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“We Never Called Him Nelson. He was Buti Rolihlahla” – Brigalia Bam Recalls Mandela’s Early Years

Democracy, More than Just ElectionsThe Sunday Times has shared an excerpt from Democracy, More than Just Elections, the new autobiography of Brigalia Bam.

Bam spent 12 years at the helm of the Independent Electoral Commission, having been inserted into the position by president Nelson Mandela just months before the second democratic elections in 1999.

In the extract, she shares how she got the job – Mandela telephoned her to let her know he was announcing her appointment to the nation in 15 minutes, before hanging up – and reveals how she got to know Mandela in the 1950s.

Read the fascinating story:

My relationship with Madiba had come a long way. I had known him since 1955. I met him in Johannesburg when I was a student at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work. In my first year I got to know Winnie Madikizela and Marcia Finca, who were in their second year but who were from my part of the world (the Transkei). They welcomed me as a “home girl” and we became friends. They showed me the ways of Joburg. One day, Winnie invited us to go with her to certain lawyers’ offices in town. Oliver Tambo was from her town in the Transkei, Bizana, and she wanted to pay him a courtesy call.

Buti (brother) Oliver Tambo received us warmly but seemed very reserved. Then in walked this tall, rather attractive person with a very fashionable parting in his hair. We all looked at him. He wanted to know who we were and where we came from, and offered us tea. We were feeling coy and shy. We ate lemon cream biscuits – the first time I had tasted them as I couldn’t afford them! We were fascinated with that name: Rolihlahla. We never called him Nelson. He was Buti Rolihlahla.

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