What Mandela Can Teach Us About Fatherhood


“I have often wondered whether a person is justified in neglecting his own family to fight for opportunities for others” Nelson Mandela Conversations with myself
These were the words were expressed by Nelson Mandela when he visited his mother in the village and in some ways felt guilty about leaving her alone as he felt that he neglected her. Perhaps Mandela also felt the same way about his children but will not verbalize it.
In his speech to announce his separation from Winnie, Mandela reiterated
“As I later said at my daughter Zindzi’s wedding, it seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.
“We watched our children growing without our guidance,” I said at the wedding, “and when we did come out [of prison], my children said, ‘We thought we had a father and one day he’d come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation.'” To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.
In his later years Mandela has cultivated his relationship with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In a CNN interview Mandela stated that he wanted to be remembered as a family man. A man watching his children grow without his direction must have been painful for Mandela. We can only speculate how he must have felt but men of his generation did not go around sharing their feelings.Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe feels neglected by her father growing up.
The most painful part of the apartheid story is Nelson Mandela’s own story when his oldest son died in a car accident in 1969 and he was not allowed to Maki Mandela the oldest surviving child of Nelson Mandela in an interview with the mail Online’ s Sharon Feinstein in 2010 is very bitter towards her father for his absenteeism.
While the rest of Africa is left to celebrate what Mandela paid for his family is still healing from the pain of growing up without a father. Maki is very bitter because her parents divorced and that experience is never easy for any child. The whole world knew little of Maki because the spotlight was on Winnie and her two daughters who were practically royalty in the struggle for independence. Maki was out of the limelight and was very sheltered from what Zeni and Zindzi went through because they were the official offspring of Mandela.
Maki is now blessed of course with the gift that keeps on giving which is that Mandela name which has amplified her platform and that of her children who capitalize on the Mandela name and for all their sacrifice who can blame them?
Maki gives us a glimpse into the private world of the Mandelas as she explains that her Dad is uncomfortable giving hugs or saying I love you. These of course are Western expressions of affection the of hugs and saying I love you.
Zindzi the Mandela baby seems to be the closest child to his father. She explains in her interview with Al Jazeera that she was “thrust into adulthood and childhood disappeared at a young age. She met her Dad for the first time at the age of 15 because children under 16 were not allowed to visit their parents during the apartheid regime. Zinzdi expresses a yearning to have her father come back and have a ‘normal’ family life which she never realized. She describes her insecurities growing up without a father. Her frank discussion about her anger and harassment and emotional turmoil that came with being a Mandela. Zindzi attributes her father’s difficulty to express affection physically as due to his isolation and imprisonment those 27 years.
African fathers of Mandela’s  never said sorry to their  children , that was what he was taught in the Thembu village that he grow up in. Mandela was raised in the king’s court and was separated from his family at a young age. His mother was married into a polygamous marriage so it was unlikely that he was to develop some sort of relationship with his father even before he died.
Zindzi believes that she will uphold her father’s legacy by implementing his vision due to his sacrifices.
“We are all enjoying  what we are enjoying now because of his contribution” Zindzi Mandela with Al Jazeera
So we pose the question to you is someone justified in neglecting his own family to fight for opportunities for others?