The Presidential Years

it was a multifaceted relationship. Apart from being my president he was my friend too and our friendship spanned decades as recorded in some of the books today. He was a friend of my father-in-law, Mr Zachariah Mzila in Johannesburg. Zachariah Mzila was a senior clerk and induna at Eloff Street extension compound, the WNLA compound. I think at one time Madiba stayed at WNLA. I remember he was always joking with my wife Irene about the fact that Irene as a teenager used to serve him tea when he visited their home, and he used to say she would do this [putting his hand before his mouth] and laugh and then Madiba would say, ‘I must be very funny!’ It was a joke between them. That’s how long ago the connection is between my in-laws and him. Of course I was introduced to Madiba by Mr Sisulu, I knew Mr Sisulu as secretary general of the ANC long before and he is the one who introduced me to Madiba when I was in Johannesburg.

I remember the time when he was practising as a lawyer with Mr Tambo. I remember at one time there was an incident where the police had sort of harassed my first cousin, the king, the present king’s father, King Cyprian Bhekizulu. We reported that matter to them. They were dealing with it as lawyers although I can’t remember what the final state of things was.

I could never after that come to Johannesburg without Madiba inviting me for dinner as long ago as when he was married to Evelyn. I would go to their house in Orlando and have a meal with him. And then later he married Winnie Mandela and the same took place too. When Winnie was his wife Madiba would always invite me, and I remember that I met King Sabata Dalindyebo of the Tembus at his house. And sometimes when I came up with my cousin, the king, to Johannesburg, he would invite both of us and I remember in particular a meeting where our king met King Sabata Dalindyebo at Mr Mandela’s house.

Then Rivonia came and he was arrested and imprisoned. Even at that time I think I am one of the few people that he corresponded with either directly, he would write to me, or else sometimes he would address a letter to my wife but in fact it was an indirect way of writing to me. Those letters are now recorded in some of the books like the Prisoner in the Garden and also Conversations with Myself and also in the latest book by Winnie Mandela. The last letter he wrote to me was in 1989 when there was violence, when he was agonising about the violence, suggesting that when he is released the two of us must meet to do something about the violence.

​Mangosuthu Buthelezi