Athena Sotomi

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory


  • Title: Athena Sotomi
  • Story: 1997 Genadendal, Cape Town The publishers, Little Brown, commissioned photojournalist Benny Gool to do a portrait for the illustrated version of A Long Walk to Freedom. I was gobsmacked when Benny asked me to assist at the photo shoot at Genadendaal, the official residence of the President. I was excited, nervous and overwhelmed all at once but knew that I had to calm down – this was after all a professional photo shoot. President Mandela did everything he could to make us feel comfortable – he was utterly gracious, charming and co-operative. We took photos inside and outside. In the first few minutes of meeting him all I could do was gape and try not to stumble over my words. Later, I worried that he might have thought I was rude. I couldn’t believe how tall he was. When we were in the garden I looked around and saw that his bodyguards had formed a large, tight circle around all of us and even though I was familiar with the history of Mandela the activist, prisoner, father, husband and finally president, it was inside that tight circle that the enormity of the legend he had already become hit home. Afterwards he insisted that we have tea with him and requested that Priscilla Naidoo join us. I took the opportunity to give him a gift of a record that was given to me by Dudu Pukwana, the South African musician who considered Mandela his icon. I didn’t know that Benny had taken this photograph – he gave it to me a few days later. It is a wonderful gift of remembrance that will always be treasured and shared with my children.
  • Quote: "He was utterly gracious, charming and co-operative."
  • Type: Photo
  • Original Source: To download a photograph click here
  • Collection: Moments with a Legend