Great-grandmother ‘honoured’ to share birthday with Madiba

2013-07-18 00:00

LIKE Nelson Mandela, Catherine Benecke is celebrating her birthday today.

Benecke turns 89 today, and when The Witness visited her yesterday at the Emma Barter home for the aged in Retief Street, she cried tears of joy at the honour of sharing her birthday with the world’s most famous political prisoner, Mandela.

“I am very honoured and proud to share my birthday with Nelson Mandela,” she said.

At her age, Benecke has a good memory and she told the newspaper about her experience of seeing Mandela being released in 1990.

“I started crying when I saw Mandela walk out of that prison. He did seem emotional, but he was peaceful and calm,” she said.

Benecke was born in Johannesburg, but spent some time in then Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) before returning to South Africa where she worked in the children’s section of the Greatermans clothing store in Johannesburg.

She said when she was young she did not have any interest in politics but as she grew older, she became more interested.

“I started reading newspapers and learnt about people like Mandela, and it was such an emotional yet joyous moment when he was released from Robben Island,” said Benecke.

She said people could learn a lot from Mandela’s ideals.

“Mandela has done wonderful things in his lifetime and people should celebrate our birthday by learning more about what he stood for,” she said.

She said happiness was the key to achieving an old age.

“I took care of myself, my parents and my children. I found my happiness in my three children and I don’t know what I would have done if it were not for them,” Benecke said.

She said she retired from work 20 years ago after her son told her to stop working.

Benecke has three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, some living abroad in the U.S.

“I try to keep myself young in my mind, not because I do not want to be old but to ensure that I maintain my youthfulness in my mind,” said Benecke.

She said today she would join a tea party organised to commemorate Mandela Day at the Emma Barter home.

Benecke said she never dreamt of living in Pietermaritzburg because she used to tell her children that when she dies she wants her body cremated.

“They must put a red rose on my ashes and throw them in the sea.”

Having said that, she said she had been happy in Pietermaritzburg and that people were very kind here.

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