If they got a shock they endured it with grace

Nelson Mandela, diary entry, 13th Jan 1990.
Courtesy of Nelson Mandela Foundation.

When he wrote this diary entry in January of 1990, Nelson Mandela was housed at Victor Verster Prison in South Africa. For the past 27 years, as a result of his anti-apartheid activism, he had been imprisoned at three different locations, with 18 of those years spent in a cell measuring 8ft by 7ft on Robben Island, a straw mat on which to sleep and little contact with the outside world. All endured with grace. Thankfully, this entry would be his last as a prisoner: weeks later, he walked free. In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; in 1994 he became President of South Africa.

The Diary Entry

Saturday, January 13

Flock of ducks walks clumsily into the lounge and loiter about apparently unaware of my presence. Males with loud colours, but keeping their dignity and not behaving like playboys. Moments later they become aware of my presence. If they got a shock they endured it with grace. Nevertheless, I detect some invisible feeling of unease on their part. It seems as if their consciences are worrying them, and although I feared that very soon their droppings will decorate the expensive carpet, I derive some satisfaction when I notice that their consciences are worrying them. Suddenly they squawk repeatedly and then file out. I was relieved. They behave far better than my grandchildren. They always leave the house upside down.

Further Reading

Should you wish to read more of Nelson Mandela’s diary entries, I recommend getting hold of a copy of Conversations with Myself, published in 2010 and with a foreword by Barack Obama. It’s a powerful and intimate book filled with his diary entries, letters, speeches, transcripts, and notes. Effectively a biography of the great man, but told through his personal papers.

Diary entry reprinted by kind permission of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *