Conversations with Myself

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9780312611682: Conversations with Myself

"[Nelson Mandela] has done so much to change his country, and the world, that it is hard to imagine the history of the last several decades without him." ―from the foreword by President Barack Obama

Foreword by President Barack Obama

Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspiring and iconic figures of our age. Now, after a lifetime of recording thoughts and events, hardships and victories, he has opened his personal archive, which offers unprecedented insight into his remarkable autobiography.

From letters written in the darkest hours of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment to the draft of an unfinished sequel to Long Walk to Freedom, Conversations with Myself gives readers access to the private man behind the public figure. Here he is making notes and even doodling during meetings, or transcribing troubled dreams on the desk calendar in his prison cell on Robben Island; writing journals while on the run during the anti-apartheid struggle in the early 1960s, and conversing with friends in almost seventy hours of recorded conversations. Here he is neither icon nor saint.

An intimate journey from the first stirrings of political consciousness to his galvanizing role on the world stage, Conversations with Myself is a rare chance to spend time with Nelson Mandela the man, in his own voice: direct, clear, private.

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About the Author:

Nelson Mandela was a former President of South Africa, the first to be elected in fully representative democratic elections. He was born in Transkei, South Africa, in 1918. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress. In 1964, he was convicted of crimes including sabotage committed in the struggle against apartheid. He was imprisoned for 27 years at Robben Island prison and Pollsmoor prison. During his incarceration, his reputation as a potent symbol of resistance to apartheid grew steadily. Released from prison in 1990, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was inaugurated as President of South Africa in 1994. He is the author of the internationally bestselling autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and Conversations with Myself. Mandela died in December 2013.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Conversations with Myself Chapter 1 

‘I shall stick to our vow: never, never under any circumstances, to say anything unbecoming of the other...The trouble, of course, is that most successful men are prone to some form of vanity. There comes a stage in their lives when they consider it permissible to be egotistic and to brag to the public at large about their unique achievements. What a sweet euphemism for self-praise the English language has evolved! Autobiography...’

.....................................................................................

Excerpt from a letter to Fatima Meer, dated 1 March 1971.

 

1. FROM A LETTER TO FATIMA MEER, DATED 1 MARCH 19711

I shall stick to our vow: never, never under any circumstances, to say anything unbecoming of the other...The trouble, of course, is that most successful men are prone to some form of vanity. There comes a stage in their lives when they consider it permissible to be egotistic and to brag to the public at large about their unique achievements. What a sweet euphemism for self-praise the English language has evolved! Autobiography, they choose to call it, where the shortcomings of others are frequently exploited to highlight the praiseworthy accomplishments of the author. I am doubtful if I will ever sit down to sketch my background. I have neither the achievements of which I could boast nor the skill to do it. If I lived on cane spirit every day of my life, I still would not have had the courage to attempt it. I sometimes believe that through me Creation intended to give the world the example of a mediocre man in the proper sense of the term. Nothing could tempt me to advertise myself. Had I been in a position to write an autobiography, its publication would have been delayed until our bones had been laid, and perhaps I might have dropped hints not compatible with my vow. The dead have no worries, and if the truth and nothing but the whole truth about them emerged, [and] the image I have helped to maintain through my perpetual silence was ruined, that would be the affair of posterity, not ours...I’m one of those who possess scraps of superficial information on a variety of subjects, but who lacks depth and expert knowledge on the one thing in which I ought to have specialised, namely the history of my country and people.

2. FROM A LETTER TO JOY MOSIELOA, DATED 17 FEBRUARY 1986

When a man commits himself to the type of life he has lived for 45 years, even though he may well have been aware from the outset of all the attendant hazards, the actual course of events and the precise manner in which they would influence his life could never have been clearly foreseeable in every respect. If I had been able to foresee all that has since happened, I would certainly have made the same decision, so I believe at least. But that decision would certainly have been far more daunting, and some of the tragedies which subsequently followed would have melted whatever traces of steel were inside me.

3. FROM A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD STENGEL

I was being groomed for the position of chieftaincy...but then ran away, you know, from a forced marriage...2 That changed my whole career. But if I had stayed at home I would have been a respected chief today, you know? And I would have had a big stomach, you know, and a lot of cattle and sheep.

