The Mandela Effect : Throughline For nearly thirty years, the South African government held a man it initially labeled prisoner number 46664, the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. But in 1994, Mandela transformed from the country's 'number one terrorist' into its first Black president, ushering in a new era of democracy. Today, though, many in South Africa see Mandela's party, the ANC, as corrupt and responsible for the country's problems. It's an ongoing political saga, with all sides attempting to weaponize parts of the past – especially Nelson Mandela's legacy. On today's episode, we tell Mandela's story: the man, the myth, and the cost of freedom.

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The Mandela Effect

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It happened on a Thursday.


ABDELFATAH: Acting on a tip from an informant, the police raided a farm where an underground militia was believed to be plotting a violent insurrection against the government. Nineteen people were arrested.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Reading) The accused deliberately and maliciously plotted and engineered the commission of acts of violence and destruction throughout the country. Their combined operations were planned to lead to confusion, violent insurrection and rebellion.

ABDELFATAH: The men were put on trial, and the leader of the group, already serving a short stint in prison on a separate charge, was considered to be...

SISONKE MSIMANG: The No. 1 terrorist.

RICHARD STENGEL: His own lawyers - they were looking to get him off, or at the very least, make sure he didn't get the death penalty. And he was always concerned about generating publicity for the struggle.

ABDELFATAH: Day after day, the trial continued, and with it, the No. 1 terrorist became a kind of celebrity. Some called him a freedom fighter. His picture was everywhere - dressed sharply, proudly sitting alongside his young, glamorous wife. The world waited to learn what fate had in store for him and his accomplices.

MSIMANG: There would be good reason for them to sentence him to death. So there's a very strong feeling that he, if not all of them, may be hung.


NELSON MANDELA: The idea of a Democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. If it need be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die.


In 1964, after this trial, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. For years, he was labeled by the state as Prisoner 46664. But eventually, against all odds, in 1994, he transformed from South Africa's No. 1 terrorist into South Africa's first Black president, ushering in a new era of democracy.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hopes were high back in 1994, as years of segregation and white rule came to an end.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Nelson Mandela talked about a country where every citizen would live a dignified life and be treated equally.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But 30 years on, many say there's little to celebrate.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: South Africa's violent crime rates are among the worst in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Unemployment is at an all-time high.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Inequality has been growing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hope's been replaced by disappointment and skepticism.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: They're asking themselves, why do we have this kind of a situation?

SEAN JACOBS: If you're 25, South Africa is 30 years old. You don't know what apartheid was. You didn't live it. You didn't see it. And that's a fair assessment of the new South Africa.

ARABLOUEI: The new South Africa, where everyone now has the right to vote. But many, especially in the Black community, don't even have access to clean water.

JACOBS: Most whites are still at the top. Most Black people are still at the bottom. Up to, like, 60% of Black people are considered poor.

ARABLOUEI: This is Sean Jacobs. He's a professor of international affairs at The New School. He grew up in Cape Town during apartheid and says, because of that, he feels hopeful despite these challenges.

JACOBS: I grew up in a township. I know the place where my father was removed from. I know what the apartheid landscape was like. So it's - that '94, for me, is like, we won something. They created the context for us to kind of wrestle, think through, create conditions, work at it to create this other kind of society.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Summer 29 of May this year, South African citizens will go to the polls with a choice on who they want to lead this country.

ABDELFATAH: The upcoming elections could mark a turning point in the story of South Africa in pursuit of that other kind of society. For the first time since Nelson Mandela took office back in 1994, 30 years ago, his party, the African National Congress, or ANC, may not win a majority of the votes.

ARABLOUEI: Many in South Africa see the party as corrupt and responsible for the country's problems. It's been a complicated political saga with all sides attempting to weaponize parts of the past, especially the legacy of Nelson Mandela.


N MANDELA: I never wanted to be regarded as an angel. I'm an ordinary human being with weaknesses, some of them fundamental, and I've made many mistakes in my life. I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.

ABDELFATAH: Despite his pleas, Mandela is often characterized as a kind of saint, the miraculous savior of South Africa.

ARABLOUEI: But the struggle against apartheid was long and painstaking. There were setbacks, disagreements, compromises, violence, all of which helped produce the South Africa of today.

ABDELFATAH: And that's where this episode will sit - in that murky space between the myth and the man, exploring the complicated questions it raises about the nature of resistance movements, about when, if ever, violence is justified, and what ultimately is the cost of freedom.


