Official South African launch of ‘Conversations with Myself’ held today

Family and friends recount personal memories of Nelson Mandela

imageA discussion was held with actor, John Kani (first from left), Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi Mandela (second from left), his close friend and anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada (third from left) and his great-grandson Luvuyo Mandela (fourth from left)

October 30, 2010 – The official South African launch of Nelson Mandela’s new book Conversations with Myself was held today at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

The book was launched by South African publishers Pan MacMillan and saw acclaimed South African playwright and actor John Kani reading extracts from the book and leading a discussion on stage.

Conversations with Myself offers readers a glimpse of Nelson Mandela, the man behind the public figure. The book features an astonishing array of documents, letters and other items from his personal archives and gives readers some insight into his extraordinary life.

It is an intimate journey from Mr Nelson Mandela’s first political stirrings to his galvanising role in South Africa and on the world stage and is the first time readers can read such a comprehensive account in his own words.

Kani moderated a discussion with Mr Mandela’s close friend and anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, his youngest daughter Zindzi Mandela and his great-grandson Luvuyo Mandela.

It was a rare opportunity for the public to learn about some of the more intimate and personal details of Mr Mandela’s life as an activist and a family man.

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Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Achmat Dangor addresses the audience at the South African launch of Conversations with Myself

Panellists openly shared their anecdotes, thoughts and emotions as they talked about the mindset of the prisoners on Robben Island, the way the family stayed in touch during Mr Mandela’s incarceration, the attempted assassination (and eventual assassination) of South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the passing of Mr Mandela’s oldest son, Madiba Thembekile (Luvuyo’s grandfather), how mr Mandela, from his prison cell, opened the way for negotiations between the South African government and the African National Congress, and the range of emotions at key moments in their relationships with Mr Mandela.

“The first time I touched him was something I can’t describe,” said Zindzi Mandela, referring to her first contact visit with her father in prison. She also reflected on the day Mr Mandela was released: “I’d waited my whole life for my father to come home and when the day arrived ... I realised that he wasn’t coming home to me alone,” she said, reflecting on the crowds who surrounded the family on the day he was set free.

Describing another first, Luvuyo Mandela spoke of the first day he met his great-grandfather. The meeting took place at a City Lodge: “It was like meeting a strange man in a hotel room,” he said. It wasn’t until their next meeting that he realised how important his great-grandfather was. For this meeting, he was allowed to miss two days of school.

Kathrada spoke of the moment he and Mr Mandela learned of the assassination attempt on Verwoerd.

“We were very worried because we thought that if it was a black man [who had attempted the assassination}, we were in trouble.”

Zindzi Mandela said she had learned a great deal about her father through Conversations with Myself: “I have discovered so much more, despite conversations at the big [family] table. It [also] reminded me about certain things I had forgotten.”

She spoke of the letters Mr Mandela had written while in prison, and how they had managed to communicate so much more than mere words.

“[They contained] a few words, but a lot of information,” she said, adding that “He never forgot the smallest details of all the people he communicated with.”

Kani ended the discussion by reading Mr Mandela’s final diary entry before he was released from Cape Town’s Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990.

Following the panel discussion, guests mingled in the Market Theatre lobby and shared their thoughts about the fascinating aspects of Mr Mandela’s life that they had heard for the first time.

In addition to the publication of Conversations with Myself in 20 languages, an audiobook was also launched at the event. Narrated by Kani, it is on sale throughout the world. Click here for the contact details.

Listen here to some audio extracts from Conversations with Myself.

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The South African edition of Conversations with Myself

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South African actor John Kani reading from Conversations with Myself

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Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Achmat Dangor addresses the South African launch of Conversations with Myself

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Former Minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan, anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, Foundation’s Sahm Venter, First Secretary of the British High Commission Gary Benham and Guardian correspondent David Smith

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Guests at the Market Theatre enjoying the South African launch of Conversations with Myself

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Guests at the book launch