Mandela Day: Former president remembered by workers

By John Sparks, Africa correspondent (skynews)

In death as in life Nelson Mandela is both celebrated and revered.

For this long-time political prisoner forgave the men who jailed him and saved South Africa from a civil war.

After his release from prison in 1990, where the apartheid regime held him for 27 years, Mandela set about re-engineering the state – first, as head of the African National Congress (ANC) and later as national president.

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sky News spoke to the people who cooked, drove and kept him safe.

Fuad Floris was a mechanic who joined the underground militia of ANC in the early 1980’s.

After Mandela’s release, the German government gave the party leader a second-hand armoured car and Mr Floris was the only one who knew how to drive it. The car mechanic would get to know Mandela well.

“No one came close to his intellect you know. He had this way of communicating with different levels of people. I saw it all the time. You know, I think this man was born before his time,” says Floris.

As a police officer trained under the apartheid regime, Gert Barnard was required to enforce racial segregation. When Mandela became president however, he decided to join his ‘close-protection’ unit.

“I couldn’t believe the humbleness of somebody that [was] a statesmen,” he said. “I watched the man and he (could) interact with the Queen of England but also with the poorest of the poor. It was amazing.”

Fellow body guard Conroy Herandien spent 11 years with Nelson Mandela, working with him well into his retirement.

“Every morning he had this stack of newspapers, but don’t you dare touch his papers. He [would] not read if someone else paged through it and if he [saw] someone going through his papers, well, it is not a happy place to be.”

Herandein continued: “In his early years the president still made his own bed. When we were travelling on the presidential aircraft he would take a sleep and put his shoes in a very specific way. I think that is the prison. It is ‘prison manners’ if you could put it like that.”

When Mandela’s personal protection unit was formed, white protection officers like Gert Barnard and black team members like Fuad Floris had to find a way to get along with each other and Barnard remembers how the president tackled it.

“He called us in as a group and he said, you know what? The reconciliation of the country is going to start with you guys. If you cannot work together as a team, as a rainbow team, then it was not going to work for the rest of the country.”

Barnard says a few white officers decided to leave because “they just couldn’t accept the fact that they had to work with former terrorists”.

Fuad Floris also found it difficult to adapt. As a member of the armed wing of the ANC, Mkhonto we Sizwe, he was not exactly enthused about working with a group of white apartheid-era officers.

“There was no love lost between us and the old guard. However, Nelson Mandela made sure these people felt very comfortable.

“Sometimes we actually thought that he was doing it at our expense, because we would think that we brought about this democracy. Why must he treat this people so well?”

However, the multi-racial protection team had to work together when Nelson Mandela made his first trip to London in 1996.

Prince Charles took him on a visit to a community centre in Brixton in London, and the duo drew a massive crowd who were determined to get as close as they possibly could.

“People jumped all over these fences and kicked the fences down and then later there was no fence and the crowd was in the road… and somehow this Rolls Royce that Prince Charles and President Mandela were in, drives off without waiting for the rest of the convoy.”

Floris and a colleague jumped on the back of a couple of police motorcycles and eventually tracked down the South African president – and the heir to the British throne – at a local police station in southeast London.

The former protection officer – who still has a photograph of the bewildered constable on duty that day – says Mandela did not seem to mind the excitement.

“I would see him laughing at the security people when they got alarmed with something going on …. because I don’t think he saw any danger in any of these things. That was the person he was.”

Curiously, all of Nelson Mandela’s former staff seem to talk about the former president in the present tense, despite the fact that died in 2013. When asked about this habit, Conroy Herandien explains it like this:

“I think we would we like to believe that he’s still looking out for us.