PHILLIP: This is Phillip (ph) from Woodbury, Minn., and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Part 1 - The Young Lions.


N MANDELA: I grew up in a royal court. The elders of the tribe - they all tell me stories about the battles which were fought when the whites came and the heroes that emerged from those battles.

ABDELFATAH: Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in the Transkei, a region in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The son of a chief, he was given the name Rolihlahla Mandela at birth. In Xhosa, it literally translates to pulling the branch from a tree. Coloquially, it means troublemaker.


STENGEL: South Africa was then a British colony, but the British had never really conquered that region of South Africa.

ABDELFATAH: The short of it is, South Africa had been colonized for centuries, first by the Dutch who used it as a trading base with Asia, and then by the British who wanted access to the enormous reserves of gold and diamonds buried in the land. There were bloody wars over territory, which put most South Africans under their control. The Transkei, Mandela's home, was the last big area where Black South Africans could still own land.

STENGEL: It was, in many ways, an all-Black world.

ABDELFATAH: This is Richard Stengel. Alongside Mandela, he wrote "Long Walk To Freedom," the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Most of the recordings you're hearing of Mandela's voice in this episode come from interviews Richard conducted with him for that book.

STENGEL: His confidence, his sense of self, his sense of African history, even his sense of destiny, I think, came from those early days.


N MANDELA: And I had this ambition, you know?

ABDELFATAH: A bright child, Rolihlahla Mandela began school at age 7 in a single-room schoolhouse near his home village.


N MANDELA: So the teacher automatically gave you a name - an English name - when you went to school. When you arrived, they would say, well, your name is Nelson.

ABDELFATAH: And for the rest of his life, the world would know Rolihlahla as Nelson Mandela.

STENGEL: The thing that I think changed the trajectory of his life was when he ran away to Johannesburg.

ARABLOUEI: It was 1941.


N MANDELA: I wanted to train as a lawyer.

ARABLOUEI: Apartheid didn't officially exist yet, but racial prejudice was everywhere, the result of centuries of colonization.


N MANDELA: I met people like Walter Sisulu.

ARABLOUEI: Who was a giant in the liberation movement.


WALTER SISULU: Oppressed people of South Africa are determined as never before to carry on until freedom is won.


N MANDELA: There is people who exercised that influence on me. And I discovered that there was a world which I did not know. It was doors open to me.

STENGEL: And that was the first time that he experienced the weight of racial prejudice.


N MANDELA: I had, then, to unlearn what I had learnt.

ARABLOUEI: The South Africa that Mandela was opening his eyes to was a bleak one. Although South Africa's population was nearly 70% Black, politics were dominated by the minority white population, most of whom were the descendants of Dutch colonists called Afrikaners. And with the series of laws in the early 1900s, the exclusively white parliament systematically moved land out of the hands of Black South Africans and into the hands of white South Africans. And Black South Africans across the country were systematically barred from voting.

ABDELFATAH: A few years after moving to Johannesburg, Mandela joined the African National Congress, or ANC, a political organization that advocated for the rights of Black South Africans.

STENGEL: It was self-consciously nonviolent.

ABDELFATAH: Since its founding in 1912, the ANC had mostly operated as a letter-writing organization. Until...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Daniel Francois Malan) We can act in only one of two directions. Either we must follow the course of equality, which must eventually mean national suicide for the white race, or we must take the course of separation. Daniel Francois Malan.


ABDELFATAH: In 1948, a new exclusively Afrikaner government, led by Prime Minister Daniel Francois Malan, came to power in South Africa and put in place a new policy called apartheid.

ARABLOUEI: Apartheid shaped every part of life for Black and white South Africans, as well as the small but significant populations of mixed raced, quote, "colored and Indian people" whose ancestors were often brought to South Africa as slaves and indentured servants.

ABDELFATAH: Black people were removed from their homes and forced to live either in urban townships, often without electricity or municipal services, or rural areas called Bantustans that were overcrowded and impoverished.

ARABLOUEI: Society was completely segregated. If you were Black, colored or Indian, you needed a passbook to travel into any white area, and there was a strict censorship of the media.

ABDELFATAH: Faced with this escalating prejudice, Mandela and other young members of the ANC, including Walter Sisulu and Mandela's partner in his law practice, Oliver Tambo, teamed up to create the ANC Youth League.

TSHEPO MOLOI: These are young people who start to say, we need to change strategy.

ABDELFATAH: This is Tshepo Moloi. He's a lecturer in the history department at the University of Johannesburg.

