Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa – Zuma says there is no war with the treasury and complains of abuse in parliament



South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday that the Presidency was not at war with the Treasury after reports that an elite police unit was investigating Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Some analysts say Zuma’s allies are behind the investigation in a bid to remove Gordhan, but Zuma denied this was the case.

“There is no war between the Presidency and the Treasury. I am clarifying that point. It must be as clear as anything – there is no war between the Presidency and the Treasury,” he told parliament in answer to a question.

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I am being abused in Parliament, Jacob Zuma complains

President Jacob Zuma. Picture:  REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

“Each time I come here I am abused‚” President Jacob Zuma said in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon‚ after his scheduled question-and-answer time session was again disrupted by the opposition EFF.

The exasperated President said: “Instead of answering questions‚ I am called a criminal … a thief. This House has to do something.”

The red berets tried to stop Zuma from speaking on Tuesday and staged a walkout‚ saying they would not listen to him. This incident took place almost four months after Zuma’s last appearance in the National Assembly (May 17)‚ which was marred by the forceful removal of EFF MPs from the House‚ after they had also refused to be addressed by the President then.

On Tuesday‚ Zuma signalled that the heckling was difficult for him to sit through and that he did not think it was fair to expect him to face people who were disrespecting the house of Parliament.

“It is very difficult to me to do my constitutional duty‚” he said.” …If this House is not interested in me answering questions‚ then don’t call me.”

TMG Digital


South Africa – will ANC go for more populist economic policies

Mail and Guardian

There is a risk that the ANC could turn to more populist measures, including breaching expenditure ceilings or “redistributive regulatory policies” that might undermine economic growth, to address rising voter dissatisfaction. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)
There is a risk that the ANC could turn to more populist measures, including breaching expenditure ceilings or “redistributive regulatory policies” that might undermine economic growth, to address rising voter dissatisfaction. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is leaning toward more populist economic policies to win back support after its worst performance in an election since Nelson Mandela led the party to victory in a vote that ended apartheid in 1994.

The ANC will press the government to prioritise creating jobs and alleviating poverty in the national budget at the four-day Cabinet meeting that started Tuesday, secretary general Gwede Mantashe said after the party’s top decision-making body met last weekend. The party also mandated the government to speed up the process of implementing a national minimum wage and said the nation’s universities shouldn’t announce any fee increases.

The shift in policy is an attempt to secure support from the 27 percent of the workforce without jobs and to dim the appeal of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party that’s winning voters over in traditional ANC strongholds. To pay for it, the government may need to boost debt and risk a credit-rating downgrade to junk or raise taxes again and further alienate the urban middle class that shunned the ruling party in the August 3 municipal election.

“It sounds to me like they want to enact a greater degree of what I would call, fiscal populism,” Russell Lamberti, chief strategist at ETM Analytics, said by phone from Cape Town on Monday. “We potentially are heading down the scenario here where they respond to election defeat by using fiscal policy in a more activist way, and that leads us down downgrade territory.”

There is a risk that the 104-year-old ANC could turn to more populist measures, including breaching expenditure ceilings or “redistributive regulatory policies” that might undermine economic growth, to address rising voter dissatisfaction, Fitch Ratings said on August 5. While Fitch and S&P Global Ratings affirmed South Africa’s credit rating at BBB-, one level above junk, in June, they said the government must take decisive steps to bolster growth, quell policy uncertainty and end political turmoil to avoid a future downgrade.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan pledged in his February budget to narrow the fiscal deficit to 2.4% of gross domestic product by 2019, from 3.9% last year, and limit gross debt to 50.5% of GDP in three years by reining in spending and increasing taxes. The government will stick to the fiscal consolidation targets and objectives set out in the budget, the Treasury said last week.

“I would not, at the moment, blame ratings agencies for reading into this statement a shift towards not just populism, but more extraction from public resources,” Iraj Abedian, chief executive officer at Pan-African Investments and Research Services in Johannesburg, said by phone on Monday.

The ANC’s senior leaders absolved President Jacob Zuma of blame for the party’s election performance even as a series of scandals surrounding him contributed to voter discontent. Zuma was forced to name Gordhan as finance minister, a position he held between 2009 and 2014, in December when business and political leaders persuaded him to backtrack on a decision to appoint a little-known lawmaker to the position, after the rand and bonds plunged.

