frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela
young boy

Joe Matthews INTERVIEW EXCERPT

He is Mandela's longtime friend and ANC associate
What do you remember about your first sighting [of Mandela]?

... on the Fort Hare campus, where my father was a professor, so almost all the students who came through Fort Hare, I got to know ... All I can remember at the time, is that he and Matanzima [Mandela's cousin] were these tall handsome Thembu gentlemen. Always well dressed ... they were very striking. Even then as young men ...

His dress ... half of the people who knew him in those early days comment on that. Can you give a sense of what this dress was, what was it that was so striking about it? You were all students, how did he stand out?

... we regarded it as a sort of a mystery. We have had two great dressers in the liberation movement and that's Nelson Mandela and Yusuf Cachalia. Now what I can tell you is that a white silk shirt on Nelson Mandela is different from a white silk shirt that we have. His is really white, and yours is not quite the right white.

He is a meticulous dresser ... and he picks his clothes, so it means he gives it thought. Whereas as most of us, you go into a shop, you buy a suit. You don't really consider whether it matches something else ... But with Mandela it was different. Even when he was supposed to be casually wearing a khaki trouser, it would be a "khaki" trouser. It wouldn't be gabardine. It would be the genuine thing. And this is very striking. That's why you'll find almost everyone speaks about this.

Yet, all of us were dressers. We all were fond of being well dressed and so on, but we were trying to emulate people like Nelson. Now he was like that even as a young person ... Where he picked it up, I don't know, because you wouldn't regard Transkei as the kind of environment in which people would be looking out for the best kind of clothes ... I think it's just a characteristic of his, and maybe it reflects a kind of ego as well, wanting to be the best dressed.

Did he show signs of being something of a political firebrand as far as you were aware?

No, not at all. Far from that. There was absolutely nothing, because already that year, '41, when you had the strike [at Fort Hare Universisty] ... it was a very well known strike against the boarding master, who had kicked one of the maids working in the dining hall ... it was led by Tambo ... so Tambo already emerged before Mandela, whose political consciousness really began in Johannesburg and not at Fort Hare.

It's traditional throughout the world for people to develop political consciousness at the university. Would it be fair to say Mandela was a political late developer?

Well, of course, remember that he was from the royal house. He had grown up in the Thembu royal house. He, Matanzima and others were brought up by the Thembu paramount chief, Dalindyebo. And the people who grew up in these royal houses tend to be very superior in their attitudes towards others, and really to assume that they are going to rule people, or govern people and so on. They are brought up like that.

And I think he was totally indifferent to the sort of modern political movement, and I am certain that he didn't feature in the strike. I mean, the strike went on for some time, and big speeches were being made by the various leaders of the strike, which eventually ended with a negotiated sort of settlement. But he didn't feature ...

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