Cape Town - Former president Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest people of the past century, former president FW de Klerk said on Friday, in a moving tribute to his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Speaking to journalists in Cape Town, he recalled his first and last encounters with Mandela, the man with whom he shared the prize in 1993.
De Klerk said Mandela had been “brought under the cover of darkness to my office at Tuynhuys here at Parliament” by prison warders on December 13, 1989.
“My first impression of him as he entered the office was that he was taller than I expected. He was ramrod straight.
“He had an aura around him, an aura of dignity and an aura of authority (that) I immediately felt; my gut reaction was, 'I like this man',” De Klerk said.
They started out sharing their ideas on the country's history, before moving to serious talk about the opening of the political negotiating process.
“He was a great admirer of the Boeremagte (Boer forces), the Boers, my people who fought against the British empire, and the generals - General De Wet and General De la Rey - and we spoke about that... .
“At (first)... we spoke about general things, and not the political challenges of the country; we were feeling each other out,” said De Klerk.
Both later wrote in their autobiographies that after that first meeting, they could report back to their constituencies that “I think I can do business with this man”.
De Klerk said he had been impressed by Mandela's analytical mind.
“I was very impressed by his analytical way of listening, and his analytical way of making his statements. Maybe because we (were) both lawyers, there was a rapport between us about the way in which we approach things.”
De Klerk said it had been an honour to work with Mandela in the years that followed, and which resulted in the process that led to the adoption of the interim Constitution and the country's first democratic elections on April 27, 1994.
The last time De Klerk saw Mandela was at the official opening of the 2010 World Cup, but because the elder statesman was so frail and both were busy, they did not speak.
“But not long before that, my wife and I had tea at his home in Houghton, with him and Graca (Machel), and we had a wonderful warm discussion, reminiscing about the past,” De Klerk said.
“We became very good friends, especially after our retirement.”
One of his fondest memories of his former political opponent was the toast Mandela made at his (De Klerk's) 70th birthday.
It had brought South Africa's last apartheid-era president to tears. - Sapa