Gordhan is leading efforts to avoid a credit-rating downgrade and has met with business and labor leaders and investors to come up with measures to boost confidence in an economy that the central bank projects won’t expand this year. The ANC’s statement could put renewed strain on the relationship between the finance minister, who has said he will maintain the spending ceiling, and Zuma and his party, according to George Herman, head of South African investments at Cape Town-based Citadel Investment Services.

The decisions in the ruling party’s statement are a way to “score very quick, easy, short-term goals” with voters, Herman said by phone. If the government announces new spending plans “financial markets and the ratings agencies will be very concerned.” – Bloomberg

South Africa – DA and EFF cry foul over procedure for new public protector

BD Live

BY STAFF WRITER  AUGUST 11 2016, 08:39
Floyd Shivambu.  Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Floyd Shivambu. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA




THURSDAY’s marathon session to find a new public protector stalled before it even started.

EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu threatened that the selection committee’s decision would face a possible legal challenge to its processes if it went ahead‚ which would “nullify” any decision.

He said he had concerns about the shortlisting process‚ and later added that the taxing schedule — that required all 14 candidates to be interviewed in a single day‚ the last scheduled to start at 11pm –— was inherently unfair.

ALSO READ: Concern over day for public protector interviews

Makhosi Khoza‚ chairperson of the ad hoc parliamentary committee established to nominate a replacement for advocate Thuli Madonsela‚ appeared to try dissuade Shivambu from his objections‚ saying all the issues had been brought up previously‚ and allow the interviews to proceed.

The DA was also not pleased with the schedule.

“It is the DA’s view that the manner of the programme is inherently impractical‚” Glynnis Breytenbach said.

By 8am‚ none of the candidates had been called — the first interview had been scheduled for 7am.

Khoza‚ however‚ noted the parties’ concerns before going on with the programme.

Candidates would be locked up to prevent them watching a live television broadcast of their peers fielding questions.

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution’s executive secretary‚ Lawson Naidoo‚ asked if the punishing schedule would allow committee members to be “equally alert and vigilant at the end of the day as they are at the beginning”.

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said: “We are also concerned that the length of time set aside for the public interviews will be particularly taxing on the ad hoc committee members‚ as well as the candidates who will be interviewed towards the end of the day.”

Khoza said on Wednesday that the rationale behind screening all candidates in a day was to “ensure that candidates do not have unfair advantage over others‚ as these interviews will be broadcast live.”

The provisional line-up of candidates to be interviewed on Thursday is:

• Advocate MM Mthembu, 7.45am-8.45am;

• Judge Sharise Erica Weiner, 8.50am-9.50am;

• Advocate Chris Madibeng Mokoditwa, 9.55am-10.55am;

• Judge Serajudien Desai, 11am-noon;

• Adjunct Professor Narnia Bohler-Muller, 12.05pm-1.05pm;

• Advocate Mamiki Thabitha Goodman, 1.50-2.50pm;

• Busisiwe Mkhwebane, 2.55pm-3.55pm;

• Jill Claudelle Oliphant, 4pm-5pm;

• Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh 5.05pm-6.05pm

• Advocate Kevin Sifiso Malunga, 6.10-7.10pm;

• William Andrew Hofmeyr, 7.45pm-8.45pm;

• Muvhango Antoinette Lukhaimane, 8.50pm-9.50pm

• Prof Bongani Majola, 9.55pm-10.55pm; and

• Advocate Nonkosi Princess Cetywayo, 11pm-midnight.

TMG Digital

South Africa – local elections change political landscape

BD Live

The ANC is not in a growth phase. For the past decade its trajectory has been downhill as it grapples with a radically changed opposition. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

The ANC is not in a growth phase. For the past decade its trajectory has been downhill as it grapples with a radically changed opposition. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

AMID recriminations and celebrations, the final results of the 2016 local government elections late on Saturday showed that SA’s political landscape has been fundamentally altered, with the governing party’s share of the vote falling from 62% to 54%, and governing by coalition set to be the order of the day in key municipalities.

This is the first time since SA’s transition to democracy in 1994 that the ANC’s support has fallen below 60%, reflecting the lethal combination of a compromised president, a limping economy, factional battles within the party and poor service delivery in many municipalities.

