Nelson's letters reflect the volumes that remain unsaid because of the censorship rules that prescribe and proscribe the thoughts of a prisoner. The one thing that he could have expressed freely was remorse and regret. There is not a glimmer of this in any of his letters with regard to the position he has adopted about his country and its freedom and that of his people.
The regrets he does express are about the time he could have spent with his family. There is an underlying consciousness of the price his children have had to pay for the father who withdrew from his family and gave himself to the people, of the husband who left his young wife to serve his country, a consciousness of their pain when he was not there, when they needed him as an intimate, personal presence.
I lead a life where 1 hardly have enough time even to think.
15 April 1976
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 castle in the air.
26 June 1976
My arrest for treason on 5/12/56 and the lengthy proceedings that followed worsened the position. The world around me literally crumbled, income disappeared and many obligations could not be honoured. Only the coming of Ngutyana [Winnie] into the picture helped to bring about a bit of order to my personal affairs. But the chaos had gone too far even for her to bring back the stability and easy life I had just begun to lack when misfortune struck.
It is all these things which keep turning up as the mind strays over days in the Golden City. But this soul-searching melts away altogether when I think of Mum and all the children; of the pride and joy you all give me. Among us is Nobutho [Zindzi], the beautiful Mantu whose love and loyalty, visits, letters, birthday and Xmas cards are essential parts in the efforts of the family to help me endure many of the challenges of the last two decades.
1 March 1981
The regrets and anxieties prod him in his dreams which are vivid, often harrowing, nightmares; at times pleasant sublimations:
I've plans, wishes and hopes. I dream and build castles. But one has to be realistic. We're mere individuals in a society run by powerful institutions with its conventions, norms, morals, ideals and attitudes.
1 September 1975
I don't know how to interpret these dreams. But they at least indicate that there is far less steel in me than I had thought, that distance and two decades of separation have not strengthened the steel in me and deepened by anxiety over the family.
28 June 1980
I had a long dream as if it went on the whole night. It started in the mountains, across the Orange River. We were walking on green grass beside a clean stream, holding hands like we did before Zeni and Zindzi were born. We were in Brandfort and we traveled to Kroonstad where we met a lot of friends. All Ngutyanas and Dhlomos and our relations were there.
23 April 1978
Last month's dreams put you and me at the bottom of Selborne Road. We got a lift to First Avenue and then walked to King's bioscope. But we never reached it because you blocked my way and pestered me with affectionate kisses. These are mere dreams but dreams I like to have.
27 May 1979
The world is truly round and seems to start and end with those we love. In this regard the 23/6 was one of those unforgettable nights when the subconscious opened up a romantic world, with all wonderful thrills I have missed. A lady sat on the floor with legs stretched out as our mothers used to relax in the old days Though I can't remember the actual words, she sang with a golden voice, the face radiating all the affection and fire a woman can give a man. She turned and twisted her arms. That lady was none other than our darling Mum. These moments are increasing and make life worthwhile in spite of everything. I love you.
1 July 1979
Perpetual dreams about those we love! On the night of 21/9 you and I were driving the Olds at corner of Eloff and Market when you rushed out and spewed out porridge. It was hard and old with a crust on top. Your whole body quivered as each lump came out and you complained of a sharp pain on your right shoulder. I held you tight against my body, unmindful of the curious crowd and the traffic jam. I was still quite upset when I got up but was immediately happy when I realized that it was all but a dream.
26 June 1979
I dreamt I was with the young men of my kraal. They gave me herbs to strengthen me against you. They were saying that I should fight with you so that you would run away. And you were shouting at me to throw away those leaves, they were bad medicine. A whole audience was listening to this conversation. I threw the leaves away.
16 July 1978
On 20/6 I woke up to see Ngutyana and her man traveling from Brandfort to Johannesburg. They came across two opposing regiments of boys facing one another across a wide stream and spoiling for a fight. For security reasons we separated but I kept you under observation all long the line. The scenery was breathtaking as I watched down the fall towards the river below. Suddenly I was horrified when I noticed that you had disappeared and I rushed across the valley to check. There you were bathing unconcerned in the river with two girls. But when I reached the spot I discovered that all three were strange boys and you were nowhere to be found. Panic again welled up and as I set out to search the area. I saw you lying flat on the Transvaal side of the river shaking from high fever. A Bloemfontein official had walked past you and refused your request for a doctor. It was with an agitated mind I woke up. I had a similar dream on the night of the 26/6 . I was playing dominoes with three friends when I again saw you lying in a spot with giant pine trees and thick undergrowth. This time a hospital attendant brought hot water, sterilizing instruments and swabs for your treatment. Only then did I realize how ill you were. I rushed and embraced you. Later we reached a town where I had lived away from you for years. It was so flattering for me to show you around the place.
29 June 1980
My dreams tell the same story and keep on reminding me that I can't break away from the spell in which I was caught twenty-two years ago. The other night both Zeni and Zindzi dragged me to a second-hand shop in Eloff Street between Commissioner and Main Street to get some household furniture that we badly needed. When I woke on the morning of 25/2 I was missing you and the children a great deal as always.
14 April 1976
I had one of my perpetual dreams. Returning home late, in fact, towards dawn, I raced through the house and met you as you staggered through the back door looking sickly and depressed. I embraced you for some time, feeling guilty and unable to look at you straight in the face. In the dream, Zindzi was still a baby of about eighteen months and I was stunned when I discovered that she had swallowed a razor blade. It was such a relief when she spewed it out. I dreamt about you and the girls on the following day. This time Zindzi asked me to kiss her. When I did she complained that my kiss lacked warmth. Zeni also insisted on a kiss and appeared to be satisfied.
1 June 1980