tribute joel joffe

Madiba is not only admired and respected as the outstanding world's statesman of his time, but loved as well by everyone for his humanity, warmth and gentle sense of humour.

A few years ago on his way to the Said School of Management in Oxford to open a new lecture hall in his name, Madiba stopped off at a small gathering in Rhodes House. In his very tight schedule, having already overrun his time, Zelda, his indefatigable "minder", was desperately urging him to leave for the school. She had managed to get him to the front door when the Warden of Rhodes House stepped up and asked Madiba if he could introduce his 15-year-old son. Despite Zelda's despairing looks, Madiba said, "Certainly", and the son was brought to be introduced. However, instead of simply shaking his hand, Madiba spent a good five minutes chatting to him about his interests and plans for the future and closed the "introduction" with a request for the lad to send Madiba's very best wishes to all his school friends.

During his speech at the Management School, Madiba said, "Would Lord Joffe stand up." I could not stand up because I was not there - not having been invited - and I am told that there was an uneasy silence for a moment or two. Madiba handled this with his usual aplomb - "I don't blame Lord Joffe for not turning up today. After all, he sent me to Robben Island for 27 years."

A few years ago, after a reception at the Rivonia Farm, I went together with other guests to Walter Sisulu's house, where Madiba was sitting on a couch alongside Walter, and I was one of a queue of people waiting to greet them. When I got to Madiba, I asked him if he would sign a copy of his autobiography for a close friend of mine. His response was that his security guards had insisted that he should not sign any books. As it happened, a photograph was then taken and I was sitting on the floor in front of Madiba clutching the book in my hand, when he tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Joel, my security guards are looking the other way. Give me the book quickly and I will sign it", which he did and added a message to me which I treasure.