The ANC will this week begin the difficult process of assessing where it went wrong, in a national working committee meeting which is scheduled for Monday. This will be followed by a national executive committee meeting on Friday, which will precede an ANC national executive committee lekgotla.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on Sunday said it would be a long process of introspection for the party to assess what went wrong. He declined to provide an “ad hoc analysis”.

In a significant development, several of the larger opposition parties are understood to be planning to meet in Gauteng on Monday to pursue potentially tough coalition talks.

For the official opposition, the DA, the poll results usher in a new era that has opened up the possibility of governing outside its Western Cape stronghold.

The EFF, which contested a municipal election for the first time, now has a footprint in municipalities across the country, and is set to be a kingmaker in key metropolitan municipalities as it decides whether to use its seats to bolster the ANC or the DA, particularly in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Mogale City, where neither large party won an outright majority.

The results show that the ANC is losing its grip on urban areas across SA. Even in its stronghold provinces, which are largely rural, its support fell by unprecedented levels. In the North West, the ANC dropped from 74% in 2011 to 54% in 2016; in the Eastern Cape it fell from 71% to 65%; in the Free State from 71% in 2011 to 62%; in Limpopo from 81% to 69%; and in Mpumalanga from 78% to 71%.

Its support grew marginally in KwaZulu-Natal from 56.7% in 2011 to 57.4% in 2016. Zuma supporters have blamed the Gauteng ANC leadership for the decline in support in key metros in the province, and talk that the party will suspend the provincial executive committee has not abated.

At the results announcement on Saturday, four EFF members staged a silent protest in front of Zuma as he spoke, displaying posters harking back to the rape accusations of which he was acquitted 10 years ago. Insiders described the surprise protest as an embarrassment, and an illustration of why the ANC’s support in urban areas was eroding fast.

The poll also suggested a revival in the fortunes of the Inkatha Freedom Party, after its breakaway — the National Freedom Party — failed to register on time.

The ANC’s national support slipped from 61.9% in 2011 to 53.9% in 2016; the DA’s from 23.9% in 2011 to 26.9% in 2016; and the EFF obtained 8.2% of the vote.

The final numbers suggest that many former ANC voters stayed away, split their votes or voted for the opposition, the EFF in the main, but also the DA.

Voter turnout at 57.9% was slightly higher than the 57.6% in 2011, but about 1.5-million more people registered to vote than in the last poll.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the character of the DA was clearly in flux, and the party had already started to adjust the way it operated, increasing its support in townships in Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. Maimane said its presence in the country’s economic hub of Gauteng had to be reviewed and beefed up — particularly ahead of 2019, where the party would move to capture the province.

EFF leader Julius Malema said the election would help the party ahead of 2019 as it now had a footprint and councillors across the country, who would assist the party with resources going forward to the next election. “This money thing is big,” he said, describing how costly fighting an election campaign could be.

Malema’s party would enter into coalition talks with anyone who approached it, he said.

South Africa – Court says Zuma must pay back R7.8m Nkandla money within 45 days

BD Live

BY NATASHA MARRIAN,  26 JULY 2016, 15:28
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma must pay the R7.8m he owes for the Nkandla upgrades by September to comply with a Constitutional Court order.

He has 45 days in which to pay the money, following the Constitutional Court’s approval on Tuesday of the amount as stipulated by the National Treasury.

The National Treasury calculated that Zuma should pay 87.9% of the cost of five items deemed non-security by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her 2014 report, Secure in Comfort, on security upgrades amounting to R246m at Zuma’s homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal. This amounted to R7.8m. The Treasury last month submitted to the court the “reasonable percentage” it had determined.

Zuma had refused to take responsibility for the excessive spending, the ANC vilified Madonsela and there were raucous confrontations in Parliament between the ANC and the EFF, which taunted Zuma with the slogan: “Pay back the money”. Zuma offered to pay only after the EFF took him to court.

In a Constitutional Court judgment handed down at the end of March, Zuma was found to have failed to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution in his handling of Madonsela’s report on Nkandla.

The amount determined by the Treasury was reached through a rigorous process involving two firms of quantity surveyors and a panel of six experts from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) and the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors. (ASAQS). They had volunteered their services and the Treasury accepted to ensure “objectivity” and “maintain independence” in the process. The two firms did not have contact with one another and held site visits separately.