MOLOI: We need to be more confrontational now.

ABDELFATAH: Their stance earned them the nickname the young lions. They launched what was called the Defiance Campaign.


MOLOI: The laws that they defied was to walk into white areas without permission.


MSIMANG: When the police come, you expect that they will do what they will do. The dogs will bark, and they may spit on you, but you do not move.

ABDELFATAH: This is Sisonke Msimang. She's the author of the book, "The Resurrection Of Winnie Mandela."

MSIMANG: Nelson Mandela is the coordinator of the Defiance Campaign in the Johannesburg area.

STENGEL: He said, I violated the laws, but the laws themselves are unjust. The laws themselves should be on trial.

ARABLOUEI: In the midst of all this change, Mandela has his entire world upended when he meets his match.

MSIMANG: So she's significantly younger than him. She's very, very stubborn, and she's very determined to learn.

ARABLOUEI: Her name was Winnie Madikizela. She was the first Black female social worker in South Africa.

MSIMANG: And at a time in the 1950s when women - African women - certainly didn't get that level of education, she was a real achiever.


ARABLOUEI: They fell head over heels for each other.

MSIMANG: And they kind of never looked back from there.

ARABLOUEI: And a couple of years later, in 1958, Nelson and Winnie got married against the backdrop of the ongoing anti-apartheid struggle.


ARABLOUEI: A struggle that was about to take a sharp turn as the mood in South Africa darkened further.


MOLOI: On the 21 of March, 1960...

MSIMANG: Activists go on a march in a place called Sharpeville.


MOLOI: The group of people who lived in Sharpeville went to the police station to surrender their passbooks and be arrested. The police opened fire on the people - the crowd which was there.

MSIMANG: And as they begin to shoot, many of the protesters start to run away. Sixty-nine people are killed, most of them shot in the back.

MOLOI: And scores of others were injured.

MSIMANG: The 21 of March becomes this seminal moment in which it is clear that the apartheid regime is not going to turn back, and it's only going to get worse.

ARABLOUEI: The South African government declared a state of emergency nine days after the massacre and banned the ANC and another Black liberation organization called the Pan Africanist Congress, who had organized the Sharpeville protests. The organizations were forced to operate in exile from nearby countries like Tanzania and Zambia.

STENGEL: Mandela began to think that nonviolent protest wasn't going to overturn apartheid. And Mandela then became the founder of uMkhonto we Sizwe...

MSIMANG: uMkhonto we Sizwe, which means the spear of the nation...

STENGEL: ...Spear of the nation...

MSIMANG: ...A revolutionary army.

STENGEL: ...Which was the military wing of the ANC.

MSIMANG: There was a manifesto of uMkhonto we Sizwe that was published on the 16 of December, 1961. And it said, the time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices - submit or fight.


MSIMANG: That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit, and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom.

STENGEL: Even though Mandela - he abhorred violence, morally, his goal, to which everything was subordinate, was freedom for my people - one person, one vote. When I asked him about the turn - the embrace of violence - he said...


N MANDELA: The strategy I would use would depend on the conditions. That's why we resorted to violence, for example - because the conditions demanded that we should take up arms.

STENGEL: Almost in these words, for Gandhi, nonviolence was a moral principle.


N MANDELA: Gandhi would never have agreed.

STENGEL: For me, it was a tactic, and when a tactic is not working, you change it. He thought this was a way of putting more pressure on the government and perhaps getting more international support. And that was more his goal than overturning the state or defeating the very powerful South African military.

ARABLOUEI: Which was getting support and weaponry from the West, including the U.S., who saw the South African government as an ally in its cold war against communism.

ABDELFATAH: Meanwhile, the ANC and its members were considered an enemy in that war because of their links to the Soviet Union and their new willingness to engage in violence. Mandela was placed on the U.S. terrorism watch list.

STENGEL: Mandela, then, shortly thereafter, went underground, and he started to build a guerrilla movement.

MSIMANG: They begin to call him the Black Pimpernel. He's like this spy figure.

ABDELFATAH: Sometimes he'd wear disguises, sneak into the country and show up at home without notice, surprising Winnie and their daughters.

MSIMANG: And they'll have a chance to touch base and recuperate. And then he'll be gone again, and she can't ask any questions about where he's going.

ABDELFATAH: One day, Winnie receives news that authorities have raided a farm outside Johannesburg, which housed the ANC's base in South Africa. The evidence they gathered there was enough to bring her husband to trial for treason and sabotage. He was already serving a short stint in prison on a separate charge, but now the South African government had its No. 1 terrorist cornered on a much more serious charge where the stakes would be life or death.

