Rory Steyn, Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard, remembers the day Madiba Magic was born, writes Kevin McCallum.
It was May 10, 1994, the day of Madiba’s inauguration as the president of South Africa. A match had been organised at Ellis Park between Bafana Bafana and Zambia as part of the celebrations, and Madiba had been flown by helicopter from the Union Buildings.
“We were late,” said Steyn.
“We landed at the Wits Technikon and drove through the gates and up the ramps, into the Jannie le Roux Hall, behind Louis Luyt’s presidential suite at Ellis Park.
“A very, very wise person on the inauguration committee had decided to host the match, which meant that there were 55 000 people in the stadium and not clogging up the N1 or sitting on the lawns of the Union Buildings.
“We got out of the car, he got into the lift, went down to the ground and out to meet the teams at halftime. It must have been one hell of a halftime talk because Bafana were 0-0 at halftime and not looking like they were too special.
“By the time he had got up the lift they, less than a minute of the restart, were 1-0 up. Then 2-0 and it finished 2-1. I always say that was the birth of Madiba Magic. In the same stadium a year later, he wore the number six jersey of Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar and the phrase Madiba Magic became popular.”
A year later Steyn got to see the power of Madiba Magic used upon a team he was protecting. Steyn was the senior ranking officer of the VIP protection unit and got to choose which of the 16 teams at the Rugby World Cup he would assign himself to. He opted for New Zealand, possibly because of the mystique of this great team.
“I could have got the Springboks, something I have regretted for the rest of my life,” said Steyn. “I still think about it.
“On the day of the final, I was sitting on the All Blacks bench, right next to Laurie Mains (All Blacks coach), when Madiba walked out with the number six jersey on.
“You could see they were taken aback. The cheer was enormous (sic). I’ve never heard anything like it. He went and shook the hand of both sides, and when he got to Jonah Lomu, he said to him: ‘Ah, you. You are the one. Hello, Jonah, how are you?’
“Now, remember, Jonah was a young kid then, still a youngster, even though he was a huge youngster. Jonah told me afterwards that this had totally thrown him. Madiba had destroyed him before the match had started. Having this icon, a global hero, wearing the Springbok jersey, gave the Springboks the edge. There is no doubt.”
Steyn had been part of the unit responsible for looking after VIPs when they were in Johannesburg in 1994, when the team was fractious, a mix of old South African policemen and struggle veterans.
He was asked to become the full-time head of Mandela’s personal protection unit in 1996, a role he held until 1999. But in 1994, he received a lesson from Madiba that he said opened his eyes to the new South Africa.
“I’m not sure I have a favourite memory of Madiba, but the one that has come to mind today resonates strongly with me and encapsulates Madiba perfectly. On his inauguration, on May 10, 1994, like I said, we’d flown to Ellis Park for the game, but Madiba had to go back to the Union Buildings. He had 184 heads of state waiting for him to host them for lunch,” said Steyn.
“We were very much a segregated security detail – you couldn’t call us unified. Zero unity. Very much them and us. We even sat in different cars sometimes. When we were about to leave Ellis Park, Madiba opened the door of the armoured car he was in. We all looked at each other. What the hell was he doing? This wasn’t part of the plan.
“He gets out and doesn’t say a word. He walked across to an old ‘polisie kolonel’, who was standing there in his full blue uniform. You could see this oke’s eyes getting bigger as Madiba got closer to him.
“Madiba stops in front of him, puts out his hand and shakes his hand. He told him: ‘Colonel. I just wanted to tell you that there is no more you and us. You are our police. I am your president.’ This guy just started crying, tears streaming down his face. Madiba just patted him on the shoulder and told him it would be all right.
“There was no press there, no PR opportunity, just a handful of security guys watching. When my jaw got back off the ground I started to think. That’s the day I began to question 32 years of education (in the old South Africa) about what was correct. I didn’t believe (Madiba) when he came out of jail that we were one country. Then I saw that exchange, and it had such a monstrous effect on me, and changed me forever.”
Steyn, who is now a partner in security company Nicholls Steyn and Associates, had just got into bed after attending the cricket match between South Africa and India at the Wanderers on Thursday night.
“I got a call from a very good friend of mine, asking what had I heard about Madiba. He said he had heard Madiba has passed away. I went to my best source and they told me to be on standby. Then my phone lit up. I cried.”
Steyn has a watch given to him by Madiba, and signed copies of his autobiographies, but no memorabilia as such. I was profoundly privileged to have served with him,” said Steyn, who celebrated his 50th birthday at a party last night.
“My memorabilia of Madiba is stored in my hard drive between my ears. He taught me so much, showed me what it really was to be a South African.”