Mandela and Sisulu - Robben Island

Mandela and Sisulu - Robben Island Visual Arts Biographies Famous People Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs

Mandela and Sisulu were longtime friends.  During their years on Robben Island, where this picture was taken in the prison yard, their friendship helped to sustain them, especially during extremely difficult times. 

One of the worst times occurred in July of 1969, after Mandela had experienced a string of personal losses.  His mother had died, the year before, but her son was not allowed to leave Robben Island to attend her funeral.  Then his second wife, Winnie, was arrested in the presence of their children:

In the early hours of the morning of May 12, 1969, the security police awakened Winnie at our home in Orlando [a section of the Soweto township] and detained her without charge under the 1967 Terrorism Act, which gave the government unprecedented powers of arrest and detention without trial. The raid, I later learned, was part of a nationwide crackdown in which dozens of others were detained, including Winnie's sister.

The police dragged Winnie away while Zeni and Zindzi [the couple's daughters] clung to her skirts. She was placed in solitary confinement in Pretoria, where she was denied bail and visitors; over the next weeks and months, she was relentlessly and brutally interrogated.  (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 445.)

As he continued to worry about his wife, Mandela received a bad-news telegram from his youngest son (Makgatho) one day in July. Thembi, his firstborn son, had been killed in a car accident. Twenty-five, he was the father of two small children. 

Once again, the authorities would not allow their prisoner to attend a family member's funeral. Distraught, Mandela was comforted by his friend, Walter Sisulu:

I returned to my cell and lay on my bed. I do not know how long I stayed there, but I did not emerge for dinner. Some of the men looked in, but I said nothing.

Finally, Walter came to me and knelt beside my bed, and I handed him the telegram. He said nothing, but only held my hand. I do not know how long he remained with me. There is nothing that one man can say to another at such a time.  (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 447.)

Mandela and Sisulu remained friends until Walter died on May 5, 2003, at age 90. 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Oct 24, 2019

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Robben Island Museum.


A note about the photo.  In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela tells us that it was taken "in the prison yard, 1966."  (See the photo section, following page 322.) 


Other sources, including Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs (Hardcover), by David Elliot Cohen and John D. Battersby, state the picture was taken in 1964 by a photographer working for the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper.  It was, the authors say, the only day Mandela agreed to be photographed during his 27 years of confinement.

Quoted passages, from Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.


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"Mandela and Sisulu - Robben Island" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Oct 24, 2019.
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