The day I met Mandela

The day I met Mandela

In August 1993, I was appointed a member of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to monitor the violence in South Africa as it prepared for its first free and fair election.

I observed and submitted reports on many multi-party negotiations at the grassroots level. We also covered the many marches, where gunshots were not uncommon.

The participants of the negotiations comprised the then ruling party, police, military, non-governmental organisations, the African National Congress (ANC) and various other political parties and interest groups. The negotiations were occasionally heated and sometimes resulted in quarrels. However, sensible talks and reason prevailed in most meetings.

Covering the ANC convention at the Holiday Inn in Johannesburg was the high point for many Commonwealth and United Nations observers. Many skipped their dinner to avoid the big crowd and traffic jams in downtown Johannesburg. The hall in Holiday Inn was packed.

As soon as Mr Nelson Mandela's arrival was announced, the crowd broke into applause and cheers that were followed by songs and dances. Here was the man whom I had read about during my university days. He moved gracefully onto the stage. The atmosphere was electrifying.

When he spoke, the whole hall fell into silence.

Tears rolled down the cheeks of Edward, my driver, a black man in his mid-20s. During my initial stint, Edward had related accounts of how he had been ill-treated and tortured by the police.

In his speech, Mr Mandela painted his vision of a new South Africa. Despite many years of incarceration, he did not utter a single word of threat, hatred or vengeance. He promised equality, democracy and a nation for all. He called on all South Africans to walk with him - and they did.

I will never forget the moment he met the international observers and shook my hand with a firm and warm grip.

I am grateful to have witnessed the emergence of a free and democratic nation under this great man. I salute Mr Nelson Mandela.


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