tribute rory

Dear Tata

I have many memories from the five years that I was privileged to serve you and you have had a profound effect on (and changed) my thinking, behaviour and world view. I think it started on your Inauguration Day, May 10 1994.

You will recall that part of the celebrations on that momentous day was a football match between South Africa and Zambia at Ellis Park. You arrived a little late as the festivities at the Union Buildings with everyone wanting to congratulate you overran slightly and you had to return to Pretoria for the lunch that you were hosting for the more than 150 heads of state or government attending. So after greeting the teams on the field at half-time instead of prior to kick-off and having taken leave of the officials, you got into your armoured car for the trip back to the waiting helicopter. And as we were about to drive away you got out of the armoured car without any explanation to your protection team and began walking across the floor of the hall where your car had parked behind the President's Suite, straight towards a police colonel on the other side of the hall. He was as confused as the rest of us and his eyes grew larger and larger as you walked directly towards him. (This was a real old polisie-kolonel as we knew them in '94, mid-50s, white, lots of "miles on the dial" and a lined face.) Surrounded by about 10 of your protectors, you put out your hand and said to the colonel, "Colonel, I just want you to know that today, you have become our police. I am now the President of South Africa but I just wanted you to know that there is no more you and us and from today, you are our police." And that hardened veteran started quietly crying and the tears ran down his lined face and dripped onto the polished parquet floor. You just patted his shoulder and said, "It's okay, Colonel, I just wanted to tell you that", and then walked back to your car.

As someone born in 1963, I was probably the classic product of apartheid conditioning and that conditioning had been further enhanced by a police career that included service in the Security Branch. I can honestly say that the encounter that I witnessed between you and the colonel that day caused me to question all that I had accepted as "normal" and awakened a hope that perhaps black and white really could live together in South Africa; and that your espousing of that philosophy was not simply some form of ANC propaganda but a genuine belief, a belief that I now know was honed and refined by the debate with the wonderful minds of the stalwarts imprisoned with you and lots of reflection on how it would all work once democracy was realised.

My transfer from commanding the VIP Protection Unit in Johannesburg to the Presidential Protection Unit in Pretoria in January 1996 to become Team Leader of one your protection teams meant an agreement with my commanders that I would accompany you on your State Visit to the UK in July of that year. I have had many an occasion to state that if the five years that I served you were the best five years of my life, then the four days in London were the best four days of those five years. (I slept at Buckingham Palace, for goodness sake!) However, shortly after our return from London I was summoned by my commanders and told that the National Intelligence Agency had reported reservations about my suitability to continue as your Team Leader because of my Security Branch past and in particular an allegation that I had been involved in the Khotso House bombing. I assured my commanders that I had no involvement in that bombing but they said that they had to discuss the matter with you and I understood where they were coming from because if I had to be honest, I probably would have done the same were I in their shoes. The only condition I agreed with them was that if you wanted me to be removed I would have an opportunity to speak to you before leaving my post. Consequently, they agreed that I could go to the meeting but would wait outside your office. I think that the meeting took all of five minutes and when the door opened I stood up and you came out, saw me and said, "Yes, Rory, did you enjoy London?" I knew right then that all was okay and that I could continue to serve you. A few months later when you referred to me in Parliament during a debate about affirmative action, it occurred to me that at the meeting with my commanders you did not know (as we had not spoken about it yet) that I wasn't involved in the bombing, yet you were still willing to allow me to continue! I was astounded and it was then that my loyalty to you was cemented to the extent that I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I was prepared to protect you with my very life and if necessary give mine in service to you. Unfortunately, people and even some bodyguards speak far too glibly today about "taking the bullet" for someone (without understanding the import of what they're saying) but that day I knew that I was prepared to protect you with my life. And who was I but a dispensable white cop who could have been replaced at the drop of a hat. Years later, after those responsible for bombing Khotso House had either confessed and received amnesty or were convicted and imprisoned, you told me what had transpired behind those closed doors, that my commanders wanted me gone but that you had resisted and insisted that I remain; and that you had told them that it wasn't the foot-soldiers that needed to pay for apartheid crimes but those giving the orders and that I had proved myself to you in the months that I had served you thus far and proved that I had changed my thinking and that this was precisely what you were trying to achieve in building a nation.

Tata, there are many wonderful memories and I want you to know how profoundly you have influenced me. Many of the life lessons that I was privileged to learn from you up close and personally I have endeavoured both to implement in my daily life and to teach to my sons. For instance, I will always remember how you would go and greet the lady cleaning the floors in the Union Buildings when we arrived early and I detest the rudeness of many leaders that I see today that are too powerful or too good to return the greeting of a staff member or someone of a lower station in life- I think so little of such people, irrespective of how wealthy or powerful they may be. I recall the day you called the little boy in school uniform from the crowd and introduced him to President Rawlins of Ghana at the same Union Buildings, in the full glare of the world's media, without any regard for the formality of the occasion (a State Visit), and it taught me that one should always be alert for an opportunity to be kind and gracious, irrespective of circumstances. I smile at how we had to adapt our protection strategy to cater for your love of children - if you came out of a building and there were children about you would always go and talk to them so we learned to anticipate that and I would send team members to deploy where the children were and prepare them by asking them not to push and shove but patiently wait for you to greet each one; and you always did.
Many thanks for the opportunity to serve you and to learn from you.
(2007)