In commemoration of Mandela Day, veteran politician and political analyst Mac Maharaj says one of the privileges in his life was to go to prison on Robben Island and spend 12 years in close proximity to former president Nelson Mandela.
Maharaj said this during the Swami Vivekende Cultural Centre’s ’Life and Time of Nelson Mandela’ virtual event, which was led by advocate Robin Sewlal. At the age of 95, Mandela lost his battle to a prolonged respiratory infection on December 5, 2013. He would have celebrated his 103rd birthday today.
Reflecting on the journey endured with Tata Madiba, the 86-year-old Maharaj said their friendship was built on respect, confidence and sharing a vision.
“It was a great lesson for me. Profound in both the values he instilled, the examples of what it meant to be a servant of the people but, above all, he taught me what to be as a human being,” said Maharaj.
Maharaj joked that Mandela was one who appeared to be very firm with him when necessary.
“He rapped me over the knuckles a couple of times, but it’s been a privilege of life. He was hard as nails when necessary. What was disarming is that he showed you respect,” said Maharaj.
Maharaj added that when the moment demanded action, Tata was uncompromising.
Mandela’s character was described as one in which he always put others before him. Maharaj said the former president had a vision for society, which was correct.
“Throughout the 27 years he spent in prison, he never asked for his own release. He worked hard to ensure that his colleagues were released first,” said Maharaj. Admitting he was a “hot-head” in his younger days, Maharaj gave the impression that Mandela tamed him.
Speaking of one of the standout memories, he said: “I was a young man, hot-headed when I went to prison. I would get into trouble or charged for abusing or being rude to the warder. Mandela one day called me and he said, ‘Look Mac, you’re doing the right thing by taking up the issue, but you are forgetting that we are in prison and you are taking it up in the wrong way. The warder provokes you and says rude things to you. You begin to respond with rude words and then they charge you for your rudeness. That’s not the way. That way, we’ll end up dying in prison. Our job is to live through this prison and continue the war.’
“So I asked him, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ So he says, ‘Look, it seems to me you lose your temper, so when this happens next please come to terms, pick your words, speak with emphasis, pretend you are angry, but control what you are saying.’”
Maharaj continued: “Now I’ve learned to control what I say, I pretend to be angry. But the problem that has arisen is I don’t know when I’m pretending and when I’m really angry.”
Complimenting the character of Mandela, Maharaj said one can only become an expression of one’s humanity in the way a person interacts with others.
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