Nelson Mandela's prison letters scooped by W W Norton

Nelson Mandela's prison letters scooped by W W Norton

W W Norton imprint Liveright Publishing is set to publish the "authorised and authentic" collection of Nelson Mandela's prison letters spanning the 27 years he was held as a political prisoner.

The imprint Liveright Publishing has scooped world rights to the letters from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the executors of Mandela’s estate and will publish the first volume in July 2018.

The letters—many of them never before seen by the public—have been assembled from the collections held by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the South African National Archives, and the Mandela family, amongst others, and includes a foreword by Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela.

Liveright’s editor-in-chief Robert Weil has previously worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales (WW Norton), which won the NAACP award in 2003.

While incarcerated in South Africa in four prisons as a sentenced prisoner between 1962 and 1990, Mandela wrote hundreds of letters to loved ones, followers, prison authorities and government officials documenting his plight as the "most prominent political prisoner of the twentieth century". Liveright will publish the letters in two separate editions: first as a one-volume containing approximately 250 selected letters timed for the centenary of Mandela’s birth in July 2018; and then later in a two-volume collection.

Mandela’s letters are organised chronologically and divided by the four prison venues in which he was incarcerated as a sentenced prisoner from 1962 to 1990. They are Pretoria Local Prison, Robben Island Prison; Pollsmoor Prison and finally, Victor Verster Prison until his eventual release on 11th February, 1990. To be published as The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, with accompanying facsimiles of some of the actual letters with generous annotations, the book provides a "personal and intimate" portrait of the lawyer and political activist as husband, parent, friend, and political prisoner, reflecting on everything from the trajectory of the anti-apartheid movement to the death of his beloved son, Thembi, in Cape Town in 1969.

"The volume covers every aspect of life behind bars for the future South African leader, whose voice the apartheid government attempted to stifle at every possible opportunity", the publisher said. "Thus forming a new autobiographical vision, the letters provide new insight into how Mandela maintained his inner spirits while living in almost complete isolation, and how he engaged with an outside world that became increasingly outraged by his plight as his imprisonment dragged into its four decade."

Senior researcher at Nelson Mandela Foundation Sahm Venter will be editing the book. He said: “This collection of letters reminds us of the exceptional pressures on Nelson Mandela to succumb to a system which aimed to wipe him from the public consciousness and which expected him to die a prisoner. His resilience and his determination, in the face of enormous odds, to maintain his dignity and authority throughout are apparent in this rich first-hand account of his life in prison.”

The collection also features a foreword by Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela. Born in 1979 in Welkom, South Africa, close to the town of Brandfort to which her grandmother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was banished by the apartheid regime, she works as a business developer and is a public speaker and a self-described serial entrepreneur. In 2017 she launched her luxury fashion range Swati by Roi Kaskara. She is the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela and Nomzamo Nobandla Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Nelson Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Foundation as his post-presidential office in 1999 when he stepped down after one term as president of South Africa. It is a not-for-profit organisation which has, since 2004, been transformed into an archive and trusted voice on his life and times.