frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela
husband & lover

Letters to Winnie BOOK EXCERPT

These are just a few of the letters Mandela wrote from Robben Island where he was sent in 1964 at the age of 46. Eighteen of his 27 years in prison were spent on the prison island.

From Fatima Meer's authorized biography of Mandela, Higher Than Hope
Harper & Row, 1988. [Reprinted with permission of the author.]

April 15, 1976

My dearest Winnie,

Your beautiful photo still stands about two feet above my left shoulder as I write this note. I dust it carefully every morning, for to do so gives me the pleasant feeling that I'm caressing you as in the old days. I even touch your nose with mine to recapture the electric current that used to flush through my blood whenever I did so. Nolitha stands on the table directly opposite me. How can my spirits ever be down when I enjoy the fond attentions of such wonderful ladies?

October 26, 1976

My dearest Winnie,

I have been fairly successful in putting on a mask behind which I have pined for the family, alone, never rushing for the post when it comes until somebody calls out my name. I also never linger after visits although sometimes the urge to do so becomes quite terrible. I am struggling to suppress my emotions as I write this letter.

I have received only one letter since you were detained, that one dated August 22. I do not know anything about family affairs, such as payment of rent, telephone bills, care of children and their expenses, whether you will get a job when released. As long as I don't hear from you, I will remain worried and dry like a desert.

I recall the Karoo I crossed on several occasions. I saw the desert again in Botswana on my way to and from Africa--endless pits of sand and not a drop of water. I have not had a letter from you. I feel dry like a desert.

Letters from you and the family are like the arrival of summer rains and spring that liven my life and make it enjoyable.

Whenever I write you, I feel that inside physical warmth, that makes me forget all my problems. I become full of love.

June 26, 1977

My dearest Winnie,

Our daughters raised in hardship are grown women today. The first born has her own house and is raising her family.

We couldn't fulfill our wishes, as we had planned, to have a baby boy. I had hoped to build you a refuge, no matter how small, so that we would have a place for rest and sustenance before the arrival of the sad, dry days. I fell down and couldn't do these things. I am as one building castles in the air.

November 22, 1979

My dearest Winnie,

You looked really wonderful on 17/11, very much like the woman I married. There was color in your face. Gone was the choleric appearance and glazed look in your eyes when you are under pressure of over-dieting. As usual, I kept addressing you as Mum but my body kept telling me that a woman is sitting across this platform. I felt like singing, even if just to say Hallelujah!

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