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December 10, 2013

Mandela a Rare Leader, Former White Bodyguard says

by Thuso Khumalo

As tens of thousands of people from South Africa and the world gathered in Johannesburg on Tuesday at the memorial service for the late former South African President Nelson Mandela, those who were close to the world icon have described him as a rare, unique and principled leader.

The 94,000 seat FNB stadium in Johannesburg was filled Tuesday to honor former Mandela, who died at the age of 95 on December 5.


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While speakers showered the anti-apartheid hero with praise for his public service to South Africa and his example for the world, one man has very personal remembrances of the man up close.

Rory Steyn was tasked with guarding Madiba’s life when he became the first black president of the democratic South Africa. 

“Many people ask me the question, how did I as a white officer come to be the team leader of Madiba’s protection. Well it was really because I was the commander of the VIP, it was being in the right place at the right time for whatever reason," he said.

He said his experience of guarding Mandela 24 hours a day made him realize one thing:  that the man was a rare, unique and principled leader. He said he felt deeply privileged.

“I have never considered Mandela to be a politician, first and foremost I have always thought of him to be a statesman,” said the former bodyguard.

Steyn said Mandela’s tolerance of diverse and opposing views made him a lovable president.

“He didn’t want to have a bunch of 'yes men' following somebody’s view point and that view point only….It was a pleasure to work for him, all of us black and white loved working for him, he was considerate,” he said.


Steyn noted Mandela was truly interested in people - not the power of office.

“He quietly enjoyed interacting with people like that, I think he sometimes got a little bit tired of the routine of the formality of being a head of state. …I have never seen or met anybody, any other human being who is more comfortable in his own skin, comfortable with who he is,” he said.

Steyn said working for Mandela taught him great lessons he would always value.

“I have tried to learn from him that you don’t need money, you don’t need things, you don’t need position or power to be content and to be happy,” he said.

Steyn said he had no doubt that if all South Africans took up the legacy left by Nelson Mandela, the nation would be counted amongst the greatest in the world.