Kakanui woman proud to have met Nelson Mandela

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The passing of Nelson Mandela has been a sad occasion for Kakanui woman, Janice Jones.

Mrs Jones had the rare pleasure of meeting Mr Mandela not long after he became the president of South Africa.

This was in 1995, when she was visiting the republic with her late husband Bob as part of a United Nations sponsored trip where, along with 25 others, they received the freedom of Pretoria and were presented with a special certificate for their conservation work.

“It was in a large civic building in Pretoria. Mandela came and talked to each laureate before the presentation. He was a man of much humour,” she recalled at her Kakanui home this week.

“He saw Bob had his RSA badge on and said, ‘well done, my son,’ and chatted about conservation work.

“Then he came along to me. He said, ‘Janice, how is my friend Jim Bolger?’ I said we’ve news from him that he’s been fired. ‘Oh, I must tell my colleagues’, he said.

There was a bit of laughter. He was quite surprised. He admired Jim Bolger.

“He was a tall man – much taller than one imagined. One had a magnetic feeling to him.”

Mandela did not present the special certificate marking the Jones’ being added to the Global 500 Roll of Honour in recognition of outstanding achievement in the protection and improvement of the environment, in their case for yellow-eyed penguins.

The presentation was made by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Dawie de Villiers, a former Springboks rugby captain.

“He (Mandela) apologised because he didn’t present it to us but he had more important jobs.”

During their visit, the Jones’ and other members of their party were flown by South African Air Force Hercules to visit game parks around South Africa and Mandela was also visiting them at the same time.

At Skukuza, he joined the Jones’ and the other members of their group for a meal.

“He spoke a bit on the environment but mostly about his freedom. He talked about what his freedom meant to him. He hoped to bring South Africa back into the world community,” she said.

“The thing that amazed us was that he demanded very little fuss and bother. He was entirely natural.”

Mrs Jones said she was saddened Mandela had died and he would be missed greatly.

“But I also feel very proud that we’d come to meet him.”

By CHRIS TOBIN