Hunger for Freedom

Trace Nelson Mandela's food-prints during his long walk to freedom in a new book called Hunger to Freedom.

by: Marius Bosch: Reuters | 24 Jul 2008

Food featured prominently in Nelson Mandela's struggle against apartheid, from using cooking pots to smuggle messages during his 27-year imprisonment to his first dinner of chicken curry as a free man.

Author Anna Trapido describes the book Hunger for Freedom as a "gastro-political history with recipes".

The book describes how Mandela and his fellow prisoners at South Africa's Robben Island prison off Cape Town, where he spent 18 years, tried to make do with meagre rations of maize porridge while white prison warders gorged on crayfish.

In later years, the prisoners were allowed to move more freely and they collected seafood themselves to supplement their prison food.

Mandela and his comrades smuggled messages to non-political inmates in cooking pots, telling them of recent news and of decisions taken by the ANC prison leadership.

Mandela became a keen gardener, growing vegetables in several South African prisons to supplement the bland diet.

"A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control ... Being a custodian of this patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom," he said in his autobiography.

He and other activists met at private homes, ostensibly for lunch but in reality they were plotting the future strategy of the African National Congress – now South Africa's ruling party.

Indian lunches
Many of those lunches featured Indian food, for which Mandela developed a taste while working as a lawyer in the 1950s.

His first dinner after being freed by the white government in February 1990 was chicken curry.

Even after he retired in 1999, the comptroller continued to send biryani from Cape Town to Mandela's house in Johannesburg.

But Mandela's cook for many years, Xoliswa Ndoyyiya, said in the book that he prefers traditional African food.

"Madiba (Mandela's clan name) is always happiest with traditional food. If you don't give it to him, he will call you and ask: 'What's wrong? Why are you not feeding me well?"

Once while staying in London's luxurious Dorchester Hotel on an official trip, Mandela grew tired of the food and asked for a staff member flying from South Africa to bring along a tub of "umphokoqo" – a traditional dish of South Africa's Xhosa tribe, made with maize porridge and sour milk.

To buy this book go to

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