MSIMANG: So Winnie comes every morning - very well dressed - often very stark white or very bright colors. So she's very attuned to the public space as a space of political theater.

ABDELFATAH: And on June 11, 1964, the verdict came down in the now infamous Rivonia Trial.


N MANDELA: It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.


ARABLOUEI: A life sentence in prison. Mandela and his comrades in uMkhonto we Sizwe are taken away to Robben Island - South Africa's maximum-security prison. Winnie and their daughters are not allowed to say goodbye.


WINNIE MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: Those who are outside prison walls are simply in a bigger prison.

ARABLOUEI: And for 27 years, prison gates and glass partitions would separate their worlds.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: We are all really in prison, in a bigger apartheid prison.


ABDELFATAH: Coming up, in Nelson's absence, Winnie takes up the spear of the nation.


PAULINA: Hello. This is Paulina (ph) from Toronto, Canada, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Part 2 - 27 Years.


N MANDELA: When we arrived, they asked us to crush stones to make gravel. And they're big stones. They're pretty big stones. They had one on the ground. And then you have a hammer, and you break the stones on this big stone.


STENGEL: Robben Island is a spectacularly beautiful island just a few miles off the coast of Cape Town. People called it South Africa's Alcatraz. Robben is the word for seal. There were thousands of seals on the beach, thousands and thousands of penguins.


STENGEL: It was like a nature reserve with a prison on it.


MSIMANG: When he was on Robben Island, no images of Mandela were allowed to be displayed, and the colors of the African National Congress were banned. So Winnie Mandela became the person who carries his voice...


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: I was the most unmarried married woman because we really never lived together.

MSIMANG: ...Who reminds us of his image. And the name of Nelson Mandela is a name that must be spoken and spoken and spoken because that is the way of keeping him alive - literally keeping him alive because the sense that he cannot die because he would be too big of a martyr.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: Our communication as family was always through the letters and through the bars, the prison bars.

ABDELFATAH: This is some of what they wrote to each other, read by voice actors.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie, your beautiful photo still stands about two feet above my left shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) I still cannot believe that at last, I've heard from you, darling.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) I dusted carefully every morning.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) Darling, when you get the children's school reports, please study them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie, you may find that the cell is an ideal place...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) Zeni wants to be a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) ...To learn to know yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) And Zindzi wants to be a teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) I really cannot...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) ...Understand...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) It may be long...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) ...Why there is...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) ...Before I come.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) ...So much harshness.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela) Lots of love and a million kisses with 16 million salutes to you. Forever yours.

MSIMANG: Winnie Mandela was seen as - and described as - a mother of the nation.

ABDELFATAH: A young mother to two little girls who faced down the apartheid state for 27 years - alone.

MSIMANG: Longing for a beloved.

ABDELFATAH: An experience many Black South African women had. Around the country, husbands and fathers would travel to Johannesburg, a city literally sitting on a gold mine to work for powerful mining companies that had influence over the government.

MSIMANG: And often, they would only see their families once a year.

ABDELFATAH: The difference for Winnie was that she also had the apartheid state closely monitoring her every move.

MSIMANG: The apartheid state had a high degree of surveillance. It was full of police officers and full of military personnel.

ABDELFATAH: In 1969, Winnie was arrested in the middle of the night, still in her pajamas, and taken to prison.

MSIMANG: And they keep her under what is called the Terrorism Act. So it allows anyone who's suspected of involvement in terrorism to be detained without trial. And so what then begins is a series of detentions without trial. They string her along.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: First thing you do when you get into the cell is to - is that at least you have a pin or something on you so you can scratch the calendar on the wall. And that is how I kept sane - because you lose track of the time and date.

ABDELFATAH: For more than a year, she was locked in solitary confinement. She was beaten, tortured.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: I reached a point, I think, a threshold where the body could not take the pain anymore, and then I would faint.

ABDELFATAH: She was even denied sanitary pads when she was on her period.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: That is the extent to which they dehumanized you.

MSIMANG: It's a very, very difficult time for her.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: And when they threw a bucket of water to wake me up, I got up and I started fighting all over again.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Nelson Mandela) My dearest Winnie, I sincerely don't know whether you will ever get this particular one.

ARABLOUEI: During Nelson Mandela's time in prison, information about the outside world was scarce. Sometimes the guards would leave newspaper clippings in his cell with bad news about Winnie - a kind of psychological torment. But there was nothing he could do. He was basically forced to create an alternate reality within the prison walls.

