Witness: Driving fast with Nelson Mandela

Thu Feb 11, 2010 2:34pm EST
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By Marius Bosch

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - There was one prerequisite for journalists reporting on Nelson Mandela in the heady and chaotic days after his release from 27 years in South African jails.

A fast car.

From the day Mandela was released from a prison farm near Cape Town on February 11, 1990, the convoys ferrying him around the country travelled at breakneck speed -- making it exceedingly difficult, and almost always illegal, to keep up.

As a white South African, I always equated the speed at which Mandela's convoy travelled with his desire to bring reconciliation quickly to a racially divided country.

When he walked free from the Victor Verster prison in South Africa's wine-making region, Mandela was whisked away in his lawyer's small Japanese car, which promptly collided with a minibus taxi as hundreds of supporters thronged around the car.

I never thought small Japanese cars could reach the speeds at which we travelled to Cape Town where Mandela was to address tens of thousands of supporters.

On the way, at least three vehicles carrying television crews collided. The crews left the damaged cars in the middle of the highway, hitching rides with other journalists as thousands of people lined the road into Cape Town.

Mandela did address the celebration rally in Cape Town but he read his speech with spectacles borrowed from his then wife Winnie. He left his own at the prison.   Continued...