A long book, a lot of learning and a reacquaintance with a remarkable man

Yes, they won! The Springboks won! What a game. They showed up, played to their strengths and succeeded. We are all thrilled. A highlight in what was a rather uneventful week. It did have one interesting focus for Chantal, however, and several valuable lessons for Matthew.

A leaf out of Mandela's book

18 July is International Nelson Mandela Day and the subject of our podcast this week. Although she has had the book for several decades, Chantal has never read it and so took the opportunity in the lead up to recording the podcast to finally, finally read Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

At just over 650 pages, it is a substantial piece of work. It chronologically plots Mandela’s life from birth, his early life, coming of age, education, his politicisation as a lawyer in Johannesburg and his 27 years spent in prison. This was Chantal’s focus for most of the week.

"Why did it take you nearly 27 years to read it?" enquired Matthew rather incredulously.

"I don’t know, I started it when I got it but could not move past the first few chapters. I have always been meaning to go back to it and now I have," Chantal replied, head down, trying to finish the tome in time for the podcast.

The remarkable thing about this man is that despite the multitude of opportunities to become resentful, bitter and revengeful, Nelson Mandela remained resolute in his beliefs and purpose: South Africa as a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

He displayed the qualities of one supremely resilient and emotionally fit. When we consider the five pillars of emotional fitness we can see how Mandela fitted into each one:


The pillar of life long learning, of ongoing growth and development was fully embraced by Mandela who sat for part of his LL.B exams while waiting for the Rivonia Trial to reconvene. He passed those exams too. Quite incredible.

While in prison he, along with other leaders petitioned and won the right to be allowed to study. In time Robben Island became known as "the University" for all the learning that was done there. Keeping his mind occupied and engaged was a key component of Mandela’s life in and out of prison.


Shadow Boxing by Marco Cianfanelli, between Chancellor house and the Johannesburg Magistrates court on Fox street


The pillar of movement and exercise. Mandela was always an early riser. He enjoyed the sport of boxing, not for the violence of it, but for the strategy and training that it afforded. He found the strenuous exercise an outlet for tension and stress. Even when he was not able to train formally he would always find a way to do some exercise. Even if it meant running on the spot for an hour as he did when he went underground in the early 1960’s and his movements were severely curtailed.

On the island once the hard labour at the quarry was curtailed in the late 1970’s the prisoners converted the courtyard into a makeshift tennis court. Mandela discovered the joy of playing this game. He noted the oddness of playing such a civilised sport in such an uncivilised environment.


The pillar of relationships, companionship and connection. Mandela was more introvert than extrovert but he was acutely aware of the importance of having a group of fellow political prisoners with him on the island.

He writes "the authorities’ greatest mistake was keeping us together, for together our determination was reinforced. We supported each other and gained strength from each other. Whatever we knew, whatever we learned, we shared, and by sharing we multiplied whatever courage we had individually."


Living spirulina is a complete food with every vitamin and mineral the body needs


The pillar of nourishing your body through your diet and your soul through self care. Both of these were, understandably, particularly difficult for Mandela while he was in prison. For many years the prisoners were fed a diet of mielie meal in various forms and very little else. Often not nearly enough either. It is remarkable, in the circumstances, that the prisoners did not get ill more often.

Mandela found other ways to nourish himself. Small highlights in his long days like being outside, seeing the birds, watching the sea. He built up a photo album from photos sent to him by his family that sustained him and others just looking through it.

On the subject of nourishing with food, we recently discovered the benefits of nourishing our bodies using living spirulina. It’s different to the powdered version and contains many health boosting elements. Some of these are more protein than beef or soy products. It contains all the essential amino acids, plus all the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids that the body needs. It contains pretty much all of the minerals and vitamins the body needs as well as high levels of iron. Living spirulina also has antioxidant, pain-relief, anti-inflammatory, and brain-protective properties.

If you are interested in finding out more or getting some for yourself, and you are in South Africa, then please visit our friends at Spru who farm living spirulina right here in Johannesburg.

When you get to the checkout, please use the code 5thplace to let them know that we sent you!

We have engaged with other organisations who farm it outside of South Africa and will keep you posted when we have more info from them.


The pillar of emotional care and psychological support. Mandela did not know about mindfulness and meditation but he found other ways to tend to his emotional wellbeing in a hostile, volatile and uncertain environment. He loved gardening and set up a small vegetable garden on Robben Island. He found it calming to tend the soil, plant seeds and watch them grow into plants.

Nelson Mandela was quite religious, although not much attention has been paid to this fact. He was brought up a Methodist and was a deeply spiritual person but considered his spiritual life to be his private affair. He never missed a church service and often read the scriptures. He spoke of how the counsel and sermons helped him survive the long and tedious days of his imprisonment.


More bee food equals more honey!

A truly remarkable man

Nelson Mandela truly was a remarkable man. We both found it sobering and inspiring to journey through his life and be reminded of both his strength and humanness. Mandela offers us a beautiful example of what emotional fitness can look like. He practised consistency and focused on where he had power and control, himself.

Of course he was fallible, stubborn and dogmatic at times but these paled in comparison to the examples he set of connection and community, possibility and wellbeing which ultimately led to equality for all, here in South Africa. And in case you didn’t know these are the qualities of a 5th Place!

The best way to end off paying tribute to him is with this excerpt, again from his biography: "I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward."

When you do this, the shadows fall behind you and warmed by the light of the sun, many things become possible.

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