tribute david brink

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the most famous South African of all time and currently the most loved man in the world. The high esteem in which he is held has been earned through the demonstration of moral authority, stemming from his struggle history and his regal bearing, his moral courage to stand for what is right, such as his blunt opposition of the American invasion of Iraq, his charm demonstrated by his persuading umpteen captains of industry to make major donations to schools and clinics in rural areas and his humility and humanity demonstrated by treating hordes of high-profile visitors as his betters.

Nowadays politicians who readily admit their mistakes are a very rare species and those who genuinely love meeting ordinary people and children are few and far between.

I had the privilege of meeting with Madiba on many occasions during our transition to democracy and during his term as President. His humanity and humour shone through for me on two memorable occasions.

During July of 1996 Her Majesty the Queen had invited our President on a state visit to the UK. Typically such state visits start with a banquet at Buckingham Palace and before the end of the state visit, the visitor is expected to provide a "return match", normally in the form of another banquet. Some months before a charitable trust had been formed in South Africa named The Nations Trust in partnership with The Prince's Trust in the UK headed by Tom Shebbeare and whose patron is the Prince of Wales. The purpose of the trust was to provide micro loans to young disadvantaged entrepreneurs wishing to start businesses. This trust was privileged to have Elizabeth II, Queen of England, and Nelson Mandela, South Africa's President, as patrons.

As chairman of the trust I had received a message to the effect that Madiba did not fancy the idea of a return banquet during his state visit in the UK, but was looking for a jollier event. The Nations Trust, together with The Prince's Trust, hit on the idea of a musical event to be staged at the Royal Albert Hall, which would feature top South African performers from around the world.

Arrangements were made, enthusiasm grew, and on the big night, July 11 1996, the Royal Albert Hall staged a musical concert, "Two Nations celebrate", with performers such as Hugh Masekela, Eric Clapton and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. As chairman of The Nations Trust, my wife Marilyn and I were de facto hosts in the royal box to a party including Her Majesty, Madiba, princes Charles and Andrew, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of Kent and Angus Ogilvy, together with South Africa's High Commissioner in the UK, Mendi Msimang, and his wife, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who that day had heard of her appointment as Deputy Minister of Justice, and Tom Shebbeare.

The musical feast was a stunning success with great crowd participation, and when the dignitaries were recognised towards the end, the crowd turned to look up at the royal box to see Nelson Mandela doing his trademark jive - pandemonium ensued. At this point, Queen Elizabeth, standing next to Madiba, realised something was needed and managed, to everyone's amazement, a rather self-conscious, toned-down version of the Madiba jive!

In the early days of Madiba's presidency the ANC was in need of funding for a project and in his typical charming manner the President phoned me to invite me to tea at the Union Buildings together with my senior colleagues at Sankorp and Sanlam.

He had warned me what he was after and after consulting with Marinus Daling, our chairman and our board, Marinus, Desmond Smith and I duly went to the Union Buildings to find the President, Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa in good spirits. After we had sat down and completed the normal pleasantries the door of the boardroom opened to allow the entrance of the tea trolley attended by two elderly Afrikaans women. Madiba leapt to his feet to greet the women and introduced them both to each of us in turn. The warmth of that gesture will always be with me.

We then proceeded with the business of the meeting and Marinus Daling made a fairly formal speech indicating that we had considered Madiba's request and our ability to make a contribution to his cause. Marinus then handed over an envelope, at which point Madiba said to him, "How much money is in there?" A mildly embarrassed Marinus stated the amount, upon which Madiba laughed and said, "Marinus, I would never embarrass you by accepting such a small amount from you." By this time, Desmond Smith, Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and I could no longer hide our mirth.

The persuasive charm displayed by Madiba in these circumstances was repeated many times with many other captains of industry, yielding hugely important facilities around the country for deprived communities. He didn't stop there, however. As each facility was completed, he would arrange for a handover ceremony involving leaders from the donating entity and would orchestrate the most heart-warming thanks-giving ceremony amidst the joyful chanting of the local parents and children.

My most prized possession is a photograph of Nelson Mandela, my wife Marilyn, Bill Cosby and I sitting on the bed in Nelson Mandela's erstwhile prison cell on Robin Island. My wife and I have been truly blessed to meet and to break bread with Nelson Mandela.
(2007)