tribute richard stengel

There's a story, it's not related to prison, but I am going to tell it anyway. We were once on this airplane flight down in KwaZulu-Natal, and it was a prop plane. I think there were six seats in it, and there were maybe four of us on the plane. And as soon as Mandela gets on an airplane he picks up a newspaper. He adores newspapers. He didn't have them for so many years and he revels in the touch of them, and he reads every story. And so we were sitting on the airplane, the plane was up, and he was reading his newspaper, and we're about, I don't know, halfway there ... I was sitting right across from him, and he pointed out the window ... and I saw, to my great horror, that the propeller had stopped going round. And he said very, very calmly, 'Richard, you might want to inform the pilot that the propeller isn't working.' I said, 'Yes, Madiba.' I walked to the front of the plane, and the pilot was well aware of it and he said, 'Go back and sit down. We've called the airport. They have the ambulances out there, and they're going to coat the runway with foam or whatever they do.'

I went back and I told Madiba that, and he just, in that very solemn way, mouth sort of down, listened, and said, 'Yes.' And then picked up his newspaper and started reading!

I was terrified, and the way I calmed myself was I looked at him. And he was as calm as could be. Like the prisoners on Robben Island must have looked at him when they felt scared, and he just looked as calm as could be.

The plane landed, no problem. He never changed his expression or anything like that. He put his newspaper down and as we entered the airport, we sort of had a moment alone. He turned to me and he said, 'Man, I was scared up there.' It was such a revelation because that's what courage is. Courage is not not being scared. Courage is being terrified and not showing it. So I was enheartened. I was given courage by looking at him, because he was pretending not to be scared, and that's what he did for his whole life. The more you pretend that you're not scared, the more not scared you become. The more you inhabit that role and that's what happened on Robben Island.