Newly donated Anti-Apartheid collection contains photos and letters from Nelson Mandela while in prison

Newly donated Anti-Apartheid collection contains photos and letters from Nelson Mandela while in prison

Photos, letters and birthday cards written by Nelson Mandela in prison to close friends Paul and Adelaide Joseph, Anti-Apartheid activists, have recently been added to the collections of Senate House Library, University of London, which are now available to view by researchers and the public.  

The Paul & Adelaide Joseph collection containing letters, birthdays cards and some postcards dating from 1962 (when Mandela was arrested) up until 1985, along with 18 photographs (dated 1960 – c.2008), reveal the personal side of Mandela’s early years in prison and friendship with Anti-Apartheid activists. 

One of the highlights is a birthday card/letter from Nelson Mandela, dated 1 March 1975. In the 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. 

Birthday card/letter from Nelson Mandela in Joseph archive
Birthday card and letter to Adelaide Joseph written by Nelson Mandela while in prison, 1 March 1975

Nadia Joseph, daughter of Paul and Adelaide Joseph, active social justice campaigner, said: “Much of my parents’ collection has never been seen outside of the Joseph family. After a long and considered journey exploring where to donate it, they chose Senate House Library. Not only is London the city they made their home after my father was forced to flee South Africa, it became the centre of the international Anti-Apartheid solidarity movement. 

My sister Tanya studied for her Masters degree in South African history whilst she was a student at SOAS and spent time studying at Senate House Library. What is more, the archives of a number of my parents’ close friends/comrades, are housed here. These include the papers of Ruth First, Joe Slovo and Mandela’s first biographer, Mary Benson. As a family, we feel that no monetary figure should ever be attached to their archive. Education is key to freedom both physical and spiritual so our hope is that Senate House Library will be the best custodian of their precious archive and enable the widest possible access to it.”     

Dr. Reuben Loffman, Senior Lecturer in African History at the School of History, Queen Mary, University of London, commented: “This collection offers a uniquely personal perspective on the anti-apartheid campaign. It consists not only of some fascinating photos of activists, but also of a number of heart-rending letters that shed important new light on Madiba’s long period of incarceration and the ways in which he continued to correspond with many close friends during this painful time.” 

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

Read our blog that explores some of the highlights in the Joseph collection

Paul Joseph, Nelson Mandela & Adelaide Joseph
Nelson Mandela sitting in a chair at a hotel in London with Paul (left) and Adelaide Joseph (right), taken around the time of Mandela’s 90th birthday.