Millennium Post

Invictus down but the legacy lives on

I had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela in an elevator in Cape Town when the Khaleej Times sent me to South Africa to track the changeover from the apartheid era to a more equal one in racial terms.

Couldn’t find him. From Jo’burg to Durban to Cape Town, the ANC kept him well hidden from anyone who was a guest of the government. I remember meeting Chris Hani, his able assistant (later assassinated) and telling him to please try and make a contact.


Then, while swimming in this recently desegregated pool, I realised I needed to make a call, so I quickly changed and rushed to the elevator and, what do you know, it was Mandela with two bodyguards going up to the top floor to address a white ladies’ tea party! I stammered and I stuttered and explained it has been 10 days chasing him. And he gave me that gentle, patient trademark smile and said ‘Well, if you have come from Dubai then we must talk but first you will have to go through the party with me…’ And he laughed. We all laughed. He had the ladies all atwitter as he charmed them for over an hour.

Later, we shot pix from a toy camera which Khaleej Times published the next day and we talked after tea. Even then, his was a persuasive voice of reason, even though Robben Island and 26 years behind those bars was frighteningly fresh.

In my wallet were photographs of my daughters and he signed them both with love for Nandini and Priyanka.

Weird. Only last night we were talking about it – about how other people would have framed them and we don’t even know where they are and aren’t we stupid, little realising that Invictus was slipping away.

A great memory. One of the nuggets of my career.

What a life. What a man.

They called him Madiba – his Xhosa clan name – or Tata, as in the Father…and he was that and much more.

On arrangement with Governance Now

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