How Cachalia, Madiba became ‘instant friends’

2013-02-01 17:46

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Struggle stalwart Amina Cachalia, who died yesterday, had a close relationship with former president Nelson Mandela.

In an interview for the American public broadcaster’s Frontline series “The long walk of Nelson Mandela”, she spoke of the relationship she had with Madiba, his nature and political journey.

Cachalia said her earliest recollection of Mandela was meeting him in 1948 or 1949.

“Either I met him at the Indian Congress offices when he came over there, because Yusuf [Cachalia, her husband] was secretary general of the Indian Congress, or it was at [Ahmed] Kathrada’s flat, which I often visited.”

Cachalia recalled looking at him, “and thinking he’s quite a charismatic, nice looking guy. We sort of clicked in a way. We liked each other and became instant friends.”

Their growing friendship was sparked by constant meetings as Cachalia’s husband worked closely with Walter Sisulu on the defiance campaign.

Cachalia said people “felt as though this guy (Mandela) is going places ... He knew what to do and what to say, and everybody listened when he talked. He already had that impression and made that impression on a lot of people.”

During the struggle she noted how he loved opposing the apartheid government: “He always wanted to defy authority, in a sense, and he took great chances all the time when he was underground.”

After Mandela was arrested she kept in touch with him. She continued to visit him in the Victor Verster and Pollsmoor prisons.

Cachalia, who was also one of the leaders involved in the 1956 women’s march against passes, said she thought of Mandela as being chauvinistic at some point.

She recalled an incident where Mandela – who loved Indian food – ordered her to go cook lunch for him by saying, “Go home and cook me some food. I’m coming to have lunch.”

She believed that although most men who spoke a great deal about women’s liberation were not in tune with the idea because they were “still very, very chauvinist in their habits”.

However, their friendship changed that idea as she thought of Mandela as “an interesting man ... A man of a great many seasons, too.”

Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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