The Presidential Years

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Well, what a lot of people didn’t realise was that he was not going to be the president of the ANC only, of the people from the ANC. He was going to be the president of all the people of South Africa.

I thought it was my duty to expose him to as wide a range of people as possible so that he can have as accurate as possible an insight into this society. People would come to me so for instance this young man, Hilton Appelbaum, came to me and made an appointment with me and said that he worked with the disabled people, and he would like to see Mandela because he thinks that our campaign is not keyed in on how many voters there are in the disability sector. So I said, prepare a paper for Mandela with all of that and I will arrange it. It was a large number of people.

I was approachable and I made myself accessible to anybody who I thought could help Mandela. He appreciated it deeply, there was no self-interest in it. I think people forget how we were totally, totally focused not only in bringing about peace in South Africa but also on winning the elections, getting as much of the South African population to rally around the campaign, and I think some ANC people thought about ANC only, branches. They didn’t think beyond. So, for instance, I was very heavily criticised, because I would let Mandela see anyone that I thought would help us in our cause.

There was this guy, Steyn, who was Secretary for Defence – somebody came to me and said ‘This guy Pierre Steyn wants to see Mandela.’ I asked ‘Who?’ They repled, ‘Defence, it’s something very important that he should know, and you must arrange it for the future of the country.’ And I arranged it and explained to him and he was unafraid, he didn’t have to get the approval of anybody to meet somebody and he trusted himself, and he knew that we would never mislead him. So I arranged the meeting which was held at Ayob’s house one night. It was all cloak and dagger. Nobody in the office knew, maybe I told Jessie, and of course people in the NEC would get very furious about that, but I just felt that as a leader of the country Mandela had the right to know something. That would be during that time when we were already in negotiations, probably 1992.

The thing is also that I had been in some of these meetings like Dakar and I had met a lot of people from different races and I think also of course because I was more culturally inclined – and I spoke Afrikaans because I grew up in Afrikaans speaking family – a lot of people felt that they could come to me if they wanted to see Mandela.

Barbara Masekela
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