In full: Mandela’s letter to Buthelezi

The full text of the recent letter from Nelson Mandela to Mangosuthu Buthelezi – an important intervention in the tense relationship between lnkatha and the ANC – has been released. The letter comes at a crucial time for peace-making attempts in Natal, particularly since it reveals a warmer than expected relationship between the jailed ANC leader and the Inkatha leader. The letter is notable for Mandela's friendly tone and open attitude to Buthelezi, lnkatha and the Natal peace talks. Mandela calls the lnkatha leader by his Clan name, "Shenge", and signs it with his own, "Madiba". He also uses traditional names in sending his "best wishes" to Buthelezi's wife, ''Mndlunkulu". Most striking is that he refers to "our organisation", presumably referring to the ANC, although Buthelezi's relationship with the banned organisation has been distant for sometime. 

The full text is as follows:

"Dear Shenge:

I thank you for the warm and well- considered telex message you sent me on behalf of King Zwelithini and lnkatha on the occasion of my seventieth birthday. I also received your letter of 26 August 1988 in which you wished me a speedy recovery from illness, and in which you outlined your efforts both locally and abroad to secure the release of prisoners in South Africa.

"Apart from your telex and a telegram from Mrs Helen Suzman, hundreds of similar messages came from well wishers in the country and in different parts of the world. It is partly the unswerving support of such men and women, and partly the achievements made by our organisation within and outside the country which have given prisoners so much strength and hope.


"You will readily accept that it is not at all easy from my present quarters to comment fully and freely on the sentiments you so eloquently expressed in the above correspondence. "It is sufficient to state that your persistent demand for the unconditional release of prisoners before negotiation can start, is a stand which I have always welcomed as a positive contribution to the search for lasting peace in this country.

“Obviously, my fervent hope is to see, in due course, the restoration of the cordial relations which existed between you and OR [Oliver Tambo), and between the two organisations in the seventies. The most challenging task facing the leadership today is that of national unity. At no other time in our history has it become so crucial for our people to speak with one voice, and to pool their efforts. Any act or statement, from whatever source, which tends to create or worsen division is, in the existing political situation, a fatal error which ought to be avoided at all costs.

"Far more information than I possess at the moment is required before I can blame any of the parties involved in the deplorable conflicts now taking place in Natal. All the same, I consider it a serious indictment against all of us that we are still unable to combine forces to stop the slaughter of so many innocent lives. The struggle is our life and, even though the realisation of our fondest dreams may not be at hand, we can nevertheless make that struggle immensely enriching or absolutely disastrous.

"In my entire political career few things have distressed me (so much) as to see our people killing one another as is now happening. As you know, the entire fabric of community life in some of the affected areas has been seriously disrupted, leaving behind a legacy of hatred and bitterness which may haunt us for years to come. It is a matter which requires the urgent attention of all people in this country. Nothing will please me more than to know that my concern and appeal have not fallen on deaf ears.

"Once again, I thank you, the King and Inkatha for your inspiring message. My best wishes to you and Mndlunkulu. – Yours sincerely, Madiba"

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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