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October 11, 2010

New memoir chronicles Mandela’s thoughts, dreams

(CNN) — The extraordinary life experiences of former South African President Nelson Mandela have been chronicled in a new book entitled “Conversations with Myself.”

Many of his personal letters, notes and tape recordings that form the basis of the book are stored in a small, nondescript room in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.

It is a rich treasure trove of Mandela’s history.

Importantly, his prison diaries are there — desk calendars handed out to prisoners by the apartheid regime. Year after year, Mandela made notes in the small blocked margins of these diaries, recording his blood pressure, his meetings and even his dreams.

The notes about his dreams are reminders of what it must have been like to be a father and a husband taken away from his family.

One entry recalls a dream he had of going home to his Soweto house to see his wife Winnie, who was sick, while one of their daughters swallows a razor blade.

The insight one gets from Mandela’s notes about his dreams are some of the few references to the emotions he experienced while serving a life sentence on Robben Island.

He spent 27 years in jail after being convicted of sabotage and attempts to overthrow the government. He was released in 1990 and returned to the leadership of the African National Congress Party (ANC).

Verne Harris, an archivist at the Mandela Foundation who put together the book, told CNN the compilation is “about what Mandela says to himself when he doesn’t have an audience.” He adds: “What emerges is a Nelson Mandela who is fallible, who is quirky, who is vulnerable, and that opens for me a Nelson Mandela who’s far more accessible.”

The collection also includes the opening chapter of his unfinished second autobiography. In his neat handwriting and dated October 16, 1998, Mandela muses about his legacy as South Africa’s first black president: “Men and women, all over the world, write down the centuries, come and go, some leave nothing behind, not even their names, which would seem they never existed at all.”

In the final paragraph of this unfinished chapter he muses about the burden of being regarded as an icon or saint. “I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying,” he wrote.

Mandela is now 92-years old and he rarely makes public appearances. So the aim of the book is for the story of his life to inspire people long after he’s gone.

“His personal archive is clearly a resource which is wonderfully rich and needs to be shared with the world,” said Harris. “Our ultimate objective is to digitize it all and put it up on the web so that everyone has access to it.”

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