Former presidential security chief Rory Steyn shared the life lessons he learnt from the late Nelson Mandela with students at Nelson Mandela University in an address last week.
The talk was a Madibaz Sport initiative, set up last year to celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth in 1918.
An ex-policeman, Steyn formed a close relationship with the former South African president when he was a team leader with the Presidential Protection Unit during Mandela’s term from 1994 to 1999.
In speaking about his experiences, Steyn said he always grabbed the opportunity to talk about Mandela’s legacy.
“You, as students, are the future of our country and some people are already forgetting the lessons Madiba taught us and I don’t want that to happen,” he said.
One of his earliest memories of Mandela’s life lessons came after the assassination of Chris Hani on April 10, 1993.
“In later years my colleague and fellow team leader in the PPU, Jason Tshabalala, told me what happened when Mandela heard the news of the murder.
“Jason said he was called by Mandela on the Sunday morning after the assassination and told to take him to the SABC.
“There he got himself live onto every SABC radio station and TV network so he could speak to the people of South Africa, saying ‘We understand your anger and what has happened is a terrible crime. But please, do not take the law into your own hands; let the law take its course’.”
With the police ready to act with force if there was any violence stemming from Hani’s killing, Steyn said it meant more people would have been killed.
“But it did not happen because of the incredible act of leadership by Mandela on that day,” he added.
“That lesson is about seizing the moment. Leaders are required to lead and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting into a car, going to the SABC and asking everyone to be calm.
“Historians looking back will tell you that on that day Nelson Mandela seized the moral authority in our country in a single act of extraordinary leadership.”
Steyn said Mandela’s comments about sport were common knowledge.
“He really believed it had the power to unite people. He said sport spoke to the youth in a language their heart could understand – sport could do things that no politician, policy or agenda could do.”
A humble side that Steyn respected enormously was Mandela’s ability to acknowledge the common man.
“For instance, we arrived early at the Union buildings in Pretoria one morning and the cleaning lady was still polishing a verandah which led to his office.
“He stopped, asked the lady her name, where she was from and how long she had been working there. Then he thanked her for ‘keeping our offices beautifully clean’ and went on his way.
“Never underestimate the power of saying thank you and the common courtesy Mandela showed to others made a lasting impression on me.”
Madibaz Sport deputy director Riaan Osman said all the messages were applicable to themselves as an educational facility.
“Aspects such as respecting the time, respecting everyone around you and aspiring to achieve things which unify the diversity or our country really stood out for me.
“He showed that it doesn’t take much to respect each other and to say thank you in a proper manner. And we thank Rory for sharing those life lessons with us.”