The day I met Mandela - Harpenden businesswoman’s recollections

Claire Farley (centre) with Nelson Mandela

Claire Farley (centre) with Nelson Mandela - Credit: Archant

A personal tribute to Nelson Mandela from Claire Varley of 2by2 Holidays

A man of the people, Nelson Mandela met thousands of ordinary men and women after his release from prison and touched their lives indelibly. I was one of those people who, due to support I had given to his Children’s Fund, had the great privilege of meeting him in person at his 77th birthday party.

He was in the first year of his presidency and was already ageing. We were not allowed to use flash photography, as his eyes had been badly damaged working the lime quarries on Robben Island and he walked slowly. Yet his majestic presence filled the entire room.

He had a twinkle in his eye and always had an eye for the ladies. I like to think that is why he came to speak to me, but suspect it had more to do with the reigning “Miss South Africa ” sitting at the same table!

Madiba, as he is fondly known, had a great understanding of the human condition and the natural ability to reach out to people at all levels - regardless of their race, colour or creed. His intellect was huge, yet his humility was profound. As he reached out to me that day, I understood how he had managed to unite a nation.

I have been asked whether Nelson Mandela has affected tourism in South Africa . To say his impact has been enormous is an understatement, as there cannot be any child in any school anywhere in the world that does not know his name and the name of the country that gave him birth.

His personal intervention in South Africa ’s successful bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup was pivotal, and TV screens around the world flashing images of magnificent stadiums dramatically improved public perception of safety for visitors to this spectacularly beautiful country.

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As a result in the 13 years since his release from prison, the number of tourists travelling to South Africa each year has more than trebled to over 9 million.

Robben Island off Cape Town is already a key tourist destination, but for those wanting to follow in his footsteps we have dedicated our “Long Walk to Freedom” tour in his memory, allowing visits to significant milestones in his struggle, including his home town of Qunu in the remote Transkei and the small house in Soweto that he shared with Winnie Mandela.

How does one find words powerful enough to say “thank you” to such a great man?

I salute you Nelson Mandela - South Africa ’s greatest son.