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Mandela's letters reveal the pain of imprisonment
Private letters handwritten by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela while imprisoned at Robben Island off Cape Town have revealed touching details.

Private letters handwritten by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela while imprisoned at Robben Island off Cape Town have revealed touching details of his life in jail.

The Johannesburg-based 'Sunday Times' newspaper published details of two notebooks that were confiscated from him during his incarceration by the former apartheid government.

The newspaper also published an exuberant photograph of a dancing woman, a member of a mysterious African tribe that lived on Andaman Islands near India, which had a special place in Mandela's prison cell.

He tore it out of a 1975 copy of the National Geographic magazine because it represented a glorious celebration of life, the newspaper reported.

Mandela was jailed on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred in 1982 to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and later to nearby Paarl, serving a total of 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities.

He was released in February 1990 and became South Africa's first democratic president four years later.

The two black-jacketed notebooks, containing drafts of about 70 letters written to friends and family, were handed over to Mandela two months ago by retired police officer Donald Card, who was tasked with censoring the mail of prisoners and checking it for coded messages.

"There are times when my heart almost stops beating, slowed down by heavy loads of longing," one of Mandela's letters read.

It also tells of his personal pain when both his mother and his eldest son died in the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, and how he was not allowed to attend their funerals.

He wrote a letter to political activist Lilian Ngoyi, apologising that he could not attend the funeral of one of her relatives.

"My application to attend the funeral was not approved, just as happened on the occassion of my mother's death 10 months ago. In both cases I was denied the opportunity to pay my last respects to those who are dearest to me.

"But my colleagues did all they could to soften the blow," wrote Mandela. - Sapa-AFP