You cannot turn your head this past week, without seeing some likeness of Nelson Mandela somewhere, alas, not even my blog.
I never had the privilege of meeting this man, I only heard what a great presence he had about him. I watched on TV when I was 12 years old, as he walked out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. I heard all the apprehensive, fearful, hopeful, worried, optimistic and confused opinions flying about for the next ….well, 24 years.
I heard the “Now they’re gonna chase us [white people] into the sea” to the newly liberated opinions of white people who for years were quietly very opposed to what was going on, but were afraid to speak. I have enough memory and experience of Apartheid to realise what has transpired when Nelson Mandela handled things the way he did. I have seen many ardent supporters of Apartheid look back and say, that wasn’t right, and that Nelson Mandela is an amazing man.
He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t even always right, as a politician, but we couldn’t have asked for a better human being to become our first democratically elected president. We could’ve ended up with a justifiably cheesed-off, angry, vengeful president, clouded by personal hatred and agendas, much like our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, did. What we got was someone who at times must’ve felt like chasing the the opposition into the sea and just be done with it, but rather chose the much much harder road of reconciliation. His decisive and intentional actions to promote reconciliation, and not revenge, will never be over-emphasised. As a Christian, this wins my respect. I am very grateful for that.
The images above must be the one that endeared him most to his pale skinned countrymen. Stroke of genius, is all I’ll say. I love that image to no end. What a day.
Through my career, however, I have photographed a bunch of his contemporaries, and associates, struggle comrades and the like.
Even though I never met him, I photographed his wife Graca Machel, at his home in Cape Town, a number of years ago. I was able to sit in his couches, see the scores of awards and tokens of appreciation displayed around the house and get searched more thoroughly by the security personnel than I ever even did in Libya, under Gadaffi! She was professional, dynamic and very impressive.
Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quite a quirky character. Witt and charm and tenacity is certainly part of his make-up. I’ve photographed him twice. Once at his office (images below) for an article, and another time at a TB awareness campaign in Gugulethu. I would like to say we had a lot of time to share and talk, but simply this was not the case. I had about 3 minutes to shoot. He kept saying, “Ok, that it? Another one? Ok ok ok. Ok. Another one? Ok, done now, Done now.” He then shook my hand and shuffled off to see to more pressing matters than smiling into my camera. He was polite and friendly. I hope I get to shoot him again. With my camera. And chat.
If you’ve seen “Invictus”, are South African or have read a bit, you’d know about the relationship of Madiba with Francois Pienaar, Springbok Rugby captain in 1995 who led the Springboks to become Rugby World Champions the first time they were allowed into the tournament. He is the dude in the pic at the top of the page. Down-to-earth, impressive guy.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the MC at Nelson Mandela’s funeral (today, as I write this, the ceremony is being carried out over a big flat-screen TV from the FNB Stadium, Soweto), was another very influential contemporary I had the privilege to photograph a couple of years back. Also, a very charismatic guy, very approachable, and a powerful businessman to boot. By the way, that’s another feat that Mandela managed, turning hard-core socialists into even better capitalists!
My assistant at the time, Philip, got this very cool pic of the two of them afterwards.
Johnny Clegg, the White Zulu, internationally acclaimed recording artist, and supporter of Nelson Mandela during the Apartheid years. He wrote the well known ASIMBONANGA in 1986 as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. (at that time imprisoned, and kept out of the media completely).
Barry van Zyl, drummer for the Johnny Clegg Band, remembers it like this in his newsletter 2013/12/10:
The song was banned by the South African government, but became a hit in Europe, Canada and the USA.
we have not seen him
we have not seen Mandela
in the place where he is
in the place where he is kept
In 1999 on my first outing with the Johnny Clegg Band we got a dose of Madiba Magic while onstage in Frankfurt.
We were playing Asimbonanga and after the first verse the crowd roared which delighted us, thinking they loved the show so much.
A few seconds later we realized that the applause was aimed at Nelson Mandela doing his famous jive across the stage toward Johnny!
After we were done, he insisted on shaking hands with every band member, and then asked us to repeat the entire song!
See it here:
I photographed Pallo Jordan, then minister of Arts and Culture, at parliament also.
These are just some of them. I photographed Jeff Radebe, and various other role-players in the Struggle.
So, Madiba left his magic through-out my career, nevermind the fact the I studied photography at what was a traditionally black institution, my lecturers being anti-apartheid activists, my best friend since 1996 being a guy of colour, and that I have the freedom to associate and befriend whoever I like.
So, the theory goes that we’re all separated from others in the world, by six degrees. Well, in my line of work, and once you’ve met some of Nelson Mandela’s friends, it drops down to like 2 or 3.
Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela.