An ad for The Economist stated that he read the Economist in prison as a clever way of getting around a rule forbidding him to read the news, until authorities found him out and cancelled the subscription.

This 2001 news24 article mentions the ad:

London - A new TV advertisement for the Economist magazine started on Wednesday, based on the fact that Nelson Mandela read the weekly during his many years in prison.

The advertisement's hook is that the former South African president's subscription was cancelled by the prison authorities once they had figured out the Economist covered more than just economics - a recurring misconception the publishers would like to correct.

The well-regarded and often irreverent 158-year-old magazine, which insists on calling itself a newspaper, covers the global political economy and more and is getting a face-lift with the campaign featuring Mandela to back it up.

You can find the ad on DailyMotion here.

  • I've proposed an edit. Can't find the ad but I did find a 2001 news24 article that mentions it. Oh, nvm, I did find the ad, but but how would one prove the claim it makes? May 26, 2023 at 14:02
  • Actually I don't see much reason to doubt it anyway. Not sure if editing in the claim really helped? May 26, 2023 at 14:25
  • 3
    @JeromeViveiros: Editing in the claim helped a lot, thank you. We no longer have to wonder whether the OP misremembers the claim.
    – Oddthinking
    May 26, 2023 at 15:16
  • South African censorship was always peculiar: they banned the paperback edition of the thriller The Odessa File in the mid 1970s and then unbanned it. The rumour at the time was that it included detailed instructions on building a car bomb, but the hardback edition was too expensive for potential terrorists and the unbanning came after their security services tested the instructions and found they did not work (they did not work in the book either). NYT article at the time.
    – Henry
    May 27, 2023 at 19:39
  • Another let's say interesting part of South African censorship history is that we were one of the latest nations to adopt the television. The old nationalist party was convinced the tv was going to corrupt the youth with pornography. Something which became ironically prophetic when Etv did in fact start broadcasting softcore pornos in the midnight hours in the early 2000s.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 7, 2023 at 13:20

1 Answer 1


In Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom [Part 8: Robben Island: The Dark Years], he writes:

In addition to books, we were permitted to order publications necessary to our studies. The authorities were extremely strict about this, and the only kind of publication that would pass muster might be a quarterly on actuarial science for a prisoner studying accounting. But one day, Mac Maharaj told a comrade who was studying economics to request The Economist. We laughed and said we might as well ask for Time magazine, because The Economist was also a newsweekly. But Mac simply smiled and said the authorities wouldn’t know that; they judged a book by its title.

Within a month, we were receiving The Economist and reading the news we hungered for. But the authorities soon discovered their mistake and ended the subscription.

  • 8
    I only just noticed: Mac Maharaj mentioned in this anecdote is the same person as the narrator of the advertisement - so we are hearing two different first-person accounts of the same story. I won't go as far as to call them "independent" accounts.
    – Oddthinking
    May 27, 2023 at 19:53

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