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Column: Mandela and the communists

After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela was always in the media eye; the long international campaign to set him free had made him a global celebrity. How wonderful, then, to catch a glimpse of that exact moment when he encountered overwhelming media attention for the first time, and he began to realize the true nature of his fame. “At first, I could not really make out what was going on in front of us, but when I was within one hundred fifty feet or so, I saw a tremendous commotion and a great crowd of people: hundreds of photographers and television cameras and newspeople as well as several thousand well-wishers. I was astounded and a little bit alarmed. I had truly not expected such a scene; at most, I had imagined that there would be several dozen people, mainly the warders and their families. But this proved to be only the beginning; I realized we had not thoroughly prepared for all that was about to happen. “Within twenty feet or so of the gate, the cameras started clicking, a noise that sounded like some great herd of metallic beasts. Reporters started shouting questions; television crews began crowding in; ANC supporters were yelling and cheering. It was a happy, if slightly disorienting chaos. When a television crew thrust a long, dark, furry object at me, I recoiled slightly, wondering if it were some newfangled weapon developed while I was in prison. Winnie informed me that it was a microphone.” As Mandela notes in the same chapter, he had spoken at press conferences before, some of them clandestine—but the most recent one was three decades in the past. The last time he was free to conduct them, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States and John XXIII was the Bishop of Rome. There may have been a twinkle in his eye when he recalled that anecdote about the microphone to Richard Stengel, the editor who wrote “the latter parts” of the book. (The bulk of it Mandela wrote in prison, starting in 1974.) But the power of the passage lies in a... Source: John Nery | Newsstand


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