Today is Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday, and the Western Cape is celebrating his special day with a meal prepared at his last home before his release from Victor Verster (now Drakenstein) Prison today, with 67 school children, 67 farmworkers, and 67 senior citizens being féted by four chefs to mark the 67 years that Mr Mandela sacrificed to ‘make the world a better place’. Today has been declared International Nelson Mandela Day by the United Nations.
Chefs Jenny Morris, Reuben Riffel, Uncle Merv and Marco Radebe are preparing the birthday meal, making a difference to a cross-spectrum of South Africans on Mandela Day. The event was organised by Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the Cape Winelands District Municipality, and the Department of Correctional Services. The menu includes Mr Mandela’s meals at Victor Verster and Robben Island, and those prepared by his present cook, to represent Mr Mandela’s favourite food. The menu is as follows:
Cream of Tomato soup with wholewheat bread
Chicken liver on mash, or hake
Roast chicken, brown rice, carrots and beans
Trifle, in rainbow colours
Journalists and writers invited to the media conference at Mandela House at Drakenstein Prison on Thursday were privileged to be shown around the house in which Mr Mandela lived for the 14 months leading up to his release. If we did not know it before, we were reminded of the humility and statesmanship of our country’s greatest leader. He was often taken out of the grounds on secret outings, to assimilate him into the world he had missed out on for 25 years, and this included the Taal Monument on Paarl Mountain. He had a television set, and read the daily newspapers. We were shown the lemon tree which Mr Mandela planted on the property. I was impressed with the size of the prison grounds, which appears to be a working farm. Mandela House is a national heritage site, we were told, and we sat at the table at which the historic draft constitution was signed by then-President FW de Klerk and Mr Mandela.
Calvyn Gilfellan, CEO of Cape Town Routes Unlimited, said that it was due to Mr Mandela that South Africa had an upsurge in tourist numbers, only surpassed by last year’s World Cup. Given that Mr Mandela was released from Victor Verster, it was felt that the function to celebrate the birthday should reflect the Winelands’ reputation of being the Gourmet Capital. Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris became very emotional when she shared with us how special an honour it is for her to be preparing the meal with her chef colleagues.
Manfred Jacobs, Communication Officer of the Department of Correctional Services, was most informative when he showed us around Mandela House. Mr Mandela was brought to the house at Victor Verster late at night, and the area over the prison grounds was declared a no-fly zone, to prevent a bomb from being dropped onto the house, we were told. Mr Mandela spent the last 14 months of his incarceration there, and impressed the warders with his humility, and the interest he showed in them as persons, congratulating them on their birthdays, and assisting them with their studies, where he could. Politics was never discussed. We laughed when we were told that Mr Mandela thought he had two TV sets, referring to his microwave oven as one of them, something he had not seen in the 23 years of his time at Robben Island. Mr Mandela was taught to swim in his swimming pool, but he sat on the edge of the pool most of the time, as he was frightened of the pool cleaner! Mr Mandela’s policy was to change people’s hearts, and not to attempt to change their minds. We laughed when we were told the story of the wood running out for the fireplace in his house, with no further wood being allocated. Mr Mandela encouraged his doctor to address this shortage, and the doctor promptly wrote out a prescription for wood! Mr Mandela loved looking onto the Simonsberg mountains from his house, a source of inspiration. He had a replica of the house built in Qunu, where Mr Mandela is celebrating his birthday today, so that the inhabitants of his ancestral village could experience his prison house. A bar was stocked in the house, with lots of alcohol, in the hope that Mr Mandela would imbibe heavily and spill the beans, but this never happened. Having been incarcerated in a small cell on Robben Island for 23 years, Mr Mandela felt uncomfortable in his massive bedroom, and asked to be moved to the study, and this was turned into his bedroom. Mr Mandela was given the nickname ‘Nelson’ after the Admiral, as his teacher could not remember all the Xhosa names of the children in her class. Mr Mandela said that ‘big doors hang on small hinges’, his way of saying that everyone can make it in life.
A statue of Mr Mandela was commissioned by businessman, politician and Franschhoek wine-farmer Tokyo Sexwale, and proudly stands at the entrance to the prison gates. Mr Mandela agreed, on condition that the plinth not be too high, so that he does not appear elevated. Marble for the base came from Robben Island. Black and white stones represent the people of South Africa.
Congratulations Mr Mandela, ‘humble servant of the people’!
POSTSCRIPT 19/7: I attended the opening of a photographic exhibition of the Lalela (to listen) Project in the Goodman Gallery at the One&Only Cape Town last night, to coincide with the celebration of Mr Mandela’s birthday. Pupils from Hout Bay High School, coming from the Coloured community of Hangberg and the Xhosa community of Imizamo Yethu, got to know each other and connected through taking portraits of each other, mentored by photographers Hasan and Husain Essop. The Lalela Project was founded by Andrea Kerzner, daughter of the owner of the hotel. Portraits can be seen outside the hotel, and in the city center too.
POSTSCRIPT 19/7: The Eastern Boulevard, the highway which leads to the N2 in Cape Town, was renamed Nelson Mandela Boulevard last week. Brand new silver signs have been placed at regular intervals to remind one of the new name.
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