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A Glimpse Inside Nelson Mandela's Memoirs

Nelson Mandela may well be the most admired human being alive. It's difficult to imagine who could compete with him for the title. He went from being prisoner to president and, in the process, became an icon. But he is such a private man that we know very little about what he felt and thought throughout the 92 years of his life. That is, until now.

A book is coming out this week called "Conversations with Myself." It's a collection of his notes, letters, diaries, scribblings, most of which he wrote during his 27 years in prison. We literally read what was going on in his mind when he was leading a struggle, when he was preparing to lead a nation. We've known Mandela the man of history. Now we can begin to know Mandela the man.

He's hardly ever seen in public now, and doesn't give interviews. He leaves home only for very special occasions, like a visit to his great granddaughter Zenani's school.

"And where do you come from?" he asked one little girl at the school.

"I come from London," she replied.

"Oh! London? Have you met the queen there?" Mandela replied, with a chuckle.

That's the Mandela we've seen so little of - the Mandela who is captured in "Conversations with Myself." The book project began with an extraordinary mandate from him: take my personal archives and do what you want with them.

"He's said, 'I don't want you to ask me, Is this too personal, is this too potentially embarrassing,'" Verne Harris, the chief archivist at the Mandela Foundation, told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon.

Link: Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Harris spent years going through the mountains of material.

"He wants to see the Mandela as they say, warts and all?" Simon asked.

"He said, 'You don't have to protect me,'" Harris replied.

Mandela kept records of everything: in desk calendars, memo pads - every scrap of paper he could lay his hands on.

The most revealing are two notebooks with drafts of letters he wrote from Robben Island, South Africa's Alcatraz, where he was serving a life sentence for sabotage.

Mandela was allowed to send and receive one letter every six months. And the letters reveal that his passion for his wife Winnie never waned.

"What a masterpiece," he wrote after she sent him a picture of herself. "The picture has aroused all the tender feelings in me and softened the grimness that is all around. It has sharpened my longing for you and our sweet and peaceful home."

Winnie had become Mandela's voice on the outside and the Apartheid regime came down on her with a vengeance. She was repeatedly thrown into jail and tortured. The struggle was now not only devastating their lives - their two young daughters had been effectively abandoned.

Mandela was incredibly blunt about what awaited them. "My Darlings" he wrote. "Once again, our beloved Mommy has been arrested and now she and Daddy are away in jail…you may live like orphans without your own home and parents… you will get no birthday or Christmas parties, no presents or new dresses, no shoes or toys."

"What does it feel like reading it today?" Simon asked Mandela's youngest daughter, Zindzi.

"It takes me back to difficult times," she replied. "It's still not easy to talk about those times."

Zindzi Mandela was a toddler when he was taken away. She didn't see him again until she was 15 and travelled to visit him on the island. They were separated by a glass partition; guards listened to every word.

"He was so protective and so charming and he tried to make me imagine sitting at home on his lap in front of the fireplace and him reading me a story," she remembered.

Zindzi Mandela told Simon she cried, but that her father did not. "I have very rarely seen my father like even close to tears," she said.

But Mandela wrote with tears of what he went through when his mother died, and when his eldest son Thembi was killed in a car crash. "The news was broken to me at two thirty p.m.," he wrote. "Suddenly my heart had seemed to stop beating, and the warm blood that had freely flowed in my veins for the last 51 years froze into ice."

Mandela asked for permission to leave the island and attend their funerals; the authorities said no.

Mac Maharaj, a fellow prisoner, says Mandela didn't even wince. "He had to hold his emotions tightly to himself. He could not divulge to the authorities and let them feel that this was a weakness in his armor," Maharaj said.

Reveal nothing: that was Mandela's strategy. And organize the prisoners into a government in waiting. He never doubted that the racist regime would be overthrown. So even back then, he started preparing. First move: learn the language of the oppressor, Afrikaans.

"The language of the enemy?" Simon asked.

"The language of the enemy and I was totally opposed to it. And he said to me, 'Mac, do you agree that we are now in a protracted war?' I said, 'Yes.' He says, 'You've got to understand the general on the other side.' I said, 'Yes.' He says, 'To understand him you've got to understand his language,'" Maharaj remembered.

The book contains defiant letters Mandela wrote to the authorities reminding them that, as political prisoners, they had rights and should be treated with dignity. In response, he got a visit from a general who was intent on putting Mandela in his place.

