Rory Steyne, Personal Guard to Nelson Mandela Reflects on Mandela’s Ability to Forgive

By Stephen O'DohertyFriday 12 May 2017Open House

In light of the 23rd anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s presidency inauguration, we share this reflection from Rory Steyne, personal guard for the former president.

Who is the last great national leader you can think of? A real statesman? We seem to have so few examples of great leadership in our world at the moment, and it is tempting to blame the times. Who could face times as tough as those faced by the incoming President of South Africa’s first full-participation free elections – Nelson Mandela? He was undoubtedly the man for his times.

Rory Steyne was a member of Special Branch – the South African secret service and part of the close personal guard for the President. His job was to protect the life of MADIBA – Nelson Mandela’s clan name, and the name South Africans affectionately adopted for this amazing father figure of a nation. Rory is a follower of Christ and attests to the importance of overt Christian virtues like forgiveness as a reason that Mandela was such a great leader.

Like many white South Africans of his generation, he had grown up steeped in the ideology of Apartheid. According to that mythology, black rule was never to be entertained – it would lead to violent uprisings and civil war. Of course, as an oppressed majority, there were indeed uprisings under apartheid, and Mandela’s party – the African National Congress – considered violent struggle a legitimate political activity almost right up to the end of apartheid.

So with that background, Rory Steyn and his Special Branch colleagues were not sure what to expect when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the country’s first black President on 10 MAY 1994. One event on that very day stunned the white policemen and turned Rory Steyn from sceptic to true believer.

The inauguration

On the day of the inauguration 60,000 football fans were attending an important football match – South Africa versus Zambia (now an annual event called the Nelson Mandela challenge). The inauguration was streamed live into the stadium before the match. This was deliberate – they wanted to keep all those cars off the road to the capital Pretoria. His official inauguration over, with hundreds of foreign dignitaries waiting for a reception, Mandela did something amazing. He took his helicopter to the football ground to make his first public appearance as president.

It was half time. The reception was – as you might expect – overwhelming. He greeted both teams, circulated briefly among officials and then – his security detail watching with eagle eyes – was safely ensconced in his armoured car ready to return to the chopper, and back to the Inauguration Reception. But Madiba looked to suddenly change his mind.

 

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