The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela


Husband & lover Letters to Winnie: Book Excerpts from Fatima Meer’s authorized biography of Mandela, Higher Than HopeMandela and his Winnie

Somalilandsun – As we join the world at large on its vigil at the hospital treating Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, we lighten the depressed mood with a peek not at the great man’s political life but at the pulsating life of Madiba the Husband & lover, demonstrated by letters he wrote to his wife Winnie Mandela “Mama Afrika” from his prison cell in Robben Island.

The 94 years old Mandela, who is lovingly called Madiba, was taken to a hospital early Saturday to be treated for a recurring lung infection. Zuma’s office described the anti-apartheid leader’s condition as “serious but stable.”

Below are a few of the letters Mandela wrote from Robben Island where he was sent in 1964 at the age of 46. Eighteen of his 27 years in prison were spent on the prison island.

April 15, 1976

My dearest Winnie,

Your beautiful photo still stands about two feet above my left shoulder as I write this note. I dust it carefully every morning, for to do so gives me the pleasant feeling that I’m caressing you as in the old days. I even touch your nose with mine to recapture the electric current that used to flush through my blood whenever I did so. Nolitha stands on the table directly opposite me. How can my spirits ever be down when I enjoy the fond attentions of such wonderful ladies?

October 26, 1976

My dearest Winnie,

I have been fairly successful in putting on a mask behind which I have pined for the family, alone, never rushing for the post when it comes until somebody calls out my name. I also never linger after visits although sometimes the urge to do so becomes quite terrible. I am struggling to suppress my emotions as I write this letter.

I have received only one letter since you were detained, that one dated August 22. I do not know anything about family affairs, such as payment of rent, telephone bills, care of children and their expenses, whether you will get a job when released. As long as I don’t hear from you, I will remain worried and dry like a desert.

I recall the Karoo I crossed on several occasions. I saw the desert again in Botswana on my way to and from Africa–endless pits of sand and not a drop of water. I have not had a letter from you. I feel dry like a desert.

Letters from you and the family are like the arrival of summer rains and spring that liven my life and make it enjoyable.

Whenever I write you, I feel that inside physical warmth, that makes me forget all my problems. I become full of love.

June 26, 1977

My dearest Winnie,

Our daughters raised in hardship are grown women today. The first born has her own house and is raising her family.

We couldn’t fulfill our wishes, as we had planned, to have a baby boy. I had hoped to build you a refuge, no matter how small, so that we would have a place for rest and sustenance before the arrival of the sad, dry days. I fell down and couldn’t do these things. I am as one building castles in the air.

November 22, 1979

My dearest Winnie,

You looked really wonderful on 17/11, very much like the woman I married. There was color in your face. Gone was the choleric appearance and glazed look in your eyes when you are under pressure of over-dieting. As usual, I kept addressing you as Mum but my body kept telling me that a woman is sitting across this platform. I felt like singing, even if just to say Hallelujah!

End letters

Mandela has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during 27 years as the prisoner of the white racist government. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town where Mandela and other prisoners spent part of the time toiling in a stone quarry.

Mandela was freed in 1990 and won election to the presidency in the country’s first all-race elections in 1994. He was seen by many around the world as a symbol of resolve and reconciliation for his sacrifice in confinement as well as his peacemaking efforts during the tense transition that saw the demise of the apartheid system.

The former leader retired from public life years ago and had received medical care at his Johannesburg home until his latest transfer to a hospital.