Nelson Mandela’s Prison Letters

This year is the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth (July 18, 1918). Mandela is one of the most well-known freedom fighters of the 20th century. He was a leader in the radical African National Congress. He fought against apartheid in South Africa. For his role in the movement, he spent 27 years in jail as a political prisoner. 18 of those years were in the notorious maximum security prison on Robben Island. This prison is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open to the public. After his release in 1990, he worked with South African President, F. W. de Clerk, to end apartheid. Together, they lay the foundations for a democratic South Africa. For their efforts, Mandela and de Clerk were both awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993. In the first free and multi-racial election, Mandela was elected president of the new South Africa in 1994. During his term in office (1994-1999), he advocated for social justice, peace, and reconciliation. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 1995 to investigate human rights violations committed by both sides under apartheid. Mandela writes about his early life and years in prison in his 1994 memoir Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Noted South African writer, Mandla Langa, completed an unfinished draft of his second volume of memoirs. The volume was published in 2017 as Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years.

There are many events planned to commemorate this 100th anniversary year. This includes:

  • Former President Barack Obama delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg;
  • a Mandela 100th anniversary concert in Johannesburg with performers such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Femi Kuti in December; and
  • The publication of The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, a landmark collection of letters written by Mandela during his time in jail.

The volume contains 255 letters written to family, friends, prison authorities, and government officials from the years 1962 to 1990, when he was a political prisoner. It was compiled from collections held by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African National Archives. Many of the letters in the book were never before published. The prison correspondence offers an opportunity for further insights into a man who, despite spending many years in prison, never gave up hope and was instrumental to ending apartheid and starting a democratic state in South Africa. Click on the link below to reserve a copy of the book.

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela