Tributes jay naidoo

When one thinks of Madiba, a picture of someone larger than life always comes to mind.

His special energy cocoons his audience, whether they are individuals in a small room or many thousands at a mass rally.

His greatest gift is his ability to make everyone feel touched by his "magic" no matter if they are peasants, workers, a king or queen, rich or poor, man, woman or child. He has a unique mixture of humility, compassion and integrity.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of being around him in countless places - whether they were at mass rallies, Cabinet meetings, formal receptions or the comfort of my own home - and when among strangers, he's always been able to make them feel at ease and important to him.

During the early 1990s, the country was wracked by violence and tension. When my mother-in-law, Louise Grondin, visited South Africa from Quebec, Madiba made time in his hectic schedule to have lunch with us at home.

That afternoon remains etched in my memory as one of my most treasured. Madiba spent the afternoon explaining to a visibly worried Louise his and the ANC's vision for the country while my son Kami, who was still a toddler then, would not leave him alone, climbing on him, trying to snatch his glass away, and just being a boisterous child.

Needless to say, he has never forgotten my mother-in-law and whenever he sees my wife, Lucie, he asks after her.

Madiba has always had a soft spot for children and never hesitates to embrace them. When Kami was in his "terrible twos" I took him to the launch of the RDP Masakhane Campaign which Madiba inaugurated.

Kami kept running up to the podium while Madiba spoke. Madiba stopped, picked him up and placed him on the podium and said: "Well, this young man wants to make my speech." Despite his regal lineage, he is always able to make people feel at ease and reassure them that he is paying attention to their concerns, no matter how small or trivial. He was always quick to offer his condolences when there was a death in the family or congratulations when there was something to celebrate ... those unexpected phone calls and messages, the simple human touch, will forever be his distinguishing feature.

One of the most important lessons he has taught me is that being elected as a leader is a privilege and not a right and that we must always behave with dignity and passion when in public service.

His ability to consult and listen is another lesson I hold dear. While I was Minister of Communications, the second free-to-air television licence was awarded. Before the decision was made, several of the bidders lobbied Madiba and the ANC, wanting to be given preferential treatment because of their special relationship with the ruling party.

I got an early morning call to have breakfast with him. Madiba asked what should be done about the intense lobbying around the licence. My answer was simple: "Leave it alone, everyone believes they have a special relationship with the ANC. It's in the hands of an independent regulator and they must make the decision", was my advice.

"Jay, you are right," he responded, and the matter was closed. When in doubt, he consulted and accepted the counsel of people around him.

There were times when he slipped into his role of that of a "chief" but more often than not, it was possible to debate with him, even when he was the world's most loved president.

For me it was an honour and a privilege to serve with him as my leader. In our global village, which is so driven by the advances of modern science and technology, the values Madiba stands for are the software that we now need to wire into our DNA.

He represents a philosophy that recognises that every life has equal value and that our richest reward is in building hope and opportunity for those who are less fortunate than us.

(2007)