A morning in late summer on the fields of Green Point Stadium. As occasions go this, in itself, was not one of those earth-shattering events. It was part of a bigger event, something that would set a nation on the high road, the election campaign that would ultimately choose the country's first democratic government. But this little event on the fields of Green Point Stadium was overshadowed by the presence of Nelson Mandela. And it never ceases to amaze me exactly how that presence works. I'd felt it with Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II. Perhaps it's a triumph of humanness. There's no stoking it up, no fanning flames of hysteria. Just a quiet presence that seems to say, ‘How are you? I am glad to meet you’.
The greeting was routine in a way. But Mandela had a way of greeting the media. He injected humanness into the encounter. He knew our names. He genuinely wanted us to feel welcome. The handshake, the smile, the greeting, "Ah Conrad, how are you?"
That gentle emphasis on the “you”. So it was on this occasion. I felt reassured, acknowledged. No other politician took such care in relating to the media. And it came so naturally with him. It was hard keeping one's distance. As journalists we had weathered one of the most traumatic periods in our nation's history. Orchestrated violence wracked our townships, negotiations teetered on the brink of collapse. Colleagues had been killed at the hands of ruthless thugs. There was enough here, in these times, to send anyone into the deepest depression. But through it all, through all the campaigning, along countless dusty streets in vast sprawling shantytowns that didn't even figure on maps, with all the eyes focused on one person, all the hopes, all the promises, there was that gaze, that grip of the handshake, that human voice steady amid all the hopelessness, "Ah Conrad, How are you?"
Quote: "It never ceases to amaze me exactly how that presence works."