Mandela’s first taste of a freedom was a cup of tea

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography has been reworked and among its corrections are details about where his convoy detoured on the day he was set free.

Mandela originally wrote in Long Walk to Freedom that his convoy stopped at the house of deceased justice minister Dullah Omar. The record has now been set straight: they had stopped at the house of ANC activist Saleem Mowzer.

In an exclusive interview, Mowzer this week recalled the events of February 10 1990, when Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison near Paarl.

Mowzer also revisited the house where Mandela stopped for tea, at 44 Haywood Road in Crawford, where he stayed at the time with his parents.

“I was one of a number activists on the Nelson Mandela reception committee… We had a day to organise the event on the Grand Parade (in central Cape Town),” recalled Mowzer.

“When we left Victor Verster Prison we drove in convoy along the N1 into town. On that day we got blocked by huge crowds and eventually had to drive back on to the highway and we ended up at UCT.

“There were close to 250,000 people estimated on the Grand Parade that day. We somehow got into the middle of that crowd. We were surrounded by the crowd, and we had to get out of there.”

Mowzer added: “We eventually got back on the highway, went on to the M3 and stopped at UCT. We then consulted, and that time we didn’t have things like cell phones, where we could then communicate with our leadership at the Grand Parade. And they didn’t know what was happening at the time.

“We were then talking about going to comrade Dullah’s (Omar) house. His son said his dad and all of them were at the Parade. His mother was with us as part of the convoy as well.

“We then said (we could go to home of) the Archbishop (Desmond Tutu) at Bishop’s Court, but realised his family was at the Grand Parade waiting for Madiba.”

Mowzer said mong the ANC leaders who were in the convoy with Mandela was the latter’s wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and “a few others”.

“Comrade Jay Naidoo then said, ‘But Saleem, you live close by, can’t we go to your place?’ And without thinking, I agreed, and as we drove I realised the significance of us going to my place,” said Mowzer.

“I then led the convoy to my house at 44 Haywood Road in Crawford… It’s my parents place. We got there. Most of my family was on the Parade.

“But my sister from Johannesburg had flown down that day. She was highly pregnant. And she couldn’t believe her eyes when she opened the door and in front of her stood Madiba and the rest of the ANC delegation.”

Mowzer said they then “communicated via telephone with Comrade Dullah (Omar) and the Archbishop at the Grand Parade”.

“The question was, ‘Is it safe for Madiba to come to the Grand Parade?’ And the answer was, ‘He must come back. He needs to address the country and the world’,” said Mowzer.

“We just couldn’t stand in the middle of nowhere (in the crowd). There were security concerns for Madiba and the other leaders of the ANC. We were entrusted with his safety. It was a huge responsibility.

“We needed to get him to a safe place… The convoy was massive. All the vehicles were organised from members of the community on the Cape Flats, including the vehicle that Madiba was driving in, the famous Toyota Cressida.”

Mowzer said it was late afternoon by then and Mandela took a break.

“Madiba requested some tea and my sister made it for him. His first cup of tea post-freedom was at my parent’s house. He freshened up and was relaxing. For us as activists, we were anxious to get Madiba back to the Parade,” said Mowzer.

Mandela eventually was able to deliver his famous freedom speech at the Grand Parade. By the time Long Walk was published, Mandela’s memory must have failed him, as he stated that he had stopped at Omar’s house instead of Mowzer’s.

Omar was not pleased though with this and for a number of years wanted it corrected, said Mowzer.

“At the time, when the book came out, comrade Dullah (Omar) actually called me to his house. He asked me if I had read the autobiography. I said, ‘Yes’. And he said there’s something that needs to be corrected,” said Mowzer.

“He told me that Madiba never went to his house. That Madiba in fact came to my parent’s house where I was living at the time. I wasn’t married at the time.”

Mowzer said Omar “placed a very strong emphasis on history and the recording of history was very important to him”.

“He felt that it needed to be corrected. I told him, ‘Uncle Dullah, you know what, it doesn’t matter whether it’s your house or my house. The day was very significant. We all worked hard to work towards the freedom of Madiba’,” said Mowzer.

“I said we should maybe just leave it. I wouldn’t want to go to Madiba and tell him that he made a mistake… The book is out. Millions of people have read it and I don’t feel bad about it.

“And I’m like a son to him (Omar) and his house is like my house and I don’t have any issue with it and I can live with it for the rest of my life.

“Between the two of us, we know that he came to my house, and it’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Years later Omar called Mowzer again, with the same request to correct the facts about where Mandela stopped before the Grand Parade.

“In 2003, when Comrade Dullah became very ill he was in hospital and he called me. He told me he still feels very strongly about it. And he feels that it needs to be corrected,” said Mowzer.

“By then, many people like Vallie Moosa, Cyril Ramaphosa and other activists knew (about the inaccuracy in Long Walk). Comrade Dullah eventually spoke to Professor Jakes Gerwel who was the director-general in president Mandela’s office.

“He (Gerwel) was also the special aid and advisor to Mandela after his term as president. He played a pivotal role at the (Nelson) Mandela Foundation.

“A few years just prior to Madiba’s passing away, at one of Madiba’s birthday celebrations (in Johannesburg), the discussion came up about where did Madiba go on the day of his release and comrade Vallie Moosa told the story.”

Fact checkers from the Nelson Mandela Foundation were then sent to interview Mowzer to find out the true story, to be reflected in a reworked Long Walk to be published early next year.

Mowzer said: “Comrade Dullah’s wish is being answered… It is something that he always wanted corrected.”

He added that it was not an “honour for me” that the book now reflects his involvement in a historical event accurately.

“I don’t want any recognition or honour that Madiba came to my house on the day of his release. The historical facts are important. But it’s more about how do we lead our country… the way Madiba would have wanted to, in terms of his principles and morality,” said Mowzer.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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