With the passing of time and today’s corrosive political climate, memories of the halcyon Mandela years are fading. So I was pleased before Tuesday’s “Mandela Day”, to get hold of a library copy of Zelda la Grange’s Good Morning, Mr Mandela, the extraordinary story of how an awkward Afrikaans meisie in her twenties came to spend 19 of her adult years travelling with, and caring for, the man she called “Khulu”, short for “Tata um’khulu” meaning “Grandfather”.
In 1994 when Zelda was working at the Department of State Expenditure, she applied for the senior ministerial typist in an admin department attached to the new president’s office. She liked the idea of spending six months in Pretoria and six months in Cape Town, working, she thought, for Mandela’s private secretary.
Two weeks later she nearly bumped head first into Mandela, surrounded by bodyguards, in the passage. “He extended his hand first to shake mine,” she wrote. “I was so confused but said ‘Good morning, Mr Mandela’ and burst into tears. I was in such a state of shock I did not understand what he was saying… then realised he had addressed me in Afrikaans. My home language.”
Much later he would tell her “When you speak to a man you speak to his head but when you speak to him in his language you speak to his heart.” In prison he’d learnt Afrikaans to communicate with the warders. “This was the much-hated language synonymous with the oppressive apartheid regime… and resulted in the Soweto uprising in 1976 when it was imposed as the main language for black education.”
It was Mandela’s insistence on pronouncing and writing correct Afrikaans for presidential speeches that led him to call on Zelda for help. Gradually it was extended to her serving tea in his office for certain guests and, in 1995, to travel to Swellendam when he was invited to receive the Freedom of the town. Then the huge surprise when he asked her to accompany him to Japan.
Misunderstanding the invitation she answered primly that she “didn’t have the money right now”.
This was the first of many overseas trips with Madiba holding the hand “that changed her entire being” on visits to
President Bill Clinton in New York, Pope John Paul II in the Vatican and a host of other world leaders.
South African singers have done it again. Cape Town Opera’s baritone Mandla Mndebele was placed third in the prestigious Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition in Moscow. Though beaten by the winner Russian mezzo Agul Akhmetshina and runner-up Australian tenor Kang Wang, Mandla scooped the coveted award as “audience favourite”.
Mandla follows in the footsteps of Pretty Yende and the Kroonstad tenor Levy Strauss Sekgapane winners in 2009 and 2015 and last year’s runner-up, soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu, who was also voted “audience favourite”.
Coincidentally, the news of Mandla’s success timed neatly with Sekgapane’s Baxter concert on Tuesday July 11, which replicated the Songmaker’s Guild recital he gave on March 24 this year in Wexford, Ireland, as one of his prizes for winning the Belvedere in 2015.
In the 1980s and 1990s the Wexford Festival Opera proudly presented concerts by Belvedere prize winners which is how the now internationally famous soprano Angela Gheorghiu, who only shared third prize, made her Irish debut in 1990 at Wexford.
David Agler, the artistic director of Wexford was so impressed when he heard Sekgapane two years ago that he invited him to perform in Ireland.
Accompanied by Albie van Schalkwyk, in both venues, the young tenor opened his Baxter programme with Beethoven’s song cycle
An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved) followed by a selection from the pens including those of Rossini, Bellini, Britten and Boieldieu. The songs were chosen to display his clear lovely voice, sound vocal training and gift for comedy.
A bonus for the audience was that the words of the songs appeared in English on a screen.
Though my first car was a tiny Mini and my current one a Honda Jazz, I’m still interested in the fancy new expensive models which come on the market. So I chuckled when I read the extras in a new Landy model which came equipped “with nine USB ports allowing its passengers in each row simultaneously to power their smartphones or tablets.” There were also six 12-volt charging points and a 3G wi-fi spot.
Such digital pampering rather dents the image of a brand which for years, in my mind, has been associated with manliness and getting away from it all into the wild blue yonder.
The stop-go controls on Steenberg Road past Pollsmoor Prison are a pain in the neck for shoppers, Reddam parents and commuters using the Ou Kaapse Weg. However, at long last the roads on and near Spaanschemat River Road are free of workmen, heavy machinery and delays caused by the construction of walkways and cycle lanes along seven major routes in the Constantia Valley.
I still hear mutters from those who think that the R66.5 million being spent should go to low-cost houses but if Cape Town wants to compete on an international level with major cities in Europe and the US, it also has to improve the facilities for visitors as well as for South Africans so they can walk, run or ride in safety either to get to work or for recreation.
Be decisive. Right or wrong make a decision. The road of life is filled with flat squirrels that could not make up their minds.