Mandela’s lost interview.

With all things Mandela today, with the world celebrating the icon’s 94th birthday, here is a recently discovered article that was written about him.

The article that appeared 51 years ago.

Journalist Peter Hazelhurst interviewed Mandela in May 1961 while the leader was in hiding.

It was to be the last interview Mandela was to give as a free man.
Just over a year later he was captured and sentenced to prison.
The article appeared in the South African newspaper The Sunday Express on May 14, 1961.
Here is the transcript of the article, typed out, thanks to Sahm Venter of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.


Native leader says:

“Violence is out”

Sunday Express Reporter

They took the blind-fold off. Sitting in front of me was Nelson Mandela, the most wanted man in South Africa.

The underground leader of the National Action Council, the guiding spirit behind the May 31 demonstrations, sat at his desk in his secret head-quarters and gave his first interview to a White reporter since he went into hiding two weeks ago to avoid arrest before May 31.

During the 70-minute interview, Mr Mandela disclosed to me:

  •  The demonstrations are not aimed at Whites – English or Afrikaans-speaking – but directly at the Nationalist Government and the Republic.
  •  Strict instructions have been given that no violence is to be used by the demonstrators.
  •  This is only the first in a series of campaigns, planned over several years to oust the Nationalist Government.
  •  To prove that the demonstrations are not anti-White, Mr Mandela showed me the original plans and directives for the demonstrations. These showed that the Council also called on anti-Republican Europeans to show their disapproval of the Republic.
  •  Mr Mandela promised a “startling” statement, to be issued about May 27, which would “bewilder the Government” and convince White South Africa that the demonstrations are intended to be peaceful and responsible.

At street corner

I stood waiting on a lonely street corner last night after receiving an anonymous telephone call. A large car pulled up and a voice asked: “If you want to meet Mandela, get in the car.”

When we drove off, I was told to sit on the floor and a blind-fold was put over my eyes … We drove around for half-an-hour until I was lost. Then the car stopped and I was helped out and hurried through the door.

The blind-fold was removed and Mr Mandela rose from his desk to greet me. Wearing a black polo-neck jersey and khaki slacks, the new leader of Black South Africa told me he was prepared to answer White South Africa’s uncertainty about the forthcoming demonstrations.


The underground headquarters seemed to be in a small house. The room where Mr Mandela had his desk was separated from the rest of the house by curtains. With him were two other organisers who were not introduced.

Mr Mandela, 42-year-old attorney, sat back and gave assurances about the forthcoming demonstrations.

“…White South Africa has nothing to fear from our sided,” he said. “The main purpose of the three-day demonstration is to express to the Nationalist Government our disapproval of the Republic. It is the Republic of a minority of the people of South Africa.”

“We would welcome the emergence of any group of people to co-operate with us against the Republic. We think the Republic will mean further racial suppression and more exploitation of non-Whites by the Nationalists.”

Only the first

“When the National Action Council was formed at Pietermaritzburg, it decided to plan a campaign of action to oust the Nationalist Government. The May demonstrations are the first in a series of campaigns.”

Mr Mandela could not give details of subsequent campaigns. But he reiterated: “We certainly will not start any violence. That would play right into the Government’s hands.”

I asked him what the National Action Council was aiming at.

His reply: “A national convention of all groups of the country which would form a new non-racial constitution to bring about a new non-racial and democratic South African society.”

A knock at the door interrupted the interview. Mr Mandela slid behind the curtains. The door was opened and an Indian came in.

Mr Mandela whispered a few words to him and told me: “I’m sorry but you will have to go now. I have some urgent business to attend to.”

I was blind-folded again and led out to the car. Again the circling and zig-zagging, until I was dropped in the centre of Johannesburg at the same street corner.


About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
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