4 Revealing Anecdotes about Nelson Mandela
01. He always made his own bed.
“He always made his own bed, no matter where we traveled. I remember we were in Shanghai, in a very fancy hotel, and the Chinese hospitality requires that the person who cleans your room and provides you with your food, does exactly that. If you do it for yourself, it could even be regarded as an insult.
So in Shanghai I tried to say to him, ‘Please don’t make your own bed, because there’s this custom here.’ And he said, ‘Call them, bring them to me.’
So I did. I asked the hotel manager to bring the ladies who would be cleaning the room, so that he could explain why he himself has to make his own bed, and that they not feel insulted. He didn’t ever want to hurt people’s feelings.
He never really cared about what great big people think of him, but he did care about what small people thought of him.”
02. Helping a White Woman
During the 1950s my parents, who were anti-apartheid activists, knew Nelson Mandela. I remember the story he told them about the occasion he saw a white woman standing next to her broken car in Johannesburg. He approached her and offered to help. After fiddling with the engine he fixed the car. Thankful for his help, she offered to pay him sixpence.
“Oh no, that’s not necessary,” he said, “I am only too happy to help.”
“But why else would you, a black man, have done that if you did not want money?” she asked quizzically.
“Because you were stranded at the side of the road,”
03. Courage Lesson on a Plane.
In 1994, during the presidential-election campaign, Mandela got on a tiny propeller plane to fly down to the killing fields of Natal and give a speech to his Zulu supporters.
I agreed to meet him at the airport, where we would continue our work after his speech.
When the plane was 20 minutes from landing, one of its engines failed. Some on the plane began to panic. The only thing that calmed them was looking at Mandela, who quietly read his newspaper as if he were a commuter on his morning train to the office. The airport prepared for an emergency landing, and the pilot managed to land the plane safely.
When Mandela and I got in the backseat of his bulletproof BMW that would take us to the rally,
he turned to me and said, “Man, I was terrified up there!”
04. He really did not fear people at all.
There had been a newly appointed head of the prison, he really wanted to turn the prison around. He said that the prison was too soft and too comfortable and he said it had become a university rather than a prison, and he was going to take off our study privileges and was going to do all sorts of things. He was quite rude, his name was Badenhorst.
At about the same time, three judges came to see us in prison. They came to our group and naturally went to talk to Nelson, and to find out from him what the conditions were like. They had come in the company of the commanding officer, Badenhorst, and they were asking Mandela about prison conditions. And he, as usual, was setting out a whole list of complaints to the judges, and complaining, particularly, about the treatment Badenhorst had brought about, in the presence of Badenhorst.
Badenhorst was a very fiery and temperamental person and he couldn’t wait, even while Nelson was speaking, and he shouted at him, ‘Nelson, you forget one thing, that these people are going to leave, and the two of us are going to remain here together.’ And the judges carried that message with them. And soon after Badenhorst was transferred from Robben Island.
So he had this way about him that he really did not fear people at all. And he had a lot of confidence in himself as a person.
He never regarded himself as being beneath anyone,
even while he was wearing shorts as a prisoner.