A friendship made in heaven

What a blessing and a responsibility to follow in his footsteps in whatever way we can – and must. Viva Nelson Mandela!

Former South African President Nelson Mandela 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
Just after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, my father, Bertie Lubner – a true South African patriot and a man with a heart bigger than the African continent – became directly acquainted with Madiba. This came about through his involvement in the World Economic Forum. Few people know that dad was the key figure who in 1992 was instrumental in orchestrating and bringing together – for the first time on the same platform – Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk and Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
This was a real coup, as previously no one had been able to bring these key figures together to speak in public. It took the charisma and sincerity of someone like my dad to persuade these icons to share this platform, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1992. This marked another important milestone in the collaborative spirit that was to change the nation and the world in so many ways.
Thereafter my father and Mandela had a friendship that grew and grew. They would meet on the second Tuesday of every other month to discuss life, religion, politics and, most important, social responsibility and social investment. From these important discussions the seed of Afrika Tikkun was born and became a necessary reality for impoverished South Africans. With my dad as its founder and Mandela as its patron-in-chief, Afrika Tikkun was established in 1993, endeavoring to eradicate poverty by empowering children and youth to develop into valuable, contributing members of South African society.
In a telephone conversation after Madiba’s death last Thursday, my 82-year-old father (in Johannesburg) and I (in Sydney) spoke about many of his attributes, and we both agreed that one of the most important facets of this great man was his ability to care and love the individual as much as the whole. He was able to zone in and with genuine care and compassion focus 100 percent on just one life, no matter who you were or what your background was. You always felt like you were the only person that mattered when he spoke with you.
As way of an example, I would like to share a personal story.
Around 12 years ago, my father had a major heart operation that almost cost him his life.
That day, whilst he was in recovery, Mandela arrived with his driver, unannounced, to visit him in the hospital. I remember Mandela shuffling down the passageway, with the hospital alight in energy and alive with adulation and love as he made his way towards my dad. Some of the hospital staff were singing African praises with their hands in the air – it was electrifying.
He had just a few hours previously touched down from a three-week overseas trip, and came straight to the hospital to see my father.
You can imagine our delight and surprise. We huddled around the bed as the two of them spoke like two old buddies about life and world affairs and in particular about Madiba’s recent trip. After a while, my dad was on a roll, talking away – partly a remnant of the anesthetic and most likely because he simply has the gift of the gab.
Mandela, then 83, with the utmost politeness put his hand on my father’s hand, stopped him and said, “Young man, when I come to visit you in the hospital, I will do the talking.
When you come to visit me, then you can do they talking.”
Need I say more? What a privilege we have had as a family to spend time with him and know him in this manner. What a blessing and a responsibility to follow in his footsteps in whatever way we can – and must. Viva Nelson Mandela! For more information about Afrika Tikkun, visit www.afrikatikkun.org.