Winnie & Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage

By Jonny Steinberg

‘Gripping and profoundly moving’ DAMON GALGUT

‘Deft and operatic’ OBSERVER

From one of South Africa’s foremost nonfiction writers, a deeply researched, shattering new account of Nelson Mandela’s relationship with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Drawing on never-before-seen material, Steinberg reveals the fractures and stubborn bonds at the heart of a volatile and groundbreaking union, a very modern political marriage that played out on the world stage.

One of the most celebrated political leaders of the twentieth century, Nelson Mandela has been written about by many biographers and historians. But in one crucial area, his life remains largely untold: his marriage to Winnie. During his years in prison, Nelson grew ever more in love with an idealised version of his wife, courting her in his letters as if they were young lovers frozen in time. But Winnie, every bit his political equal, found herself increasingly estranged from her jailed husband ’ s politics. Behind his back, she was trying to orchestrate an armed seizure of power, a path he feared would lead to an endless civil war.

Jonny Steinberg tells the tale of this unique marriage – its longings, its obsessions, its deceits – turning the course of South African history into a page-turning political biography. Winnie & Nelson is a modern epic in which trauma doesn’t just affect the couple at its centre, but an entire nation. It is also a Shakespearean drama in which bonds of love and commitment mingle with timeless questions of revolution, such as whether to seek retribution or a negotiated peace. Told with power and tender emotional insight, Steinberg reveals how far these forever entwined leaders would go for one another, and also, where they drew the line. For in the end both knew theirs was not simply a marriage, but a contest to decide how apartheid should be fought.

Format: Hardback
Release Date: 11 May 2023
Pages: 576
ISBN: 978-0-00-835378-0
JONNY STEINBERG is the author of several books about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy. He is a two-time winner of South Africa’s premier nonfiction prize, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, and an inaugural winner of the Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes. Until 2020, he was professor of African studies at Oxford University. He currently teaches part-time at Yale and at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg. He lives in Oxford.


‘A gripping portrait of Africa’s most famous romantic couple . . . The most nuanced of storytellers, Steinberg has always had an extraordinary ability to get inside his protagonists’ heads . . . [and] is a superb chronicler of modern Africa, capturing the poignant, questing energy of its inhabitants’ lives like no other writer’ The Times -

”'Winnie & Nelson is a beautiful and immensely sad book. Steinberg, a distinguished South African writer and scholar, chronicles that pain, and writes about each of them with insight and empathy . . . Winnie & Nelson is more than a joint biography, as good as it is at that; it’s a deft and operatic interweaving of two outsized characters” - Observer

”'An excellent new biography of the couple . . . Steinberg suspects that the couple’s myths will only endure - but his thorough interrogation of their story should help readers reconcile themselves with the messier truth” - Daily Telegraph, **** review

”'[A]n empathetic portrait of one of the most controversial power couples in history… What Steinberg does extremely well in this book is to pry those doors ajar using archive, interviews and never-seen-before transcripts of conversations between Winnie and Nelson during prison visits” - Sunday Times

”'Gripping and profoundly moving, this is Jonny Steinberg’s finest book. I can’t wait to read it again” - Damon Galgut, Booker Prize-winning author of The Promise, in Literary Hub

”'Unlikely to be superseded in a long time” - J.M. Coetzee, Nobel Laureate 2003

‘Remarkable . . . a powerful, page-turning political fable unlike any I’ve read’Aminatta Forna, author of Happiness and The Window Seat -

”'An elegant and often profound exploration of the psyches of his subjects. There are a thousand vivid anecdotes in it, some so sad they will break your heart…this is a landmark book” - Rian Malan