The Public Works Department was asked to provide construction and engineering drawings to aid the quantity surveyors. However, according to the Treasury report, some of the drawings provided were incomplete, incorrect or not reflective of what was actually built.

The costs of the five items — the visitors’ centre, swimming pool, amphitheatre, cattle kraal and chicken run — were estimated at 2016 prices and adjusted for 2009 values, as that is when the construction took place.

At the time the Constitutional Court ordered that Zuma “personally pay the amount determined by the Treasury” within 45 days of the court approving the Treasury’s report.

Perfidious Albion – Britain’s shameful role in blocking a non-racial franchise in the Union of South Africa

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right”
Martin Luther King Jr.



Perfidious Albion is a phrase that was much used in the late 18th and early 19th century to describe Britain’s reputation in Europe for bad faith, reneging on agreements and to back up accusations of outright treachery in her diplomacy and treaty making. It’s origins are obscure a 17th century French Catholic bishop and theologian wrote of Perfidious Albion in a poem attacking England ( Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, “Sermon pour la fête de la Circoncision de Notre-Seigneur” in: Oeuvres complètes, Volume 5, Ed. Outhenin-Chalandre, 1840, p.264).

The phrase, perhaps picked up from the French Catholic theologian, was used by Irish Catholics to describe England’s decision to renege on commitments to Catholic rights in Ireland made in the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, at the end of the war between English Protestant forces loyal to William III and Catholic Jacobites. The treaty promised favourable terms to the Irish Catholics, including freedoms to worship, own property and carry arms.  The provisions of the treaty were the reversed by the Penal Laws introduced in 1695.

The expression was picked up againt by French revolutionary writers in the 1790s, when Britain opted to join the old, autocratic monarchies of Europe in fighting the new revolutionary government and then Napoleon.

Much more recently it was used by Ian Smith, Prime Minister of the white supremacist, settler minority government in Southern Rhodesia. In his book, The Great Betrayal (London: John Blake, 1997) he bewails Britain’s supposed treachery towards the whites of southern Rhodesia and it is said he viewed the British Conservative Foreign Secretary as the embodiment of Perfidious Albion ( Independent 22 November 2007, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/ian-smith-rhodesian-prime-minister-who-attempted-to-prevent-black-rule-by-declaring-independence-758993.html).  It is ironic that Smith thought Britain treacherous because of its demand that the franchise be extended to black Africans, as the main subject of this article is an earlier example of British perfidy in reneging on promises to black and Coloured South Africans of a non-racial franchise when the Union of South Africa was negotiated after the Second South African (Boer War), which ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902.

This example of gross bad faith helped lay the foundations of apartheid by legitimising the exclusion of non-whites from the new Union’s legislatures, denying them the franchise in the old Boer republics that became part of the Union and establishing the means by which the black and Coloured voters could be eventually disenfranchised in the Cape.  How this happened is narrated in the meticulously researched and crisply written new study of the failed attempts by a coalition of black, Coloured and white leaders to establish a non-racial franchise in the Union settlement and protect black and Coloured Cape voters by Martin Plaut (Promise and Despair. The First Struggle for a Non-Racial South Africa, Auckland Park, Jacana, 2016).

Plaut book


The book has been published at an interesting time, when some politicians and academics in South Africa, notably Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters and Professor Patrick Bond, have been criticising the 1996 “Mandela” constitution for limiting restitution of land and other resources to the black majority following the dismantling of apartheid (detailed by Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court in a lecture at South Africa House, London, 21 July 2016). Constitution-making is a complex, long-drawn-out process involved much political horse-trading and legal argument, as Plaut’s very clear narrative emphasises.  If there were some faults or failures in the 1996 constitution – the SA Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron said in London on 21 July 2016 the failings have not been in the constitution in itself but in the failure of the ANC government and civil society to exploit its untapped potential for change and restitution of expropriated land – then the 1910 Union constitution’s failings were legion. The failings were the results of a desire of the British government not simply to reconcile with the Afrikaner republics they had just fought but to forge an alliance.  And there were global strategic reasons for this, as Plaut succinctly identifies: The British government, threatened by the rise of German military power and determined to have a united South Africa as part of its Imperial defences,  was keen to press ahead with Union. (p.113)

