Nelson Mandela Correspondence regarding the families move to Brandfort

Nelson's responses to the Brandfort sojourn are recorded in extracts from the letters that follow:

I have thought of you since I heard of the heavy snowfall in various parts of the country. A few days before the cold spell reached the Island, I saw at last the picture of the spectacle in which you and the children were dumped. I fear that no fire can ever warm that ramshackle shack. With such an infirm structure and poor workmanship the cold must be seeping through the crevices and rickety walls with ease, keeping temperatures quite low inside. Not only do you need to protect yourself with warm clothing during the day and warm blankets at night but there must also be a bit of fat in your food to keep the body from freezing. These are things you cannot afford without an income. I hope the faith and miracles that kept you going all these years will keep you on your feet and well until we meet again. The cold weather, coming so soon after your illness, has made me anxious.

29 July 1979

I have no idea as to where Phathakahle is, in what district, and least of all the situation of 802. But my mind carries a vivid picture, imaginary, but nevertheless vivid, of that shack. Uppermost in that picture is the position of the bedroom. I think of you always and love you.

19 November 1979

TO WINNIE

Zindzi likes reading and it is a shame that you have a paraffin lamp. Do you remember the lamp we had before we had electricity? It is expensive but try to buy two of them for the house.

7 October 1977

TO WINNIE

It pleased me to know that people as far afield as Pietermaritzburg have visited you. Apparently Dr Biggs is a well-known orthopaedic surgeon in that city and his wife and Mrs. Corigall all familiar names in that province and beyond. Give them a big hug on my behalf when you meet them again.

2 September 1979

TO WINNIE

I really hope it will be possible for me to see you on the eve of your departure. I know how you will miss that miserable outpost which has been so hard on you. I have the hope and confidence, that, at least, it has given you the opportunity to sit down and take stock of your life during the fifteen years preceding your arrival there.

6 August 1979

TO WINNIE

Keeping in touch by telephone must be an extremely difficult task for you since you must inevitably rely on the public telephone. But who else can I burden with these requests. I can easily invoke the assistance of the old families, confident that they would eagerly respond. But you would probably have fits or suffocate with anger if I did so.

31 March 1983

TO ZINDZI

Brandfort becoming a nice place! I can't believe it. Mum lost almost everything. She'll never get any job there except perhaps as a domestic or a farm-hand or washerwoman, and will spend all her days in poverty. She's described the sort of structure in which you must now live and the type of toilet and water facilities that you have to use. I fear to ask her the fortune she'll have to pay to make that place really fit to live in. You will never eat and dress as well as you did in J-B, nor will you be able to afford a TV set, see a decent film or go to a theatre or have a telephone.

Nevertheless, darling, I'm glad to note that you are adjusting yourself and trying to be happy all the same. I feel tenderness when I read the line 'A nice place after all'. As long as you have an iron will, darling, you can turn misfortune into advantage, as you yourself say. Were it not so. Mum would have been a complete wreck by now.

4 September 1977

TO WINNIE

I would also like to know your estimate of the amount you spent to make the Brandfort shack habitable.

About the improvements at 802, including the expensive trees you planted, I am waiting for the information requested in my last letter before I can give you proper advice.

Meanwhile I should like you to give me some information about your employer, the names of his other employees if any, the nature of the work and the average number of people you have to attend to daily. Please think carefully about Cape Town.

27 February 1979

It is not easy to advise you on the question of the job at Welkom. It is the work you love most and in regard to which you have a lot of training and experience. It will keep you busy for the day and give you the pleasure of helping people in their numerous problems; something for which you have the natural ability. Of no less importance is the fact that the job will give you a regular income and guarantee you some measure of financial independence, all of which are of enormous importance.

I fully approve of your stand in regard to the suggestion or veiled hint that you should shift to Welkom. You were deported to that place and there you should remain. Even though Brandfort is no more than a farming village, you have found your feet there and paid heavily for doing so. I do not want you to start all over again, turning a cave into a habitation. Your arrival in Brandfort was followed by harrowing experiences.

