News / Africa

Mandela a Rare Leader, Former White Bodyguard says

Spectators shelter under umbrellas as the rain lashes down during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 10, 2013.
Spectators shelter under umbrellas as the rain lashes down during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 10, 2013.
— 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.


  • People cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the FNB Stadium during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the crowd during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • A man holds a placard with an image of Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium during a national memorial service, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, listens to speeches during his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • A portrait of Nelson Mandela is seen through a sea of umbrellas during his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • Actress Charlize Theron speaks with musician Bono before the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
  • People sing and dance as they arrive for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.

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.

  • Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers at his home in Johannesburg September 22, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela and his then wife, Winnie, salute well-wishers as he leaves Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.
  • This undated photograph shows Nelson Mandela and his former wife, Winnie.
  • South African State President Frederik Willem de Klerk and Deputy President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela prior to talks, Cape Town, May 2, 1990.
  • Nelson Mandela, is seen as he gives the black power salute to 120,000 ANC supporters in Soweto's Soccer City stadium, Feb. 13, 1990.
  • Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
  • Nelson Mandela and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II ride in a carriage outside Buckingham Palace on the first day of a state visit to Britain, July 9, 1996.
  • President Nelson Mandela and Britain's Prince Charles shake hands alongside members of the Spice Girls, Nov. 1, 1997.
  • Former U.S President Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela speak during a Gala night in Westminster Hall, London, July 2, 2003.
  • Oscar winning South African actress Charlize Theron weeps at her meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, March 11,2004.
  • Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, wave to the audience during a Live 8 concert in Johannesburg, July 2, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela jokes with youngsters as they celebrate his 89th birthday at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg, July 24, 2007.
  • Former South African president Nelson Mandela, center, followed by his grandson Mandla Mandela, rear right, arrives at the ceremony in Mvezo, South Africa, April 16, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves to the media as he arrives outside 10 Downing Street, London, August 28, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves as he arrives to attend the 2010 World Cup football final Netherlands vs. Spain on July 11, 2010 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
  • Nelson Mandela poses for a photograph after receiving a torch to celebrate the African National Congress' centenary in his home village Qunu, May 30, 2012.

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.

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