• AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Gold Awards

    This from John Simpson, BBC’s World Affairs Editor:

    “Right from that moment I met him I understood what it was about Nelson Mandela that made people worship him. It wasn’t just the humility, it wasn’t even that extraordinary forgiveness and lack of bitterness. It was the way he looked you straight in the eyes and spoke just to you – to the person you wanted to be, perhaps, rather than the one you actually were.My warmest memory comes from a visit he made to my old college at Cambridge. Remarkably, Magdalene managed to persuade him to accept an honorary fellowship in person; even for his honorary doctorates from Oxford, Cambridge and a slew of other grand universities, the chancellors had had to troop down to London and hand them to him in a ceremony, like a Moonie mass wedding. But Mandela made the journey up to see us, and the college let me film it for the BBC. His minders, especially Zelda la Grange, another Afrikaner, formidable to everyone else and remarkably protective towards him, tried to cut our interview short, but as ever Mandela was interested in talking, and in the person holding the microphone; I found myself having to steer the conversation back to him all the time.

    Then he went into the hall, and as I listened to him speak I felt that this was the high point of my entire professional existence. Mandela is an excellent speaker, with a real feeling for his audience and what they want to hear; again, I suppose this comes from that deeply personal sympathy for each individual he meets. He speaks very slowly, but everyone hangs on each of the words in that rounded, gentle but firm voice of his.

    “I am very nervous about speaking here,” he announced to the assembled dons and students. “For three reasons. First, I am an old-age pensioner.” A faint titter of amusement went round the hall, but uncertainly: was he joking? Or was he simply being self-deprecating? “Secondly, because I am unemployed.” A slightly louder, more confident laugh; he had stepped down as South Africa’s president not long before. “And thirdly, because I have a very baaaaad criminal record.” The laughter then nearly broke the stained-glass windows.”


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