STENGEL: And you see these incredible diaries that he kept of how many pushups and situps he did every day, you know, how long he ran in place, the books that he read, how far he got. I mean, he famously decided to learn Afrikaans in prison. He memorized Afrikaans poetry. He learned about rugby, which was the great Afrikan sport. He was always preparing for the time that he got out.


N MANDELA: They wanted to break our spirits. So what we did was to sing freedom songs as we were working. And then, of course, dancing to the music as we were working, you know?

ARABLOUEI: The entire time Nelson Mandela was in prison, the ANC was in exile, strategizing from afar, seeking international support for the movement.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Abroad, apartheid was widely seen as oppression. Demonstrations sometimes recalled the most violent racial clashes of the 1960s.

ARABLOUEI: But within South Africa, it was mostly silent. The white authorities made sure of it. Then in the early 1970s, new voices in the struggle began to break that silence.


STEVE BIKO: Changes which are to come can only come as a result of a program worked out by Black people.

MOLOI: You have establishment of what was known as SASO.


BIKO = ACTIVIST: SASO, the South African Student Organization.

MOLOI: And it's led by people like Steve Biko.


BIKO = ACTIVIST: Which are firmly based on Black consciousness.

ARABLOUEI: Steve Biko, a student himself, was influenced by the Black power movement in the United States. He pushed socialist ideas, advocated for Black consciousness, which promoted pride in Black culture and political solidarity, and famously said SASO was for all people who are oppressed.

JACOBS: It's almost like a perfect storm of a mass movement was coming back.

ARABLOUEI: This is Sean Jacobs again.

JACOBS: Displaying flags, shouting the ANC's name, singing their songs.

ARABLOUEI: And since the government had completely banned TV in South Africa, radio became a haven for the movement. Heavily censored, the ANC would broadcast its message from neighboring countries on a guerilla station called Radio Freedom.

ABDELFATAH: As more students were arrested and imprisoned, Mandela began to meet some of them. These students had no memory of the Rivonia Trial, and some had never heard the name Nelson Mandela, which was censored everywhere in South Africa. He took them under his wing, educating them about the struggle a generation earlier, learning from them about the new generation of resistance. But as the resistance grew, the South African government cracked down harder.

ARABLOUEI: In 1976, some 20,000 schoolchildren took to the streets in a township called Soweto to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in Black schools. The police responded with extreme force, killing an estimated 176 students, though some sources say the death toll could be as high as 700.

ABDELFATAH: A year later, the leader of the student movement, Steve Biko, was killed from injuries sustained in police custody.

ARABLOUEI: And that same year, SASO was banned.

ABDELFATAH: With all of these actions, the government's message to the resistance was clear - be silent, or else. By the early 1980s, TV was no longer banned. It turns out it's hard to keep the world out forever. And despite, or perhaps because of, all the state violence of the previous decade, the resistance had grown bolder.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: (Singing) Before you shout about your broken plate, ask about the meal my family ate, madam, please.

ABDELFATAH: Workers began to mobilize.

JACOBS: Protesting all the time.

ABDELFATAH: Domestic laborers soon began organizing. Miners went on strike. They were the backbone of the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: (Singing) Madam please, before you ask me if your children are fine, ask me when, ask me when I last saw mine.

MSIMANG: There is no time when Winnie (ph) is in the public where she is not raising her fist, often saying, amandla, which means power. And then she would say, ngawethu. And that means is ours. So power is ours.

ABDELFATAH: Meanwhile, the ANC, still in exile, began to see Mandela and the other political prisoners as the key to the story they wanted to tell the world.

JACOBS: You have to focus on one person.

ABDELFATAH: And so the Free Mandela movement was born.


THE SPECIALS: (Singing) Free Nelson Mandela.

ABDELFATAH: Songs like this began to play worldwide, and protests broke out on university campuses across the U.S., calling for divestment from South Africa.


THE SPECIALS: (Singing) Free, free, free Nelson Mandela.


ZINDZI MANDELA: The prison authorities attempted to stop the statement being made, but he would have none of this and made it clear that he would make this statement to you, the people.


ARABLOUEI: On February 10, 1985, Winnie and Nelson's daughter Zindzi read a speech in Soweto's Jabulani Stadium, just down the road from where the student uprising had taken place nearly a decade earlier. Mandela had been offered release if he, quote, "unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon." This speech was his response to that offer.


