The Presidential Years

Return to 1.6 Inauguration

During the inauguration, I was at President Mandela’s side. Again Mr Mbeki had asked me ‘Please, stay on the side of Mr Mandela for this inauguration. Hennie de Klerk and other staff members, Welile Nhlapo and so on, they will be on the Union Buildings side, but you are the liaison between them and us.’

So we worked on the programme for the inauguration together. We did the dry runs and everything. But remember, we had never done an inauguration, not the ANC, not the government team. What we didn’t foresee was what would happen on the day of the inauguration when we invited all the heads of state plus heads of government to come to a breakfast at the presidential guest house. Everyone had a cavalcade. These guys were lining up in Church Street like from here to the Far East. But what we didn’t figure out was: if Yasser Arafat is here and he saw whoever, President So-and-So – now they’re all in a line with protocol officers going into the presidency for the breakfast – they stop and for literally 10 seconds they say hello. That 10 seconds multiplied by the number of heads of state multiplied by all the happenings taking place threw us out completely with regards to the starting time of 10 o’clock.

There was no way we were going to make 10 o’clock. So I received a telephone call from Welile and he says, ‘Listen, what are you doing on that side because look at the cars in Church Street?’ I say, ‘I can’t see the cars in Church Street.’ He says, ‘They are way up there. Half the people and their entourages are not yet in for the breakfast. What’s happening?’ I said, ‘No, it’s taking place slower because people greet one another and I cannot say to Arafat or to Hilary Clinton or whoever was there “Please move it, move it, move it – we’re working on time here”.’ He says, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I will inform President Elect Mandela that instead of 10 o’clock, this inauguration will take place at 11.’ He says, ‘They’re already starting up the aeroplanes at Waterkloof for the fly-past. There’s going to be a big problem here.’ I said, ‘Hang on.’ So what we did was we stopped the cars coming into the presidential guest house area, the presidency, and we took them straight to the amphitheatre. We got those still in line to move in and we told the caterers that this breakfast is over in a half an hour’s time.’

So I went to Mr Mandela. He was in the presidential guest house, and when I wanted to go up the steps there’s this American with plastic stuff in his ear who says, ‘Sorry you cannot go up here. Mrs Clinton is changing upstairs.’ I said, ‘You know what? My president is up there. This is my guest house. You don’t tell me where I go and where I don’t. You see this pass? It’s security approved. Please step aside.’

So he stepped aside and I went to Mr Mandela in his room. He was lying on his bed with his dark suit and his red tie and his feet that much off the end of the bed, taking a break. He says, ‘Yes Chris, come in.’ I said, ‘I have to inform you that for this reason we will start an hour late.’ He said, ‘Not a problem. It’s good that you shifted it one hour on because now everything can stay in exactly the same slot one hour later so there’s no confusion.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Would you mind going over to Libertas,' – it still had that name - 'and tell Mr De Klerk that he must take it easy, relax. It’s going to start only at 11 o’clock.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’

So I called Colonel Jacobs and I said, because it crawled with security, ‘Take me over to Libertas.’ I got to Libertas, informed Mr De Klerk, ‘Take it easy for an hour. This is the reason for it.’ He said, ‘Thank you.’ End of story. And then we started the whole inauguration exactly an hour later.

Chris Streeter
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