He touched us all

By MICHAEL SUTCLIFFE Time of article published Dec 6, 2013

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Mandela touched all of us, changed us and made us human. His presence, strategic vision, compassion and simplicity have all been spoken about. I was fortunate to have been at his side on many occasions. What struck me was how humble Mandela was.

He would personally stand up and ensure that everyone was served coffee or tea. He would ask each visitor if they wanted a biscuit or piece of cake.

He would personally hand out biscuits to each person, making them feel comfortable.

Three specific moments out of the many moments I had with him at rallies, meetings and just waiting for helicopters or in his hotel stand out in my mind.

First, everyone talks about Madiba and the Rugby World Cup. Well I was fortunate to be with him in Ezakheni on Youth Day just before the rugby finals in 1995.

Mandela stood up before a crowd of more than 20 000 poor, racially oppressed black South Africans.

He held up the Springbok cap in his hand and explained to the crowd that they must embrace reconciliation with their oppressors.

None of those youngsters would have attended or probably even seen the Rugby World Cup. Madiba knew that greatness was to embrace your oppressor, leading them away from their racism and discrimination.

This showed his courage to speak the unspeakable, telling the most oppressed among us to be bold and show white South Africans that the ANC’s core values were to build a society which was humane and in which everyone was to be treated equally.

The second occasion was when we were between a meeting in Durban and another in Hammarsdale and on the way stopped for lunch at my house in Westville.

About 50 ANC comrades, including Madiba, turned up. He was unbelievably gracious, serving himself and talking to Felicity, Andrea and Warren as his own family. He again wanted everyone to be comfortable and some days later thanked me again for having had him and the leadership to lunch.

Finally, together with Dumisani Makhaye we both had the privilege to be asked by the ANC to organise the media for the April 27, 1994 elections. We did not tell the media where the vote would occur and instead told them to assemble at the ANC’s office at about 4am.

We then took them in buses to Ohlange, KZN, early in the morning. We set up the ballot box at Ohlange and I then practised as if I was Madiba voting so that they could focus their cameras. When the time came and Madiba arrived, I was one of the luckiest persons alive to be at his side when he voted.

These are but some of the moments with Madiba that the ANC gave me and made me realise how lucky we are to be South Africans.

He touched us all, made us feel human and committed us to creating a humane, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and united South Africa.

* Sutcliffe is former eThekwini Municipality city manager

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