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HUNGER FOR FREEDOM (article first published : 2008-08-18; last edited : 2008-08-18)

“A man who has nourished South Africa and the world with his unstinting appetite for freedom” Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela was launched recently to commemorate Madiba’s 90th birthday. It offers a taste of the times lived, endured, suffered and celebrated in Nelson Mandela’s walk of 90 years on this earth. As its author, Anna Trapido, says: “South Africa is a multi-cultural country. Its diversity is reflected in its freedom struggle and on the dinner plates of those involved.”

If perhaps there are some people who know little of Nelson Mandela’s history and South Africa’s fight for democracy, this book will serve to educate them as no other history book is likely to do and at the same time it offers an interesting insight into traditional African cooking.

Madiba has a deeply entrenched traditional culture and many of the favourite dishes enjoyed by him are relatively simple. It is the simplicity in which these dishes are produced that is vital to the finished offering - for instance, in making Soured Milk or Qunu Amasi a calabash is crucial for getting really good sour milk, which can take from four to ten days to make. “Madiba would never go to a shop a buy Amasi – he knows the genuine stuff”, says Anna Trapido. “He is a real gourmand in his appreciation of the traditional foods of the Eastern Cape … Madiba still has a love of jelly and especially custard”.

However, it is not all simple tastes for Madiba. He also enjoys exotic and, in some cases, intricate curries. Indeed, for his first lunch date with Winnie Madikizela he took her to an Indian curry restaurant which, seeing as she had never tasted curry before, was quite a traumatic experience for her. By the time they had finished eating she had streaming eyes and nose. Madiba never noticed her discomfort and ate with great relish. That same day, charmed by her inexperience in matters culinary, he asked her to marry him.

The extremely diverse recipes in Hunger for Freedom have been submitted by many friends of Madiba, all from different cultures and mirroring the diversities of his life. These range from Ray Harmel’s Jewish Chopped Liver, Monomone Naidoo’s Crab Curry (which looks wonderful as do many other Indian influenced dishes) and Joe Slovo’s salad dressing to George Bizos’s Lemon and Oregano Lamb which appears to be highly complicated. There is Kitfo, a type of Ethiopian steak tartare enjoyed with Joe Mathews and Fufu which are yams.

Madiba has a sweet tooth and fond memories of scones, rusks and chocolate are to be found. There is a rather poignant recipe for Madiba’s Birthday Treat which he wrote of in a letter to Winnie from Robben Island. “I remembered your birthday with a real feast. I put four teaspoons of Nesquik in a mug, three teaspoons of Milo, two teaspoons of brown sugar and buried the whole mixture in hot water. It was a magnificent brew fit for a monarch”. Winnie herself is an accomplished cook and there are many of her recipes included in Hunger for Freedom. Adele de Waal’s Herb Roasted Chicken is worth a mention as she identified with Mrs Mandela’s isolation when she was banned from leaving Brandfort, and invited her for dinner. She was the wife of Piet de Waal, Winnie’s lawyer. To me there is the irony of including Elize Botha’s Malva Pudding served to Henry Kissinger in 1982 at a dinner when President Botha refused to discuss Nelson Mandela’s case with Kissinger.

For Madiba’s First Meal of Freedom he enjoyed Lillian Nosipho Ngoboza’s Chicken Curry with rice, a green salad, chutney and plain yoghurt. As Archbishop Tutu, who was hosting the meal, always likes rum and raisin ice-cream, they had that and lots of custard.

In a household where there are diverse tastes, a firm family favourite of the Mandelas is “Sis Xoli’s Sweet Chicken”. President Bill Clinton offered Xoliswa Ndoyiya a job after eating this dish to which Madiba retorted: “In your dreams, Bill, in your dreams.”

Anna Trapido is a trained anthropologist and has a PhD in Community Health. She qualified as a chef at the Prue Leith Chef’s Academy. She is a food writer, broadcaster and editor of Dine: Top 100 Restaurant Guide.

Hunger for Freedom is a rare book – one from which you can gain so much – history, cultural insights, cooking, diversity of simple tastes to the most gourmet, humility, humour and just plain admiration for a great man. Anna Trapido has accomplished what could have been a daunting task most adroitly in her extremely well-researched publication.

Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela has 216 pages and contains many colour and black and white photographs, a number of which have never been published before which adds to substance to the book. Picture Editor and photographer is Richard Goode.

Published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Hunger for Freedom is available in hardcover (recommended retail price R300) and paperback (RRP R225) from all major South African bookstores. ISBN 978-1-77009-565-6 – Cherry MacIldowie




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