The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

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Overview

One of NPR's Great Reads of 2018

An unforgettable portrait of one of the most inspiring historical figures of the twentieth century, published on the centenary of his birth.

Arrested in 1962 as South Africa’s apartheid regime intensified its brutal campaign against political opponents, forty-four-year-old lawyer and African National Congress activist Nelson Mandela had no idea that he would spend the next twenty-seven years in jail. During his 10,052 days of incarceration, the future leader of South Africa wrote a multitude of letters to unyielding prison authorities, fellow activists, government officials, and, most memorably, to his courageous wife, Winnie, and his five children. Now, 255 of these letters, many of which have never been published, provide exceptional insight into how Mandela maintained his inner spirits while living in almost complete isolation, and how he engaged with an outside world that became increasingly outraged by his plight.

Organized chronologically and divided by the four venues in which he was held as a sentenced prisoner, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela begins in Pretoria Local Prison, where Mandela was held following his 1962 trial. In 1964, Mandela was taken to Robben Island Prison, where a stark existence was lightened only by visits and letters from family. After eighteen years, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, a large complex outside of Cape Town with beds and better food, but where he and four of his comrades were confined to a rooftop cell, apart from the rest of the prison population. Finally, Mandela was taken to Victor Verster Prison in 1988, where he was held until his release on February 11, 1990.

With accompanying facsimiles of some of his actual letters, this landmark volume reveals how Mandela, a lawyer by training, advocated for prisoners’ human rights. It reveals him to be a loving father, who wrote to his daughter, “I sometimes wish science could invent miracles and make my daughter get her missing birthday cards and have the pleasure of knowing that her Pa loves her,” aware that photos and letters he sent had simply disappeared.

More painful still are the letters written in 1969, when Mandela—forbidden from attending the funerals of his mother and his son Thembi—was reduced to consoling family members through correspondence. Yet, what emerges most powerfully is Mandela’s unfaltering optimism: “Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark & grim, who try over and & over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation & even defeat.”

Whether providing unwavering support to his also-imprisoned wife or outlining a human-rights philosophy that resonates today, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela reveals the heroism of a man who refused to compromise his moral values in the face of extraordinary punishment. Ultimately, these letters position Mandela as one of the most inspiring figures of the twentieth century.

 

From The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

 

“A new world will be won not by those who stand at a distance with their arms folded, but by those who are in the arena, whose garments are torn by storms & whose bodies are maimed in the course of contest.”

“I am convinced that floods of personal disaster can never drown a determined revolutionary nor can the cumulus of misery that accompanies tragedy suffocate him.”

“My respect for human beings is based, not on the colour of a man’s skin nor authority he may wield, but purely on merit.”

“A good pen can also remind us of the happiest moments in our lives, bring noble ideas into our dens, our blood & our souls. It can turn tragedy into hope & victory.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631491177
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 360,748
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Nelson Mandela (1918—2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, who served as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Foundation as his post-presidential office in 1999. It is a not-for-profit organization which has, since 2004, been transformed into an archive and trusted voice on his life and times. It carries out its mandate to promote Mandela’s vision and work by convening dialogues and creating platforms for engagement around critical issues to promote social justice.

Sahm Venter is a former Associated Press reporter (who covered and was witness to Mandela’s release from prison in 1990) and a longtime researcher. She has co-edited several previous books, including Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom with Sello Hatang and Doug Abrams); 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with Swati Dlamini; and Something to Write Home About: Reflections from the Heart of History, with Claude Colart; and co-wrote Conversations with a Gentle Soul with the late anti-apartheid struggle hero, Ahmed Kathrada.

Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela was born in 1979 in Welkom, South Africa, close to the town of Brandfort to which her grandmother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was banished by the apartheid regime. She works as a business developer and is a public speaker and a self-described serial entrepreneur. In 2017 she launched her luxury fashion range Swati by Roi Kaskara. She is the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela and Nomzamo Nobandla Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Table of Contents

Foreword Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela vii

Introduction ix

A Note on The Letters xiii

Nelson Mandela's Prison Numbers xvii

Pretoria Local Prison, November 1962-May 1963 1

Robben Island Maximum Security Prison, May 1963-June 1963 9

Robben Island Maximum Security Prison, June 1964-March 1982 19

Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, March 1982-August 1988 431

Tygerberg Hospital & Constantiaberg MediClinic, August-December 1988 503

Victor Verster Prison, December 1988-February 1990 511

Supplementary Information 573

Appendix A Glossary 574

Appendix B Prison Timeline 592

Appendix C Map of South Africa, c.1996 596

Endnotes 599

Letters and Collections 601

Acknowledgements 605

Permissions Acknowledgements 609

Index 611

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