MEETING the late Nelson Mandela in 1990 changed writer Melanie Verwoerd’s life dramatically.
One of the results of this meeting is Our Madiba, an anthology of recollections of the great man by ordinary people who, like her, had been touched by meeting him.
It will be launched on Wednesday, in the same week that he would have had his 96th birthday. After his death in December last year people from all walks of life kept approaching Verwoerd with stories of how meeting him had impacted on their lives.
As her personal tribute to Madiba, she started collecting these anecdotes and asked those who had stories of meetings with Mandela to send these to her. The result is a moving tribute to Madiba that gives a rich mix of glimpses into his soul.
Mandela’s housekeeper, one of his bodyguards, the boy he met in a hotel lift, the girl whose birthday he shared and many others tell about the lasting impression meeting Mandela left on them. Our Madiba also includes special contributions by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Angelique Kidjo, Francois Pienaar, John Carlin and Richard Attenborough.
These sometimes astonishing, always inspirational stories reveal aspects of Mandela’s personality that range from humility to humour.
When Verwoerd met Nelson Mandela for the first time in 1990, she was 23 and married to the grandson of HF Verwoerd (the couple divorced in 2005).
At that meeting, Mandela told her: “You only need to remember that with the surname you carry, you have a voice. People will listen to you. So you have to think carefully what to do with that power.”
She says “meeting Nelson Mandela simply took your breath away. When you were in his presence and experienced his remarkable aura, you were left without any doubt that you were in the presence of greatness”.
She published her own memoir, The Verwoerd who Toyi-Toyied, with Tafelberg last year.
She became actively involved in politics and was elected to the ANC executive in Stellenbosch, for which she was disowned and barred from the Verwoerd family home. In 1994, she became the youngest female member of the National Assembly of South Africa for the ANC. In 2001, she was appointed as South African Ambassador to Ireland and in 2007 became head of Unicef Ireland.
She returned to SA at the end of last year and today is the executive director of Tremendous Hearts, an American charity.