Sidenote:Can we just talk about that photo up top first? It’s actually quite old, taken in the time where digital was not even around, so the quality is a bit dodge – as are the rest of the pics. And yet, I find it still as breathtaking as I did all those years ago when I first saw it. It became one of my top 5 favourite iconic shots of Nelson Mandela. And I believe it won an Argus Photography award back in the day too. And for good reason, I think. And my opinion is not at all influenced by the fact that I know those people in it…
A couple of years ago, in honour of Madiba Day, I innocently posted a pic of myself and my cousin all
squashed together on her couch with Madiba, along with how this legend of man inspired me. And
then, the questions started to pour in about how this photo came about. Many also encouraged me
to blog about it, and whilst I cherish that day, I’m too sure about that, as there is a far more interesting story behind it all that has nothing to do with me.
Don’t get me wrong, the day I met and got to spend the afternoon with him was incredible and
forever emblazed in my mind, and the wisdom imparted by him to me, stays with me to this day. However, there is a far more intriguing side to it all that I’d love to share with you… I’d like to introduce you to my cousin, Heidi Manus, the very reason I got to meet our former President.
Heidi is a no-nonsense woman and an incredibly dynamic individual, who has dedicated her life
towards children’s education as a teacher – one of the most important and noble jobs on this planet! I remember her being very active in community work, which was often dedicated towards the betterment of children’s lives. It therefore, made sense that this chosen life path of her’s would eventually lead her to becoming a personal friend of Nelson Mandela.
I am a sucker for hearing stories of how the universe conspires to merge people’s paths, and
enables great collaborations that seem to manifest all by “chance”. And Heidi’s story of how, out of all the empty seats at a special dinner table to which she was invited, Madiba chose to sit next to her, and strike up conversation, is truly a sterling example of just how amazing the universe is. For, from that night of discussing and exchanging ideas with this legend of a man, the rest is as they say, history.
So, now years later, in honour of Madiba Day 2018, I thought I’d do a quick interview with Heidi about how it all started, and just a quick overview of their friendship.
1. How did you meet?
I met Madiba in 1995 when friends from a coloured organization-The Community Youth
Movement- were invited to Genadendal, his Presidential residence for supper, to discuss
their political views.
2. What were your first few conversations about that day?
Upon learning that I was a teacher, we launched into a conversation about education in
Coloured Schools and specifically the needs of the school I was teaching at – Beacon Hill
High. For the remainder of the evening he spoke to the group gathered there about the
Coloured Community and their great contributions to the struggle against Apartheid.
3. How did you manage to stay in contact?
The evening I met Madiba, I had spoken with him about my school needing some physical
upgrades. He said he would talk to some people about funding a refurbishing of Beacon
Hill High. His office contacted me at school a few weeks after our first meeting and
requested my company at Tuynhuys that same day.
I was also on the Tuynhuys “Party Guest List”, as a result I was invited to numerous official
social events, and invites to dinner at Genadendal.
4. What was the purpose of that day at the school that morning?
Madiba came to Beacon Hill High for the Inauguration of the Renovated/Refurbished
5. What was going through your mind at the time, as you spent the morning with him, knowing
youre about to bring him into your home?
Actually at the time I didn’t know that he would be coming to my home, during the event I
called my mom-just had to share the excitement with her- she then said that I should invite
President Mandela to our home for tea- he graciously accepted. I wasn’t sure that he
actually would come, however a couple of months later I got a call from his office again,
informing me that Madiba would be coming to my house for tea!
6. I know that was one thing that struck me – the man had an amazing and commanding
presence. How would you describe his presence?
His presence- well, the man was and is a legend – at first I felt overawed by him,
dumbstruck really, but he was so kind and humble, he made me comfortable within
minutes of meeting him. I was also amazed at a later event at a Tuynhuys function, when
he introduced me to Thabo Mbeki as ‘My friend Heidi Dennis from Elsies River and a
teacher at Beacon Hill High’ – he’d remembered me!!!!!!!!!!! WOW, I was awed by him.
7. Tell us more about the next time he came to visit you and family.
The next time he visited was because I had been invited to ‘the Order of the Southern Cross
conferred upon Jakes Gerwal by Nelson Mandela in 1999’. Madiba noticed that I was
pregnant and scolded me that I hadn’t invited him to my wedding! I honestly hadn’t
thought about inviting him to my wedding-no matter how many times we had met- but he
was quite serious! Chastened by this scolding, I promised to invite him to the
Christening of my child. Thus the second visit to our home in Elsies River- he
did NOT however come on the date of the Christening, as he had to fly to the
US to meet with Bill Clinton. Consequently he came to the house a week
earlier, he met my two surviving grandparents, many of my family members
and my son, Daniel, whom he gifted with a silver moneybox.
8. What were the great lessons Madiba imparted to you? (both intentionally and
Be humble-no matter your station in life.
Remember people’s names and stories-you’re sure to make friends and followers for life.
Forgive – you will live easier and healthier.
Give, Be generous – your life will be filled with treasures
These are solid pieces of advice that would hold us all in good stead if we were to take up that mantle, and practice them faithfully.
Many thanks to Heidi for sharing a peek into what honestly must be a most cherish friendship. And for showcasing even more snippets of this great man’s humility and wisdom. Two of many characteristics for which he is renowned for. (What she didn’t cover was his awesome sense of humour!) 😉
Hope you enjoyed it. This Madiba Day, may you be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s legacy, and the great lessons he has left for us all…as a nation…as the world!