Thursday, 30 October 2008

So close……..so close……

28 / 10 / 8

So close……..so close……

A day I will never forget.
So close……. So close…….

Just down the hallway and to the right. Just down the hallway and to the right.
Just down the hallway and to the right. Just down the hallway and to the right.

And here I was sitting next to the new South African president and I didn’t have anything to say.

But let me begin from the begin… I had arranged to meet the director of the Mandela Centre for Memory within the Mandela foundation. Having spoken on the phone with him last week, he had generously offered the centre’s resources to see if they had any archive material that might support our work.
We made our way up to the Centre today via two mini busses. Really quite easy. No need for a car in this town with its mini bus system second to none. We were picked up just outside our backpackers in Soweto and one hour later, deposited just outside of the Foundation’s door. Not bad for just under two quid for two people.
We were early, so we waited in the waiting room. There was a bit of a buzz around the office, the phone was ringing off the hook. Many many many people, it seems, have business to do with the foundation.
A few minutes after the minibus dropped us off and we entered the foundation, the waiting room is filling up with people with little earphones in their ears and armed men and gifts earmarked for ‘Madiba & Grace’ – what, oh what, does this mean?
Then a solitary man in sun glasses walks through the door mobile phone in one hand and sits on the couch next to David & myself. Silence. Silence.

I hear from one of the foundation employees, ‘Madiba will be with you in just a moment.’

Oh, my…… Madiba is just down the hallway & to the right of David, the President of South Africa and me. How nice……

He went to visit Madiba and we stayed on the couch. So close…… So close……..

After that initial thrill (and realisation that we were in places we never thought that we would be), we met with Verne Harris and Sahm Venter, both from the Centre for Memory. We briefed them on the project, David told them about his mother’s love of food & cooking and they offered to do a search of Mandela’s archival material to see if he mentions anything about Shakespeare or literature in his writing & speeches.
Twenty minutes later, both come back with a half of dozen samples where Mandela mentions Shakespeare – some from letters, one from ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ and several from his speeches. Most references are to Julius Caesar, it seems.

After thanking them for their time and with these precious papers firmly under our arms, we leave the building slowly with just one more glance down the hallway and to the right…. But sadly, nothing but an empty space. Ah well…….. so close……

Later that afternoon, we met up with Masie at the Train Station and tell him our fantastic story. He smiles widely (and I think jealously). We have lunch and return on the Metro to our backpackers where we begin to plan out our next 10 days or so. We learned from Verne that Billy Nair’s funeral will be on Thursday and that Kathy’s book release is on Wednesday. We make plans to meet in Hyde Park at the Exclusive Bookstore for the signing. I am a bit disappointed as I had plans to take Masie and his new wife to my favourite restaurant in Soweto, Wandies, but that will just have to wait.

We are in a bit of a holding pattern until we see which men will be attending the funeral and make our schedule around that. But we still hope to be back in Cape Town with the majority of our interviews finished in about 10 days.

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