Mayihlome Tshwete: Mandela put me through university

Mmanaledi Mataboge

The public enterprises spokesperson credits his success directly to Mandela, who arranged payment of his varsity fees after his own father died.

A poster depicting the father of the nation is held aloft outside Nelson Mandela's Houghton house on Friday. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

When Nelson Mandela is called the father of the nation, this title is used generally because of the big contribution the peace icon made to bringing democracy to South Africa.

To 31-year-old Mayihlome Tshwete though, Mandela was a father in an unforgettable way.

After the young man's own father, former sport minister Steve Tshwete, died in 2002, Madiba took it upon himself to ensure that Mayihlome Tshwete received the education he needed.

"Tata organised someone to pay for my fees," Tshwete told the Mail & Guardian on Friday, less than 24 hours after Mandela's death.

Today, Tshwete is a well-known communicator working as spokesperson for public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba. He holds a bachelor of business administration degree, thanks to Mandela.

Shopping trip
But it was a surprise outing to shop for clothes with the internationally respected former president that touched Tshwete, then only 20 years old.

Just after president Jacob Zuma confirmed Mandela's death on Thursday night, Tshwete tweeted: "And now I'm remembering the day he and @ZeldalaGrangeSA wasted a whole day on me, to take a fatherless student shopping."

"I got a call from Zelda [la Grange, Mandela's former personal assistant] that Tata wanted to see me," he says as he takes us through that memorable day.

When he arrived at Mandela's Cape Town home, the former president told the shocked Tshwete that it was their day for shopping.

"He took me to Cavendish Square mall. It was around lunchtime and the mall was so packed," Tshwete recalls.

Madiba took the young man to a leading men's clothing department store, which was closed to the general public for the duration of their shopping trip.

"I think they closed the store because they feared a stampede, because Mandela was in there," said Tshwete, making sure I understand that it was not Mandela who wanted the store closed.

Mandela’s official memorial service will be held on Tuesday December 10 at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg and the 95-year-old will be laid to rest at his Qunu home on December 15 after lying in state for three days at the Union Buildings. 

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