‘He’ll never ask for a blanket again’

2013-12-15 14:00

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It was in the early hours of the morning, driving on empty roads, that Corporal Thando Mangxangaza finally realised his “grandfather”, Nelson Mandela, was never coming back.

Mangxangaza is an operational medical orderly who was part of the presidential medical unit in charge of Mandela’s medical care for 24 hours a day for the past three years.

As part of the “Charlie Team”, he was with doctors, nurses and specialists who were at Mandela’s side when he died last Thursday.

“The night before we took him to the Union Buildings for the first time, I couldn’t sleep, because I had the keys of the hearse in my pocket.

I was so worried that I might oversleep and Tata would be late.”

Mandla Mandela, Mandela’s grandson who guarded the coffin every day, drove with him every time.

“Then I remained quiet out of respect, because Chief Mandla was talking softly to Tata, and then I also spoke to him in my head. We had so many good times in Qunu,” he said.

“Tata was in Qunu for the last time two years ago and he was already very weak. He sat in his chair at the upstairs window of his house and liked to look at the cattle. It was amazing, because within a week he was full of new life. He was so happy there.

“He also kept making jokes. One day he had to look at the actors who would be in the film of Long Walk to Freedom.

“He called me and showed me a picture of Terry Pheto [who plays Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn].

“‘It’s pretty girls like this who make men polygamists’, he quipped.”

But now the laughter has faded and Mangxangaza is trying to come to terms with life after Madiba’s passing.

“When Chief Mandla drove to Pretoria with Tata the other night, the air conditioning was on.

“I started thinking Tata would soon be saying it’s getting too cold and he wanted a blanket for his legs.

“Then I remembered he would never ask for a blanket again.”

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