Home / Arts & Life / Liveright to Publish Nelson Mandela’s Letters From Prison

Liveright to Publish Nelson Mandela’s Letters From Prison

“I always felt that this was the grail,” Robert Weil, Liveright’s editor-in-chief, said. “That just getting Nelson Mandela’s actual words to reflect his courage, his wisdom and the unspeakable horrors he went through would be something of extreme historical importance.”

The letters, many never seen by the public, increased in number over time, as restrictions on Mr. Mandela’s correspondence were eased. They illuminate wrenching occasions, like the time when Mr. Mandela was refused permission to attend the funeral of his mother and later, the funeral of his oldest son, who died in a car accident.

“His way of dealing with this, and of trying to give solace to the family while not being able to go to the funeral, is extraordinary,” Mr. Weil said.

The letters were assembled from the collections held by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the South African National Archives and the Mandela family.

Below: An encouraging letter from Nelson Mandela to his wife Winnie Mandela, written from Robben Island Prison after he had been in custody for 6 ½ years. They had seen each other six months earlier for a one-hour visit, and were not to meet again for another 19 months. Mrs. Mandela was detained a month after this letter was written.


Copyright © 2017 by Nelson R. Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Foundation




I was taken completely by surprise to learn that you had been very unwell as I did not have even the slightest hint that you suffered from blackouts. I have known of your heart condition & pleurisy attacks.

I am however happy to hear that the specialists have diagnosed the particular condition you suffer from & that the blackouts have now disappeared. I should like to be given details of the doctors’ diagnosis.

I am pleased to know that our family doctor has been wonderful as usual & I wish you speedy & complete recovery Ngutyana & all that is best in life.

The Power of Positive Thinking & The Result of Positive Thinking, both written by the American psychologist Dr Norman Vincent Peale, may be rewarding to read. The municipal library should stock them. I attach no importance to the metaphysical aspects of his arguments, but I consider his views on physical & psychological issues valuable.

He makes the basic point that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness & live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory.

Of the talents you possess, the one that attracts me most is your courage & determination. This makes you stand head & shoulders above the average [person] & will in the end bring you the triumph of high achievement. Do consciously keep this constantly in mind.

Last Nov. I wrote to Chief Butelezi, cousin of the late King Cyprian, & asked him to convey our sympathies to the Royal Family. I received an interesting reply plus a letter of condolence for ma’s death.

The Dec. letters went to Nali & Kgatho; Jan. to Wonga, & in Feb. I wrote to Maki, & Zeni & Zindzi. Lily & Gibson should by now have received the March letters. Advise me whether they were all received.

On 17/3 I wrote a special letter to Mthetho & am glad to note that the family rift has been settled.

Sabata has not replied [to] 2 letters I wrote him.

The relatives to whom funds could be sent were mentioned in Kgatho’s letter.

On 8/3 I was due for a visit that did not come off. Who was it? Why did he not come? My funds have run out. Have received the American Journal?

Have you heard from Mary & Paul about Sweet & Maxwell? I hear that my brother Regie is experiencing difficulties with the kids & that Malome is ill. Can you elaborate?

Fondest regards to our friends Moosa & Maud.

(In Dec. 1966 I was obliged to ask you to warn Mamsutu. She paid no heed whatsoever & persisted in cultivating associations which have caused widespread indignation. This has deepened & hardened differences between herself & the Chief; differences which threaten frightful repercussions on domestic & wider questions.

It is difficult to understand why she has chosen just this particular moment in history to pursue a course that is so detrimental to the cause, & why she should ignore the suggestions put forward by the Chief for an honourable settlement, whilst at the same time taking full advantage of his special difficulties to pin him down to a union whose sanctity & honour she has completely ruined.

I suspect there are many who regard it as a deliberate stab. Her assertions of would-be uprightness, & and her denials in the face of the most damaging evidence to the contrary, shows her utter recklessness on questions of fact & and her cynicism shocked me very much. These indiscretions which attract much adverse publicity tend to blur her sacrifices & her contribution.

I believe the Chief scrupulously avoids hinting, even to his closest friends, that any differences exist in the partnership. Such a hint would be a breach of faith to Mamsutu.

The intervention of “peacemakers” in family matters, however well meant they might be, is to be firmly resisted, & it would be regrettable if Mamsutu has ignored this elementary lesson. These observations are made without malice or bitterness.)

A family photo at last – “what a masterpiece”. Kgatho & sisters are terrific & it gave me such joy to see ma’s photo. Your small picture almost created an upheaval” “Ayingo Nobandla lo!” “Is this not her younger sister!” “Madiba has been too long in jail, he does not know his sister-in-law,” all these remarks were flung at me from all directions.

To me the portrait aroused mixed feelings. You look somewhat sad, absent-minded & unwell but lovely all the same. The big one is a magnificent study that depicts all I know in you, the devastating beauty & charm which 10 stormy years of married life have not chilled. I suspect that you intended the picture to convey a special message that no words could ever express. Rest assured I have caught it. All that I wish to say now is that the picture has aroused all the tender feelings in me & and softened the grimness that is all around. It has sharpened my longing for you & our sweet & peaceful home.

These days my thoughts have wondered far & wide; to Hans St where a friend would jump into a blue van & unburden herself of all the solemn vows that are due from fiancée to her betrothed & immediately thereafter dash across to an Olds on the opposite end of the block with vows equally sweet & reassuring; the skill with which she manipulated her evening “studies” in Chancellor House & made it possible to receive & entertain old friends as soon as new ones proceeded to a boxing gym. All these have come back over & over again as I examine the portrait.

Finally Mhlope, I should like you to know that if in the past my letters have not been passionate, it is because I need not seek to improve the debt I owe to a woman who, in spite of formidable difficulties & lack of experience, has nonetheless succeeded in keeping the home fires burning & in attending to the smallest wants & wishes of her incarcerated life companion. These things make me humble to be the object of your love & affection. Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost. You & I, however, have gained much over the years & are making advances in important respects. You are in my thoughts every moment of my life. Nothing will happen to you darling. You will certainly recover and rise.

A million kisses & tons & tons of love.


Nkosikazi Nobandla Mandela

House No. 8115, Orlando West


[PS] Good luck to Kgatho in his exams & tell Mtshana, Nomfundo, that I am glad to note that she is not discouraged. Let her remember that perseverance is key to success. I hope you managed to forward the letter to Cecil.

Continue reading the main story

About admin

Check Also

Hear the Best Albums and Songs of 2023

Dear listeners, In the spirit of holiday excess and end-of-the-year summation, we’re about to make …