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Nelson Mandela's Valentine's Day Letter

Nelson Mandela responds to a young person with a letter about love and Valentine's Day.


Valentine's Day or not, Nelson Mandela already resides in the hearts of people worldwide. As if there weren't enough reason to appreciate this wise, selfless man, take a look at a letter he wrote to a young person who asked his advice on love and relationships. Mandela's reply, dated February 13, 1995, was written in the midst of his presidency. He notes that his 'tight programe does not allow' him 'to find time to celebrate Valentine's day either today or in the future,' adding that only 'in the past 5 years' has he begun to receive V-Day cards (scandalous). A careful reading suggests that his politics extends to matters of the heart; while he acknowledges that he's too old to give love advice - wise indeed at any age - he suggests that better living conditions and opportunities will enrich love relationships:

"Many of today's younger generation are independent and clear thinkers with their own set of values. It would be most presumptuous for a man of 78 to advise them on how to handle relationships. Moreover, this is not a question of advise but of social conditions. Give the younger generation opportunities for education and better their lives, they will glitter with excellence."

Read a scan of the handwritten letter (and spend time trawling the archive) at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website. See below for the typed transcript.

1.Age and a conservative cultural background do not make it easy for me to discuss in public such intimate feelings or emotions. This is specially the case when the question is asked by one young enough to be a grandchild. It might well be that if one attempted a definition which departs from that which appears in the standard dictionaries, and bearing in mind the main forms of civilisation of the world, there may be as many definitions as there are human beings.2. Bearing in mind my response to the first question, and all things being equal, I would hope that the average individual experiences one of the highest levels of emotional attachment, satisfaction and happiness when in love
3. My answer to the first question answers this question in the affirmative.
4. It will probably shock many people to discover how colossally ignorant I am about simple things the ordinary person takes for granted. Having been born and grown up in a rural environment with parents who could neither read nor write, one hardly ever heard about Valentine's Day. Moving to the cities one was gradually drawn into mainstream policies, and there was little room for upgrading oneself with information on such issues. Only during the last five years did I receive valentine cards and gifts; But one must naturally develop enormous respect for those who bring happiness to others anonymously far from the limelight.
5 Unfortunately my tight programme does not allow me to find time to celebrate Valentine's Day either today or in future.
6 Many of today's younger generation are independent and clear thinkers with their own set of values. It would be most presumptuous for a man of 78 to advise them on how to handle relationships. Moreover, this is not a question of advise but of social conditions. Give the younger generation opportunities for education and better their lives, they will glitter with excellence.
7 I would think that people who subscribe to the same values, who share a common vision and who accept each other's integrity have laid a basis for a good relationship. But to this there will be a wide range of notable exceptions.
8 I would repeat everything I have said in response to the previous question.
9 I am not sure if all the South African women subscribe to this idea; and it would be risky for a man who knows little on this subject to hazard some gratuitous advice. Except to say that those who promote Valentine's Day are in a sense role models. It take unique qualities to do good.
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Below, Omah Lay speaks to OkayAfrica about his Get Layd EP, coming to Lagos, and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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