JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nelson Mandela never wanted to become South African president and would have preferred a younger person to become the country’s first black ruler, according to a new book.
Mandela says in the book “Conversations with Myself,” due to be launched Tuesday, that he only accepted after senior leaders of the African National Congress put pressure on him.
“My installation as the first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa was imposed on me much against my own advice,” Mandela said.
The book, compiled by the Nelson Mandela Foundation from personal letters, interviews and an unpublished sequel to his autobiography, contains a foreword by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Mandela, 92, said he would have preferred to serve the new South African state without holding any position in the ANC or government.
After being put on the carpet by one of the ANC’s leaders, he changed his mind, but made clear that he would serve only one five-year term.
Mandela’s release on February 11, 1990, after 27 years in apartheid-era jails, set in motion the country’s transformation to democracy, which culminated in historic all-race elections in 1994 and his inauguration as the country’s first black leader.
Reconciliation between blacks and whites was the cornerstone of Mandela’s presidency, which ended in May 1999. But in the book, an important theme is his concern about the effects of his imprisonment on his family.
Mandela shows his anguish and frustration in one letter to his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was banished to a remote town and harassed by apartheid security police.
“I feel I have been soaked in gall, every part of me, my flesh, bloodstream, bone and soul, so bitter am I to be completely powerless to help you in the rough and fierce ordeals you are going through.”
He also writes about not being able to attend the funerals of his mother and of his son, who died in a car accident in 1969.
“Though I had never hoped to succeed, my heart bled when I finally realized that I could not be present at the graveside — the one moment in life a parent would never like to miss.”
But the book also shows Mandela’s quirky sense of humor.
In 1987, while studying for a further law degree in prison at the age of 69, Mandela applied for exemption to study Latin saying he had already passed Latin in 1944 and “I have forgotten practically everything about it.”
He also reveals that he was offered up to 1 million rand ($145,500) for a picture of himself by a magazine shortly before his release.
“So I refused, and poor, you know to be poor is a terrible thing,” Mandela said.
The book concludes with Mandela saying in the unpublished sequel to his autobiography that while he was in prison he worried about a false image he was projecting from jail as being regarded a saint.
“I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
Obama said in his foreword that it was a story of a man willing to risk his life for what he believed in. “By offering us this full portrait, Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man. Like all of us, he has his flaws. But it is precisely those imperfections that should inspire each and every one of us,” Obama said.
Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Giles Elgood