tribute jules bowde

I met Nelson Mandela when I was demobilised after the Second World War and became a law student at Wits. Nelson was in the class and I became friendly with him, and this friendship lasted for many years. When he qualified as an attorney he practised in partnership with Oliver Tambo. Their offices were in Chancellor House in Fox Street.

I was admitted to the Bar in early 1948, and Mandela and Tambo briefed me on several matters in the Lower Courts. In about 1952, they received a notice from the Group Areas Act Administration informing them that Chancellor House was in a "white area", that they had no right to occupy offices there, and were required to vacate their premises immediately. They were told to practise among their own people in a township.

Nelson phoned me and asked me whether I would be prepared to argue their case before the Land Tenure Advisory Board in Pretoria. I was only too pleased to do that, and, in due course, Nelson and I travelled to Pretoria together in my small car to present their case.

What there was about the presentation that appealed to that board I cannot now remember, but to our astonishment we succeeded, and Mandela and Tambo continued practising in Chancellor House.

On the way back from Pretoria, I mentioned an incident that had upset both Selma and myself. I told him that a few evenings previously our little boy, then about three years old, cried because we were going out for the evening. We told him that he had nothing to worry about as our domestic worker would look after him. To our great surprise, he said, "I don't want to stay with a black face." I asked Mandela what it could be that gave rise to this attitude, which the child certainly did not hear from us. He replied that he had had the same problem in his own home. Some time previously he had invited a few white guests to visit, and his young daughter complained, asking why he had white people coming to their house. I asked him how he dealt with it. He said, "I simply told her that not all white people have white hearts, some of them have black hearts." This was to me an indication of the kind of tact and sensitivity that we came to recognise as Mandela's strength.

Nearly 50 years later, Mandela asked me to organise a reunion of our law class, of which he had been the only African student. I agreed to do that.

He asked me if I remembered the day that he first walked into our small class, all of whom were sitting around a long table with the professor at the head, and the man he sat next to deliberately got up and walked around to sit on the opposite side of the table. I told him I did remember the occasion, and he then said he particularly wanted that man to be invited. I asked him why it was important to him.

He replied, "I want to take his hand in mine and ask him whether he remembers that occasion. I don't mind whether he remembers it or not, because whatever his answer, I would say - I remember it, but I forgive you, so hold my hand and let us walk together for the future of South Africa."

This I regarded as a typical example of Mandela's absolute understanding of the meaning of reconciliation.

Selma and I both appreciate the times that you visited us in our home and met our children and grandchildren, which for them was an unforgettable experience.
(2007)