Former president Nelson Mandela once helped Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nkaqula with the birth of her son, she related on Sunday in between co-ordinating the rollout of 11 000 soldiers for Madiba's final farewells this week.
She relates that Mandela had noticed that she hadn't been in the ANC's offices in Johannesburg for a while during 1992, less than two years after Mandela was released from prison.
She had been ill during her pregnancy.
Mandela asked Baleka Mbete (then secretary general of the ANC Women's League) about her, and Mbete took him to her flat in Yeoville, Johannesburg.
She opened the door to find them there, with Mandela saying: “I haven't seen you at work and I am told you are not okay.
“I never expected it. I broke waters on the spot and I went into labour on the spot.” She called her mother who said she must get to a clinic immediately.
“He took me to his car and made sure I was admitted and comfortable,” she said.
“Mandela was saying, 'This is my daughter, look after her'.”
Her son Thumani was born on August 30, 1992, and knows the story, she says. She wants to cry when she sees the outpouring of love and condolences for Mandela, she says.
On Thursday night, she waited with the commander of the South African National Defence Force Solomon Shoke, waiting for President Jacob Zuma to give the final say so for the roll-out of a plan years in the making for Mandela's memorial and funeral.
She saw the expressions in the doctors' and nurses' eyes as they filed down the steps of his Houghton house after he died. She saw the final salute of the soldiers as his body was brought downstairs to be driven to Pretoria to be embalmed and prepared for lying in state, and then flown to Qunu for burial on Saturday with old friends and family members to accompany him on the SAAFC130.
Memories came flooding back for Mapisa-Nqakula, in a telephone interview.
“Tata had time for all of us,” she said. “He had a special relationship with the ANC. He was very good in monitoring, making progress.” She said that beyond the interaction and relations that he had with people in the work environment, he was a “wonderful person”.
“But I can assure you, he could be hard with us.” She said he would calm down the “hot-headed” umKhonto we Sizwe revolutionaries when the armed struggle was suspended in the early 1990s.
There was a moment when they wondered why he had not consulted everybody in the ANC on suspending the armed struggle.
“He said to us: 'Did you expect me to call a conference of plus minus 2 000 people and consult with you about whether we are going to suspend the armed struggle or not? Whenever we need to take a decision that will take the country forward, must we consult every one of you?” She said they were upset, especially people like herself who were in umKhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC, but afterwards they discussed the matter among themselves and decided that now that the leaders were going into negotiations, the ANC leadership would have to take decisions without consulting everyone.
“Suddenly I knew that this militancy has to come to an end. The ANC is unbanned. We are back in the country, we are not in the camps in Angola,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula's portfolio includes matters relating to Military Veterans, regarded as retired soldiers from formal forces or apartheid-era liberation forces.
At the time there was also tension between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party and Mandela's “main job at the time was to bring the nation together”.
She said when South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani was shot dead in 1993 by a “lone white man”, there was anger but Mandela stepped in and “helped us to understand that that which we are dealing with is beyond all of us, it is about the nation”.
She was also once chided by Mandela, who said she had not managed internal tension correctly when she was secretary general of the ANC Women's League and had led a resignation.
But when she was attacked outside her home in 1999, he was the first at her gate to find out if she was alright.
She said it was an honour to be part of the arrangements for his memorial and funeral.
“For many of us we are sad - not because there are no leaders in South Africa. Not because he was the only person who helped us get free - there were many - but because he was an extraordinary leader and South Africa will take its time to produce the kind of leader he was,” she said. - Sapa