A most moving article of friendship by Nelson Mandela’s friend

By Melanie Nathan, July 19, 2013.

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When I went back to South Africa in 2011, to address the issue of so called “corrective rape” with the South African Government,  I wanted to speak to Nelson Mandela. With his house, mere blocks from my family home, I wanted to tell him that his vision for a hate free South Africa had yet to be realized. I wanted to tell him to speak while his voice could still be heard.

I wanted to see the expression on his face when I told him that my lesbian sisters were being raped and murdered simply for who they were.I wanted to tell him that the South African Government, the party he put in power for so many years was doing nothing about crimes of hate or homophobia, after all he had insisted on a Constitution that would protect all, even LGBTI people.  But I was told that he was seeing no one!  It was then, in 2011 I heard that he did not have ‘all of his full faculties about him,’ a little spoken of and well kept secret. It would not be polite to mention that in the press. So I never wrote about it.

But now the time has come when the press is indeed speaking about the Mandela family in terms of their own feud, regarding his place of burial, and it saddened me that he was no longer being protected.

Today I read this article in the Irish times written by human rights lawyer and friend of Mandela, George Bizos.

Bizos joined the South African Bar in the 50’s almost 30 years before I did.   He was part of the legal team that defended Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu, at the infamous Rivonia trial where they were sentenced to life imprisonment, but spared the death penalty.

Although it is sometimes said that he may have drafted Mandela’s famous speech spoken at the trial, he says that his main contribution was to advise the use of the words “if needs be” before Mandela said that he was prepared to die. Bizos believes that this may have contributed to the avoidance of the death penalty by having Mandela not appear to seek martyrdom. In 1990 he became a member of the African National Congress‘ (ANC) Legal and Constitutional Committee, and at Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) he served as advisor to the negotiating teams and participated in drawing up the Interim Constitution. He was involved in the drafting of legislation, and particularly the Truth and Reconciliation Bill and amendments to the Criminal Procedures Act, to bring it into line with Chapter 3 of the constitution, guaranteeing fundamental human rights to all citizens of South Africa.The article, written for Tata Madiba’s 95th birthday, by Bizos,  moved me to tears and I wanted to share it here on my Blog:-

An enduring friendship with Nelson Mandela:

‘I wish for him a shield to protect him’: human rights lawyer George Bizos on his long-time friend

“If he were in better health, I imagine Nelson would be heavily disappointed by the current family disputes that are playing out for the world to see. He did not expect any privilege for himself and I know he would appeal to them now to follow his example. The matter of his final resting place is also beyond dispute and is a decision he made a long, long time ago.

I was reminded of that fact in January of this year, not long after he was released from hospital, when I went to visit him at his Houghton home. As soon as I entered the living room, he called out to the staff: “Get me my boots.”

“What do you want your boots for, Tata?” one of them asked.

“George is here. He will take me to Qunu,” he answered.

It was clear that he wanted to go home.

Qunu is a place that is very near and dear to Madiba’s heart. It is where he has enjoyed his retirement, where his contemporaries knocked on his door uninvited and unannounced, something he greatly enjoyed.

It is also there, in the kraal, where he chose his final resting place, in consultation with Graca, something he has talked about many times and always in practical tones.

Nelson doesn’t fear death. He once said that when he eventually departs, he would look for the nearest ANC branch in heaven and join it. And he has often said – in jest – that when he dies, he will be in the good company of Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Chief Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo.

I last saw Nelson at his Houghton home a week or so before he was admitted to hospital last month and we strolled down memory lane, as we often do. But he asked some questions that saddened me.

“When did you last see Oliver [Tambo]?” he wanted to know. “How’s Walter [Sisulu]?”

I couldn’t lie to him and so I reminded him that they had passed on many years ago. I recall a blank expression sweeping over his face for a moment or so, before the conversation got back on track.

As I was saying goodbye, he turned to me and said, “George, make sure that you don’t leave your jacket behind.”

As it turned out, I had left it in the car, but Nelson’s words touched me. He was being thoughtful and wanted me to shield myself from the winter chill that had crept into this part of the world.

Today, on his 95th birthday, I also wish for him a shield to protect him as he finds his way back to good health.

I have said to him on many birthday occasions in the past, here’s to your 100th birthday. “You are optimistic,” he would laugh in response.

I sincerely hope not, my friend.”


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3 Comments on “A most moving article of friendship by Nelson Mandela’s friend”

  1. Sherri Gray July 19, 2013 at 9:41 AM #

    Thank you for sharing this, Melanie…just beautiful.

  2. Dr. Rex July 19, 2013 at 9:42 AM #

    Excellent!!! Sad …. to hear about these troubles. Sad to know that you were so “close” to him …. and maybe yet so far. Blessings, Madiba …..

  3. Dr. Rex July 19, 2013 at 9:43 AM #

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    “‘I wish for him a shield to protect him”: human rights lawyer George Bizos on his long-time friend …..

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