Mandela 'earned our respect'

Last updated 10:35 07/12/2013

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Michael Hardy grew up in white South Africa, a time when as a kid, he thought of Nelson Mandela as nothing but a terrorist.

"That's the way history goes," he says, reflecting on the life of South Africa's former president, who died yesterday.

"Information is passed from generation to generation and you absorb what you are taught, without reading up on it yourself."

It was when Mandela came to power in 1994 and Mr Hardy was in a role with the Inland Security Division which protected him, that he began to take an interest in the famed anti-apartheid revolutionary.

After being imprisoned for 27 years Mandela's calming and friendly nature appeared to not seek revenge, but harmony, which appealed to Mr Hardy.

"Because he had no revenge and didn't promote any wrong-doing people listened to him. If it was anyone else, they wouldn't have listened.

"He had the opportunity to bring a whole country to uproar if he wanted to, but he just calmed them down."

Mr Hardy, 41, is quick to point out his views on Mandela relate strictly to him as a person, and not to the political party he represented - the African National Congress (ANC).

"It's a sensitive subject this, because I come from this racist country, and the ANC was our enemy, the enemy of the National Party who my parents and everyone belonged to.

"I do still think the ruling party is to blame for a lot of the problems with crime and all that in South Africa," he says.

As a police officer it was Mr Hardy's duty to secure the venue, and stage, when the president made public appearances in Western Cape.

He ended up doing that on three occasions and on each of those Mandela called the officers to the stage, shook their hand, and wished them well. "That was really a nice thing to do. That is how he earned my respect."

The 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted and won by South Africa, was also a defining moment for Mandela, Mr Hardy says.

"He was only a year in the president's seat and South Africans didn't really like him, but he earned our respect by wearing a No 6 jersey like captain Francois Pienaar. When he wore that jersey it was crazy, the people were rejoicing all over the place.

"People gained respect for him because he had respect for our game."

With the man Mr Hardy's daughter Melissa, 16, likens to Gandhi now dead, it's hard to know how people in South Africa will react.

What the now New Plymouth Girls' High School student learned about Mandela in South African school was the complete opposite to what her dad learned.

"He was seen as an iconic person who you could look up to.

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"He was never seen as a bad image," she said.

Mr Hardy still has a number of family members in South Africa and hopes the country will turn to grief and not turmoil in the wake of his death.

Many believed the day Mandela died would result in "Uhuru" - a term used to describe how a country turns to murder, riots and stealing. Mr Hardy says the same conspiracy came about in 1994 when ANC came into power.

"There was a fear that the blacks would go crazy and take your house, your car and raid the shops, but it didn't happen. Hopefully this won't happen either.

"I hope to believe that there will just be mourning for him."

The man who came from Wellington, Western Cape, to New Zealand in 2007 says there was no other person his home nation respected like they did Mandela. And although the 95-year-old was not Mr Hardy's personal hero, he believes he was a man of great influence.

"To me, he's not my hero, but he earned my respect. He was not my political leader, he did not fight for my cause. But Nelson Mandela is a person I have respect for because of the way he treated other people. If you had locked me up for 27 years, I probably would have acted a lot different."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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