Writing has the ability to lay a person’s soul bare. It reveals things the public – and often times, the author – failed to recognize. It sheds light on both inspirational moments and devastating personal setbacks. In general, it exposes a world we might not have known if the author didn’t choose to put pen to paper.
Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest political leaders of our time. He dedicated his life to the fight against racial oppression in his homeland. While his actions benefited millions – and earned him recognitions like the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won jointly with F W de Klerk in 1993 (pictured) – they came at great personal sacrifice.
Writing that Reveals a Man’s True Feelings
Throughout his life – his 27 years in prison and his time of political leadership – Nelson Mandela chose to document his major life events. Many people would expect these documents to contain rich details of historic events. The compositions are brimming with exquisite details and often reference significant happenings, but the insight they provide is just as noteworthy.
It is safe to assume Mandela had plenty of time to write during his quarter-century in prison. Ever the family man, he spent quite a bit of that time writing letters to his wife and children.
Two particular letters he wrote in 1989 shed light on the things that were occupying his time. First, Mandela wrote a letter to his wife, Winnie. His first priority was to lament recent health problems that had been plaguing her. He went on to rejoice at her restored health and then moved on to encouragement.
He referenced two books, The Power of Positive Thinking and The Results of Positive Thinking. Mandela wrote, “It is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it.” Surprisingly, he wasn’t referring to his own “disability” Instead, he was seeking to bolster poor Winnie.
He went on to comment on her admirable talents of courage and determination. He was certain they would bring her triumph of high achievement.
Later that year, Mandela wrote a letter to his daughters, Zeni and Zindzi. Winnie, like Nelson, had likewise been detained. Their loving father lamented the loss of their mother’s love. It made his heart “bleed” that the children had been stripped from their mother’s loving arms. While he was disappointed and commented, “for long you may live, like orphans,” he appeared to be distressed for the oppressive conditions for everyone in his family – except himself.
Nowhere in these personal letters does Mandela acknowledge his own misery and loss. His sadness is only for those he loves.
In 1980, he was grateful to have milk with his tea. Spending the better part of his “glory years” in prison had to come with significant downsides. But Mandela always chose to see the light at the end of the tunnel – and luxuries at tea time.
Likewise, a diary entry on January 13, 1990 was also noteworthy. It was the last entry he made while in prison. As he was transitioning from imprisonment to freedom, Mandela’s thoughts were occupied by…ducks.
“Flock of ducks walks clumsily into the lounge and loiter about…I detect some invisible feeling of unease on their part. It seems as if their consciences are worrying them…I derive some satisfaction when I notice that their consciences are worrying them.”
Perhaps this reference has a deeper meaning, or perhaps he really is intrigued by the broken monotony the ducks brought to his final days in prison.
One of Nelson Mandela’s most noteworthy speeches is the one titled, “An ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Along with 10 other African National Congress leaders, Mandela faced the death penalty for 221 acts of sabotage related to the dissatisfaction of apartheid. His speech, which lasted nearly 30 minutes, was based on five points. In his last point he states: “If I must die, let me declare for all to know that I will meet my fate like a man.”
The eloquence which Nelson Mandela possessed while facing death is extraordinary. And true to his selflessness, he exploited the opportunity to draw awareness to the cause at hand. And never did he try to disguise his involvement or motives.
“I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.”
“I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.”
“I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.”
With all the influential tasks Mandela performed while acting as a political leader of South Africa, it is surprising to learn he still had time to write! But write he did. Mandela wrote much more than letters, diary entries and speeches. He also made the effort to write books to raise awareness for the condition of life for his fellow countrymen.
In addition to his autobiography, Mandela shared his life experiences in other books like Conversations with Myself, In His Own Words, Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography, and The Struggles in My Life.
However, not all of Mandela’s works were serious and eye-opening. Some appear to hint at Nelson’s whimsy and love of family. For example, Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales is definitely a local favorite.
Not only did Mandela share his own thoughts, he also collaborated with other significant leaders of the day, working with people like Bill Clinton, Bono, Kofi Annan, and Fidel Castro.
It could be said the writings of Nelson Mandela were just as influential as his political actions. They definitely were just as impactful to everyone around the world.