I met Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter Dr Makaziwe ‘Maki’ Mandela, at the Blenheim Festival of Literature, Film and Music.

Before the interview I warned her I was going to jump in at the deep end. “Oh yes,” she said, “We don’t do any shallows.”

I asked if she could describe what it was like to be at her father’s side at the end of his life?

She looked me straight in the eye. “It is the most traumatic experience I’ve gone through.

“Three years before my dad passed away my brother was dying in hospital and I thought I would not want this for anybody.

“I think God was saying: ‘No my child you are being prepared for something greater’. My father was sick for almost two years before he closed his eyes. It’s difficult to see somebody you love slowly deteriorate.

“Luckily for him he had a good medical team but it was traumatic.

“When he was very sick in hospital we wanted to maintain his dignity and didn’t want people who were not part of the family to see him.

“There were people who think they owned him, who wanted to intrude. One had to be very tough and say: ‘No, you can’t cross this line’ because my dad wanted his dignity preserved and for people to remember him at full strength.

I asked if there were times when she was of special comfort to him?

Maki hesitated. “Yes. When my dad retired and had time to reflect, he appreciated his children and grandchildren. A lot of his short term memory was gone and a lot of his long term memory was still there.

“Most people who came by, he wouldn’t recognise them. He would ask: ‘Who’s that by the way’, but because the children were there every day for him, he felt loved.

“When the body of my dad, Tata – if I say Tata, you understand I am referring to my dad – was slowly fading, he refused to use the walking stick, and when his legs were no longer cooperating, he was resistant to use a wheelchair.

“I don’t think he could understand why the mind was working but the body was not cooperating. It took him a long time to accept certain things in terms of the ageing process.

“He had meals alone so when his right hand was no longer working properly he had to be fed. He enjoyed the moments when his children and grandchildren fed him.

“Because he lost three of his children before he closed his eyes, he always felt that some of us didn’t love him, but we were there to the very end. It was his own guilt feeling: ‘I was never there for my children’.

“He was 27 years incarcerated, before that in hiding. He came out of prison and was thrown into the hectic life of politics.

“So Tata did not spend enough time with his children, even with his grandchildren. He was unsure that we would be there for him until the end and we were there. I personally was determined.”

I wanted to know how daughter and dad spent their downtime together and relaxed.

Maki gave me a quizzical look. “I sat with my dad for meals or watching TV. He liked watching TV on a couch. He would watch National Geographic and wouldn’t miss the news. He wanted to know what was happening in the world.

“When we were watching TV he would appear to fall asleep. I think he was going inside himself. Then he would stretch out his arm and you would hold his arm. Then he would withdraw his arm and soon he would stretch it out again.

“If he went into a deep sleep and woke up, he wouldsay: ‘Are you still there?’ and a smile would come to his face. When you said to him: ‘OK, Tata, I’m leaving now. I’ll either see you in the afternoon or tomorrow.’ He would become anxious: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘I’m going to my house’ and he would ask: ‘Why don’t you stay? What are you in a hurry for?’ ‘I’m not in a hurry. OK I’ll stay for a while.’ “He wanted the company. For me it was those moments when we sat around and talked that were special.”

I wanted to go back to when she was a child and saw other children playing with their parents and she didn’t have a dad. What was the world like through the eyes of that child?

It was painful for Maki. “It was a very sad moment. There were some good times, even though my parents divorced when I was four. When Tata was a free man, he would pick us up on weekends to spend time with him. When he went underground, into hiding, he was not there. When he was incarcerated it was sad not to have a father.

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“You know my mom, his first wife, was a nurse and had to work night duties, so people in the township took care of us. But it was this longing for a father who was not there. A painful experience but you learn to overcome that as a child.

“I was very bitter that my dad was not there in our life until my mid-thirties. When we grew up, we were from the first marriage of Mandela and were not known. So if we met somebody and we introduced ourselves as a Mandela, they would say: ‘Are you related?’ I would say: ‘Yes, he is my father.’ “The response was almost always the same: ‘We don’t know you – ‘Are you Zindzi? Are you Zenani?’ who are Winnie’s children. ‘No, I am Maki Mandela’ and you had to go into this long explanation of who you were. “People think they know and own Nelson Mandela and they know very little about Nelson Mandela.

“In my mid-thirties this voice said: ‘You’ve got to let it go. You are only creating toxicity for yourself. If you want to live a free life let it go.’ “That’s when I realised that imprisonment is not going through a physical change. Imprisonment is when you imprison yourself through the mind by holding on to negativity. For me personally, I had to free myself.”

When she got out of the prison she had built for herself, how did it feel to be free?

Maki told me: “It’s not something that happens overnight. It has been a journey of many years. But it’s been a very good feeling.

“Every day I talk to my soul, my heart, my God – I’m a great believer in a higher power. If you try to be positive and in a happy and loving space you are richly rewarded in life.”

Did she ever reach a happy and loving space with her father?

Maki took a deep breath. “Tata had lucid moments and he would open up. He was more comfortable with me because I could gauge when he was open. I always say the more you penetrated deeper there was still a part of him that he did not want to be touched.

“He would engage and realise ‘Oh My God, I’m opening up too much’ and he would retreat. I think that was because he chose politics, jail and being prepared to die for his cause.

“He had to downplay some emotions because if he felt too much he wouldn’t have had the courage to go through with his choices.

If you think: ‘I have children to take care of. I have a responsibility’, I don’t think my dad would have succeeded in the cause and he would not have survived so long in jail.

I asked her how she would her describe life now.

“I was determined that my dad’s last journey, his funeral, would be done in a very respectful manner.

“So I engaged with the government. When other people thought it’s an abomination in African culture even to talk about funerals, I said: ‘Yes, my dad is an African man and we have to respect tradition. But he is also a global icon and we cannot wait to the last minute to organise a funeral.

“Fortunately I was proved right as nobody expected the whole world would descend on South Africa to say bye-bye to my dad.

“I was not just on cloud nine. I was on cloud 12. I felt as a daughter, I have done right by him. So from that moment I felt good about myself.”