Photos, birthday cards and letters from Nelson Mandela in prison reveal depth of friendship during Anti-Apartheid Movement

Written by Rebecca Simpson, Communications Manager |

Photos, birthday cards and letters from Nelson Mandela in prison reveal depth of friendship during Anti-Apartheid Movement

Written by Rebecca Simpson, Communications Manager |

The Paul and Adelaide Joseph archive has recently been added to the collections of Senate House Library, University of London, and is now available to view by researchers and the public. Read the news story about this donation with comments from Nadia Joseph, daughter of Paul and Adelaide Joseph, and Dr Reuben Loffman, Senior Lecturer in African History at Queen Mary, University of London. 

In this blog, we look at six highlights from the archive of Paul and Adelaide Joseph, Anti-Apartheid activists, who were close friends of Nelson Mandela. They kept a number of photos as well as letters and birthday cards written by Nelson Mandela while in prison, which reveal the personal side of Mandela’s early years in prison and the Anti-Apartheid movement. 

Birthday card/letter from Nelson Mandela in Joseph archive
Birthday card/letter to Adie Joseph from Nelson Mandela, 1 March 1975

Birthday cards from Nelson Mandela to Adelaide Joseph, 1975

One of the highlights in the archive is a small A6 size paper birthday card with a yellow floral design that folds out to A4 size to reveal a handwritten letter by Mandela, dated 1 March 1975. In the letter, Mandela speaks of “the many hours of pleasure” he spent with the Joseph family that “serve as a source of inspiration at gloomy moments”. He also recalls heartwarming memories of friendship, starting with when Adelaide (referred to as ‘Adie’ in the letter) used to visit him to bring him food when he was first arrested “Do you still remember Aug-Oct ’62 when you would visit me almost daily at Ameshoff St carrying a pantry of tasty curries in your hands?”. 

This memory features alongside other life events including the time Mandela drove his friends to the hospital when Anand, one of Paul and Adelaide’s twins (Zoya & Anand) who were born in 1959, needed specialist treatment. He recalls “the reaction of those we met were quite amusing. Some were somewhat puzzled but held their tongues”. He then goes on to talk about learning of the death of Anand (in 1970), sending his deepest sympathies, and reflecting on how Zoya and Anand used to play in their cot with Adie tickling Anand. 

Also in the birthday card/letter, Mandela talks of looking forward to meeting Tanya and Nadia, Adie and Paul Joseph’s other children. Nadia Joseph (1966-), an active social justice campaigner who was herself involved in the anti-apartheid movement, liaised with Richard Espley, Head of Modern Collections at Senate House Library, regarding the donation of this collection and joining other related collections on the Anti-Apartheid movement. 

Zindzi & Zeni Mandela
Photo postcard of 'Zindzi & Zeni' Mandela from Winnie Mandela, 1965

Photo postcard of ‘Zindzi and Zeni’ Mandela from 1965

Also in the collection is a black and white photo postcard of Zindziswa and Zenani Mandela with a handwritten message by ‘Zami [Winnie Mandela] and the kids’, addressed to Adie, Paul, Zoya and Tanya Joseph in 1965. The message wishes the Joseph family a merry Christmas and that they “hope 1966 will bring the greater days to come nearer”

photograph of Paul Joseph (right) and other anti-apartheid campaigners leaving Pretoria Central Prison, August 1960
Paul Joseph and other anti-apartheid campaigners leaving Pretoria Central Prison, August 1960

Highlights from the photo collection

Included in the photo collection, is a black and white photograph of Paul Joseph and other anti-apartheid campaigners leaving Pretoria Central Prison in August 1960 with a handwritten inscription on the reverse (MS1290/2). 

There is also a black and white photograph of Winnie Mandela alongside Adelaide Joseph in 1963 for the opening of the Indian Youth Congress when Nelson Mandela was elected honorary president, also with handwritten inscription on reverse (MS1290/2/6).

Winnie Mandela & Adelaide Joseph, 1963
Winnie Mandela (left) and Adie Joseph (right), 1963
Photo of 156 people arrested as part of the Treason Trial in 1956
Photo of the 156 people accused of treason, 1956.

Showing the extent and impact of The Treason Trial in Johannesburg, is a photo of the 156 people, including Nelson Mandela (standing in the centre, third row from the bottom), that were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in 1956. The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty.

While the photo collection consists mainly of photographs from the 50s and 60s, there is one colour photograph of Nelson Mandela sitting in a chair at a hotel in London with Paul (left) and Adelaide Joseph (right) either side, taken around the time of Mandela’s 90th birthday c. 2008.

Paul Joseph, Nelson Mandela & Adelaide Joseph
Nelson Mandela sitting in a chair at a hotel in London with Paul (left) and Adie Joseph (right), c.2008

SHL’s Annual Holden Lecture to focus on Joseph archive

Nadia Joseph will present her parents’ archive at Senate House Library’s annual Holden Lecture taking place online on Tuesday 7 June 2022 , 6:30 - 7:30 PM (BST) in conversation with Dr Richard Espley, Head of Modern Collections at Senate House Library & Dr Sue Onslow, Acting Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

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