What happened to Madiba's Cressida?

By Daneel Knoetze Time of article published Dec 11, 2013

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When struggle comrade Dawood Khan travels to Robben Island he is playfully heckled by the former prisoners who are now custodians of Nelson Mandela’s legacy on the island.

“Why did you sell Tata’s car, uncle? Are you crazy?” They ask him jokingly.

“Where is it now? C’mon, you must know.”

Every year Khan has callers at his Kensington home. They have one question: “What happened to the Cressida, the one that carried Mandela to freedom on 11 February 1990?”

Khan says millionaires from all around the world would pay buckets of cash for a lead that could help track it down.

“I wish we could find it again.”

“I don’t think the owner knows what he has in his possession,” says Khan, 83. He says the car was sold at book value shortly after Madiba’s release.

In the days before Mandela’s release Khan, a member of the ANC and then chairman of the Western Cape Traders Association, was tasked by Essa Moosa (now a retired judge) to organise a fleet of Mercedes Benz’ for Mandela and his entourage.

The fleet would carry them from Victor Verster prison to the Grand Parade, where Mandela was due to address the nation.

Khan spent days phoning business contacts and friends to ask them whether they would be willing to lend their cars to Mandela for a day or two. They all agreed.

“It was the night before Mandela’s release and we went to sleep,” he went on. “Then, well after midnight, the phone rang. It was somebody from the ANC. The voice on the other end said the Mercedes would no longer do. The ANC wanted Toyotas. Not one, not two, but more than a dozen.”

Again, frantically this time, Khan started calling his friends.

By dawn, a mismatched fleet of Toyotas was ready for action. The Cressida that carried Mandela was sourced from Khan’s family - it belonged to his daughter-in-law Gadija Khan.

Khan travelled with the ANC entourage to Paarl and still has vivid memories from that day of Mandela’s release.

One in particular illustrates what may well be Mandela’s first public display of the reconciliation and forgiveness that would become his trademark.

“Everywhere we went there were huge crowds lining the street.”

Khan said: “The first crowd we came to was a group of white people. Mandela got out of Gadija’s car. The air was tense. You could tell the white people were nervous and maybe a little fearful.

“Mandela walked up to a young mother. He asked to hold her baby and spent a few seconds playing with the child. It absolutely finished me. I mean, here was a group of white people - to us they represented the enemy who had put Mandela in prison.”

The motorcade continued to Cape Town, where Mandela gave his famous address from the balcony of City Hall. - The Argus

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