4. FROM A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD STENGEL

Most men, you know, are influenced by their background. I grew up in a country village until I was twenty-three, when I then left the village for Johannesburg. I was of course...going to school for the greater part of the year, come back during the June and December holidays – June was just a month and December about two months. And so all throughout the year I was at school...And then in [19]41 when I was twenty-three, I came to Johannesburg and learned...to absorb Western standards of living and so on. But...my opinions were already formed from the countryside and...you’ll therefore appreciate my enormous respect for my own culture – indigenous culture...Of course Western culture is something we cannot live without, so I have got these two strands of cultural influence. But I think it would be unfair to say this is peculiar to me because many of our men are influenced by that...I am now more comfortable in English because of the many years I spent here and I’ve spent in jail and I lost contact, you know, with Xhosa literature. One of the things which I am looking forward to when I retire is to be able to read literature as I want, [including] African literature. I can read both Xhosa and Sotho literature and I like doing that,3 but the political activities have interfered...I just can’t read anything now and it’s one of the things I regret very much.

5. FROM HIS UNPUBLISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MANUSCRIPT WRITTEN IN PRISON

Nobody ever sat with me at regular intervals to give me a clear and connected account of the history of our country, of its geography, natural wealth and problems, of our culture, of how to count, to study weights and measures. Like all Xhosa children I acquired knowledge by asking questions to satisfy my curiosity as I grew up, learnt through experience, watched adults and tried to imitate what they did. In this process an important role is played by custom, ritual and taboo, and I came to possess a fair amount of information in this regard...In our home there were other dependents, boys mainly, and at an early age I drifted away from my parents and moved about, played and ate together with other boys. In fact I hardly remember any occasion when I was ever alone at home. There were always other children with whom I shared food and blankets at night. I must have been about five years old when I began going out with other boys to look after sheep and calves and when I was introduced to the exciting love of the veld. Later when I was a bit older I was able to look after cattle as well...[A] game I enjoyed very much was what I call Khetha (choose-the-one-you-like)...We would stop girls of our age group along the way and ask each one to choose the boy she loved. It was a rule that the girl’s choice would be respected and, once she had selected her favourite, she was free to continue her journey escorted by the boy she had chosen. Nimble-witted girls used to combine and all choose one boy, usually the ugliest or dullest, and thereafter tease or bully him along the way...Finally, we used to sing and dance and fully enjoyed the perfect freedom we seemed to have far away from the old people. After supper we would listen enthralled to my mother and sometimes my aunt telling us stories, legends, myths and fables which have come down from countless generations, and all of which tended to stimulate the imagination and contained some valuable moral lesson. As I look back to those days I am inclined to believe that the type of life I led at my home, my experiences in the veld where we worked and played together in groups, introduced me at an early age to the ideas of collective effort. The little progress I made in this regard was later undermined by the type of formal education I received which tended to stress individual more than collective values. Nevertheless, in the mid 1940s when I was drawn into the political struggle, I could adjust myself to discipline without difficulty, perhaps because of my early upbringing.

6. FROM HIS UNPUBLISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MANUSCRIPT WRITTEN IN PRISON

The regent was not keen that I visit Qunu, lest I should fall into bad company and run away from school, so he reasoned. He would allow me only a few days to go home. On other occasions he would arrange for my mother to be fetched so that she could see me at the royal residence. It was always an exciting moment for me to visit Qunu and see my mother and sisters and other members of the family. I was particularly happy in the company of my cousin, Alexander Mandela, who inspired and encouraged me on questions of education in those early days. He and my niece, Phathiwe Rhanugu (she was much older than me), were perhaps the first members of our clan to qualify as teachers. Were it not for their advice and patient persuasion I doubt if I would have succeeded in resisting the attractions offered by the easy life outside the classroom. The two influences that dominated my thoughts and actions during those days were chieftaincy and the church. After all, the only heroes I had heard of at that time had almost all been chiefs, and the respect enjoyed by the regent from both black and white tended to exaggerate the importance of this institution in my mind. I saw chieftaincy not only as the pivot around which community life turned, but as the key to positions of influence, power and status. Equally important was the position of the church, which I associated not so much with the body and doctrine contained in the Bible but with the person of Reverend Matyolo. In this circuit he was as popular as the regent, and the fact that in spiritual matters he was the regent’s superior and leader, stressed the enormous power of the church. What was even more was that all the progress my people had made – the schools that I attended, the teachers who taught me, the clerks and interpreters in government offices, the agricultural demonstrators and policemen – were all the products of missionary schools. Later the dual position of the chiefs as representatives of their people and as government servants compelled me to assess their position more realistically, and not merely from the point of view of my own family background or of the exceptional chiefs who identified themselves with the struggle of their people. As descendants of the famous heroes...

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