Mandela meeting recalled

AS the world mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela on Friday, Kiama's Dennis Koks recalled his chance meeting with the Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1990.

Mr Koks grew up in Cape Town's District Six during apartheid and was classed as coloured by South Africa's pro-white government.

His everyday movements were restricted.

Street cricket games using paraffin tins and tennis balls were interrupted to flee passing police, university attendance was impossible without a permit and public transport was racially segregated.

Fearing civil war in 1970, he and his wife, Hazel, had already fled the country with their four children and were living in Australia when Mandela was released from prison in February 1990.

It was during Mandela's visit to Sydney the following October that Mr Koks had the opportunity to meet the man who played such an instrumental role in ending the discrimination he had faced growing up.

"I took the day off school to watch him speak," the retired art teacher said.

"He spoke from the steps of the Sydney Opera House and I'll never forget the experience.

"Young people were crying . . . including myself."

But then he heard Mandela would make an appearance at St Mary's Cathedral afterwards.

"I raced away to get to the cathedral," he said.

"By the time I got there it was full, but I managed to get past the person at the door and stand at the back of the cathedral."

Before long, two policemen entered, followed by Mandela himself.

"I leaned across and put out my hand and he shook my hand and smiled - I didn't wash my hands for a week," he said.

Mr Koks said he was watching the cricket when he heard the news of Mandela's passing.

"I knew he was close to dying, but it was still a shock for me," he said.

"Having experienced all the dehumanisation and the insults because of your colour, I came to Australia even more thankful there was a man like Mandela fighting to break down the system that I had experienced.

"It meant a great deal to me."

FOOTNOTE: Mr Koks will be hosting a special tribute to Mr Mandela on his radio program on VOXfm this coming Saturday, December 14, from 10am to noon.

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