27 January 1979

I have the feeling that contrary to what we had hoped - your removal from Brandfort would be done only after proper consultation with us - you may be deported again without further reference to us. In this regard I still support your original stand of refusing to go to any other place voluntarily other than Johannesburg. This is so even though I would have liked us to examine the question of us coming to live in Cape Town, as well as the problems relating to your departure from that world. Meantime I should like you to come down immediately so that we could at least consider the most urgent household matters.

6 May 1979

Speaking from the point of view of the family moving, Cape Town would be better if we can get a good job. Do you realize that I could see you twice a month and that you could forget completely about the old families? It would probably also be wonderful therapy for Zindzi and Oupa. You could all probably study at UCT. But I do not think we could ever discuss that proposition under the conditions in which we have to see each other.

I should also endeavour to contact Helen in Cape Town to find out whether she can get you suitable work so that we could fruitfully consider the possibility - I stress the word possibility - of the family moving to the mother city.

19 November 1979

I am in full agreement with your refusal to shift to Welkom or any other place except Johannesburg. I have other reasons which worry me even more, about the mere fact of your being connected with that place, to say nothing of your living there. I do not think I can ever sanction that. It also worries me that you should be on the road for no less than 2.20 hours a day. From the mileage it would seem that you can make that time only if you step on the gas. Moreover, petrol and oil have become very expensive and taking into account the wear and tear as well, they will swallow up your small income.

27 February 1979

The sudden death of Chris shook me so badly as if he was a lifelong friend. I should be pleased if you would kindly give his parents my deepest sympathy.

His tragic death on the very day you started work under him was a shattering blow to you, the children and me. Even before I got your letter of 20/2 I knew how keenly you looked forward to the 1/3. In spite of my great concern about your traveling such a long distance daily all alone, working for twelve hours a day and my opposition to your ever moving to Welkom, I felt that you should nevertheless try out for the three months stipulated. His death has destroyed all your hopes for a new and challenging experience in your stay in that world. I note that with Chris you would start work at 8h00 to 20h00. Even if you lived in Welkom, working twelve hours a day would have been a considerable strain. Add to that, traveling daily between Brandfort and Welkom for about 2-3 hours; that would tax the capacity of the toughest constitution and would make it difficult for you to continue your studies.

19 November 1979

I have been thinking about your study problems. The possibility that you may have to move to Klerksdorp disturbs me immensely and I advise against it. To rove around at this stage in your life is undesirable in spite of all the advantages it might have in regard to your study course. We have had so many nightmares in Johannesburg and Brandfort and I should like to avoid them at all costs. We were able to overcome them in the former place and we are only beginning to settle down in the latter. To move again to what are practically platteland areas where the police, superintendents, magistrates, have no experience at all in dealing with people like you and me will revive all the ugly problems we have experienced in the past seventeen years. Such a step may even prove more disastrous to Zindzi, who is adjusting to Brandfort despite the atmosphere of dislocation and isolation that surrounds it. It will expose Oupa to fresh onslaughts from which he should be spared. While I have no alternative to offer, I would suggest that we try to get an agency in Bloemfontein to which you could be attached ... The head of the sociology department in University of the Orange Free State may have similar contacts and it may be useful to discuss the matter with him. The advantage of being allocated to a special agency in that city is that you can travel daily between it and Brandfort. That would save you all the problems entailed in moving to a new place. In the meantime I wish you all the luck, darling Mum.

25 November 1979

TO ZINDZI

I am happy, darling, that you're around to look after Mum. It was a real relief to see her emerge clean, erect and strong from all the problems she has had since last May. That was due mainly to your earnest love and inspiration. At forty-three. Mum is no longer young. At that age the average woman usually feels depressed when she sees her hair turning white and ugly wrinkles distorting her once pretty face. Children grow and become independent of her and it is easy for her to think that she's neglected by those who were once deeply attached to her. I'm very grateful to you for all that you're doing for her.

Are you studying now? I hope your trip has made you rich in experience and given you material for your second anthology. A million kisses and tons and tons of love. Affectionately, Tata.


References:
• The textual commentary and letters are drawn from Meer, F. (1988). Higher than Hope , London: Hamish Hamilton, pp. 333-412, and is used with the kind permission of the author.

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