Bizos recalls his last Mandela visit

2013-07-11 20:45
George Bizos (Picture: AP)

George Bizos (Picture: AP)

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Johannesburg – “None of us are immortal, but I can’t really come to terms that he may pass away in the near future,” George Bizos has said during an interview on Nelson Mandela’s health.

Bizos, a human rights lawyer and a member of the legal team that defended Mandela and others at the Rivonia trial, said Graça Machel invited him to see the former president in the hospital last month.

The visit was cancelled when the health of his friend deteriorated.

He recalled a visit to Mandela in Johannesburg a week before the hospitalisation at which the two men, along with Machel, chatted about "many things" for more than half an hour, including talk of their days together as law students in Johannesburg.

"He would ask me, 'Do you remember 'so-and-so,' is he still around? When did you last see him?'" Bizos said. Mandela sometimes repeated questions, like many elderly people whose minds are no longer sharp.

"They may not remember what they said 10 minutes before, but they remember what happened 50 years ago," he said.

Yet Mandela still had caring instincts. Bizos had left his jacket in his car, but Mandela thought he had taken it off in the house.

"'George, don't leave your jacket behind,'" he fondly instructed Bizos on that winter's day.

One of Mandela’s former cellmates said it was a traumatic experience to see Madiba in such a fragile state.

An old friend

Ahmed Kathrada, a warhorse of the anti-apartheid struggle, was allowed just a few minutes at the hospital bedside of his critically ill comrade.

It was, he said, a traumatic experience to see the former president, physically robust during their prison years together, in such a fragile state.

Mandela could not speak but his face "changed" and he recognised his visitor "through his eyes", Kathrada said of the 1 July encounter, which was overseen protectively by Machel.

This is the image of Mandela that South Africans, and many people around the world, find hard to accept.

The man who withstood 27 years in jail and led his country from conflict toward reconciliation, is as vulnerable as anyone his age, and monitored around the clock by doctors.

The 94-year-old was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on 8 June for a lung infection.

The government said on Thursday he is in critical but stable condition, and responding to treatment. Legal filings by Mandela's family have said he is on life support.

"All the years that we knew him, we knew him, somebody who was very conscious of his health, somebody who exercised in and outside of jail, regularly, and here you see a person who's different. A shell of himself," Kathrada, 83, said in an interview on Wednesday with AP.

"It was an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and of course the unrealistic wish and prayer that he can be with us for longer and longer," said Kathrada.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  george bizos  |  graca machel  |  ahmed kathrada  |  johannesburg

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