A lot has been written about South Africa’s first democratically elected President, more so since his release from 27 years in prison. Conversations with Myself brings us Mandela in his own words and voice; he speaks – and writes – for himself.
In Young Mandela, David James Smith lifts the veil off the face of the iconic Nelson Mandela to reveal a normal human being who, like the rest of us mere mortals, laughs and cries.
In this book that comes hot off the heels of Smith’s warts and all account, Madiba himself explodes the myth of a saint we’ve all venerated him to be.
The book is not short on contradictions. Here is a lawyer who, by his own words, saved many marriages by advising his clients to seek counseling before rushing to court. Yet, when it came to his own marriages, first to Evelyn Mase and then Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Madiba did not follow the same advice.
Conversations with Myself provides a look into the highly personal affairs of Mandela the man, more intimate than a face-to-face conversation can get.
Mandela reveals how he ran away from his native Transkei to escape an arranged marriage; stuff that normal people do.
A hero of many throughout the world, the young Mandela had a role model growing up, a man of the cloth, a Reverend Matyolo. A picture of his Methodist Church card attests to his active participation in the affairs of the church. Later in life, as the world’s most famous political prisoner, he’d share the message from a radio sermon in his letter to someone.
Mandela, we discover, is also a ravenous reader and writer, interests that he, no doubt, sharpened while in prison. Next to the prison visits, writing was Mandela’s only means of contact with the outside world. Throughout his prison days, and even after, Mandela kept a notebook where he shared his thoughts. It is these personal notes and letters that form the bulk of this book.
But the strength and allure of the book is in the intensely personal writings – from his prison diaries to the Presidential ‘notes to self’ – that declare Mandela is not infallible, he’s no saint.
He scares like the rest of us as evinced by a personal encounter with the Thutha Ranch gang in Alexandra township. His heart skipped a beat when they kicked his door in, forcing him to push his bed against it to prop it up.
“My door, yes. And I got such a shock, such a a shock but they passed; they didn’t enter … I changed my bed and I put it across the door there, you know, because it was the only way of closing the door and keeping it in place. That’s how I slept. And I was very grateful because … whoever it was … who saved me from being robbed, one of them was kind enough, you know, to say, ‘No, don’t do that.’
He drives over a snake once and grieves as he watches it in his rear-view mirror writhing to its death.
‘But just to kill an animal, an innocent reptile, that was what worried me.’
A highly uxorious man, Mandela addressed his then wife Winnie as ‘Ma’, his term of endearment for her. No doubt a doting father whose love for children is legendary, his letters to his daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, were addressed to ‘My Darlings’.
Yes, Mandela is human albeit just one of a kind.
Conversations with Myself is published by MacMillan (2010)