Chapter 1 : Deep time
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.
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 . . . 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.
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 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, but the political activities have interfered . . . I just can’t read anything now and it’s one of the things I regret very much.
From a letter to Nomabutho Bhala, dated 1 january 1971
Your letter was one of the shortest I ever received. Yet, it is one of the best I had read for a long tome. I had thought that our generation of rabble-rousers had vanished with the close of the fifties. I had also believed that with all the experience of almost 50 yours behind of me, it would not be easy for me to be carried away by mere beauty of prose or smooth flow of one’s oratory. Yet the few lines that you scrawled moved me much more than all the classics I have read. Many of the personalities that featured lived simply, all without written record, some 3 centuries ago… They were unusual men ; in so far as their economy and implements were concerned, they lived in the Stone Age, and yet, they founded large and and stable kingdoms by means of metal weapons…
I find the explanation for your dream in the simple fact that you read deeper lessons in our ancestry. You regard their heroic deeds during the deathlesscentury of conflict as a model for the life we should lead today.
I am very fond of great dreams and I particularly liked yours. Perhaps in your next dream, there will be something that will excite not only the sons of Zita Ntu, but the descendants of all the famous heroes of the past. AT the time when some people are feverishly encouraging the growth of fractional forces, raising the tribe into the final and highest form of social organization, setting one national group against the other, cosmopolitan dreams are not only desirable but a bounden duty, dreams that stress the special unity that hold the freedom forces together.
Conversations with myself, Mandela, p.33-p40, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010