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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Shares the Emotional Toll of Her Imprisonment in 491 Days

491 DaysWinnie Madikizela-Mandela’s prison journal, 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69, “is a powerful reminder of what she was best known for”, writes Sipho Kings for the Mail & Guardian.

The letters between Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela, while they were both imprisoned, are “filled with angst about how the other partner is because it has been months without news”. Detailing the few items she was allowed in her cell and the food with maggots in it, she wrote to her husband that, “Eating what you were eating and sleeping on what you slept on gave me that psychological satisfaction of being with you”.

Winne Madikizela-Mandela’s more recent years have left her image tainted. But in her new book, a collection of letters and diary entries from her 491 days in prison, is a powerful reminder of what she was best known for. A single mother, forced to raise her children alone after Nelson Mandela was sent to prison, she faced hunger and constant threats from the apartheid regime.

The book, 491 Days: Prisoner number 1323/69, is based on diary entries she made while in solitary confinement, awaiting trial for alleged acts of terrorism. This was in 1969. She was never convicted and throughout says the regime was holding her and fellow prisoners to try break their will, rather than to convict them. It contains letters sent between her and Madiba – although many were lost or delayed by many months. These give a gripping insight into a family trying to survive under an onslaught from the regime.

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