The intrigue around the Toyota Cressida used by Nelson Mandela on the day of his release is deepening.
The Protea Toyota dealership in Bellville has “set the record straight”, explaining that the car Mandela, rode in from Victor Verster Prison to the Grand Parade in Cape Town came from their showroom.
That and other Toyotas were lent free-of-charge to the ANC and United Democratic Front (UDF) by Protea owner Hamza Esack.
Last week the Cape Argus interviewed struggle comrade Dawood Khan, 83.
He claimed that Mandela’s fleet of Toyotas was organised by him in the early hours of the day of Mandela’s release, after the ANC decided that they no longer wanted to use a prearranged fleet of Mercedes Benzes.
Khan said that his daughter-in-law’s Cressida was the one used by Mandela on the day.
The car was subsequently sold at a normal price to a buyer who did not know the significance of the vehicle.
The Cape Argus article resulted in a flurry of speculation online.
Khan has since been contacted by radio stations and has given various interviews detailing his version of how the fleet of Toyotas was organised.
Khan’s claims also piqued the interest of the provincial transport ministry. Ministry head Sanele Nyoka has tasked a group of investigators to track the registration number on the vehicle used by Mandela, in an attempt to find the current owner.
“Mandela had a close connection with the Western Cape,” said Nyoka.
“It is here that he spent the majority of his time during his incarceration, where he was released from prison and where he addressed the nation for the first time thereafter.
“We believe that this vehicle is an integral part of that history. I foresee that it could be found, restored and displayed as an exhibition for members of the public to appreciate.”
Nyoka admitted that the new claims by Protea Toyota could complicate the search for the vehicle.
After reading Khan’s claims that he provided Mandela’s car from his own family, Sharif Hassan, who was the chairman of the now defunct Western Cape Traders Association at the time of Mandela’s release, contacted the Cape Argus to recall the role played by Protea Toyota and its “philanthropic” owner Hamza Esack in assisting to organise the fleet.
“Esack, much like Dawood Khan, had done so much for the struggle through his donation,” said Hassan.
“One of his lasting contributions was a fleet of cars directly from his showroom floor.
“He is now passed away, so I would just like to see that his contribution is also acknowledged.”
Hassan, who was part of planning for Mandela’s release, recalls how the UDF and ANC insisted on Toyotas because they wanted to associate the struggle icon of Mandela with the common man (rather than using Mercedes or BMW – “symbols of the bourgeoisie”).
Hassan concedes that Khan could also have helped organise some of the cars.
Faiz Esack, Hamza’s son who currently owns Protea, remains convinced that Mandela’s vehicle came from his father’s shop floor.
“I remember that one vehicle in particular was full of dents when it came back to us. We all knew that it was Mandela’s car which had been damaged by the excited crowds as he made his way from Victor Verster Prison to the Grand Parade.
“My dad paid for the damages. It was his contribution to the celebration of the day,” Esack said.
Alas, Esack speculates that the car made its way back onto the display room floor, and was sold as any other vehicle. - Cape Argus