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Manuel remembers the day he 'lost' Mandela

Published Feb 11, 2010


While South Africans were remembering the historical importance of Nelson Mandela's release from prison on Thursday, Trevor Manuel, one of the organisers behind the event 20 years ago, remembers how he "lost" the anti-apartheid icon on that day.


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"You will see from the footage... it is early in the afternoon when we leave Victor Verster (prison) and it is dark when he (Mandela) talks to the crowd... the reason is that we lost Madiba. Thankfully, we found him," said Manuel, now the head of the National Planning Commission in President Jacob Zuma's office.

Manuel was speaking on SAfm on Thursday morning, remembering the hectic arrangements that went on behind the scenes on the day of Mandela's release, on February 11, 1990.

"There was a moment when we were driving to Victor Verster where we laughed and said, 'Can't we ask these people for one week more?', you know, we weren't ready...

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"We had to attend to the finer details of getting cars and getting into Victor Verster and so on... it was a monumental task. We did this without cellphones; without two-way radios."

Manuel said Willie Hofmeyr - who is now the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit - was in charge of security, because he was the "largest" man - and he owned a suit and a tie.

One of the problems was to find a car suitable for someone of Mandela's stature.

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"At that stage I owned a Toyota 1300. The guys with the big cars were cafe owners and we eventually found a big Cressida which we decided to use," Manuel said in a similar interview with Beeld newspaper.

But the most heart-stopping moment came when the convoy with Mandela decided to take another route, without letting the organisers - Manuel, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jay Naidoo and Valli Moosa know.

"Willie Hofmeyr said, 'we've lost control of the crowd, we need to assess the situation... by the time we got back, the convoy wasn't there. For a little while, we had lost the convoy."

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Manuel said he was told that Mandela needed to be taken to the city hall - but he had no idea where Mandela was.

"The convoy had left down to Rondebosch East, we didn't know this.

"We had our tail between our legs. We didn't want the police to supply security for us -- we knew everything then, didn't we..."

Eventually they managed to track Mandela down at a house in Rondebosch.

"Madiba had his shoes off; he was drinking tea, chatting to the family. We had to take him back," said Manuel.

"It was quite a phenomenal day." - Sapa

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