The British fear of impending war in Europe and the need to bring South Africa – with its all-important control of sea routs round the Cape and possession of ports at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban – into the union of Britain and its foreign dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland) that could be called upon to supply men and material to support the war effort, should it come to that.  The book sets out very clearly that not only did the British government not want to antagonise the Afrikaner members of the projected union by pressing for a union-wide, non-racial franchise and for the right of non-white to sit in legislatures, but also was aware of the colour bars in Australia and the opposition of the dominions to interference by London in what white settlers in them saw as their domestic affairs.  This is detailed and sourced convincingly by Plaut.

He provides a clear,  very well-illustrated and sourced narrative of the attempt by a delegation of black, Coloured and white politicians who travelled to London in the summer of 1909 to try to protect the non-racial franchise in the Cape and to enshrine the principle of a non-racial franchise based on property and educational qualifications rather than race on the constitution of the planned Union of South Africa. As one of the delegation,  the political activist and Xhosa newspaper editor John Tengo Jabavu, wrote: They (the black people of South Africa) were assured by governors, governors’ agents, officials and missionaries of the absolute justice, freedom and liberty, without discrimination of color, they would enjoy under the British government. (Plaut, p. 123). He was supported by other leaders of the delegation the former Cape premier, William Schreiner, Cape coloured leader Dr Abdbullah Abdurahman, the teacher and black rights activist Dr Walter Rubasana; they also had backing from Gandhi, who was in London representing the interests of South African Indians. The delegation tried to press the case for a non-racial franchise and had the support of the British Labour Party under Keir Hardies, radical liberals such as Sir Charles Dilke and the progressive press.

But the arguments for justice and equality could not compete with political expediency and the desire to bring Afrikanerdom into the imperial fold for strategic and also economic reason, the latter based on the lucrative mining industries.  The non-racial delegations active representation of non-website rights came to nothing and the intransigence of Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and John Merriman over the refusal of a union-wide non-racial franchise, the prevention of non-whites becoming members of elected legislative bodies and the provision for a future removal of voting rights in the Cape triumphed leading to the adoption of a constitution for the Union of South Africa that was discriminatory and excluded the vast majority of its population from political rights.

What is amazing – beyond the cold-blooded expediency of British politicians – is how little of this detailed and very valuable narrative has appeared before in histories of South Africa (barely a mentioned, for example, in James Barber’s otherwise excellent South Africa in the Twentieth Century,  or Leonard Thompson’s fine work, A History of South Africa).

As the author points out at the start of the second chapter, “Ask almost any South African when the vote was extended to black people and the answer will invariably be 1994…Inside and outside the country almost non  one questions the assumption that 27 April 1994 marked the moment when the first non-racial election was ever held in South Africa. This is clearly incorrect. (p.14)

The book then details how any person with sufficient property could vote in the Cape from 1836 could vote in elections. This was then enshrined in the non-racial franchise established in the Cape in 1853. Natal had a far more limited franchise while the Afrikaner republics in Transvaal and the Free State denied political rights to non-whites. Britain’s acquiescence in the face of Afrikaner intransigence set the precedent for the progressive disenfranchisement of non-white South Africans and established the institutional and legal foundations on which apartheid could be built. It also gave impetus to the establishment of a national African movement pledged to fight for political, social and economic rights – the African national Congress, which would include among its leader members of the unsuccessful delegation, John Tengo Jabavu and Walter Rubasana.


Professor Keith Somerville teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and edits the Africa – News and Analysis website (www.africajournalismtheworld.com). His latest book, Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent (Lonfon: Hurst and Co) was published in December 2015. He led the BBC World Service news programme team covering the elections in South Africa in April-May 1994.


South Africa – was Mandela as special as he is portrayed


2016-07-18 07:00

Melanie Verwoerd

Today we are celebrating Madiba’s birthday. As someone who was privileged to engage with him a few times, I am often asked if he was as special as his media image portrayed. I can relate many experiences, but there is perhaps one event, more so than any other, that proved to me what an extraordinary person he was.

