Mandela letters show jail heartbreak: report

10th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Letters penned in jail by Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, reveal his anguish at being separated from his family, according to a British newspaper serialisation on Sunday.

The anti-apartheid icon wrote that he felt "soaked in gall" by being powerless to help his then-wife Winnie and his children when he was in prison from 1962 to 1990, in the letters printed in The Sunday Times.

The writings gathered in the collection "Conversations with Myself", which is being published in Britain on Tuesday, also tell of the Nobel Peace laureate's heartache at learning of the death of his son.

"I feel I have been soaked in gall, every part of me, my flesh, bloodstream, bone and soul, so bitter am I to be completely powerless to help you in the rough and fierce ordeals you are going through," he wrote to Winnie Mandela in August 1970.

In October 1976 he wrote: "My main problem since I left home is my sleeping withou you next to me and my waking up without you close to me, the passing of the day without my having seen you."

When Winnie was also jailed for a time in 1969, he wrote to his daughters Zeni and Zindi, then aged nine and 10 that "now she and Daddy are away in jail."

"It may be months or even years before you see her again. For long you may live like orphans without your own home and parents, without the natural love, affection and protection Mummy used to give you."

But his relations with Winnie were sometimes stormy.

In a letter to a friend in 1987, he says that after writing to Winnie to say that their daughters had grown up well: "My beloved wife was furious... she reminded me: 'I, not you, brought up these children whom you now prefer to me.' I was simply stunned."

A poignant letter to a friend records his reaction after Thembi, the elder of two sons from his first mariage, died in a car crash at the age of 24 in 1969. He was not allowed to attend the funeral.

"When I was first advised of my son's death I was shaken from top to bottom," he said, adding that he had experienced similar heartache when he lost a nine-month-old baby girl several years earlier.

Mandela, now 92, was jailed by the country's white minority government for resisting apartheid rule.

On his release in 1990, he led negotiations with apartheid rulers, a process that culminated in his election as the country's first black president in 1994.

He stepped down as president in 1999, after serving one term in office.

© 2010 AFP

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