Day 24. Nelson Mandela reminds us of a healthy diet during lockdown

Most supermarkets and food stores have stocked down during the lockdown period. Many shelves are empty and only the most important foodstuffs are available.

Thanks to our farmers and other food producers, there are still provisions available. However, there are places, even countries who are experiencing food shortages – even a food crisis.

Nelson Mandela[i] and his inmates also experienced a food crisis during their lockdown period.

Prison food

Prison food to begin with, is of a lower standard as to what we are accustomed to. During the close on nine years I worked in maximum security of the Central Prison in Pretoria, it was evident why a prison sentence is a punishment.

Not only are people deprived of their freedom and locked up in cells, many other privileges are withheld. The food is less than desirable.

About life in prison, Nelson Mandela said:

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela and prison food

Nelson Mandela was held at different prisons during different times of his life. During his stay on Robben Island, Madiba realized the importance of a healthy diet – even during imprisonment.   

During his meeting with Helen Suzman, a member of the Liberal Progressive Party and the lone voice opposing the Nationalists in Parliament, Madiba, had the opportunity to voice the needs of prisoners to her, asking for better food and clothes, study facilities and the right to newspapers and magazines.[ii]

Once he was transferred back to the mainland, Madiba requested oil drums cut in half be provided for them. They started growing their own fresh vegetables in these drums.

Once the negotiations with the Nationalist government got underway Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pollsmoor prison, to Victor Verster prison and later to a house. Jack Swart became personal chef to Mandela when he was moved from Robben Island to Victor Verster Prison in 1988.

Nelson Mandela and food

Nelson Mandela believed in healthy living that included healthy eating and exercise.

Someone who played a prominent part in Madiba’s life, once he was released, was his personal chef, Xoliswa Ndoyiya. Her published cookbook contains his favorite recipes for dishes that included sour milk (amasi) and his favorite oxtail stew.[iii]

Healthy living during lockdown

Although the greater global population is currently in lockdown, we still have the choice of healthy eating and exercise. Fresh fruit and vegetables are currently available while different exercises and workouts are freely available on the internet.

It’s a personal choice how we will spend this time.

The biggest problem is snacking. During lockdown we have more time to go to the snack box or refrigerator. I met a man at the supermarket the other day, who told me that his trip to get fresh produce, was primarily motivated by the kind of chocolates, cookies, and sweets he was going to buy.

Thinking of those less fortunate

We can take the time to think of those less fortunate. There are families locked up in small houses or even sky-high apartments for weeks on end. Then there are those who don’t have access to any food or fresh produce. Then there are the homeless…

Just like Nelson Mandela, we can make the best of our current circumstances.

To do list

Here are a few ideas to help you on this path:

  • How grateful are you for what you currently have? Think of those less fortunate
  • How healthy is your lifestyle during lockdown?
  • Do you eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • Are you staying productive?
  • How do you cope with being locked up with many people?
  • How are you coping alone?
  • Contact us if you need any assistance
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Stay safe – stay connected

Brenda Hattingh


[i] Mandela, Nelson, R. (1994). Illustrated. The long walk to freedom. The  Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Little, Brown & Company: London.

     Hattingh, Brenda. (2014). Sevens steps to securing the Madiba Magic in life and            leadership. Currency Communications (Pty. Ltd.); Johannesburg.

[ii]   See: Long walk to freedom. p.134

[iii]   Xoliswa Ndoyiya & Anna Trapido. (2011). Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from              Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen.  Johannesburg: Real African Publishers.