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My Hour With Mandela


On an ordinary day in 1998 I had the extraordinary experience of spending the better part of an hour seated on an informal couch with Madiba, recording a television script for World Cup Rugby '99. It was just he and I and a sound engineer in an adjoining room to his modest residential study.


For such a statured figure Madiba was endearing, attentive and generous of his time. I was in disbelief, in awe and quietly overwhelmed by the personal significance of our meeting.

"It is my dream that every South African will once again walk on the moon..." began Madiba's message that I had penned. Four years prior, South Africans had walked on the moon—a feeling of weightlessness that accompanied our nation’s World Cup Rugby triumph and inspired the Invictus movie. "...That every South African will know how it feels to be the heavy weight champion of the world..." another metaphor for our accomplishment and shared sense of greatness, the script continued.

What makes this unreported anecdote incredible is not that it is, if not the only time, one of the few times Madiba ever agreed to deliver the message for an advertisement. Rather that our advertising agency’s client, the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU)—South Africa's equivalent to the NFL—was suing Mr. Mandela at the time.

It was by chance that Madiba was made aware of the script. But it was through humility and genuine conviction to a cause greater than self that he desired to be the one to deliver it. For Madiba, this wasn't about the court proceedings between himself or SARFU. This wasn't even about rugby. This was about nation building—putting aside differences and reuniting the country in our shared pride.

As a young, white South African I could not have dreamed circumstance would have me sitting on his couch one day—let alone having written “a dream speech” for him to deliver to the country. Was I dreaming? I grew up thinking Mandela was a terrorist. I, fortunately, will grow old knowing Madiba was an incredible human being.

Humility, humanity and Madiba’s simple sense, despite differences of opinion, to stand for the right thing are what I take away from my experience with him, and the enduring example set by him.

"Hamba Kahle" Madiba

Dominique LeClezio has lived in Manatee County since 2001, when he and his wife Gretchen returned to her hometown of Palmetto. Gretchen is the owner of the Palmetto Art Center and Dominique is the Vice President of Creative Services at Feld Entertainment.




Published Sunday, December 8, 2013 12:10 am


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