frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela
husband & lover

Jessie Duarte INTERVIEW EXCERPT

She became Mandela's personal assistant after he was released from prison in 1990.
... One thing which I noticed, is when there were women that adored him, he liked that very much. I teased him about that. He is a flirt. He likes beautiful women ... and as three feminists who work with him, I mean we would go crazy about that. He had a propensity for people who were beauty queens, and I could never accept that. It was one of the arguments we constantly had. But his attitude was, "Why can't you appreciate something beautiful without being made to feel guilty?" I let it rest there, because I thought he is a man from his own generation, he is allowed to do these things that perhaps some of us may consider to be not so progressive. But he wasn't spoiled by adoration, because he didn't see himself as being the one who was being adored. He understood himself as being the representative...

Talking of beauty queens--Winnie... What do you recall of the preparations around the [separation] ...

That day and the day before ... when Madiba made the decision that he wanted to separate from Winnie ... he informed everybody as to what he was going to do. His instruction to us in the office was very simple. He wanted a press conference. He was simply going to make the announcement. He didn't want to be asked any questions and he would move out. It was very difficult because the atmosphere in our office was absolutely emotionally charged for two days, and no one could concentrate very well. He was extremely emotionally overwrought about the decision that he had made; yet, he explained that it was a decision that he had to make. He could not live basically in an atmosphere where he didn't feel comfortable with continuing any longer.

The day before was a day of consulting everybody. He went personally to the homes of the various people. He went to Oliver's house, he went to the Sisulus' home ... and the following morning, before the press conference actually took place, he didn't speak to anyone. It was a very difficult day for him, and I must tell you that if there we any of us had, it was over that period. Immediately after the press conference, we went off to Durban with Madiba ... Frene, Barbara and I decided that this is it, no one was going to question him about his decision. It was his right to make such a decision, and he was going to be allowed the privacy that a person who makes a decision that is emotionally very difficult, was going to get. And so we hid him for four days in Natal. We organized a get-away place ...

[He felt] very responsible in a sense that if he hadn't gone to prison ... his entire family would have been very different people. He felt, in particular, that Winnie was his friend as well as his wife. She was given no space by the South African government to be a normal person, being a mother in a normal household. She was always detained, always arrested, so the normal family that anyone would expect, wasn't going to be there. Madiba felt very guilty sometimes about his absence. Guilty about the fact that he wasn't around to develop a family, as anyone would want to. He respected Winnie's independence, he actually admires ... her guts, her independence and tenacity. I found that he often spoke about that a lot. He spoke about the strength of her and the fact that she was the person that held the family together while he was away. Despite the many difficulties, she was able to keep a semblance of a family ...

When he speaks about why the separation took place, it was in the context that he recognized that they had grown apart, to such as extent as individuals, that living together was just impossible. Whether that had anything to do with the influences that people might have tried to exert on him by saying things to him about her ... he never agreed that that was so. I think what Madiba said was eventually they had begun to have too many differences between them. I respected that. We respected his right to make that choice. Indeed Winnie had grown into a very different person, very independent in her own right, extraordinarily beautiful woman, also very adored by people, ordinary South African people, and people internationally. I think that it was going to be very difficult for them to continue a relationship that hadn't been there for 27 years. He had very fond memories of their early marriage together ... one does get the sense that Madiba and Winnie were friends when they married each other, there was a great deal of loyalty and love. That continued through his incarceration. Because she did visit him. She was his only reference point physically with the rest of the world for a long time. But I think when they finally lived together again, there was just too much of a difference between them.

The inauguration ... there was a lot of musical chairs and general confusion going on. Can you tell us anything about what ...

It was very difficult because the formal way in which inaugurations are planned is that you have to have the president and a first lady, and the deputy president and Mrs. de Klerk, and Mr. Mbeki and Mrs. Mbeki. Now in our instance, we obviously didn't have a Mrs. Mandela, so what we then did was we had to convince him that Zenani had to sit in the place. He had no difficulty with that at all. He dealt with it as a family. He called Zinzi and Zenani together, and Makgatho, his son, and they discussed this matter, and there was agreement that Zenani would sit next to him during the ceremony.

I must tell you that my heart went out to Winnie on that day. For me, just as a person, it was extremely emotional to sit there, and you have been part of all these elaborate arrangements, and you imagine that this person must have waited her whole life for this moment, and it wasn't there for her. And I did feel for her that day.

She was at the inauguration and she was away from the central party ... but it was very sad. I must tell that I know with Barbara, we talked about it very often. We even discussed behind the scenes how we could possibly try and arrange at least that Mrs. Mandela be part of the main party, but he wouldn't have it. He was clear.

So Mandela himself vetoed that?

Ja. It was his decision. It was after the separation and ... I think he was right. You don't create a false impression of a situation that does not exist. One thing Madiba never did was to create false impressions. It's the one thing he can't do. Very clear about that, and it flowed out even in his relationship with Graca. When there was a relationship, he made it public. Ja ...

Were you around at the first flutterings of love with Graca?

No ... but I was at his house when the Nobel Peace Prize was announced. Graca came, and you could see that Madiba was absolutely taken by Graca. He was in love. He said to me that she's got such a beautiful smile. And I thought, "Wow, my boss is in love." And he was in love with her, and it was beautiful, because it wasn't just a make up thing. It was real, and she too. ...

I don't know if you have ever seen them together, but there is no one else around in the same room as the two of them when they're together, and I think that's good.

home + young boy + revolutionary + prisoner + husband & lover + biographers + interviews
synopsis + anecdotes + chronology + discussion + map
tapes tapes & transcripts + transcripts + credits + press + site map + viewers & teachers' guide
frontline + pbs online + wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS