PICTURE: FAIRFAX MEDIA What do politicians have to do with the arts and the imagination? For Isaiah Berlin the good politician “understand[s] a particular situation in its full uniqueness, the particular men and events, the particular hopes and fears. To be able to do this well seems to me to be a gift, akin to that of some novelists…such as Tolstoy.” Folk tales and memories belonged to Nelson Mandela’s imaginative inheritance, so much so that, in 1960, the policemen who arrested him under Emergency regulations “confiscated the transcripts I had recently been making of my mother’s recollections of family history and tribal fables. I was never to see them again.” In his statement at the 1964 Rivonia Trial, Mandela recalled listening as a youth to elders “amongst [whose] tales were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland.”On Robben Island the conspirators watched black and white movies —The Wild One, for example, with Marlon Brando as an outlaw on a motorcyc...

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