In this, the centenary year of Nelson Mandela’s birth, Zindzi Mandela is here at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to speak about her father’s life and legacy and how and why that led to the release of her children’s book, Grandad Mandela.
It is an awe-inspiring hour about an awe-inspiring man and Zindzi Mandela shows that she has inherited her father’s talent for diplomacy as well as the intelligence and charisma that led him to become one of the most remarkable leaders the world has ever seen.
Allan Little, journalist and former BBC South Africa correspondent, asks the questions and adds his own take on his experiences of Mandela as Zindzi opens up about what it was like growing up with a father behind bars, visits to Robben Island, and, finally in 1990, his release. But amidst all of the great work this man did, what the audience at tonight’s talk are left with is the impression of a very humble, very modest, and very mischievous man.
With her father in jail and her mother being frequently remanded, Zindzi and her elder sister, Zenani, were sent to boarding school in Swaziland, all too aware of the situation going on at home. Zindzi Mandela describes this experience, however, as a silver lining on the appalling circumstances, as they received a solid education that they would not have had had they remained in South Africa. Often when they went home for the holidays their mother, Winnie Mandela, would have been jailed that very morning.
The horror is difficult to imagine for those of us growing up in the privileged Western world but the story only gets bleaker. Aged 15 and 16 respectively, the girls were allowed to visit their father, and in 1985 a release deal was proposed by the then powers that be. The clause, however, was that Nelson Mandela effectively fade into the background and play no part in the freedom and equality for his people that he so desperately sought. He refused, and at the tender age of just 25, Zindzi Mandela had to read out a statement from her father saying he would be staying in prison. At the time, it was believed it would be forever.
But this talk is not all about the sad times. Little recalls occasions after Mandela’s release when he would cause chaos and confusion by defying security protocols, and Zindzi comically recounts returning to live with her parents where he would give her curfews and try and make decisions about her life despite the fact that she was a grown adult with three young children of her own.
Just as Nelson Mandela left the world with numerous inspirational messages, so too does his daughter here tonight. She speaks poignantly about how our challenges should not limit us and that everything is always possible: “I’ve learned that my identity comes not from what I’ve suffered but from what I have survived”.
And she is now trying to keep this legacy alive with her children’s book, Grandad Mandela, inspired by the questions asked about their grandfather and great-grandfather by her own children and grandchildren. She ends with the message that her father wanted to spread at the end of his life – it is now in your hands.