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1990: Greeting the 'father of a nation'
Richard Ramsden's father worked in the British diplomatic service and he spent much of his childhood in Africa.

He attended the multi-racial school Waterford Kamhlaba, Swaziland, at the same time as Nelson Mandela's daughters.

He lived in Cape Town for 12 years and was there the day of the anti-apartheid campaigner's release on 11 February 1990.

Rumours had been growing over weeks. Finally an announcement was made. I dropped everything to join a huge crowd waiting for him in front of the Cape Town City Hall.

There was a tremendous surge of feeling. Like many others I'd lost friends and neighbours to political violence during the dark years of apartheid. The hope for the future that I and so many others felt that day rippled through the crowd.

The branches of the trees in front of the Town Hall were stripped by people climbing them to get a better view.

People were literally falling from the trees, which began to resemble bare scarecrows.

For a few foot soldiers of the struggle that day was an opportunity for self-aggrandisement, however most of the crowd simply waited patiently in the hot sun. A few people tried to incite unrest by throwing bottles and damaging nearby shops. A man that I restrained was clearly an agent provocateur of the old regime.

Finally we managed to see and hear the father of a nation that had yet to be born. A man who was barely recognisable to us (as no photos had been published of him for so long), and yet who seemed so familiar to most South Africans.

A few years later I had the opportunity to meet Mandela. He wanted to chat briefly about his daughters, who had been at school with me in Swaziland.

Like many others I was struck by his powerful presence. What struck me too was the ease and balance with which he was able to talk about personal matters to someone who was essentially a stranger. In my mind, one of the marks of a great man.

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Nelson and Winnie Mandela
Mandela was barely recognisable to most South Africans


Crowds in Soweto celebrating Mandela's release
Crowds gathered all over South Africa
In Context
Richard Ramsden left South Africa in 2000.

He now lives in Australia and works as a management consultant.

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