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But just as I am convinced that my wife's life while I was in prison was more difficult than mine, my own return was also more difficult for her than it was for me. She married a man who soon left her; that man became a myth; and then that myth returned home and proved to be just a man after all. Unstable personal lives seemed freedom fighters' destiny, he said. Jessie Duarte, Mandela's assistant after , has described their relationship like this: "I don't know if you have ever seen them together, but there is no one else around in the same room as the two of them when they're together.

Apart from the break-up of two marriages, Mandela endured other private sorrows: not just the death in infancy of his first daughter but also, perhaps more painfully, the lost of his first-born son, Thembekile, who died in a car accident in Mandela, who was in prison, was denied permission to attend his son's funeral.

Instead of being able to comfort and draw comfort from his family, he sat alone in his Robben Island cell. Finally, "Walter Sisulu went in there, and - they just sat silently there. I think they held hands. Then there was the pain of being taken to prison, leaving behind Winnie and their little girls. Zindzi was barely two years old. She was 15 when she met "this person who was very mythical to me" and saw her Tata, behind prison glass, again.

In his autobiography, Mandela described her shyness during her first visit: "I am sure it was not easy for her finally to see a father she had never really known, a father who could love her only from a distance, who seemed to belong not to her but to the people. When he finally walked out of prison in February , thousands waited to greet him, and Zindzi realised "that as much as I wanted my father to come back home to me, he was coming back to the nation".


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But: "You learn - to shift emotional gear, to move to another emotional space and to function in a different type of reality altogether. And then you're grateful for those moments you do spend with him.

The family did spend many more moments with Mandela after he retired. Indeed, announcing his retirement in , he pleaded for the space to "spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself". Those retirement years were filled with the presence of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As Zindzi described it, his interactions with his grandchildren were "real" - they would perhaps ask him to go outside or scold him for not adding salt to the meat - and kept him "grounded".

A Father's Legacy: Your Life Story in Your Own Words

She added: "My father is a very loving person - but he still finds it hard to be physical because he had no physical contact for so many years. Retirement was also filled with a demanding schedule, including embarking on peace missions and being visited by ANC members seeking his counsel.

He was, after all, still a leader, and not just a political leader. On the January afternoon of his son Makgatho's death, he called a press conference. This courage flows through generations. In , Mandla stepped into the shoes that could have been his grandfather's in a different world.

The Experience of a Lifetime

Mandela's father had been stripped of his chieftainship shortly after Mandela's birth in for defying a magistrate's order to appear in court. The chieftainship was bestowed on the royal Madiba clan again in ; Mandla became chief. Mandla has described how Mandela, his "pillar of strength", persuaded him to return to university to complete his political science studies.

Those close to the chief confirm that he was "very fond" of his grandfather and that the two maintained strong ties. Mandla's chieftaincy represents continuity, in one sense, for the Mandela family. But Zindzi, in her interview, offered thoughts on how the family would continue her father's legacy. We are his children, we are all part of his experience, we are all enjoying what we are enjoying now because of his contribution. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

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