tribute amina

I remember first meeting Mandela at the ANC offices in 1948/9. We hit it off from the start, and soon became firm friends.

I particularly remember the Christmas lunches we used to have at Mandela's home at 8115 Orlando West. Evelyn would cook, and we used to sit around and play with the children. After lunch we would all walk up the road to Walter and Albertina's place.

In 1951 I turned 21, and Nelson suggested we have a party. Yusuf suggested we cook pigeon, and managed to get hold of 21 pigeons. Yusuf and Nelson cooked. It was at Aggie Patel's flat. Arthur Goldreich, Robbie Resha, Duma Nokwe and Essop Nugdee were there. I remember Nelson cleaning rice. Goodness, they had enough to drink.

On the political front the Defiance Campaign was about to take off. It was the first and singularly most important expression of joint struggle and co-operation. The government appropriately acknowledged this by arresting Mandela and Yusuf on the first day of the campaign.

They shared a cell in Marshall Square and the next morning the warder brought them breakfast. Boiled eggs, toast and tea for Yusuf, and putu for Nelson. When Nelson protested the warder said that Nelson clearly didn't understand what the Government Gazette had stipulated and he should therefore shut up and eat. They laughed and shared the food.

Then came the Treason Trial. I'd either take him food at his offices or we would eat at Moretsele's restaurant. Moretsele was then president of the ANC (Transvaal). He was a fat fellow with a huge stomach and a dirty white apron. We didn't have much money in those days, but at Moretsele's we could eat at a discount and buy for credit. We used to go to Kapitan's on Saturdays, all of us - Yusuf, Thandray, Bopape, Resha, Tloome, Nelson and me.

We also ate regularly at Goolam Pahad's home. His wife, Amina, used to hold open house for the whole movement.

I remember Mandela's return from Bizana after he married Winnie Madikizela. He brought her home to our Vrededorp flat in 1958. I remember her as very reserved, very shy, very young, and very beautiful. They were good days, but sometimes also very trying. Yusuf, Nelson and the others went to jail during the Emergency for four months.

During the 1960/61 strikes many activists and leaders went into hiding. My sister, Zaynab, arranged for her activist husband Aziz, Yusuf, Nelson and me to live with Ayesha and Baboo Khota's family in Jeppe. We lived there for two or three weeks. Ben Turok used to visit disguised as a tram conductor. We could spot him a mile off! Nelson had the use of a car, and the two of us would often sneak off to Leon Street's factory. Leon was very helpful.

I remember Nelson's arrest in 1962. He had gone off to address a meeting in Pietermaritzburg. Cecil Williams sat at the back of the car as if he were the boss, and Nelson played driver. They were arrested in Mooi River, the result perhaps of a tip-off. When he was sentenced to five years it came as a relief. We thought freedom was just around the corner.

Then came Rivonia. It all came as a big shock. I was in Durban at the time. I heard it on the radio, and I didn't even know if Yusuf had been arrested. Even then we didn't think it would take 28 years, particularly when Soweto exploded in 1976.

A decade later, in the early 1970s, I renewed contact with my old friend as he was then allowed additional correspondence on Robben Island.

The letters are personal and poignant. They are about feelings, family and friends, and they all bear the stamp of officialdom, which reads "Gesensor/Censored". I cannot begin to describe the feelings a letter from Nelson would evoke nor the butterflies in my stomach and the pounding of my heart when we were allowed to visit him in jail in 1988 and again once at Victor Verster.

So many memories. So much water under the bridge - "They were the best of times, they were the worst of times ..."