As a kid who grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, now part of Nelson Mandela
Bay Metropolitan Municipality, I remember the politics of the struggle against
apartheid, having grown up in a home where my father, the late Colin Robert
Jankelowitz, a lawyer, defended local ANC leaders from 1958 until
Among his most noted clients were the late Govan Mbeki and Raymond
Mthlaba, who were later put on trial with Nelson Mandela at the famous Rivonia
Trial and served many years in jail with Mandela on Robben Island.
remember my father relating how Mandela was responsible for him getting married
to my mom, the late Salome Jankelowitz nee Horwitz.
It was in 1948 that
my dad was an articled clerk with Nate Bregman in Johannesburg, while Mandela
was articled with Lazar Sidelsky. Mandela, my dad and other articled clerks in
the nearby law firms used to hang out together at lunch breaks, and one day
Mandela inquired when my dad would be getting married.
When my dad told
Mandela that he had not yet even proposed, Mandela told him to hurry up or my
mom would find somebody else.
The next instance of a personal connection
with Mandela was in 1990 after his release from Robben Island and his historic
visit to New York City, where the former Mayor David Dinkins feted him with a
ticker tape parade along 5th Avenue and a public reception at City
During that period I was in New York as an emissary of the Jewish
Agency for Israel working with Jewish students on American College
I very much wanted to go to the reception so I called Herbert
Block, the assistant to mayor Dinkins, and asked if he could secure me a
Block laughed me off, but I reminded him that Thabo Mbeki, the
son of my father’s client, Govan Mbeki, was head of the ANC Mission in New York
and maybe he would be kind enough to provide me with a ticket.
evening Block called back and told me that Mbeki (who later succeeded Mandela as
president of South Africa) wanted to know how many tickets I would like! I
excitedly called my dad in Port Elizabeth and asked him what to say when I shook
He told me to say in Xhosa “molo umlumzaan Mandela,”
which means good day, chief Mandela, bearing in mind that Mandela hailed from a
family of Xhosa tribal chiefs in the eastern Cape.
The miracle of the new
democratic South Africa is that it was made possible without a bloodbath, only
because of Nelson Mandela’s vision and belief in peaceful reconciliation and
It is almost 20 years since Mandela was elected president of
South Africa, and today South Africa is an important member of the family of
nations due to the legacy of Madiba, as Mandela is fondly known by all South
Africans.The writer resides in Jerusalem and is the Jewish Agency for
Israel’s spokesman emeritus to the international media.
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