"We never thought that we would die in jail. The morale was too high for that. We knew that one day we would return."
Recently the program Ideas on CBC and NPR radio aired a magnificent show delving into the life of Nelson Mandela. The source material was a set of interview tapes between Mandela ( or Madiba as he's occasionally called a nickname that recognizes his identity as not just national but tribal leader) and formerly exiled journalist Rick Stengel. The tapes, some 50 hours in all, have never been released before, and are housed at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory in Johannesburg.
As aired, the tapes record him recounting his life story from the time he caught pneumonia from standing outside in the cold too long having a fascinating conversation with the first Eskimo he'd ever met, to his time as a political prisoner to the negotiations with F.W. De Clerk which eventually led to the end of South African apartheid.
Even though the tapes go a long way toward humanizing Mandela, he yet remains larger than life even in these most intimate of interviews because the man truly is his reputation. Did you know he was expelled from a Methodist boarding school for leading a food boycott? He speaks of when recalling the deaths of his mother, and later his son while he was in prison and not allowed to go to their funerals. A model of perseverence, he explains how going without food isn't really so hard and says, tells the interviewer, "by the 2nd day it's quite easy". Just as he lead a nation to overcome hate and bigotry, he first had to overcome jealousy within himself.
You can find the podcast and background information on how the program was produced here. With the interviewer summarizing Mandela's biography as they go along this show should appeal both to those who have a deep knowledge of South Africa's history and people, especially young people who are just being introduced to this great man.
Filed under: Uncategorized