Mandela Worried About Being a Living Icon

VIDEO: Verne Harris on what Nelson Mandela wanted to reveal in his autobiography.
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The public persona of Nelson Mandela is internationally known – activist, president, political icon.

But in his latest book, "Conversations with Myself," a new unprecedented, intimate picture emerges of the 92-year-old man who endured isolation in prison, heart-breaking divorce, and personal loss while balancing the demands of loving both his family and his political work.

South African archivist Verne Harris was allowed wide access to Mandela's personal notes, journal entries, letters and manuscripts – written over decades -- to compile "Conversations with Myself."

"The private Nelson Mandela is one we can all relate to," Harris said. "He's taken the stuff life has given him and he's worked with it, in ways that are often very simple."

Harris recently sat down with ABC News to discuss the new pictures of the leader that emerge from his latest work.

Mandela's First Marriage Falls Apart

While Mandela's relationship with second wife Winnie became known around the world, the leader opens up about his fist wife, Evelyn, in "Conversations with Myself."

"The breakdown of his first marriage, it was ugly," Harris told ABC News. Evelyn accused Mandela of hitting her and going after her with a hot poker.

The couple had four children together, but Mandela's life outside of the home and personal differences placed a wedge between the two.

"So at one level it's, Well, I've put my political work before my marriage and my family. I made that choice and Evelyn couldn't cope with that. But at another level it's a little murkier than that. You know?" Harris told ABC News.

"Evelyn became increasingly religious. I remember him once saying to me, 'Ah, the day I knew I couldn't keep going is when I came home and found the church in my house. And I had to chase them all out.'"

The couple divorced in 1958.

Life in Prison for Mandela

Before becoming president of a democratic South Africa in 1994 Mandela was held in several prisons throughout the country from 1964 to 1990. Numerous letters written from prison are shared in "Conversations with Myself," and in them Mandela gives glimpses into what his life was like without his freedom.

As part of his routine at the Robben Island prison, Mandela and other inmates were given tasks. "Sewing of bags, digging rock out of the lime quarry. It was pretty much meaningless labor," Harris explained.

For Mandela there were also times of isolation in solitary confinement. Mandela's opportunities to see loved ones were controlled and limited.

"A visit to a prisoner always has significance difficult to put into words," Mandela wrote in a letter penned in prison to friend Frieda Matthews on Feb. 25, 1987. "A visit from your beloved ones, from friends, and even from strangers is always an unforgettable occasion, when that frustrating monotony is broken and the entire world is literally ushered into the cell."

The Strain of Prison on Mandela's Family Life

Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958 and the couple worked together in the anti-apartheid struggle with the African National Congress. Winnie also raised their children while Nelson was imprisoned. The distance that grew between them is crisply demonstrated in "Conversations with Myself."

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