That old Madiba magic: the world remembers

By Kirstin Buick
06 December 2013

Statesmen, struggle stalwarts and ordinary people loved him - here some whose lives he touched share the moments that made him so special to them.

He went from prisoner to president, putting his personal feelings aside after 27 years in jail to unite a bitterly divided nation and lead them into a brave, new future. In the process Nelson Mandela became a beacon of hope for South Africa and the rest of the world as he proved that with courage and conviction anything is possible.

People admired, revered and respected him – but what really set him apart from other leaders was that he was so loved. His special blend of humour, warmth, charisma and humility was irresistible. Madiba magic . . . it won the day almost every time.

But who was this great man and what made him tick? In this extract from Mandela: The Authorised Portrait, published in 2012, world leaders, friends and struggle comrades share their special memories to create a compelling picture of Madiba through the eyes of the people who knew him best.

393204 01: Ruth Mompati, the first black mayor of Vryburg, a small and very conservative farming town about 400 km west of Johannesburg, South Africa, talks a walk in the town center June 19, 2001. Vryburg has had a lot of high profile racist attacks since the democratic elections in 1994. The school has had a problem with the integration of the black pupils in the former only white school. Some bars and restaurants are still for whites only. South Africa is still battling racism and after seven years of a democratically elected black government. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images) "I joined Mandela and Tambo [law firm] as Nelson Mandela’s secretary and typist at the beginning of 1953 just after the Defiance Campaign. Nelson was very busy so he was very demanding but both he and Oliver Tambo were good people to work for."

Click here for Ruth Mompati's full tribute.

101669661 When I was a student at the University of Cape Town in the ’50s I used to come to Johannesburg and visit the offices of Mandela and Tambo. Although they were so busy sometimes Oliver Tambo or Nelson Mandela would ask, “How’s the struggle in Cape Town?” And I had 45 seconds to describe it. There was an element of grace and courtesy and acceptance from these extremely busy professionals. I was just a student but I felt welcomed."

Click here for Albie Sach's full tribute.

Photograph "All the other accused were dressed in their normal clothes [as they prepared their defence for the Rivonia Treason Trial] but Mandela was dressed in black prisoner’s garb; yet despite this he immediately took command and everybody deferred to him."

Click here for Joel Joffe's full tribute.

TM20130614TMS019 "I share a birthday with Nelson Mandela, something we discovered quite by accident in prison in 1964. Subsequent to that, every year on 18 July Madiba would give me a birthday present. Sometimes it would be a book, sometimes a packet of biscuits or chocolates."

Click here for Fikile Bam's full tribute.

MADR9 "When Mr Mandela’s son [Thembekile] was killed [in 1969] he was called to the office and informed that he’d been killed in a motor accident. When he came back into the yard you could immediately see he was down, the way he walked."

Click here for Eddie Daniels' full tribute.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY CLAUDINE RENAUD82-year-old Ahmed Kathrada, anti-apartheid activist and close friend of former South African President Nelson Mandela poses on July 16, 2012 in his house in Johannesburg. Kathrada was sentenced with Mandela to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. The two were imprisoned together on Robben Island under white-minority apartheid rule. They still see each other, most recently in Johannesburg, just before Mandela returned on May 28 to his village home of Qunu where he is living out his retirement.  AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN "Madiba was called fairly early by the authorities, who said, “We’re prepared to exempt you from work.” But his attitude was, “You know, I’m just a prisoner,” and he wouldn’t accept special treatment for himself although they offered it. He would volunteer to do everything everybody else did, including getting down on the floor and polishing."

Click here for Ahmed Kathrada's full tribute.

"Mandela was due to go to England for a Wembley concert [in 1990] and he wanted to meet [then British Prime Minister] Mrs [Margaret] Thatcher. “How do I tackle Mrs T?” Mandela asked me, so we did a dress rehearsal. “You must stop all this nonsense about banks and the markets immediately. It’s completely hopeless!” I said, pretending to be Mrs Thatcher. He thought it was hilarious." "Mandela was due to go to England for a Wembley concert [in 1990] and he wanted to meet [then British Prime Minister] Mrs [Margaret] Thatcher. “How do I tackle Mrs T?” Mandela asked me, so we did a dress rehearsal. “You must stop all this nonsense about banks and the markets immediately. It’s completely hopeless!” I said, pretending to be Mrs Thatcher. He thought it was hilarious."

Click here for Robin Renwick's full tribute.

When I was finally released in 1991 Mandela came over to Ahmed Kathrada’s brother’s place and we had lunch. He said he was very happy that I was out of prison and that he expected to see me at the ANC office the very next day! When I was finally released in 1991 Mandela came over to Ahmed Kathrada’s brother’s place and we had lunch. He said he was very happy that I was out of prison and that he expected to see me at the ANC office the very next day!

Click here for Ebrahim Ebrahim's full tribute.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, right, shares a light moment with  former South African President Nelson Mandela, sitting left, during Tutu's 75th birthday celebrations in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Rebecca Hearfield) In negotiation Mandela always tried to ensure that he didn’t make the other person feel that he was rubbing his nose in the dust. After their public debate on television he got up to shake hands with [former president] FW de Klerk so graciously. It was a very small gesture and yet it was so pregnant with significance since so many were getting angrier and angrier with the last apartheid government. Mandela was quite clear that you didn’t win in order to humiliate the other; victory didn’t mean riding roughshod over the vanquished.

