Nelson Mandela secret prison letter goes online

A HANDWRITTEN letter from anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela is among formerly top-secret records made available online for the first time.

In the letter – dated 14 September, 1962, and addressed to the British Embassy in Pretoria – Mr Mandela thanks Sir John Maud, the British ambassador in South Africa, and John Astor, editor of the Observer, for their help in ensuring he received books while he was in prison.

Mr Mandela received six books – A Short History Of Africa by Roland Oliver and JD Fage; A History Of Europe (Vol I and II) by HAL Fisher; Essays In Biography by JM Keynes; Anatomy Of Britain by Anthony Sampson; and The Making Of The President by Theodore H White.

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It is not known whether a further five books, including My Early Life by Winston Churchill, reached him.

Mr Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years during the struggle against apartheid, refers to the books as a “valuable present”.

He thanks “his friend in
England”, Mr Astor, whose newspaper supported the African
National Congress, which Mr Mandela later led, from the early years of apartheid.

Mr Astor and Sir John used their connections to ensure the books avoided scrutiny from the South African authorities and reached Mr Mandela.

Following his release from prison in 1990, Mr Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first black president and to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Previously top-secret government records on Mr Mandela’s arrest and trial are on show at the National Archives in Kew, London. The letter is available online to mark World Book Day.

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