tribute dr pieter mulder

It is given to a few men to live out their dreams in their lifetime. Nelson Mandela succeeded in doing this. Against the most colossal odds he realised the vision he had as a young man.

Can one person make a difference in politics? In my younger days I used to argue with my father about this. One person, in the right place, at the right time, can politically make a huge and permanent difference, my father reasoned. I was young, impetuous and very sceptical about this. Politics is too complicated with too many variables, was my counter argument. One person alone has too little real influence on all these variables, was my reasoning. I was wrong.

One person, in the right place at the right time and with the right approach, can make a huge difference. Nelson Mandela was such a person. He proved this statement to be true. He didn't just have an influence on South Africa, but on the whole world.

Who could have predicted what impact he would have, not only on black people but on white people as well? Yet, he didn't aim for popularity. I remember how he addressed 40 000 people in a stadium and strictly reprimanded them because they did not sing the Afrikaans part of the anthem.

During the constitutional negotiations in the nineties, President Mandela invited General Constand Viljoen and me for a breakfast meeting with him alone. After the breakfast and the hour-long discussion my conclusion was that friendliness and humility were his strongest attributes, but that one should not for one moment doubt or underestimate his iron will to succeed in his objectives.

His popularity largely comes from his humanitarian approach on a personal level. He has a feeling for small things that have a huge impact on people.

In 2002 I visited former President Mandela after I had been elected as the leader of the Freedom Front. After our official discussions I told him about Emmah Mabale, who had been working for us for many years and who greatly admired him. He immediately wrote a personal note to her, which read as follows: "I have heard nice things about you from Pieter and perhaps one day I might have the honour of meeting you. Meantime I send you my best wishes. Pula! Kgotso!! Mandela."

My brother Corné often teases my children by mimicking different kinds of voices over the phone. On a Sunday afternoon there was a telephone call for my daughter Suzanne. She was a medical student at the University of the Free State. That day there was a report in the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper about her, as she had received the award from the university as the dux student of the year. The voice at the other end was that of Nelson Mandela. She was convinced that it was Corné who was having her on and I had a lot of trouble convincing her that it really was the President, who wanted to congratulate her on her achievement.

When the Blue Bulls' rugby centre, Ettienne Botha, died in a road accident, Mr Mandela phoned his parents to sympathise with them. As former President it was not expected of him to still make such gestures. Most ANC supporters do not know who Ettienne Botha was. Yet it made a huge impact on the Afrikaans world, in which Botha was a big hero.

I started by stating that it is given to a few men to live out their dreams in their lifetime. Nelson Mandela succeeded in doing this. The question is, what were these?

During the Rivonia trial Mr Mandela addressed the court on 20 April 1964. He concluded his address as follows: "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve, but my lord, if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." In his first address in Cape Town after his release in 1990, Mr Mandela repeated this viewpoint.

My question is, to which extent has South Africa reached this ideal? And as for the future - will these dreams become more or less true for South Africa?