"And he says to Mandela, 'Mandela? You better remember you are a prisoner.' And in a very polite way he says to him, 'General, you and I may be generals on the opposite side of this war. At some point even if it is to accept the surrender from the other we'll have to meet. And how we treat each other now will determine how we interact at that moment,'" Maharaj remembered.

The regime was then forced to change its strategy. It tried to undermine Mandela in the most insidious way: he was moved to a private house in a prison on the mainland, equipped with a chef and a swimming pool. Officials came to see him, brought along a case of wine, and tempted him to sell out.

"This was the key moment for me in Nelson Mandela's life. This was when he was most at risk, because he starts negotiating from prison on his own. He's incredibly vulnerable," Verne Harris explained.

Asked what could have happened to him, Harris said, "He could have been played into making concessions. He could have been played into compromising himself in ways that would have been irredeemable. And he didn't make one mistake."

So when he walked out of prison, he knew - the world knew - that he was walking to the presidency, taking over the country that had been run by white racists for more than 40 years.

"How do you explain that incredible confidence?" Simon asked Harris.

"I think from very early on he had a very strong sense of destiny. And there was almost a sense that he knew he needed to go to prison before coming out to do the work that awaited him," he replied.

"He knew before he was captured, that one day he would be called President Mandela?" Simon asked.

"I think so," Harris said.

He may have won, but the country was on the brink of a civil war. He ruled with the exact same strategy he had employed as a prisoner: don't go for revenge, go for reconciliation.

He showed up at the finals of rugby's World Cup. This was the most popular sport among whites in South Africa. And here was a black president wearing the team jersey, waving the team cap. Spectators and the team were stunned. Mandela had won again.

He brought Afrikaners into his government, including Zelda La Grange. She has rarely spoken out before but, because of the book, she spoke to "60 Minutes."

Back then, she was a typist in the presidential office building when Mandela took over. One day she literally bumped into him in a corridor.

"And he stopped me and he started speaking in Afrikaans with me," La Grange remembered. "Which is my home language. And I didn't understand a word he was saying because I was so shocked. There was a feeling of guilt immediately overtaking my emotions that I felt responsible for taking away so many years of his life."

"You broke down?" Simon asked.

"Yes, yes, I started crying," she remembered.

Mandela hired La Grange, and brought her into his office. He wanted his old oppressors to know they'd be okay in the new South Africa. Zelda La Grange had a role to play.

Asked if she thinks her hiring was a political decision, La Grange told Simon, "Yes, definitely. There was some political thinking behind it for sure, some strategy, absolutely."

It wasn't long before La Grange became his most trusted assistant. For the last 16 years, every pop star, politician, president or pope who wanted to see the great man knew enough to cozy up to Zelda La Grange.

"You become his granddaughter didn't you?" Simon asked.

"I mean, I love him like my, you know, my own family," she replied.

"Love is the word?" Simon asked.

"Definitely. Adore, love, admire," she replied.

It wasn't just La Grange. Mandela was winning the love and admiration of just about everyone. But there was one person who didn't buy into all that: Nelson Mandela. He was actually troubled that the world saw him as a saint.

"I never was one," he wrote at the end of the book, "even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

And Mandela was the first to admit that, before he went to prison, he didn't try very hard. He once told Mac Maharaj that he'd "led a thoroughly immoral life."

His first wife divorced him, at least in part because of his alleged infidelities. And now that he's no longer a partisan or a president, many tales are being told of his many days and many nights with many women.

But Maharaj doesn't think this will tarnish Mandela's image. "Because he's a human being. He's like you and I."

But he's not. How could he be? He is the leader of one of the most important revolutions of the 20th century, and nothing else ever mattered.

"Whenever he had to choose, your father chose the struggle over his family. Did that make you angry?" Simon asked Zindzi Mandela.

"Oh, yes, it did. Of course it did," she replied. "I would get hurt. I would get angry, especially when I was younger. I mean I grew up wanting my father to come back home. Wanting to be an ordinary family. I don't know what it was like to have a father, to tuck me in at night. "

Mandela knew what he was doing to the lives of his family but says he would do it all over again. "They are not the only people who are suffering," he says in the book, "Hundreds, millions, in our country are suffering…I felt I made the correct decision.'"

Mandela dedicated the book to his great granddaughter Zenani; this past June she was killed in a car crash.

Produced by Michael Gavshon and Drew Magratten

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