Madiba 20

Where are my weights? - Mandela

2010-02-10 23:15

Special Report

Obama calls Mandela
Obama calls Mandela

US President Barack Obama has called former president Nelson Mandela to mark the 20th anniversary of his release from prison.

Pretoria - Trevor Manuel was very tired when his phone rang just after 05:00 on Monday morning February 12. The previous couple of days had been chaotic: first the poor preparation on the Saturday for Nelson Mandela's release, the chaos at the Parade on Sunday before his speech and then the violence in Cape Town's city centre.

Meanwhile Manuel, in charge of the ANC leader's convoy between Paarl and Cape Town, even managed to "lose" the world's most famous prisoner.

"I was absolutely drained," says Manual, at that stage a long-haired activist, but today a respected Cabinet minister.

"It was Madiba on the phone: 'Trevor,' he said in his unmistakable way, 'when you packed my things, where did you put my weights?'

"'Your weights?' I asked. 'Yes, my weights. I gym every morning, I need my weights!'

"I was finished, extremely tired and all the old man wanted were his weights!" laughs the minister of planning, clasping his hands.

That's the golden thread that runs through Mandela's life, feels Manual: consistency. The same temperament, the same principles and the same routine throughout - Madiba doesn't change.

His release might not have changed Mandela, but for Manuel it was the beginning of a high-paced existence in which he was swiftly promoted from Cape activist to senior party member, advisor to Mandela and eventually a minister.

Now what?

Nobody knew precisely when Mandela would be released. Saturday morning February 10, just after 07:00, however, Manuel received a phone call from General Johan Willemse, chief of prisons. Willemse told Manuel he must be in his office in the H F Verwoerd building in the parliamentary complex at 14:30.

"Well, he certainly didn't want to place me in detention from there, so I fetched Bulelani Ngcuka, Dullah Omar and Valli Moosa and we went to Willemse.

"Once there we were informed that, at that very moment, president F W de Klerk was making an announcement in Tuynhuys that Mandela would be released the next day."

Silence. Now what? Manuel wondered.

Willemse continued: "The moment he's out of prison, he's your responsibility. Here's Colonel Griebenouw, if you need help with security, ask him."

We've been waiting for this so long, was Manuel's first thought. "But now we only had a Saturday afternoon to make the arrangements."

They'd had a few dress rehearsals with the release of Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi. However, Mandela's release was potentially in a class of its own.
The four comrades started working the phones immediately and arranged with Professor Jakes Gerwel, rector of the University of the Western Cape, to use the facilities there before they quickly made their way to Paarl to see Mandela.

When they got there "Madiba was sitting in his pyjamas, very thankful of course, because he already knew, and said: 'Yes, thanks guys, but I was thinking I should say the following in my speech tomorrow...'"


Back at UWC, a team had started making arrangements to receive Mandela. According to Manuel, it was a mess: They had to phone people from all over ; jobs were assigned; we had to liaise with the city, police and traffic about the mass gathering at the Parade.

"There was no time for printing T-shirts or pamphlets; we had to find a sound system... on a Saturday night!"

Transport was a problem: They didn't know anyone who owned luxury cars, fit for someone of Mandela's stature.

"I mean, I had a 1300 Toyota. The guys with the big cars were cafe owners and we managed to find a big Cressida which we would use."

Nobody slept and Manuel raced to the city early on Sunday morning to make sure everything there was in order before he went to Paarl.

He realised he was in for quite a thing when he saw the crowds gathering all along the road to Victor Verster. But there were still problems.

The comrades in Johannesburg had rented two aircraft to fly friends and family to Cape Town, but arrived in the Mother City at different times, messing up up the schedule.
"We were total amateurs..."

After a private and emotional reunion with his family, Mandela and the group left for Cape Town - Manuel, Cyril Ramaphosa, Valli Moosa and Jay Naidoo in the Toyota, and Mandela in the Cressida.

Mandela is gone, and that's a problem

The short road to the N1 was impassable due to the masses of people, and the convoy eventually arrived in Cape Town via the Fraqnschhoek road and the Klapmuts off-ramp.

"The biggest and strongest guy we could find, Willie Hofmeyr (today a lean and slender deputy national director of public prosecutions) was made chief of crowd control. However, he soon made it clear to me that things in front of the town hall and on the Parade are out of control.

"There were these crazy Rastafarians who chased [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu around supposedly because he wasn't a real leader... [Allan] Boesak couldn't control the people over the speakers... but I still thought we could pull it off."

Under Manuel's command, the convoy would first wait in the underground parking garage of the civic centre before moving to the town hall. However, when he returned to fetch them, they were nowhere to be found.

"Now what? Madiba was in our care, and now we've lost him! It's a problem, you know?" he says animatedly.

Shortly thereafter, a traffic official tugs at Manuel and Griebenouw and tells him over the two-way radio that he must take Mandela to the town hall immediately "otherwise Cape Town is going to burn today".

"I ummed and aahed when he asked where Mandela was, because I didn't know... we then tracked him down at a house in Rondebosh, shoes off, merrily chatting away with a cup of tea in hand..."

The traffic escort misunderstood the driver of the Cressida: He heard "city hall" instead of "civic centre" and the convoy had to flee when the restless crowd started pushing and shoving at the car with the dark windows.

The next day, Beeld reported about the crowd on the Parade and estimated that up to 60 000 people had listened when Mandela was introduced by Sisulu at 19:50.


Manuel recently read Mandela's speech again, and feels it illustrates his steadfastness perfectly.

"Make the effort and read it: He concludes the speech with exactly the same words with which he ended his testimony in the Rivonia trial.

"It's important. Those words have great power and he uses them at two different turning points in our country's history, 26 years apart."

Mandela's speech was stern (he confirmed the ANC's dedication to the armed struggle) but well-balanced, with acknowledgment to De Klerk and others.

"'Why did you have to say that about De Klerk?' we asked, because we were stubborn, militant... 'No, he has integrity, and we can't negotiate with someone without integrity'.

"Mandela was clear, calculated... and in control."

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  trevor manuel

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