Z MANDELA: My father says, I cannot and will not give any an undertaking. At the time when I and you, the people are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.



N MANDELA: I will return.

Z MANDELA: Amandla.


MSIMANG: He never regretted the use of violence in the early part of the ANC struggle. It was part of what had to be done while you have this characterization of the use of violence by nonstate actors as terrorism and the use of violence by state actors as legitimate.

ARABLOUEI: The thing is, the violence had shifted while he'd been in prison.

RONALD REAGAN: We read of violent attacks by Blacks against Blacks. Then there is the calculated terror by elements of the African National Congress, the mining of roads, the bombings of public places, designed to bring about further repression, the imposition of martial law and eventually creating the conditions for racial war.

ARABLOUEI: Winnie did nothing to distance herself from that world of violence. It's alleged that she was involved in the murders of innocent people. Perhaps the most egregious case was the killing of a 14-year-old boy named Stompie Seipei, who was last seen alive at the home of Winnie Mandela. This violence cast a shadow over Winnie, and she said it haunted her relationship with her husband, a claim he denied.


ABDELFATAH: On June 11, 1988, with international support continuing to grow, the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute concert was held in London and broadcast to 67 countries around the world.


TRACY CHAPMAN: (Singing) Don't you know talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper?

ABDELFATAH: The concert lasted 11 hours and featured some of the biggest artists of the day - Tracy Chapman, alone on the stage with an acoustic guitar, Whitney Houston, the Bee Gees and Sting with a massive show.


STING: (Singing) Free, free, set them free.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS: (Singing) Free, free, set them free.

ABDELFATAH: It's estimated that 600 million people tuned in.

JACOBS: You know, the Cold War is about to end. South Africa, internationally, South Africa is really now being isolated.

ARABLOUEI: Some countries put sanctions on South Africa, hitting the economy hard.

JACOBS: Even the United States had, I think, also sort of given up on them.

ARABLOUEI: So the president of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, arranged a meeting with Nelson Mandela to begin negotiating what a future South Africa might look like.


N MANDELA: Now, they told me that by half past 5 in the morning, I must be ready. So Major Marre (ph) came very early in the morning, found me dressed, and then looked at me from top down to my feet. And he says, no, Mandela, you're not well-dressed. And he untied the tie and tied it himself. And he also retied my shoelaces and stepped back and looked at me, and he says, now, now you're better.

ABDELFATAH: In 1990, Nelson Mandela would step outside the prison walls in his ill-fitting suit and feel the sunshine on his face as a free man for the first time in 27 years.


RACHEL: This is Rachel from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE on NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Part 3 - Free At Last.

MOLOI: I remember it was on a Sunday on the 11 of Feb. So we sat around at home and then switched on the TV just around before 1. We were waiting, and then nothing happened.


N MANDELA: And then I got a telephone call, and he asked if I could come out and walk to the gate.

MOLOI: Then there he was.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: There's Mr. Mandela, Mr. Nelson Mandela, a free man taking his first steps into a new South Africa. Mrs. Winnie Mandela next to him, waving to the crowds.

N MANDELA: I was surprised to see the crowd, which I did not expect. And I was fascinated to see so many whites amongst them. That had a formidable impact on me.

MOLOI: The image that I had of Mandela was the round-faced Mandela would be it. Now, I saw this old man with gray hair. And that moment, I don't know how to describe it, but it was so - it was, like, unbelievable.


N MANDELA: And then I went to the balcony and then read out the speech.

I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.


N MANDELA: I stand here before you, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.

MOLOI: Nelson Mandela (singing in non-English language spoken). Nelson Mandela (singing in non-English language spoken). Sort of that dirge saying Nelson Mandela, listen, you have been called by the people of South Africa. So people are calling on you. You repeat that dirge over and over again. Nelson Mandela (singing in non-English language spoken). Nelson Mandela (singing in non-English language spoken).


STENGEL: Do you feel that you came out a stronger man after all those years in prison than you were when you went into prison?

N MANDELA: I don't think I was fundamentally different from what I was before I went to jail, except that in jail, I had a lot of time to think about problems and to see the mistakes that we had committed. I came out mature. That I can say.


ABDELFATAH: A little more than two years after Mandela's release from prison, Richard Stengel, an American journalist, got a call out of the blue asking him to ghostwrite Mandela's autobiography.

STENGEL: They wanted a global audience. They wanted a big audience in the United States.

ABDELFATAH: The book would be an introduction to Mandela's story, told by him.

