Amy Thornton-Reitstein - Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
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Title: Amy Thornton-Reitstein
It was just before the 1994 elections, at a time when the ANC was very worried about its ability to win the Western Cape. Nelson came to Cape Town for a whistle-stop tour of the province, and this photograph was taken on his arrival at the airport. I remember there being hundreds of people around him that day.
I had known Nelson for many years, having been introduced to him by Wolfie Kodesh in Johannesburg during the Treason Trial in the 1950s at a time when he was known as the Black Pimpernel. Wolfie, my friend, asked if I would like to meet Nelson, and the next evening he came to fetch me at about 9pm and took me to a block of flats. We went in through the garage, and there was this huge Jaguar that Wolfie said was the car Nelson used (he was on the run and disguising himself as a chauffeur at the time).
We went upstairs, and Wolfie gave a special knock on the door. The next moment, there stood Nelson in his underpants and a vest. He had been asleep. He got dressed, made coffee and we chatted. He asked if I could type, and for the next three days I returned to the flat to spend the day with him, typing. I was typing his report to the National Executive Committee on why we should embark on an armed struggle.
He is not a saint, but he was always such a charismatic character with an enormous presence.
He told me about his visit to Albert Luthuli, the ANC President who was committed to peaceful struggle. Nelson wanted to brief him, and drove down to Natal disguised as a chauffeur. They were to meet in a cane field. Luthuli said he could not publicly support an armed struggle, but wished Nelson well. What struck Nelson hard was the poverty he encountered on that trip. He told me that before meeting Luthuli he had gone into a peasant’s house to send word of his arrival. He was utterly revolted by the poverty.
Quote: "We went upstairs, and Wolfie gave a special knock on the door. The next moment, there stood Nelson in his underpants and a vest."
Collection: Moments with a Legend