Jacques and Peter’s cousin, Anton Louw, was at Excelsior the other day and over a glass of wine we heard about his Mandela experience…
What do you remember about the day your family heard that Mandela was going to drive past your vineyard?
I don’t think the route was formally announced; he was staying at the Victor Verster prison, which is about 15 minutes drive from us and as we were watching the whole thing happen live on TV it dawned on us that he would be travelling past. By the time we realised, he was about 5 minutes away and my parents, brother and I went to wait by the side of the road to see if we could spot him as he went past.
How old were you?
I was 8 and a week. My birthday is the 2nd February, the day they unbanned the ANC.
What did you know about Mandela?
Nothing! I didn’t really know what was going on at the time. How developed is your political conscience at 8? I gathered it was a big deal, but didn’t really understand why. A year before we had visited Botswana, and behind a bar there was a picture of Mandela; my parents took a photo of themselves at the bar, purely to get a picture of him in it – all images of him were banned in SA. No-one outside of the prisons had seen him in all that time.
Was your family liberal? Did they support Mandela?
My parents were quite liberal, although when I mentioned an interest in journalism my Dad was dismissive of the media as ‘left wing’. His father, my grandfather, who died before I was born, was less liberal. Dad told me how he used to argue with his father; my Dad was always in favour of universal enfranchisement – his father called him a communist. But I suppose my grandfather was a product of his generation; whenever he saw a bird of prey he’d call it a ‘kuikendief’ (a chicken thief) and fetch his shot gun.
What did Mandela say to you?
The car stopped, for whatever reason, a few metres beyond us. We walked till we were opposite them and he rolled down the window. He was mostly interested in my brother and me; he asked our names and ages, and where we went to school. I will always regret being too shy to speak to this important stranger. He chatted to my parents a bit more. They said later that Winnie looked as if she were sucking lemons in other side of the car, clearly irritated that Mandela could be so engaging with us.
What does Mandela mean to you now?
That’s a tough one. In the passage where he mentions us in his book, he talks about the ‘conservative white farming community’ he travelled through as he left prison, and he expressed surprise at the support he received travelling through it. To me, he’s an example of how to live forgiveness and reconciliation; it’s probably because he always consistently focused on building a better future, rather than attempting to undo the past. I think that’s partly why he was so enthusiastic about the youth. I’m amazed and inspired by his lack of bitterness; 27 years is a long time to be in prison. I think Nelson Mandela gave us the choice – an opportunity to build the true rainbow nation.