On a freezing winter’s night, a few hours before dawn on 12 May 1969, security police stormed the Soweto home of Winnie Mandela and detained her in the presence of her two young daughters, then aged nine and ten.
Rounded up in a group of other anti-apartheid activists under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, designed for the security police to hold and interrogate people for as long as they wanted, she was taken away. She had no idea where they were taking her or what would happen to her children. For Winnie Mandela this was the start of a 491-day period of detention and two trials.
Forty-one years after Winnie’s release on 14 September 1970, Greta Soggot, the widow of David Soggot, one of Winnie Mandela’s advocates during the 1969–70 trials, handed her a stack of papers that included a journal and notes that she had written in detention. Their arrival brought back vivid and horrifying memories and uncovered a unique and personal slice of South Africa’s history.
491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 shares with the world Winnie Mandela’s moving and compelling journal as well as some of the letters written between affected parties at the time, including Winnie and Nelson Mandela, who by then had been in prison for nearly seven years.
Readers gain insight into the brutality she experienced, her depths of despair as well as her resilience and defiance under extreme pressure. This young wife and mother emerged after 491 days in detention unbowed and determined to continue the struggle for freedom.