The personality of Nelson Mandela, Part 1

There is an interesting tale that illuminates something of the character of Nelson Mandela and his close friend Mac Maharaj. Together with Cyril Ramaphosa, they were the key ANC figures in the negotiation of SA’s new constitutional settlement.

When Mac was a prisoner on Robben Island, Mandela took him under his wing and determined, in the manner of the Island, that he should be inducted into the wisdom of the ANC. Every day during a rest period, the two men would break from work in the quarry and sit down together among the rocks. Mandela would place himself on a large boulder, and Maharaj would occupy a far smaller rock nearby. The older man would talk about his philosophy of politics and offer up his famous homespun wisdom, advising Maharaj, for example, that the Afrikaner is best talked to in Afrikaans – only if you learn his language will he listen to what you have to say.

Mac eventually tired of sitting always on the smaller stone. One day, when the time came for them to break from work, he ran as fast as he could to their meeting place and planted himself on the larger boulder. A few minutes later Mandela arrived, only to find Mac sitting in his place. He observed the small rock, his face quite expressionless. With an almost imperceptible turning of his head, he scanned the area for another place to sit. Without comment, he then walked over to where Maharaj was sitting, and stood over him. He began to talk in the normal way and remained on his feet for the whole session. The next day, a resigned Mac took up his usual place on the smaller stone.

(From Anthony Butler, Cyril Ramaphosa, 2007).

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