Click here for Archbishop Tutu's full tribute.

"I remember asking him one day to go over one more time the moment when he realised he was letting go of his anger and hatred. “Well, I hated them for 14 years,” he said, “and I’m not sure, when I was young and strong, if I wasn’t kept alive on my hatred. But one day when I was breaking rocks I realised they had taken so much from me. They’d abused me physically; they’d abused me emotionally; they’d taken me away from my wife and children; I wouldn’t see my children grow up; eventually it would cost me my marriage. They’d taken everything from me except my mind and my heart. And I realised I would have to give those things to them – and I decided not to give them away.” "I remember asking him one day to go over one more time the moment when he realised he was letting go of his anger and hatred. “Well, I hated them for 14 years,” he said, “and I’m not sure, when I was young and strong, if I wasn’t kept alive on my hatred. But one day when I was breaking rocks I realised they had taken so much from me. They’d abused me physically; they’d abused me emotionally; they’d taken me away from my wife and children; I wouldn’t see my children grow up; eventually it would cost me my marriage. They’d taken everything from me except my mind and my heart. And I realised I would have to give those things to them – and I decided not to give them away.”

Click here for Bill Clinton's full tribute.

Shortly before the elections in 1999 he invited me to tea at [official residence of the president in Cape Town] Genadendal. It was unforgettable because of the kindly, understanding way in which he spoke about the soft spot he had for the Afrikaners. "Shortly before the elections in 1999 he invited me to tea at [official residence of the president in Cape Town] Genadendal. It was unforgettable because of the kindly, understanding way in which he spoke about the soft spot he had for the Afrikaners."

Click here for André P Brink's full tribute.

In the days before my father’s death from bone marrow cancer he spoke very little and towards the end slipped into a coma. Mandela came to visit him on the day which turned out to be his last. "In the days before my father’s death from bone marrow cancer he spoke very little and towards the end slipped into a coma. Mandela came to visit him on the day which turned out to be his last."

Click here for Gillian Slovo's full tribute.

We lost our daughter and granddaughter in the tsunami [in Thailand in 2004]. Mandela was in England shortly afterwards and I got a phone call, “Could I go and see him?” I wasn’t in London and I was disappointed. But two days later the phone goes and on came Madiba from South Africa. "We lost our daughter and granddaughter in the tsunami [in Thailand in 2004]. Mandela was in England shortly afterwards and I got a phone call, “Could I go and see him?” I wasn’t in London and I was disappointed. But two days later the phone goes and on came Madiba from South Africa."

Click here for Richard Attenborough's full tribute.

Mandela devotes himself to extracting money from people for his various causes. Once in London he brought along [his wife] Graça [Machel] and his children to lunch and I was expecting the worst. "Mandela devotes himself to extracting money from people for his various causes. Once in London he brought along [his wife] Graça [Machel] and his children to lunch and I was expecting the worst."

Click here for Richard Branson's full tribute.

"One of the first times I met Madiba was when my friend [supermodel] Naomi Campbell put together a concert in Barcelona for one of his charities. So we went to the concert and Madiba was to walk on with myself and Naomi at 7.30 pm but there were only 1 000 people there. So we waited till 8.30 pm: 2 000. At 9 pm, there were about 5 000 which in a stadium for 20 000 wasn’t a pretty sight. Who was going to tell the great man?' "One of the first times I met Madiba was when my friend [supermodel] Naomi Campbell put together a concert in Barcelona for one of his charities. So we went to the concert and Madiba was to walk on with myself and Naomi at 7.30 pm but there were only 1 000 people there. So we waited till 8.30 pm: 2 000. At 9 pm, there were about 5 000 which in a stadium for 20 000 wasn’t a pretty sight. Who was going to tell the great man?'

Click here for Bono's full tribute.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA "What makes Madiba happy is to see our people happy; to see our people leading a better life. Everything that he did in power wasn’t for self-glory, it was out of a genuinely felt concern that the people of our country should have better lives."

Click here for Cyril Ramaphosa's full tribute.

"A mixture of traditional animism, Christianity and the monotheistic religions all makes him [Mandela] believe there’s life after death. He always jokes that he’s going to join the nearest branch of the ANC in heaven . . . " "A mixture of traditional animism, Christianity and the monotheistic religions all makes him [Mandela] believe there’s life after death. He always jokes that he’s going to join the nearest branch of the ANC in heaven . . . "

Click here for George Bizos' full tribute.

There’s a lovely image in the Mandela documentary made by Angus Gibson and Joe Menell where they film him in Oslo when he went to receive the Nobel Peace Prize [in 1993]. He’s shown making the hotel bed. 'There’s a lovely image in the Mandela documentary made by Angus Gibson and Joe Menell where they film him in Oslo when he went to receive the Nobel Peace Prize [in 1993]. "

Click here for Richard Stengel's full tribute.

Extracted from MANDELA: THE AUTHORISED PORTRAIT © 2012 Nelson R Mandela, published by Wild Dog Press in association with PQ Blackwell, R480 from kalahari.com 

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