Mandela`s letters reveal his jail agony

Nelson Mandela was anguished at being separated from his family during his 27-yr long confinement.

Updated: Oct 10, 2010, 23:28 PM IST

London: South Africa`s first black President Nelson Mandela was anguished at being separated from
his family and the ill treatment meted out to his wife by
authorities during his 27 years long solitary confinement.

In letters penned in jail, 92-year-old Mandela reveals
his anguish at being separated from his family and expresses
his helplessness to defend them.

Asked what was his worst moment on Robben Island,
Mandela wrote "Well, it`s ...very difficult to pinpoint any
particular moment... but the question of my wife being
harassed and persecuted by the police and sometimes being
assaulted and I was not there to defend her. That was a very
difficult moment for me..."

Some of the most poignant writings are in two
hard-cover exercise books in which Mandela carefully drafted
copies of letter he sent through the prison censors on Robben
Island from 1969 to 1971, the very worst period of his

Stolen from his cell by the authorities in 1971, they
were returned to him in 2004 by a former security policeman.
Mandela was never sure if his correspondence would
reach its destination because of "those remorseless fates",
the censors.

His wife, Winnie Mandela, was repeatedly jailed and
harassed, which left him racked with guilt about abandoning
Zindzi and Zeni, their two young daughters, as well as his
other three children.

In 1969, Thembi, the elder of two sons from his first
marriage to Evelyn Mase, died in a car crash at the age of 24.

Mandela writes of his anguish at losing a second
child, his daughter Maki having died as a baby. He was not
allowed to attend Thembi`s funeral.

According to The Sunday Times magazine, here, too, are
fragments of informal, intimate conversations with his
jailmate Richard Stengel, recorded when the two men were
working on Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela`s autobiography.

He talks frankly to Stengel about coping without sex
in jail and with the possibility that Winnie might be
unfaithful while he is incarcerated.

The writings gathered in the collection "Conversations
with Myself", which goes for sale 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 my,
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 without 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.
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.