tribute nat bregman

I can't remember the days long ago when we worked together ... when we were 18 years old. I remember these last years, after his release, more clearly.

But I do bask in the glory of being his first white friend. That's what he calls me. He and I were articled clerks working for Sidelsky. We shared an office. Sidelsky was a very liberal-minded boss. Walter Sisulu, who was an estate agent, had introduced Mandela to Sidelsky at the Mutual Buildings. I was a very happy-go-lucky sort of guy, involved in show business. Mandela has a great sense of humour himself.

He is a humble man. Unlike some other politicians he just does things without talking about it. He is very approachable. Wherever he goes, he shakes people's hands. I want to give you some examples of how humble he is. It doesn't matter that he is one of the most famous people in the world - he still remembers his old friends.

We had a reunion dinner in the Carlton Centre after his release, with the Sidelskys and my daughter. He had tried to get hold of me three times to set up this dinner. Him personally! When he walked in, everyone in the restaurant stood up. He walked to me and embraced me. We spent the evening chatting about the old times.

I was invited to the Presidency as a Veteran of the Freedom Struggle in 1996, along with 2 000 other guests. I remember Manny Brown and Chris de Broglio being there. Everyone stood in a row and shook his hand. He greeted me very warmly and personally.

Then there was the Newsmaker of the Decade function. Sidelsky was already in a wheelchair. Nelson Mandela came off the platform to greet us.

I was also invited to his 80th birthday bash - the big event at Gallagher - and also to his book launch.

We had a few lunches and dinners together. He invited Sidelsky and me to a kosher lunch at his house in Houghton. Another time we took him for dinner at some fancy hotel. But all he ate was a plate of soup and some grapes. One of the things I remember him saying at that dinner was that the worst thing that could happen to him would be to wake up in the morning and have nothing to do!

I once sent an e-mail inviting him to share a sandwich - 20 minutes later the reply came through from Vimla Naidoo, making an arrangement. I'm very proud of the fact that I can just e-mail him and get a response, go and see him.

The most emotional visit I had with him was when I was in hospital having a knee replacement operation. He was a guest speaker at a breakfast during that time and a friend of mine who was attending the breakfast went to Mandela, told him that I was in the Morningside Clinic. Apparently he put down his knife and fork and said: "I have a good friend in hospital - I'm going to see him." He arrived with Zelda and his bodyguard - I was so emotional. I actually phoned John Robbie at 702 to tell him about the visit!

People go mad when they see pictures of us together. I am very proud of my relationship with him - his first white friend.