It is said that a great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men — and that is certainly true in the case of Madiba.
I had the distinct honour, privilege and pleasure to work with him closely for about nine months between 1993 and April 1994, campaigning for the ANC, until the day he cast his ballot in Durban. How did this all come about — that I shared such a lot of time with him and saw him at very close quarters in different situations?
I was asked by Dr Pallo Jordan, ANC head of information and publicity, whether I would consider leaving the National Union of Mineworkers to establish a briefing unit in the ANC. This unit would be responsible for drafting speeches for ANC President Nelson Mandela during the run-up to the elections and for briefing him on the progress of the election campaign. I would also serve on the ANC’s National Election Committee to ensure Madiba’s speeches were consistent with the party’s campaign strategy and message.
Since I had already been designated by NUM as a candidate for Parliament, I jumped at the prospect of a new challenge.
During those nine months we traversed the length and breadth of the country — small towns, large towns, villages, communities — holding meeting after meeting to talk to everyone and anyone who was willing to listen to the message of hope and freedom and building a better life for all. We travelled by jet, car, helicopter, bus and foot in places which were inaccessible for modern transport.
It was in these different situations that the spirit of Madiba’s magnanimity and huge heart was visibly demonstrated.
He spoke slowly … clearly… thoughtfully… with a measure of a teacher’s patience, talking to pupils about the value of what they were about to do and how it would change their lives forever.
He spoke in a fatherly manner, reaching deep into the psyche of our people to encourage them to meet the great challenge and opportunity that awaited them on election day — and to vote by placing their cross in the box for the “young man with the handsome face”.
Keeping Madiba on the message was straightforward most of the time. However, on the odd occasion the headline was different to what the campaign expected or desired, for example, when he castigated the youth or he tackled FW de Klerk. Our entire campaign focus was to be positive and inclusive, and such incidents were portrayed negatively by the press.
It was during this time that I truly, and for the first time, saw the rich diversity of our country, came across ordinary South Africans and experienced first-hand how Mandela affected them.
He would listen to them, laugh with them and share their pain. He would reach out to them, persuade them and sometimes criticise them. And he did all this with great warmth and compassion, sincere interest and consideration, and with authority and wisdom.
In his ability to go from a high-flying business meeting to a small rural village and seamlessly engage with people from all walks of life, he demonstrated the most profound power of influence.
The ability to deal with people and share their dreams and aspirations will remain a cornerstone of Madiba’s legacy. His humility and graciousness confounded his enemies (if he had any) and delighted his supporters.
His warmth when greeting people, his attention when speaking to them, his firmness when challenged and his humour when there was tension are qualities of a humanist who truly understands the value of relationships and power of influence and persuasion.
Everyone loved him … if not immediately, they grew to do so. He is a true father of the nation and a symbol of what a new society means for South Africa.
We are deeply indebted to Madiba for his role and wisdom in uniting our country and leaving a legacy we can truly be proud of.