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Melanie Verwoerd's Our Madiba Launched with Desmond Tutu in Cape Town

Melanie Verwoerd

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu joined Melanie Verwoerd for the launch of Our Madiba: Stories and Reflections from those who met Nelson Mandela at the Brundyn + Gonsalves Gallery in Cape Town recently.

The cameramen gathered early on a chilly Cape evening, setting up their tripods and bright television lights, hoisting heavy cameras and running cables through the venue, long before Tutu arrived.

The Archbishop was welcomed by Surita Joubert, who expressed her enormous gratitude that he had taken time out to celebrate the launch of Verwoerd’s book.

Our Madiba, which Tutu also contributed to, includes the narratives of the humblest of folk who attended to Mandela’s daily needs, as well as the famous. Politicians and literati, sportsmen and rock stars make up the “big names” which include, among others, Angelique Kidjo, Francois Pienaar, John Carlin, Richard Attenborough, Ahmed Kathrada, Adam Small, Zapiro and Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout from Darling.

Desmond Tutu and Melanie VerwoerdOur MadibaVerwoerd was introduced as coming from “an unlikely background”. As an Afrikaaner who married the grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, her life has taken many interesting turns. She was the youngest female MP ever to serve in South African parliament under Mandela and then went to Ireland as South Africa’s ambassador. She described how the many occasions of meeting Mandela profoundly influenced her and altered the course of her life.

In her travels around the world, people shared their stories of Madiba with her, inevitably volunteering the same information. Their lives, too, had been profoundly altered by the experience of knowing Mandela.

The “Arch” reflected on the sheer craziness and improbability of South Africa. He specifically recalled “a very smart man who said some extraordinary things: like ‘what is the point of teaching blacks mathematics and science? We should teach them enough English or Afrikaans so that they can take instructions from their white madams or baases.’ He also stopped school feeding for blacks who needed it desperately. His explanation was that as we can’t feed all of them we shouldn’t feed any of them.”

Referring to the way Verwoerd dressed up apartheid as “good neighbourliness”, Tutu burst into his trademark raucous laughter, as he remarked on the irony of his grandson’s wife serving under a black president.

It was an evening of tremendous celebration. All who gathered were inspired by the cleric’s reminder of the uniqueness of each individual, God’s “soft spot” for South Africans, and the need to continue to practise forgiveness. The audience was also inspired by a sweet young singer from Masiphumelele, Anelisa Mahlungulu, who sang a fitting aria, O Mio Babbino Caro.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:


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