During lockdown, many people are separated from their family and loved ones. So was Nelson Mandela[i] separated from his family and loved ones during his time in imprisonment.
He had much to say about the importance of family. Amina Cachali[ii] recalls Madiba’s feelings:
‘He never allowed his private life to faze him… but his one great wish was that he would come out of prison and have a family life again with his wife and the children. Because he’s a great family man and I think he really wanted that more than anything else.’
Nelson Mandela and family
In early childhood Mr. Mandela grew up with his two sisters while living with their mother in the village of Qunu. Here he tended herds as a cattle-boy while spending much time outside with other boys. Both his parents were illiterate, but being a devout Christian, his mother sent him to a local Methodist school where he was Baptized a Methodist, at the age of seven. He was also given his ‘Christian’ name, Nelson, by which he is known today.
When Mr. Mandela was about nine, his father came to stay at Qunu, where he died of an undiagnosed ailment which Mandela believed to be a lung disease. Feeling ‘cut adrift’, he later said that he inherited his father’s ‘proud rebelliousness’ and ‘stubborn sense of fairness’.[iii]
He found a secondary family at the Great Palace in Mqhekezweni, where he was a custodian of his uncle, the king. He was brought up with his cousins Justice and Nomafu as part of the royal family while enjoying all the privileges of the royal household.
Madiba and marriage
Madiba married three times in his lifetime. He adhered to the value system of monogamy in contradiction to tribal custom of arranged marriages and having many wives at the same time or polygamy. According to his film Mandela, Madiba was a ‘romantic’ and was not pressured by tradition or tribal laws and customs to adhere to arranged marriages. This meant he believed in ‘falling in love’.
In 1944 he married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, a nurse, Evelyn Mase. They had two sons Madiba Thembibekile or ‘Thembi’ and Makgatho and two daughters. The first daughter Makaziwe, died in infancy and the second daughter was also named Makaziwe. Madiba and Evelyn were divorced in 1958.
In June 1958, Nelson Mandela married a social worker, Winnie Madikizela during his treason trial. They had two daughters Zenani and Zindziswa or Zindzi. The couple divorced after Mandela was released from prison, in 1996.
Graça Machel became the third Mrs. Mandela when she married the South Africa President, Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday on 18 July 1998.
Madiba and his children
Although Madiba spent many years in prison on Robben Island, he tried to stay in touch with his children as much as possible. His now known quote of loving the children and ‘putting them in his pocket’ is a legacy of being deprived of the contact with all children and his own children in particular.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund[iv] is also one of his legacies born of his love for children.
Deprivation of contact with loved ones
Not only did Mabiba experience the deprivation of contact with loved ones, but he also experienced the death of his two sons. Especially the death of Thembi and his mother were defining blows. Today Madiba is buried beside his three deceased children in Qunu. He has three surviving daughters, Pumla Makaziwe (Maki), Zenani and Zindziswa (Zindzi), 17 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
His grandson Mandla Mandela, graduated from Rhodes University with a degree in politics in 20017 and has since been inaugurated as the chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council. Something Nelson Mandela would have been very proud of – as all grandparents would be.
Taking care of family
Family was important to Nelson Mandela. He said:
‘I wondered – not for the first time – whether one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others.’
During his imprisonment in Robben Island, Madiba’s love for his mother and providing for his own family, also became evident. He wrote:
‘Can there be anything more important than looking after one’s aging mother? Is politics merely a pretext for shirking one’s responsibilities, an excuse for not being able to provide in the way one wanted.’ Nelson Mandela
For nearly 28 years, Nelson Mandela also had a second family. These were his comrades and fellow inmates who shared the same vision, values and plight as he did. ‘Family’ is not always defined by a blood bond anymore.
Two kinds of family
One the one side we have tribal families. These are groups who share a blood bond and are governed by tribal laws and cultural and religious rituals.
Then we have spiritual families. Here we find a shared bond that comes from the heart and soul. These family members are not necessarily your blood brothers and sister. They are your soul brothers and sisters.
Our relationship to family
Family ties are being tried and tested during our period of lockdown.
I do believe what will emerge is much more clarity of who your real family and friends are. The old saying that ‘blood is thicker than water’ – is now being replaced with ‘spirit is stronger than any blood bond’. It comes from the heart and soul.
We have a modern-day example of Harry and Megan who have left a blood bond family, to follow a new path that they believe will benefit their small, but modern family, in the future.
Ask yourself: Who do you have a heart bond with?
To do list
Here are a few ideas to help you on this path:
- Who are your ‘family’? Who are close? Who are far off?
- How are the relationships within your family?
- How important are these relationships you?
- Who are your heart family members? These are people who you can ‘hear with your heart’.
- Is it necessary for you to mend or build new family bridges? Why?
- Is it necessary to let go like Megan and Harry, and make a new beginning? Why?
- Contact us if your need help and assistance.
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Stay safe – stay
[i] Mandela, Nelson, R. (1994). Illustrated. The long walk to freedom. The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Little, Brown & Company: London.
[ii] See interview with Cachali. Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/mandela/interviews/cachalia.html
[iii] Mandela, Nelson 1994. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Macdonald Purnell. Randburg. p 19.
[iv] See: Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund Website: