tribute DR Nthato Motlana

I was at the University of Fort Hare in 1948 when the National Party won the election. The Nats' programme of action was truly frightening. We immediately formed the Fort Hare branch of the ANC Youth League. In 1949, at the ANC Congress in Bloemfontein, I was a Youth League delegate - one of the foot soldiers - and Mandela was, of course, one of the leadership. I didn't know him personally in those days, but gradually got to know him.

In 1964 I became his family doctor. Just before he was imprisoned he had asked me, Tutu and a teacher from Orlando to form a trust so that his family would be looked after. That is how I got to know the family - Winnie and the daughters. And at least it enabled them to go to school in Swaziland. I had been banned, so I couldn't go and see him in prison. It was only in 1985 that I went to Robben Island for the first time. We talked through thick bullet-proof glass. I had two hours with him, as it was at the end of the month, so we used the one-hour allocation for the previous month and the next month. Those two hours were awful! There were so many things we wanted to talk about but we were only allowed to talk about the family. I couldn't even talk about boxing! The guard would say: "Praat oor die familie!" In the end we ran out of conversation!

Mandela's prostate problems already started when he was in Pollsmoor. When the ANC in exile heard this, they assembled a team of specialists from around the world - France, Canada, the UK - to come to South Africa to work out a treatment plan. But when it was time to do an operation, who does Mandela choose? Doctor Laubscher, his prison doctor. He overlooked guys from all over the world for this Afrikaner doctor! But that is the kind of man Mandela is. He said, "I trust this man." And that was it. Madiba comes out... now I am put in a privileged position. Mandela heads up an organisation that is broke and sets off around the world to do fundraising. And, as his doctor, I accompany him everywhere. We travel around the world, receiving VIP treatment wherever we go, flying first class. China, Cuba, Pakistan - all over. He was a fundraiser par excellence. Even in Pakistan. Barbara Masekela said, "They have just had a national disaster. How can we ask them for money?" That didn't stop him.

He had a very forthright approach. He would say, "The GDP of your country is X. We think a donation of X million for the ANC would be appropriate." And he only came a cropper twice. The first time was in Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the world's richest men. But the Minister of Finance was not there to sign a cheque. The Sultan said that someone would meet us at the airport with the money. But once we were on the aeroplane Madiba opened the envelope and there was no cheque inside! He contacted the Sultan. "You forgot to enclose the cheque!" I think they did send some money later. The second was in Egypt. Madiba asked Hosni Mubarak for money. Hosni said, "Egypt has no money." He picks up the phone, calls Gaddafi in Libya. He then tells us that Gaddafi had agreed to donate millions. But he never did.

The man has an elephantine memory. Before his imprisonment he saw a show of "King Kong". My wife's sister, Helen Gama, was in the production and sang a song, "Strange Things Happen." After his release he met her - and immediately remembered that he had seen her in "King Kong" as well as the name of that song. He can put a name to a face in a way that few can. He is a peacemaker. He has the ability to settle disputes, talk to people. But he can be tough! When he is angry he can be quite dictatorial! Tambo was a softie, a gentleman. But Madiba is a tribal chief. He ran a tight ship in the ANC. We all knew there were certain lines we didn't cross. There were few challenges to his authority. We respected him too much.

I have always been, and still am, a great admirer of yours, Madiba.
(2007)