How Mandela surprised De Klerk’s staff

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IOL mandela de klerk

Associated Press

In this May 8, 1996, photograph, Nelson Mandela (left) and FW de Klerk chat outside Parliament after the approval of South Africa's new constitution. File photo: AP

Johannesburg - Many in the employ of former state president FW de Klerk will never forget the day they met Nelson Mandela for the first time.

It was in the Union Buildings in Pretoria, days after the country's first democratic election in April 1994, which saw Mandela become president.

The staff in the old presidency were told beforehand of the day Mandela would arrive to take office and replace De Klerk.

Apprehension reigned among the predominantly white bureaucrats as no one had an inkling of what to expect. Were they going to be kicked out without ceremony?

Everyone was told to gather in a large circular conference room in the Union Buildings.

Mandela entered with a friendly general greeting.

As his next move was anxiously awaited, he drifted to one end of the room and started shaking hands with every single person present.

All were greeted with his trademark, “How are you?” as he asked people who they were.

Patiently, he moved around the entire room.

Many a staffer who never had the opportunity to speak to a president was dumbfounded by the personal attention they received from the living legend.

And apprehension turned to astonishment when he ended the meeting by seeking to assure those present not to worry about the future. - Sapa


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