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His Marriage Empty, Mandela Says

Tue., March 19, 1996

Describing himself as “the loneliest man” during the years he spent with his wife Winnie after leaving prison, Nelson Mandela told a court Monday, “I’m determined to get rid of this marriage. It exists only on paper.”

They were the harshest words he has spoken about the woman with whom he shared what seemed like a vibrant romance steeped in a cause.

Testifying on the opening day of his divorce suit, the 77-year-old South African president spent an hour presenting a devastating portrait of the last years of his 38-year marriage to a woman who was often heroically portrayed as standing loyally by her husband during his 27 years in prison.

“Ever since I came back from jail not once has the defendant ever entered the bedroom while I was awake,” Mandela said. “I said to her that a man and his wife usually discuss the most intimate and personal problems in the bedroom.

“I told her that there were so many issues, many of them sensitive, that I would like to discuss with you, but she always refused.”

During the prison years, Winnie Mandela became a prime public leader of the anti-apartheid movement despite attempts by South African authorities to silence her.


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