Winnie Mandela Releases Memoir About Her Imprisonment Under Apartheid

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has released her memoir, entitled “491 Days: Prisoner number 1323/69” about her time in prison under apartheid. The ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela said she felt like “the most unmarried, married woman.”

According to Mail and Guardian Online:

“Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s new book, a collection of letters and diary entries from her 491 days in prison, is a powerful reminder of what she was best known for. A single mother, forced to raise her children alone after Nelson Mandela was sent to prison, she faced hunger and constant threats from the apartheid regime.

“The book, ‘491 Days: Prisoner number 1323/69,’ is based on diary entries she made while in solitary confinement, awaiting trial for alleged acts of terrorism. This was in 1969. She was never convicted and throughout she says the regime was holding her and fellow prisoners to try to break their will, rather than to convict them.

“It contains letters sent between her and Madiba – although many were lost or delayed by many months. These give a gripping insight into a family trying to survive under an onslaught from the regime.

“The two were married in a ‘shabby little back veld church in Pondoland’ in front of a huge congregation. That was 1958. Winnie was 21 or 23, but she still does not know her real date of birth. In a prison letter to Madiba she says: ‘I recalled with all emotions and affection your reassuring and firm grip as you slipped the ring on my finger.’ She was five months pregnant.

“Soon after this, Madiba was arrested and put on trial. During this time he would wake very early each morning to commute from their home in Soweto to Pretoria for proceedings. The result was prison and Madikizela-Mandela was left to raise two young daughters alone.

“‘I was forced to mature on my own. Your formidable shadow which eclipsed me left me naked and exposed to the bitter world of a young ‘political widow,’ she wrote.

“In the introduction, Ahmed Kathrada, a close family friend, says: ‘Winnie’s life was virtually that of a single parent’ while her children had an ‘occasional father.'”


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