purchase from bookstores nationwide, this collection contains letters to his attorneys, his daughters and Winnie Mandela, to mention but a few. 

It’s at once a poignant look into his and his fellow comrades’ treatment in prison, to strong and fervent appeals for fair treatment and also gives us a peek into just how close his relationship with his family was. 

The book also depicts the myriads of restrictions that were placed on him – his letters were often censored and at first he was also only allowed to write one letter every six months (with no guarantee that they’d always be delivered), with a strict word count.

According to the blurb from the publishers, the book is "organised chronologically and divided by the four prison venues in which he was incarcerated as a sentenced prisoner from 1962 to 1990: Pretoria Local Prison, Robben Island Prison, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison.”  

WATCH: The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

In the excerpt below – we feature a letter Nelson wrote to his daughters, Zindzi and Zenani after finding out that Winnie has been arrested.

Page from a Letter to Zindzi and Zenani dated 23 June 1969

Note: Right click on the image to view it in its original size



Some poignant highlights from the letter:


“For long you may live like orphans, without your own home and parents, without the natural love, affection and protection Mammy used to give you.” 

“When you become adults and think carefully of the unpleasant experiences that Mammy 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…” 

Additional images from Nelson Mandela's time in prison:


Caption: This photograph of Mandela’s Robben Island cell was taken in 1977 when the apartheid government organised a visit to the Island by media to showcase how ‘well’ the political prisoners were being treated.

Over the years the prisoners struggled for better prison conditions and by 1977 Mandela was allowed to have books related to his study.

Copyright © Nelson Mandela Prison Archive, National Archives and Records Service of South Africa.

Image published with permission from Penguin Random House South Africa

Caption: Robben Island prisoners were made to sit in rows in the prison courtyard and smash stones into gravel.

Copyright © Cloete Breytenbach/Daily Express.

Image published with permission from Penguin Random House South Africa

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