Nelson Mandela’s Vermont’s Visit

Nelson Mandela.  A South African icon.  An inspiration to all.  I watched how he walked to freedom and could not take my eyes of the television that Sunday afternoon of 11 February 1990.  The Mandela legacy lives on and this year celebrates the year that the Father of Our South African Democracy would have turned 100.  There were many celebrations of Nelson Mandela centenary and it was a great discovery to learn that Mandela has also been to my home town Vermont, Hermanus.

In 1999 the sleepy village of Vermont was visited on a very average day by security staff to make sure that there was no risk of danger for a high profile visit. The next day Mandela arrived to visit artist Gregoire Boonzaaier.  Gregoire was the same age as Mandela and the 2 men corresponded.  The party consisted of Omar Valley, Boonzaaier family accouontant Sybrand Smit and Zelda le Grange. Gregoire’s wife, Marie, served her home made biscuits with tea in the lounge just one street away from the Atlantic seaboard and not far from the house of fellow artists Jan Rabie and Margory Wallace.

While the group were greeting in the street Paarl winefarmer Charles Back and Bristish journalist Mark Ashurst were jogging past with British journalist.  The Fairview website recounts this meeting as follows.

Awe-struck, Charles heard Mandela say ‘Kom hier boetie’ (‘Come here, brother’ in Afrikaans) and realised it was directed at him. What ensued was a long chat, and when Mandela asked Charles where he comes from and heard Paarl, he responded saying ‘I lived there for a long time too’ …(Nelson Mandela served 14 months at Victor Verster Prison [now Drakenstein Correctional Centre] until his release on 11 February 1990).

Charles reflects on this special day and feels that there are few people he’s met in his life that truly had an aura about them.  Mandela makes the top of that list.

Sybrand Smit recalls how tea was served.  The Daily Mail wrote about how on the day Nelson Mandela walked free, he went missing for over an hour somewhere between the prison gates and the venue where he was to deliver his first speech.  Aparently for “a cup of tea”.

As Charles Back and Fairview undertake to work hard to make sure the Mandela legacy of a unified country lives on, I add my vow to work towards a more equal society.