Nelson Mandela was the global symbol of human rights which earned him the Nobel Prize. Amongst being South Africa’s first black president, there are some very interesting facts about this noble peacemaker you probably didn’t know about.
Nelson Mandela could not shed tears because of damage to his tear glands caused while breaking rocks in the Robben Island penal colony.
For a man who died at 95, Mandela showed impressive stamina, with swollen feet and hearing aids and lung troubles acquired during 27 years in captivity, a surgeon, while repairing cataracts, had unplugged Mandela’s tear ducts, glued shut from years of breaking rock in a dusty prison quarry. From time to time he had to mop his eyes with a handkerchief.
Dr. Percy Amoils who performed the surgery to remove a cataract from Mandela’s left eye once said; “Not only does the president have cataracts, he has severe eye damage to his tear glands, which started during his sojourn on Robben Island where his tear glands were burned out by the alkaline nature of the limestone,” Amoils said.
“Therefore the former president had no tears.”
Mandela, spent 18 years in the Robben Island penal colony as part of a life term handed down for his anti-apartheid activities.
Reporters who visited the island recently said the wind filled their eyes with grit during a tour of the limestone quarries where Mandela used to break rocks.
“The president has very little tear secretion, but he manages extremely well,” Amoils said. “You only have to hear him reading speeches to know how well he manages.”
He said the lack of tears was the reason Mandela suffered periodic bouts of red eyes.
“It was a very difficult operation,” Amoils said, adding that Mandela was not experiencing much pain and was being treated with mild painkillers.
Mandela was wearing an eye patch after the operation.
Amoils said he had to make a larger cut than he had planned to implant an intraocular lens in the president’s eye.
“Visibility during the operation was bad and I had to do a larger incision. Therefore the recuperation period will be longer, but the long-term effects will be just as good.”
I’m not sure if people understand that he – he had an operation on his tear ducts because when he worked on Robben Island in the salt mines, the salt sort of burned out his tear ducts. So this man, this figure that will be remembered not just in South Africa, not just in Africa but from China, Asia, everywhere, a man who could move so many people to tears, himself could not cry.