The Presidential Years

The publication of Dare Not Linger by Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa was the culmination of a process of many years. It started not just when Mandela came to the end of his term as president of South Africa and told journalists interviewing him that he would spend the next three years writing it.

Right from the start of his term as president he planned to write his memoirs – but he also declined some practical advice from his assistant Barbara Masekela who suggested he should appoint someone as biographer who could experience and follow his leadership in government. She had seen how the completion of the Long Walk to Freedom had been delayed by the demands of political life. But Mandela wanted to write the account himself, in his own words even though he would consult with those close to him as he always did. Perhaps the experience of having someone edit and rewrite his account was something he didn’t feel like repeating, especially as he imagined himself having all the time needed to write the book.

‘Of course’, he told the journalists, ‘the first two or three years will be occupied in writing down my memoirs as president of the country and there’s going to be little time for anything else.’ But no sooner had he started than reality turned his vision upside down. The imagined leisure of retirement vanished like a mirage. Though he made progress, in the end the demands of South Africa and the world caught up with him. There was so much unfinished business when it came to reducing poverty and inequality in South Africa and helping further peace and development in a tense and unequal world.

Though friends and members of the Nelson Mandela Foundation urged him to step back and complete the book – as did Tokyo Sexwale - he would insist, ‘No no no, I’m writing, I’m doing everything that is possible’. In the end the demands on him and the vicissitudes of age brought it to a halt with ten chapters drafted each having been written and rewritten more than once and given to friends for comment.

When he passed away, Graça Machel wanted this unfinished project of Madiba’s to be finished as much as it could be – two people who had worked in Mandela’s office were asked to do what they with the guidance of Graça Machel, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and a few others.

The task was given to Joel Netshitenzhe – the head of communications in Mandela’s office and a close adviser of the president - and Tony Trew – who managed communications research. The brief was to ‘fill in the gaps’ of Mandela’s draft, following an outline he had decided to work around after consultation with colleagues.

Foremost was whatever could be found in his own voice: notes and drafts in the archives of his papers – an inveterate writer and rewriter of notes and drafts, from jottings on scraps of paper to fully written speeches his speechwriters knew nothing of (all handwritten as he never took to typewriters or word processors), in the record of parliament, the ANC and the media. Then there were the insights of people who worked closely with him many of whom had been interviewed at one time or another, and many of whom did interviews expressly for this project. There were also the records of the ANC and government, including the cabinet, which kept traces of the events and decisions, the policies and developments of those years.

That account, weaving Mandela’s words, his colleagues’ insights, documents and media accounts in a factual narrative is the core of this mini-website.

But it was not yet a book. It needed the touch of a writer to ‘make it sing’ so that it was not only readable by a wide audience but matched the inspirational tenor of Mandela’s life. Mandla Langa took the draft and its resources, adding his own insights, experience and research, and produced Dare Not Linger a book with wide appeal that captured Mandela’s voice and vision and thoughts with the touch of an artist.

Something the book could not do, though, was to give readers access to the rich resources it drew on. Books must perforce stop at footnoted pointers. This web-site, wherever it can, links browsers to the original sources.

The NMF hopes that this will draw you not only to the legacy it holds in its own archives, but encourage people to explore the legacy of history that is preserved in archives and libraries across the country; that it will remind us that history can’t be told or decided once and for all but needs constant refreshing by checking our understanding of it against its traces in documents and in the memories of those who lived it and helped make it.