Meeting Madiba, braces and all

By admin
18 July 2013

As a young reporter, YOU journalist Marida Fitzpatrick met former president Nelson Mandela and today, on his 95th birthday, she recalls her vivid memory of that day.

This photograph was taken nearly 10 years ago. I was a young reporter at Beeld when photographer Felix Dlangamandla and I were sent to former president Nelson Mandela's house on his farm in what was then Nylstroom (Modimolle). I had braces on my teeth and was shy about meeting Madiba like that.

When we arrived we were soaked in perspiration from apprehension as well as the three-hour journey in a company car without air conditioning. We met him only briefly at the front door of the stylish farmhouse. He was very charming. It was such a momentous occasion for me I almost felt like bowing when I shook his hand. I tried not to smile too broadly and expose my braces, but it didn't work.

He hadn't been South Africa's president for years but I still called him "Mister President" because anything else didn't sound right to me ? and I'd been practising all the way there.

He was taller than I'd expected and I don't know if I imagined it, but his eyes seemed to have a blue tinge, which I found amazing.

We were only with him for a short time but I still remember how warm he was and how much he laughed in that short period.

I was so nervous my ears were ringing and afterwards I could remember almost nothing of what I'd said.

But I think he asked me in Afrikaans where I came from. "Secunda, Mister President," I replied, and he smiled as if he knew the town and knew me. And I wasn't embarrassed about my braces any more.

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