STENGEL: He had, you know, 200 more important things to do every day than talk to me.

ABDELFATAH: Things like drafting a new constitution, campaigning for the presidency, and, oh yeah, trying to avoid civil war. For eight months, Richard met with Mandela two or three times a week, sometimes in his office.

STENGEL: There's not a single piece of paper, nothing out of order.

ABDELFATAH: Sometimes at his home.

STENGEL: This tiny little house that was based on his last house in prison.

ABDELFATAH: Sometimes on the campaign trail.

STENGEL: It was actually probably way more dangerous than I knew at the time. What was going on in the country was the rise of this murky right-wing white supremacist movement.

ABDELFATAH: And naturally, Richard would catch these intimate glimpses of Mandela.

STENGEL: When we were traveling, the bodyguards used to say, Richard, you go wake up the old man.


STENGEL: I mean, I'd wake him up in his hotel room.

ABDELFATAH: Oh, wow. So he's in his pajamas. You'd saw him in his pajamas.

STENGEL: I saw him in his pajamas, and he wore very traditional pajamas. And he actually - he used to - he'd have these gigantic king-sized beds. And I would go in, and he would just be in a tiny corner of the bed at the edge. Remember, he slept in this tiny, tiny little space for almost three decades, and so much of that never left him. He was sort of a prisoner till the end of his days, in a way.

ARABLOUEI: Mandela had a monumental task before him. There was little time for anything else, including reconnecting with Winnie.

MSIMANG: They move in together like husband and wife, and they are on the road traveling across Africa and then the world, reintroducing Nelson Mandela to the world, right? So she's like, we don't have time to talk. And I think it's a very difficult time for both of them emotionally readjusting.

ARABLOUEI: And politically, many in Mandela's party, the African National Congress, believed Winnie had become a liability. She was seen as having blood on her hands. Other members of the ANC had also carried out violent attacks on civilians in the context of mob justice, but they weren't married to Nelson Mandela. And the story the ANC was telling the world was about Nelson, the peaceful freedom fighter. After all, while in prison, he had been shielded from the difficult choices Winnie had to make out in the world. He could remain immaculate. It's hard to say for sure what ultimately led to their separation. But those close to Mandela could see the toll it took on him.

MSIMANG: I think he's heartbroken. But also, while Winnie Mandela may be the love of his life romantically, the African National Congress and his people are the true love of his life.

STENGEL: I'd never written so much, so fast in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Part 1, a country childhood. Part 2, Johannesburg. Part 3, birth. Part 4...

ABDELFATAH: It was 1994, and as South Africa raced to its first democratic elections with Mandela positioned to be its first president, Richard was hard at work wrapping up the autobiography.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: Part 11, freedom.

ABDELFATAH: The book "Long Walk To Freedom" was published. Readers across the world absorbed Richard's words, Mandela's story, and songs of resistance morphed into songs of liberation, like this one from South Africa's Prophets of Da City.


N MANDELA: Never and never again...

ABDELFATAH: Mandela the militant.


N MANDELA: ...Shall it be...

ABDELFATAH: Mandela, the freedom fighter.


N MANDELA: ...That this beautiful land...

ABDELFATAH: Mandela, the terrorist...


N MANDELA: ...Will again experience...

ABDELFATAH: ...Was reborn...


N MANDELA: ...The oppression...

ABDELFATAH: ...As Mandela...


N MANDELA: ...Of one by another.

ABDELFATAH: ...The president.


PROPHETS OF DA CITY: (Singing) Excellent. Finally, a Black president to represent. I know it, so I speak it. I sow it, so I reap it. The poet will freak it.

MSIMANG: So often we talk about the end of apartheid as though it only freed Black people. But it freed white people, too. It allowed them to live in a society that didn't stifle their emotions, that didn't try to regulate every aspect of life. You have to control everybody in a society like that. And so one of the things that South Africa did not possess was a free press, which is not to say that white South Africans didn't know what was going on, but they certainly had highly curated views on people like Mandela.


N MANDELA: You have to recognize that people are produced by the mud in the society in which you live and that, therefore, they are human beings. They have got good points, they have got weak points. Your duty is to work with human beings as human beings not because you think they're angels.

ARABLOUEI: After Mandela is sworn in as South Africa's first Black president, one of his first orders of business is to assemble a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

MSIMANG: Mandela was not naive. Reconciliation was a means to an end. It was a political strategy. He championed it along with Archbishop Tutu.

ARABLOUEI: Desmond Tutu, the spiritual leader of the resistance.

