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Manuscript of the Month: July 2013

from the Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives

Letter from Nelson Mandela (Madiba)

to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi (Shenge)

In 1989, in the lead up to the end of Apartheid, South Africa was in a state of chaos.  KwaZulu-Natal was particularly bad, with a civil war taking place in the Pietermaritzburg area.  Daily incidents of violence were taking place between Inkatha (IFP) supporters and United Democratic Front (UDF)/ African National Congress (ANC) supporters.  This culminated in the Seven Days War in Edendale, which took place from 25-31 March 1990.


On 3 February 1989, Nelson Mandela (Madiba) wrote a letter to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi (Shenge), thanking him for the telex letter he had sent, on behalf of King Zwelithini and Inkatha, on the occasion of Madiba’s 70th birthday.  Mandela was at the time being held in the Victor Verster Prison in Paarl.


In this letter, Madiba thanked Shenge for a previous letter, and for his persistent demands that political prisoners should be released before negotiations could begin.  Madiba wished to see a restoration of the cordial relations, which had previously existed between the ANC and Inkatha.


He referred to the violence and “deplorable conflicts now taking place in Natal.”   It was Mandela’s wish that the violence should stop.  He wrote that “At no other time in our history has it become so crucial for our people to speak with one voice”, and “In my entire political career few things have distressed me as to see our people killing one another, as is now happening”.


This letter was sent by Xerox telecopier from the American Consulate in Durban to an unknown recipient on 6 February 1989.  It is now in the Natal Room Collection at the Alan Paton Centre.

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