Nelson Mandela: Fascinating anecdotes from people who knew him

February 11, 2010 § 4 Comments

Adelaide Tambo, Oliver Tambo said Nelson Mandela would be the president of South Africa – while Chielf Luthili was still alive.

“Nelson had made a speech–a speech that sometimes appears on television–where he is wearing a black jacket and saying that we can’t forever take the oppression meted out by the regime … our young people were getting tired of nonviolence.

And Oliver said to me, ‘This is the president of South Africa.’

Now, that is going very far back. Chief Luthuli was still alive.”

Gearoge Bizos was a constant visitor during Mandela’s years in Prison

“Colonel Aucamp would at times pace up and down outside the room in which we were consulting, locked in with our clients. And Nelson went up to Aucamp, and said, ‘You know these lawyers give me homework … and the table that I have in my cell is a rickety one. Could I please have another table because I am under pressure to do this.’

He spoke politely, and the response of Aucamp was bombastic: ‘Mandela, you are no longer a lawyer in your office to give orders. You are a prisoner. And we will do what we have to. You can’t order us about.’

Nelson looked at him and he said, ‘Have you finished, Colonel?’ He said,’Yes.’ He turned round, looked at the man with a key, who opened the grille door, and he came back, sat down, said nothing. Just continued with the consultation with us as if nothing had happened.

They took a break for lunch. And he came back, with a little smile that you often see and says, ‘Guess what, there’s a brand new table in my cell.’ “

Richard Stengel who collaborated with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography

“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 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 he 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 stupid story. And so we were sitting on the airplane, the plane was up, and he is 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 around. 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 we came into the airport, and as we got into the airport and 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 in Robben Island.”

Joe Matthews

“I remember once when we were detained at No. 4 prison in Johannesburg after our arrest in 1956, and I was sitting next to him and he observed Chief Luthuli who was staring in the distance. Thinking, obviously.

And Mandela said to me, ‘Do you see that man? That is the mark of a great man. A man who can think and consider things. Now we call that in Xhosa … a man who stares into the horizon, thinking and so on.’

He obviously respected that kind of thing, and he actually said, ‘That’s the mark of a great man,’ that posture by Luthuli …

If you read the accounts of him on Robben Island, you will find people remarking on him having those kind of moments of reflection. He does do that deliberately to think and almost in the sense of the yoga kind of transcendental meditation type of thing.”

Wolfie Kadesh on Mandela’s stubborn nature

“… I brought him into the flat … We had a long discussion. I had to persuade him that it was a good place … nobody amongst the special branch or government would ever dream … because of their mentality towards blacks and whites, that a black man would be living in a white area …

Then we had a discussion and an argument about who is going to sleep where. I had a tiny flat … and I had a bed and I had a camp stretcher in a cupboard. So when I brought out the camp stretcher, I said to him, ‘Well, I’ll sleep on the camp stretcher. You sleep on the bed because you are six foot something, I am five foot something. So the stretcher is just right for me.’ No, he wasn’t going to have that. He hadn’t come there to put me out, and we had a bit of a talk about that and … it was arranged, and I would sleep on the bed.

We had tea and all the rest of it, and then time came to sleep. So he said, ‘You don’t mind, but I’m going to run around.’ He told me that he woke up very early in the morning, about 4:00 in the townships, and that he always went for these long runs. So I said, ‘No man, here you’re in a white area. You can’t get up at 4:00 or 5:00 running around here. They patrol …’ He said, ‘I am going to run. You’ll see, don’t worry. Let’s go to sleep.

About 5:00 in the morning, I woke up and heard these camp stretchers squeak … I looked and I saw him sitting on the end of the stretcher, putting on long-johns, and then the suits … that athletes use … and I said to him, ‘Well, what’s going on here?’ He said, ‘I am going to start running’ … I said, ‘Well, I am not going to give you the key to go out. You can’t go running around.’ Then he got up, in his tracksuit, and he started running on the spot

So that was his running. I thought, ‘Oh well, if you want to run on the spot, good luck to you. I am going to sleep.’ About a half an hour afterwards I woke up again, and he’s still running on the spot … sweating and heaving and it went on for about an hour, this performance, and each time I just turned over and went to sleep again. At the end of it all, I noticed he did a few frog jumps across the flat, jumping up … he had his hands out like this, and he jumped so that he could kick his hands underneath … that took at least an hour. So I said, ‘That’s all right, you can do this but not me.’ He says, ‘No, tomorrow … you are going to join me.'”

Nelson Mandela losing his temper

“Mandela I have seen on only one occasion actually lose his rag as it were. And that was when a warder … a chap by the name of Huysamen, really lambasted us. I can’t recall the details, but it was about abuse of study privileges, this, that and the other, which was completely untrue. They were trying to orchestrate something or the other.

Nelson got so fed up with this chap at one point he actually went to him and said, ‘Look, you don’t dare talk to us like that.’ And went for him. Really gave him hell, you know. ‘Your day will come, and you will this, that and the other.’

I was standing next to him, and this chap sort of marched away with his tail between his legs. And there was a terrible awkward silence and real tension and nobody really knew what was going to happen.

So I then asked Mandela afterwards, ‘What happened there? Why did you do that?’ And I’ll never forget it, he said to me, ‘That was very deliberate.’ And I must say, I didn’t initially believe him. But when I thought about it, he is so deliberate. I thought it is quite possible that he really did orchestrate this thing you see. But I must say, it was as true to life as you can possibly think.”

Fikile Bam, Nelson Mandela confronting a warder on prison

“There is one other instance, which I remember very well. There had been a newly appointed head of the prison … he really wanted to turn the prison around. He said that the prison was too soft and too comfortable and he said [it had] become a university rather than a prison, and he was going to take off our study privileges and was going to do all sorts of things. He was quite rude, his name was Badenhorst.

… At about the same time, three judges came to see us in prison … and they came to our group and naturally went to talk to Nelson, and to find out from him what the conditions were like … They had come in the company of the commanding officer, Badenhorst, and they were asking [Mandela] about prison conditions. And he, as usual, was setting out a whole list of complaints to the judges, and complaining, particularly, about the treatment Badenhorst had brought about, in the presence of Badenhorst.

Badenhorst was a very fiery and temperamental person and he couldn’t wait, even while Nelson was speaking, and he shouted at him, ‘Nelson, you forget one thing, that these people are going to leave, and the two of us are going to remain here together.’ And the judges carried that message with them. And soon after Badenhorst was transferred from Robben Island.

So he had this way about him that he really did not fear people at all. And he had a lot of confidence in himself as a person. He never regarded himself as being beneath anyone, even while he was wearing shorts as a prisoner. “

Jessie Duarte, how Nelson Mandela always made his own bed almost offending the Chinese

“He always made his own bed, no matter where we traveled. I remember we were in Shanghai, in a very fancy hotel, and the Chinese hospitality requires that the person who cleans your room and provides you with your food, does exactly that. If you do it for yourself, it could even be regarded as an insult.

So in Shanghai I tried to say to him, ‘Please don’t make your own bed, because there’s this custom here.’ And he said, ‘Call them, bring them to me.’

So I did. I asked the hotel manager to bring the ladies who would be cleaning the room, so that he could explain why he himself has to make his own bed, and that they not feel insulted. He didn’t ever want to hurt people’s feelings. He never really cared about what great big people think of him, but he did care about what small people thought of him. That used to amaze me. He didn’t mind if he insulted a very important person, or said something to them that was unkind, because he said they could fend and fight for themselves. But he would never insult someone who did not have power.”

 

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