by Bill Clinton
While we were there, South African President Nelson Mandela took us to visit Robben Island, where he had spent the first 18 years of his captivity. I say the rock quarry where he had worked and the cramped cell where he was kept when he wasn’t breaking rocks. By this time I had developed a real friendship with Mandela. He was remarkable not only because of his astonishing journey from hatred to reconciliation during 27 years in prison, but also because he was both a tough-minded politician and a caring person who, despite his long confinement, never lost his interest in the personal side of life or his ability to show love, friendship and kindness.
We had one especially meaningful conversation. I said, “I know you did a great thing in inviting your jailers to your inauguration, but didn’t you really hate those who imprisoned you?”
He replied, “Of course I did for many years. They took the best years of my life. They abused me physically and mentally. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I hated them. Then one day when I was working in the quarry, hammering the rocks, I realized that they had already taken everything from me except my mind and my heart. Those they could not take without my permission. I decided not to give them away.”
I asked him another question. “When you were walking out of prison for the last time, didn’t you feel the hatred rise up in you again?” “
“Yes,” he said, “for a moment I did. Then I thought to myself, ’They have had me for 27 years. If I keep hating them, they will still have me.’ I wanted to be free, and so I let it go.”
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