Richard Maponya tells of his time as Mandela’s chauffeur

2013-12-15 06:00

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Weeks before former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison, business mogul Richard Maponya and his late wife, Marina, visited him at the then Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town.

The three spent almost the whole day together talking about anything and everything.

During the conversation Mandela told Maponya, who was his close friend, comrade and the man who had married his cousin, that he would be released from prison soon. He asked if he could be picked in one of the BMWs from his dealership in Soweto.

Maponya (86) was chuffed and immediately agreed.

When former president FW de Klerk announced that Mandela would be released from prison on February 10 1990, Maponya knew the moment he had always dreamed of had arrived – Mandela was coming home.

He organised 10 BMWs, including his maroon Seven series, in which Mandela was whisked off immediately after landing at Lanseria Airport in Joburg, two days after the announcement of his release.

Maponya said that was the highlight of his relationship with Mandela.

“Here I was in the driver’s seat driving Mandela and his wife, Winnie. I was excited and nervous at the same time because I had been trusted with driving a very important man in South Africa and the eyes of the world were upon me,” he told City Press during an interview at his palatial home in Hyde Park on Friday.

He said he hardly slept the night before because of his nerves.

“I wanted everything to go well. I woke up very early in the morning to ensure that all the chauffeurs and the cars were clean and ready to pick up Mandela and all the dignitaries.

“When we got to Lanseria, we found throngs of people waiting for Mandela. We had no idea how they knew he was going to be landing at that airport. The moment the plane landed, excitement filled the airport and people were just running mad,” said Maponya.

“He came out of the arrivals hall and everybody jumped on him. For security reasons, we had to pull him away from the crowd and whisk him off,” he said.

The maroon BMW Seven series left Lanseria, heading to Hyde Park – to Maponya’s old house where Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela were to stay until the next day when Maponya was to take him to FNB Stadium where Mandela was to make a first public appearance. But due to poor security control at Maponya’s old house, which is two blocks away from his current home, Mandela had to be taken to a secret location.

Maponya, who was his designated driver, spent a night with Mandela and his wife, family and close friends. He was up again early in the morning ready to take Mandela to FNB Stadium.

He described that day as the most frightful of his life.

“I have never seen so many people in one place. There were probably hundreds of thousands inside and outside the stadium.”

Maponya said Mandela was also overwhelmed. “The man had been in prison for 27 years and had not seen that many people in that time.”

Mandela made a short speech before he was airlifted to Orlando Stadium where he was supposed to address thousands who had not seen him for decades. Maponya had to follow with his car. By the time he reached the stadium, Mandela had left and gone to his house in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West.

The next day, Maponya took Mandela to a meeting in White City, Soweto.

But that was his last trip as Mandela’s chauffeur. Mandela’s tight schedule clashed with Maponya’s and the next day, he gave him his own car, a demo BMW Seven series. Maponya also provided him with a chauffeur, his nephew, Michael Maponya.

Michael Maponya remained Mandela’s personal chauffeur until he died on Thursday last week.

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