The Nelson Mandela Foundation, custodian of Mandela’s heritage and archive, invites each year a speaker to present the annual Mandela lecture. Guests such as Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan or Bill Gates have taken to the stage in the past 15 years. The 16th annual lecture on 17th July 2018, commemorating Mandela’s 100th birthday was given by none other than Barack Obama. The former American president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner like Mandela and an iconic leader who was himself inspired by Mandela, delivered a 90-minute lecture at the Johannesburg Wanderers Cricket Stadium.
Addressing an audience of national and international dignitaries, as well as invited guests from business and civil society, Obama called for greater tolerance, responding to recent political developments in the 21st century and reminded the audience of the lessons Mandela had taught: “Madiba shows that those who believe in democracy and economic equality will have to fight harder… To make democracy work, we need to teach ourselves and our children to engage with people who have different views.”
A recent publication by US publisher W.W. Norton & Company which was launched earlier this week in South Africa, presents a comprehensive collection of 244 letters written by Mandela during his time in prison. Among these are many to his wife Winnie, his five children, and to friends and comrades in the struggle. It is an indispensable reference work about Mandela’s life and a human-rights philosophy that still resonates today.
The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela. Edited by Sahm Venter. Published by W.W.Norton & Company, New York & London, 2018.-
Mandela writes to his then 2 year and 3-month-old daughters:
23.6.69: "My darlings, once again our beloved Mummy has been arrested and now she and Daddy are away in jail. My heart bleeds as I think of her sitting in some police cell far away from home, perhaps alone and without anybody to talk to, and with nothing to read. Twenty-four hours of the day longing for her little ones. 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. … When you become adults, and think carefully of the unpleasant experiences Mummy has gone through, and the stubbornness with which she has held to her beliefs, you will begin to realise the importance of her contribution in the battle for truth and justice and to the extent to which she has sacrificed her own personal interests and happiness…”
We can almost hear his voice when reading these letters.
The Nelson Mandela Archive in Johannesburg is run by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It holds records from the Mandela office at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mandela’s personal archives, records of the Foundation and the 46664 campaign. The Special Collections are a treasure trove of paintings, photos, letters and other memorabilia. From Mandela’s Sunday School card from his youth to his Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1993 and shared with former President FW De Klerk; Mandela’s first-ever legal passport, issued a few days after he was released, thousands of handmade birthday cards received from local schools and letters of good wishes on his retirement. Handwritten drafts of his speeches, letters from his time in prison to relatives and friends or photographs of him or his comrades. It also holds a priceless accumulation of Robben Island-related materials donated by Mac Maharaj, including pages of Long Walk to Freedom which Maharaj had smuggled off the Island.
In Mandela’s words:
“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”