JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nelson Mandela‘s family is no stranger to the public eye —its successes and trials have been aired for decades in films, books and the news media.
Granddaughter Zoleka Mandela‘s story, perhaps, is the one that no one saw coming. The 33-year-old launched a book in South Africa Tuesday, “When Hope Whispers,” that recounts her family’s involvement in the fight against South Africa’s white minority regime, her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, the loss of two of her children and her fight against breast cancer.
The book’s publication comes as Nelson Mandela, 95, is in critical but stable condition, under intensive medical care at his Johannesburg home, after being discharged in September from a lengthy hospitalization.
“There’s a social responsibility, I can’t run away from, and instead I feel I embrace it,” Zoleka told The Associated Press about being a Mandela. “One of the things I learned so much about my grandparents is that you always have the power in you to make a difference in somebody else’s life despite your own challenges, and I think that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Through her detailed accounts, Zoleka said she hopes to inspire women going through chemotherapy, addicts looking for silver linings and parents struggling with the loss of their children.
Zoleka’s childhood was anything but ordinary.
“By the time I was born, on 9 April 1980, my mother (Zindzi Mandela) knew how to strip and assemble an AK-47 in exactly thirty-eight seconds. She was twenty years old, trained in guerrilla warfare and already a full-fledged member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the African National Congress),” says the book’s opening line, describing her mother’s participation in violent struggle against apartheid.
Before she was a year old, her grandmother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, had already smuggled her into Robben Island prison so her grandfather could see her. Zoleka recounts a story told by her mother and grandmother of a time they said she helped her grandmother by hiding a hand grenade in her school bag, where police didn’t look, though she still saw her grandmother arrested.
Her childhood brashness turned to teen rebellion when she abused alcohol and drugs. She writes of hiding drugs in her bra, smoking marijuana, drinking too much alcohol, doing lines of cocaine daily and the relationships that fueled her drug use and the suicidal thoughts that haunted her.
The book reveals that Zoleka was hospitalized after a suicide attempt in June 2010 when her 13-year-old daughter Zenani died in a car crash on the way back from a concert that opened the World Cup soccer tournament.