As a member of the congregation, and having held the position of personal assistant to three Deans of Cape Town over nearly three decades, I have been witness to many a memorable moment at St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town. This photograph of Former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu marks such a moment.
The occasion recorded here in June 1996, is the awarding of the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) by the President to the Archbishop. Here I am, standing with two of South Africa’s, indeed the world’s, most iconic gentlemen and looking for all the world totally unimpressed. My face belies the fact that I am in awe of standing next to these great men. I was, of course, used to being around the Archbishop, although I had never quite got rid of being a little nervous in his presence. His frequent visits to the cathedral were always moments which occasioned much joy for the staff even during the most difficult times of the tumultuous 80’s and early 90’s. President Mandela had also come to the Cathedral on occasion, most notably the State visit of HRM Queen Elizabeth II, the previous year.
My memory of this occasion is made indelible by the gentleness and humour exuded by both men. Madiba’s handshake, like that of the Arch, was gentle yet firm. Both have the rare ability to make one feel that they are genuinely pleased to be with you. They also have an old-world graciousness which I greatly admire. Yet, the two together, are not unlike two schoolboys, forever gently teasing each other. I am in awe of being with these two great statesmen who have shaped the history of a nation and also not a little exasperated by their schoolboy antics!
Quote: "Madiba’s handshake, like that of the Arch, was gentle yet firm."