In early 1995 I got a call from Madiba’s office. Madiba was hosting representatives of 30 conservative Afrikaner women’s organisations for tea the next morning in Pretoria and he wanted me to accompany him. I was in the middle of a house move, but how do you say no to Nelson Mandela? I mean you can’t say: “Thanks for the invite, Madiba, but I’m moving house.”

So at 05:00 the next morning, I was at Ysterplaat airbase. Madiba arrived a few minutes later flanked by two bodyguards. He knew all the staff by name and took time to greet them and ask after their families. I got a big hug and he laughed when I told him that I had abandoned my husband for him on moving day. “This could cause a scandal!” he said, and winked mischievously. As we made our way to the presidential jet Madiba spotted a man sweeping the grounds in the distance. Despite his bodyguards’ protests, he insisted that the worker be brought over, so he could greet him.

As soon as we were in the air, Madiba asked politely if he could practise his speech for the morning – which was in Afrikaans – on me. As if I would say no! After he read it aloud a few times, I told him how touched I was by the effort he was making. “Language is important when it comes to reconciliation,” he said.

(AFP file)

In Pretoria we got into the presidential convoy. Unlike the 11 vehicle convoy of our current president, Madiba had only one security car in front and one behind, no blue lights and he insisted that they kept to the speed limit and not jump any lights. It was still early morning in Pretoria and at traffic lights, hawkers and newspaper sellers were setting up for the day. At every red light Madiba would wind down his window and greet the traders, who, to the security’s exasperation, would rush over, overwhelmed with emotion when they realised it was Madiba.

At the official residence, Madiba was first taken to his office, while I was shown to the room by a young Afrikaans man called Jacques Human. He was the housekeeper and chef from the apartheid years, but in typical Madiba fashion had been asked to stay. The room was filled with heavily perfumed and made-up women. Jacques introduced me to them in Afrikaans. “Ladies, this is Melanie Verwoerd, a member of parliament accompanying President Mandela today. She is of course from” – he paused for dramatic effect – “the ANC”. All the blue-eye-shadowed eyes turned to me with cold hatred. With a “Good luck!” Jacques made a hasty escape.

After a few seconds’ silence and ignoring me, one woman, who was clearly the leader of the group, gave a little speech. “Ladies,” she said sternly, “before Mr Mandela arrives, I want to remind you that we are here to make a point and send a message. So we will only speak Afrikaans today. If we are asked to speak English, or Mr Mandela speaks English, we will stick to Afrikaans.” There were loud cheers of support, and the leader triumphantly pulled her jacket into place.

Thinking of Mandela practising his speech on the early-morning flight, I was furious, but before I could say anything, I spotted Madiba through the window on his way to the room. I quickly slipped out and warned him about their intentions. Madiba nodded, and then said: “Leave it to me.” He walked into the room and greeted the first woman in the line up: “Aaah, goeie môre! Dis so ‘n eer om u te ontmoet.” (“Aaah, good morning! It is an honour to meet you”). She froze slightly, and then went blood red.

“I am so, so honoured to meet you, Mr President. So honoured!” she blurted out in English. The next one burst into tears. “I am so sorry what my people did to you,” she cried while Madiba hugged her. The third woman spoke to him in Zulu!

As Madiba invited the women to tea on the stoep, he caught my eye and winked. The rest of the morning was further proof of the Madiba magic. His speech went down a treat, and during question time he told the most emotional stories of his time in jail. He had all the women in tears, and even though he spoke mainly Afrikaans, they all spoke English. At the end of the meeting, there were lots of gifts, including koeksisters, which Madiba of course loved, an Afrikaans Bible, some Afrikaans music, and photo frames for the photos of his grandchildren. It was a hugely successful morning, and in the end, through Madiba’s actions, the only point that was made was his enormous capacity to turn the most hardened opponents into admirers.

(AFP file)

So yes, Madiba was every bit and more extraordinary in real life as he was portrayed in the media. He was principled, moral and yet deeply human. He laughed easily – also at himself. He was the most recognised person in the world, yet always humbly introduced himself as Nelson. The most powerful people on the planet sought out his company, but he enjoyed nothing more than to sit on the ground with little children and sing a very off-key version of “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. He truly loved people and you only had to be in his presence for a few seconds to know he was simply the best that humanity has to offer.

Happy Birthday, Madiba. The world and our country are so much poorer without you. We miss you.

*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and SA ambassador to Ireland.