Mandela Troubled by ‘Saint’ Image, He Says in New Book

South Africa's Former President Nelson Mandela
Conversations with Myself is a collection drawn from Mandela’s personal archive of letters and journals, providing a glimpse into the human being behind the public image, his foundation said in an e-mailed statement today. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is troubled by people who see him as a living saint, he says in a new book due for worldwide release tomorrow.

“Conversations with Myself” is a collection drawn from Mandela’s personal archive of letters and journals, providing a glimpse into the human being behind the public image, his foundation said in an e-mailed statement today. The book, with a foreword written by U.S. President Barack Obama, will be launched in 20 languages across the globe.

“One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint,” Mandela says in an extract of the book published by the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times yesterday. “I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.”

Mandela, who turned 92 on July 18, has grown increasingly frail, cutting back on his public engagements this year. He missed an annual memorial lecture delivered in his honor in July, the first time he failed to appear at the event since it was launched eight years ago. Mandela made a brief appearance at the soccer World Cup final in Johannesburg on July 11, waving to fans as he was driven around the field in a golf cart.

‘Extraordinary Service’

The anti-apartheid campaigner, who spent 27 years in prison during white rule, served for five years as president following South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. Since stepping down, he has campaigned for children’s rights, global peace and greater access to treatment for AIDS sufferers.

Obama said the book does an “extraordinary service” by giving the public a picture of “Mandela the man.” He visited Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island in 2006.

Standing in the cell, “I tried to imagine Mandela -- the legend who had changed history -- as Mandela the man who had sacrificed so much for change,” Obama writes in the forward of the book.

Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress in 1944. He was convicted of sabotage on June 12, 1964, sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to Robben Island, 7 kilometers (4 miles) off the coast of Cape Town, where he spent 18 years.

The Nobel peace prize winner opted to forgive his captors after his release and used his popularity to forge greater understanding between whites and blacks in South Africa. As a sign of reconciliation, he supported the then predominantly white national rugby team, known as the Springboks, in 1995 by donning a team jersey when they won the World Cup.

Mandela’s relationship with the Springboks was captured by Clint Eastwood in his 2009 movie, Invictus, which starred Morgan Freeman as the former president.


In a transcript of an interview included in “Conversations with Myself,” Mandela reflects on the view that he is too willing to see the good in other people.

“That has been said right from my adolescence,” the transcript, published on the foundation’s website, says. “There is an element of trust in that. But when you are a public figure you have to accept the integrity of other people until there is evidence to the contrary.”

The book, published in South Africa by Macmillan Publishers Ltd., was compiled by the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Center of Memory and Dialogue. It includes letters Mandela wrote to his children, dreams that he jotted on a calendar and extracts of recorded conversations he had with friends, including Ahmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island.

“A lot has been written about Mandela,” Kathrada said in an interview on the foundation’s website. “But there’s hardly anything in his own words.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nasreen Seria in Johannesburg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at