MSIMANG: And they really led the charge around how if we're going to live together in the future, we have to live side by side, and we have to be able to forgive one another and listen to each other's stories.

ARABLOUEI: For seven years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated, quote, "gross human rights violations" that took place during apartheid - things like abductions, killings, torture. But controversially, it wasn't just white South Africans in the hot seat. Black South Africans who were accused of committing violent acts were also brought before the commission - most prominently, Winnie Mandela.

MSIMANG: Winnie Mandela was furious about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and she gave voice to a significant group of people who said, why are we being held to account in the same way as the white people? Because we were fighting for our liberation. We weren't the same. Why would you ask us to come here and explain ourselves as if we were equal parties in this war?

ARABLOUEI: And some took issue with the fact that the commission wasn't really interested in prosecuting people for their actions.

MSIMANG: And yet, a lot of truth was told, right? So a lot of Black people who had had relatives who were disappeared, who had been tortured, found out the truth about what had happened.

ABDELFATAH: Nelson Mandela had managed to do what many at the time believed was impossible - usher in a new democratic era for South Africa - one person, one vote - without the country descending into civil war, and build a relationship between his new South Africa and the West, who was essential for its economic future. That took a lot of compromise. He and the ANC walked this fine line between defending Black South Africans and reassuring white South Africans that he was also their leader.

ARABLOUEI: He famously sprinkled phrases of Afrikaans into his speeches and even wore the jersey of the country's rugby team, once a symbol of the white right, during the 1995 World Cup. And perhaps most significantly, his government agreed not to force white South Africans to return land to Black South Africans - a decision, some say, resulted in the economic inequality of apartheid persisting to this day.

ABDELFATAH: Yet one thing he refused to compromise on was his support for those who had backed the ANC and the resistance movement, including Cuban President Fidel Castro and president of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat. Richard asked him about that.

STENGEL: And it's one of the few times that you hear him get mad. And he said, who gave me money? Castro and Arafat. Who supported my family while I was in prison? Castro and Arafat. The West turned me down. America turned me down.


N MANDELA: Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle.

STENGEL: And he said, your enemies are not my enemies.

ABDELFATAH: Until the end of his life, Mandela was unwavering in his support for what he saw as revolutionary struggles around the world. In 1997, while still president, he said, quote, "we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."


N MANDELA: You can call it being political or a moral question, but for anybody who changes his principles depending on whom he is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: I sat there for 3 1/2 hours watching that machine. I watched those figures going down and down so slowly.

MSIMANG: When he was dying, Winnie was there with him. He asked for her, and even if he hadn't asked for her, she would have come.


MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: He drew his last breath and just rested.

ABDELFATAH: Winnie Mandela died a few years later, in 2018. Many of the people who worked tirelessly to bring apartheid to an end are now gone. But the struggle in South Africa continues. Perhaps the party that ushered in the revolution, the party that Nelson Mandela loved and was loyal to, has not achieved their vision of shared prosperity and justice for all South Africans. And perhaps that's a natural evolution in the story of resistance, revolution and reinvention. Their struggle was for freedom, and they achieved that. Younger generations of South Africans with no memory of apartheid can now ask themselves something new.

MOLOI: When they think about all this and think about the fact that they live in a free society, in a free South Africa, then they start to question, but what does being free mean?


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in non-English language spoken).

ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: And I'm Ramtin Arablouei, and you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me and...










ARABLOUEI: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl. The audio of this episode was mixed by Robert Rodriguez.

ABDELFATAH: Music for this episode was composed by Ramtin and his band Drop Electric, which includes...

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara.

ABDELFATAH: Thank you to Daniel de Kooning (ph), Milisuthando Bongela, Keletso Makofane, Yolanda Sangweni and Nic Neves for their voiceover work.

ARABLOUEI: Special thanks to Richard Stengel, Verne Harris and the Mandela Foundation for giving us access to the interviews with Nelson Mandela. You can hear an in-depth exploration of those interviews in Richard's podcast "The Lost Tapes."

ABDELFATAH: Thanks also to Lindsey Shutel (ph), Ida Purasad (ph), Yolanda Sangweni, Johannes Doerge, Edith Chapin and Collin Campbell. Sources for this episode include SABC, eNCA, Al Jazeera and the Ichikowitz Family Foundation.

ARABLOUEI: Finally, if you have an idea or like something you heard on the show, please write us at

ABDELFATAH: Thanks for listening.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in non-English language spoken).

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