The Presidential Years

But again he started having meetings. Jakes was brought up from Cape Town to come and talk about who comes to the office, what shape the office would be like, what Madiba’s needs were. Barbara Masakela played a very big part in that. She was dispatched to meet the civil servants in the De Klerk government. We also went to the house, what is now Mahlambandlopfu, to go and look at it. Marike was still living in it. We just wanted a look to see what was there. Madiba said that De Klerk could stay there for three months and he would use the state guesthouse in the meanwhile. He said, ‘I’m changing the name of the place, it must have an African name and it must be unique,’ and that’s how Mahlambandlopfu arose.

Little things and large things were on his plate. He thought about everything that you could possibly think about to change what the government would look like.

In the first week after the count had come out, we were then preparing for the inauguration. What touched me was Madiba looking with Thabo Mbeki and Aziz Pahad at the list of international guests.

There were people that he insisted had to be invited, must be – ‘I’m not going to have this without [Fidel] Castro.’ He always went back to those people; those were friends. And he had to have Yasser Arafat at his inauguration. He said, ‘I don’t care how we do it, my brother Yasser Arafat must be at my inauguration.’ That was a big challenge because the poor man couldn’t leave Tunisia; he was going to be arrested. He had a view that every African leader who could possibly come should be invited. He said, ‘We need to be part of what Africa is going to look like, and shape it and build it.’ He wanted to know ‘So who said they’re not coming?’ and then he’d pick up the phone:‘Oh, my brother, I believe you can’t make it but you know I’d really like you to be here,’ – and people couldn’t say, ‘No’, and they did come.

I remember him sitting alone in a room in the state guesthouse the night before. I stayed with him there, ice cold, the place was ice cold and spooky, and we walked down the passage and looked at all the pictures on the wall of the past presidents hanging there and he would say, ‘Oh there is Jan Smuts’; ‘Oh there’s Jan Swart’; ‘Oh there’s Verwoerd’. He turned it in quite a lively evening.

But it was that moment alone the hour before he made the speech, just alone, him by himself, in that room when I thought, it’s finally hit home, that we’ve achieved, they’ve come this far, they’ve gotten to this point, something that eluded them for 27 years, in a hard fight that many people had died. Wonderful moment for those of us who worked with him. I’ve never seen Madiba sitting that quiet, he always fidgeted a bit, but there was that moment.

Jessie Duarte