My personal recollections of Nelson Mandela

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 coexistence.

Nelson Mandela (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nelson Mandela
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 1964.
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.
I 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 Hall.
During that period I was in New York as an emissary of the Jewish Agency for Israel working with Jewish students on American College campuses.
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 ticket.
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.
In the 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 Mandela’s hand.
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 coexistence.
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.