Lesson in forgiveness and humility
of torture, the wounds of humiliation, the sores of oppression lay buried now under a new foundation of peace and pride.
But, allow me to have my say in my claim to fame with Mandela.
In that picture on my mantelpiece sits a young man on a couch in a hotel in Malaysia, shaking hands with Nelson Mandela. Just two people in the room. (Save for the photographer, of course.)
The date was Aug 25, 2000. I was the envy of many. But, there it was, captured for posterity through the lens of a cheap Nikon camera. The story, however, does not end there.
I was further given the honour of accompanying the South African leader to meet with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his Putrajaya office.
For 30 minutes this “boy” sat next to the “Man” in a black Perdana limousine. I had to look smart, I had to speak intelligently, and I had to listen carefully to what he said. He was a gift to mankind.
A treasure not owned by any one country, revered by all, friends and enemies alike, a towering figure. A man who gave his life for a cause many felt was lost in the tirade of politics, egoism and hatred. I had to hear him speak. I had to bring back something with me – a word, a sentence, a line – which I could pass on to my children.
I asked him about forgiveness. How he could have the courage, the heart, the soul to say “I forgive” to the tormentors, the aggressors, the hate preachers, the liars, the murderers. His answer was simple. If I don’t start, then who will?
We continued to talk about the truth commission, about his life on Robben Island and the hopeful conclusion of this Commission. He spoke slowly, clearly, eloquently and beyond any doubt, with great love, and the spirit of forgiveness and wisdom, addressing me as “son” and looking at me straight in the eye all the time. Age somehow did not seem to be a barrier.
As we got closer to our destination, he asked me a question, which I still and always will remember: “Son, can you please tie my shoelace, as I find it difficult to bend.”
So, there I was, tying the shoelaces of Madiba. I tell this story to anyone who cares to listen. My children have heard it so often, they can recite it by heart. But it is a story worth telling, don’t you think? After all, how many people can say that they once talked with, listened to and tied the shoelaces of the late, great Nelson Mandela?