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Nelson Mandela was 44 years old and the father of five young children when he was first sent to prison. The writing and receiving of letters during his incarceration allowed him to maintain his political purpose of overturning South Africa’s apartheid government, to nurture his relationships with his family and friends.
‘Hope Is a Powerful Weapon’
Writing to his wife Winnie nearly seven years into his imprisonment, Mr. Mandela shares his thoughts on the power of positive thinking.
“The Power of Positive Thinking” and “The Results of Positive Thinking” both written by the American psychologist Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, may be rewarding to read. The municipal library should stock them. I attach no importance to the metaphysical aspects of his arguments, but I consider his views on physical and psychological issues valuable. He makes the basic point that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway through to victory.
Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost. You and I, however, have gained much over the years and are making advances in important respects. You are in my thoughts every moment of my life. Nothing will happen to you darling. You will certainly recover and rise.
‘Our Cause Is Just. It Is a Fight for Human Dignity’
Mr. Mandela wrote to his wife Winnie after a visit from Thoko, the widow of his son Thembi, whose father had recently died. He reflects on the persistence of hope in the face of repeated tragedy, and restates his commitment to the cause of the anti-apartheid struggle.
When I think of the disasters that had invaded us over the past 21 months, I very often wonder what gives us the strength and courage to carry on. If calamities had the weight of physical objects we should long have been crushed down, or else, we should by now have been hunchbacked, unsteady on our feet, and with faces full of gloom and utter despair. Yet my entire body throbs with life and is full of expectations. Each day brings a fresh stock of experiences and new dreams. I am still able to walk perfectly straight and firmly. What is even more important to me is the knowledge that nothing can ever ruffle you and that your step remains as fleet and graceful as it has always been — a girl who can laugh heartily and infect others with her enthusiasm. Always remember that this is how I think of you.
We fight against one of the last strongholds of reaction on the African Continent. In cases of this kind our duty is a simple one — at the appropriate time to state clearly, firmly and accurately the aspirations that we cherish and the greater South Africa for which we fight. Our cause is just. It is a fight for human dignity and for an honorable life. Nothing should be done or said which may be construed directly or indirectly as compromising principle, not even the threat of a more serious charge and severe penalty. In dealing with people, be they friends or foe, you are always polite and pleasant. This is equally important in public debates. We can be frank and outspoken without being reckless or abusive, polite without cringing, we can attack racialism and its evils without ourselves fostering feelings of hostility between different racial groups.
Individual Kindness Can Not Wipe Out Poverty
I have been reminiscing a great deal … Those were the days when you lived a happy life free of problems and fenced from all hardships and insecurity by parental love. You did not work, grub was galore, clothing was plentiful and you slept good. But some of your playmates those days roamed around completely naked and dirty because their parents were too poor to dress them and to keep them clean.
Often you brought them home and gave them food. Sometimes you went away with double the amount of swimming fees to help a needy friend. Perhaps then you acted purely out of a child’s affection for a friend, and not because you had become consciously aware of the extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized our social life. I hope you’re still as keen today to help those who are hard-hit by want as you were then.
It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness.
This is not a problem that can be handled by individual acts of hospitality. The man who attempted to use his own possessions to help all the needy would be permanently ruined and in due course himself live on alms. Experience shows that this problem can be effectively tackled only by a disciplined body of persons, who are inspired by the same ideas and united in a common cause.
The Power of Writing
Mr. Mandela writes to Winnie after learning that she had been arrested. He reflects on the power he acquires from writing, and a future that will produce “saints” motivated by love.
It’s always given me plenty of satisfaction and joy to write to you. I sincerely don’t know whether you’ll ever get this particular one nor those of July 18, Aug 1 and 18 and, if you do, when that’ll be. Nonetheless, the act of writing to you at this moment removes all the tensions and impurities in my feelings and thoughts. It’s the only time I ever feel that some day in the future it’ll be possible for humanity to produce saints who will really be upright and venerable, inspired in everything they do by genuine love for humanity and who’ll serve all humans selflessly.
Source :”The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela”