Nelson Mandela Sending Photographs

Introduction

To someone cut off from friends and relatives, restricted to seeing only a selected few people and even these not as frequently as in normal social relations, photographs become very important. Nelson requests photographs and comments on them, and he marvels at the growth of grandchildren.

They come with their mothers as infants in arms, and as toddlers, and then for fourteen years he cannot see them. He keeps in touch through photographs.

Winnie Mandela breaks her government bans and returns to her home in Soweto. April 1986, Soweto. ©Louise Gubb

I am also keen to see Zazi [Zeni's daughter] before 16/6 when she turns two. I won't be able to see her after that until she turns sixteen unless she comes to fetch me before then.

15 April 1976

TO ZENI:

I got the three pictures you sent via Mum even though I become terribly homesick when I see you look well and it pleases me very much to see you full of smiles, to know you are with close family friends. Zazi's picture at once reminded me of you shortly after your Mum returned from Baragwanath maternity ward in 1959. You'd be fast asleep even as she bathed, dried, smeared you with olive oil, turned your skin white with Johnson's baby powder and stuffed your little belly with shark oil. It's family photos, letters and family visits that keep on reminding me of the happy days when we were together, that makes life sweet and that fills the heart with hope and expectation. Thanks a million, darling. Zindzi tells me that Zazi visited Waterford without your permission. The students must have had real fun.

30 October 1977

TO WINNIE:

The collection of photos you left behind gave me, as usual, false but flattering feeling that I was free and surrounded by you, the members of the family and lifelong friends. I have since spent a lot of time admiring the photos and each time I feel really tremendous, like one who is beginning and not completing a term of than two decades of hard labour. The sight of Zeni and Muzi of Zinhle and of [Zeni's son] and sisters particularly delights me. They look like a happy couple and the kids seem to be growing up well. Zeni and Muzi are striking even when they try to do the impossible, that is to look at them, not as parents but purely as impartial observers. I had never imagined that our daughter would become such a fine, quiet, dignified lady as she appears to be. All her pictures and the way she conducts herself during visits confirm this impression. Her and Muzi's attachment to you is a source of comfort and joy and I sincerely hope that their relationship with Lashongiwe [a kinswoman] is just the same. Is it Nomsa [Nelson's niece] who is standing next to you at 8115? I suspect that the young lady in front of you is Zindzi, except that she appears slightly taller than I would expect. I was also able to recognize Mary Benson. She still looks almost as she was when I last saw her in London.

31 March 1983

Had it not been for your visits, wonderful letters and your love, I would have fallen apart many years ago. I pause here and drink some coffee, after which I dust the photos on my bookcase with that of Zeni, which is on the outer side, then Zindi's and lastly yours, my darling Mum. Doing so always eases the longing for you.

6 May 1979

TO MAKI:

I have not seen you for a long time and I miss you a great deal. I also long to see Nobuhle [Zindzi] and Dumani [Makaziwe's son]. Ndindi [Thembi's daughter] sent me a group photo but without Nobuhle. Where was she when the picture was taken? Both Mandla [Makgato's son] and Dumani looked handsome, even though Mandla was a bit serious. The ladies Ndindi and Nandi [Thembi's daughter] were stars of course. It was surprising to see just how fast they have grown. Tons and tons of love and a million kisses.

26 November 1978

TO WINNIE:

You look perfectly holy and saved next to Mantu [pet name for Zindzi]. Vainly did I try to make out the book and chapter of the open Bible you were reading. But the expression in your respective faces seems to suggest that you see on the pages not just a collection of sacred words, but God himself.

31 March 1983

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?

15 April 1976

Who was this other lady in his life? He teased Winnie but confided in Zindzi:

By the way, has Mum ever told you about Nolitha, the other lady in my cell from the Andaman Islands. She keeps you, Zeni, Ndindi and Nandi, Mandla, Maki and Mum company. It's one matter over which Mum's comments are surprisingly economic. She regards the pigmy beauty as some sort of rival and hardly suspects that I took her picture out of the National Geographic . I heartily laugh when I read Mum's letters, and suppress my laughter when I talk to her face to face and notice her own struggle to hide her anger. I may have to send the picture to Zeni on my return, because I know quite well that our old tannie will be waiting at the gate with chopper and block.

20 October 1976


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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