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The East African : December 9th 2013
12 The EastAfrican NEWS DECEMBER 7-13,2013 END OF AN ERA Thrice, Madiba created families, without ever becoming a family man The closest the iconic statesman came to leading a no≥mal family life was when he wed Evelyn Mase By KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA Special Correspondent F or a man renowned for his love and compassion, it is remarkable that none of Nelson Mandela’s six children or 12 grandchildren enjoyed a warm personal relationship with him. In his twilight years, Man- dela attempted to make amends for past neglect and recreate a proper family environment with mixed results. Relations between him and his ex-wives were frosty. And Mandela always felt guilty that he had neglected his mother. In 1968, his sister Mabel brought his aged mother from his Transkei homeland to see him in prison. He had last seen her very briefly at the Rivonia Trial, as a bent, frail figure. She died soon after, leaving Mandela full of recriminations about his neglect of her. The government did not allow him out to bury her. His son, Makgatho, dropped out of school and stopped visiting his father in prison in the 1980s. Makgatho’s sister, Makaziwe, would advise a furious Mandela to let him be because “I suspect that Kgatho feels neglected emotionally by both his parents.” Makgatho, Mandela’s second child with first wife Evelyn, died of Aids in January 2005. His first son from the same marriage, Thembi, did not communicate with his father during his imprisonment and eventually died without ever doing so before his release. Mandela married three wom- en of varying temperaments and dispositions — one a feisty choleric, the other a domestic melancholic and the last a phlegmatic stateswoman. In each case, it seems that Mandela only created families without ever becoming a family man. The closest Mandela came to leading a normal family life was when he wed his first wife Evelyn Mase, Walter Sisulu’s plainlooking cousin, in a colourless wedding in 1944. Evelyn was a supportive, do- mestic wife — but she abhorred politics and would later leave Mandela, joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses. With Evelyn, Mandela was a kind and helpful husband. He had no inhibitions about the role to his fellow prisoners, and even to his warders. But he found it harder to relate to his family.” Mandela’s imprisonment would turn Winnie into a radical activist who would draw the government’s attention to herself. She was arrested and imprisoned more than once, leaving the children in the care of friends and relatives. They were shuttled from house to house. Mandela felt guilty that he was not able to be with Winnie and protect her from the persecution and torture the apartheid government put her through. Winnie, too, seemed unful- filled by their marriage. She once told a journalist, “Nelson is 63 now, and I am like a young girl, still longing for the experience of married life.” After Mandela’s release from prison, he found it hard to connect with his children. They found him aloof and his two youngest daughters were much closer to their mother. “Mummy, you know we were better off with daddy in prison,” Winnie recalled Zindzi telling her a week after Mandela’s release. “We had access to him; we could talk to him as a father. Now all that has gone.” Six years later, Winnie com- Nelson Mandela with family members on the eve of his 93rd birthday on July 17, 2011. Picture: AFP of men and women; he helped his wife with the shopping, bathing the children and sometimes even cooking when he was free. Evelyn left Mandela just be- fore the 1962 treason trial, emptying the house of all its contents, even of its curtains. She took Makgatho and left Mandela with their two toddlers. Their son, Thembi, and their only daughter, Makaziwe, who had been named after another daughter who died in infancy, were greatly upset. Makaziwe nursed a grudge against her father into her adult life. Mandela recalled to Joe Slovo’s daughter Gillian — who had likewise suffered as a result of her father’s commitment to the struggle — how he had tried to hug Maki after being released from prison. She had flinched away from him, saying: “You are a father to all our people, but you have never had the time to be a father to me.” Although his divorce from Evelyn had left great resentment, Mandela’s marriage to MANDELA’S FAMILY Dead family member Male Female 1 Evelyn Mase (married 1944) - Died 2004 FIRST MARIAGE Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela THIRD MARIAGE Madiba/Thembi - Born 1945 - Died 1969 Makaziwe - Born 1948) - Died after 9 months Makgatho - Born 1950 - Died 2005 Makaziwe (Maki) - Born-1954 3 Graça Machel (married 1998) SECOND MARIAGE 2 Nomzamo Winnie Madikezela (married 1958) Winnie Madikizela in 1958 held out the best prospect for a happy family. Yet, it, too, would yield much disappointment. Winnie was Johannesburg’s first black social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. She was passionate, beautiful and glamorous, but even with these attractions, she would soon realise that they alone would be no match for the politics that dominated Mandela’s life. “There never was any kind of life I can recall as family life, a young bride’s life where you sit with your husband. You just couldn’t tear Nelson from the people: The struggle, the nation came first,” she later recalled. By the end of the 1950s, Man- dela’s law practice in partnership with Tambo had collapsed; the family was financially ruined. When Mandela was chosen to go underground in 1961 to organise a guerilla army for the proscribed ANC, he arrived home to tell Winnie that he was going away for a long time. She packed tearfully and as she did, ABSENTEE DAD While underground and later on trial, Mandela had already grown more distant from his children as his political life absorbed him. JAIL TERM: In jail, he paid a heavier domestic price. He was cut off from his second family during their formative years. DISTANT: His children grew away from him, and began to see him as an imperious myth. appealed to him to spare some minutes for the family. He was arrested after a year in hiding and sentenced to five years in prison. Even before completing this first term, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with other ANC members at the infamous Rivonia Trial. He would be an absentee parent for most of his children for the next 27 years. Yet, even from the grimness of Robben Island, Mandela would attempt to be a father to his children. His two daughters with Winnie, Zenani and Zindzi, found him to be a demanding, ambitious father. He set very high educational goals for them. On their rare prison visits, Zenani - Born 1959 Zindziswa - Born 1960 his children seemed almost as strangers. He could not touch or feel them, and he could not keep pace with their adulthood as they went their independent ways. Mandela’s biographer, Antho- ny Sampson, explains his later lack of closeness with his family thus: “[He] was able to relate plained: “My children still wait for the return of their father. He has never returned even emotionally. He can no longer relate to the family as a family. He relates to the struggle which has been his lifetime.” There are those who say prison and the struggle shaped Mandela’s family life, but his breakup with Winnie after his release was more political than personal. Time editor Richard Stengel, who collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, says Mandela was weighed down by regret. “The regrets begin with his role in his own family, as a father, as a husband, and as a son. Whenever he talked about his mother, he used to choke up. He told that wonderful story about how when he brought his mother to Johannesburg for the first time... People were saying her son was a criminal, and the police were coming to her house. She couldn’t understand it. He had great regrets about what happened to his mother. He had regrets about what happened to his first marriage, his children by his first marriage, his very frosty relations with those kids.” It was worse with his grand- children, who seemed to have only a mercenary interest in the old man. “Around Christmas, they re- member they have a grandfather,” he explained. “They run around me and tell me how much they love me… and I know what question will follow: What are you going to give us?” As president, Mandela lived a lonely, solitary life. He had no friends. He had been separated from his family for over a quarter of a century but as president, they now found him even less accessible.
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