Meeting Madiba, braces and all


This photograph was taken nearly 10 years ago. I was a young reporter at Beeld when photographer Felix Dlangamandla and I were sent to former president Nelson Mandela's house on his farm in what was then Nylstroom (Modimolle). I had braces on my teeth and was shy about meeting Madiba like that.

When we arrived we were soaked in perspiration from apprehension as well as the three-hour journey in a company car without air conditioning. We met him only briefly at the front door of the stylish farmhouse. He was very charming. It was such a momentous occasion for me I almost felt like bowing when I shook his hand. I tried not to smile too broadly and expose my braces, but it didn't work.

He hadn't been South Africa's president for years but I still called him "Mister President" because anything else didn't sound right to me ? and I'd been practising all the way there.

He was taller than I'd expected and I don't know if I imagined it, but his eyes seemed to have a blue tinge, which I found amazing.

We were only with him for a short time but I still remember how warm he was and how much he laughed in that short period.

I was so nervous my ears were ringing and afterwards I could remember almost nothing of what I'd said.

But I think he asked me in Afrikaans where I came from. "Secunda, Mister President," I replied, and he smiled as if he knew the town and knew me. And I wasn't embarrassed about my braces any more.

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