In 1985, on this day the Republic of South Africa finally acceded to a request first raised by the African National Congress (ANC) on its formation some seventy three years before in 1912; a representative of the white minority government would sit down with the ANC leadership to discuss the country's future together. And appropriately enough, if not with some irony also, that representative would be the gentleman to whom those letters had been addressed, the Minister of "Justice". The current incumbent was Mr Kobie Coetzee, "a small, chirpy fellow with big-framed glasses the air of of a small-town real-estate lawyer" was also in charge of prisons which of course was the only place he could meet the ANC leadership during the late apartheid era.
The TroublemakerMostly out of curiosity, and certainly not at his own suggestion, Coetzee had been ordered to the meeting by his boss, the "Great Crocodile", President P.W. Botha. Just six months before, Botha had offered prison release on the sole pre-condition that the ANC leadership renounce the arm struggle. With over 850 people dead from the political violence sweeping the townships this year alone, national opinion polls demonstrated that just about the only issue the combatants agreed upon was that the country was most assuredly heading for civil war. White people (who could afford to) were leaving country in a hurry, and so Botha ordered the meeting with little optimism, but short of other options.
"He [Mandela] was clearly in command of his surroundings"If Botha's main emotion was pessimism, Coetzee's was abject fear. The man he was to meet with was the "world's most famous, least known prisoner", Mr Nelson Mandela, whose Xhosa name Rolihlahla means "The Troublemaker". A former boxer that had developed serious muscles working under cover as the "gardening boy" David Motsamayi at the Littleleaf Farm in Rivonia, Mandela had a truly dominating command presence. And whilst at Robben Island, Mandala had continued intense physical training in his prison cell.
At six feet one, Mandela towered over Coetzee, who couldn't help but notice the ANC leader still wore his Che Guavera style beard. Adopting an erect posture, and without inclining his head, Mandela extended his arm through a single movement of the socket of the arm and shoulder. "Meet my honour guard" said Mandela, introducing the terrified Coetzee to his prison wardens.