|Google image - a man famous too for his shirts|
Although I like to think of my blog as totally apolitical, it is hard to ignore the topic of Nelson Mandela this week, if only because of the extraordinary response to his passing of all kinds of people world-wide. It may be that his ideals have not carried through the way he would have liked, but we have made progress over the years since his release on a personal level at least, though our current politicans, like those the world over, leave a lot to be desired (to put it mildly). Since last Friday our radio and TV stations have been saturated with Madela memorabilia and although I thought listening to these anecdotes would quickly pall, I have actually enjoyed listening to the outpouring of personal stories from the ordinary, average Joe Soap, who has had the good fortune to encounter the man in person at some stage in the last 19 years. He had the most amazing charisma and empathy, even for the crusty, old dyed-in-the-wool Afrikaner. On the day of his release in 1994, while waiting for events to start, his driver relates that he saw Madiba go up to an old soldier who was standing stiffly nearby, a scowl on his face. Nelson (who was very tall), went up to the man, put his arm around his shoulders and said, "Don't worry, sir, you are one of us now". Completely disarmed, the man broke down and cried. Such was the quality of the man. Stories like this are legion. There is another concerning a group of Afrikaans dowagers who belonged to some organisation (I forget what), that was invited to visit Nelson in his home for afternoon tea. Feeling their bristling disapproval, Nelson welcomed them into his home saying, "Welcome to my home, ladies. I am so honoured that you have come to visit me". They were similarly charmed. Once, on visiting the queen of England, he was heard to exclaim, "Elizabeth! You look as if you have lost some weight!" This is the man for whom (at today's count) 70 presidents from all over the world are winging their way, as we speak, to Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg, to attend his Memorial Service tomorrow. Such was the affection and respect he commanded.