WHAT do you do when you are South Africa’s new president and you want to throw a thank-you party for all the people who struggled alongside you during apartheid’s dark years? When Nelson Mandela faced this dilemma, he summoned one-time organiser of the Federation of South African Women and ANC stalwart, Amina Cachalia.
It was a tall order: round up veterans of the struggle scattered across the country and around the world.
“After meeting President Mandela some two months ago, a committee was set up with Walter Sisulu, his secretary Rica Hodgson, Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj and my husband Yusuf,” said Cachalia.
Not only ANC supporters were invited. The guest list included stalwarts from the Liberal Party, stalwarts from the Pan Africanist Congress, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Azanian People’s Organisation and even someone who has since joined the National Party.
“We asked organisations to give us a list of names and addresses of all their veterans,” Cachalia said. “We even sent scouts in search of people out in the rural areas.” In her hunt for old comrades, Cachalia also dug into her own archive of contacts.
More than 1 000 people turned up for the Veterans’ Banquet at Mandela’s Pretoria residence last weekend.
There were poignant moments as old friends met again across the divide of years. “It was great. People saw each other for the first time in years. In fact, some comrades you thought were dead arrived for the banquet.”
While about 25 people travelled from London, Israel and New York for the celebration, veterans in other parts of the world where the ANC still has offices also celebrated.
Revellers in London saw Mandela make his speech at the banquet via a satellite link-up.