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Croydon man remembers Nelson Mandela's 'extraordinary humility'

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A BUSINESS leader who left South Africa due to its racist laws has recalled his meeting with the country's first black president.

Deva Ponnoosami, of South Croydon, had a one-to-one chat with then-president Nelson Mandela in 1996, at his offices in Johannesburg.

The meeting was set up by Beryl Baker, who was Mr Ponnoosami's friend and Mr Mandela's personal assistant.

The 70-year-old said he recalled the leader's extraordinary humility, adding: "I arrived for a 10am meeting and he was on the telephone and his PA said he will only be a few minutes.

"When the light on the phone went out she said, 'You can go in now'.

"And then I walked into his room – all the curtains were drawn because his eyes were in a terrible state because of the chalk in Robben Island.

"And as he walked towards me he said to me, 'Beryl tells me you are a very busy bloke; I am so sorry to keep you waiting'. It had only been about four minutes!"

Mr Ponnoosami came to Croydon in 1962, due to apartheid rules in South Africa making it illegal for non-whites to study accountancy.

He recalled: "When you went to the post office you had to be in a queue that was separate from the whites – and you could have a long queue in the non-white section and two or three people on the white side."

Mr Ponnoosami now owns a rare print of an award-winning painting of Mandela which shows his face in the shape of South Africa and in the colours of the African National Congress. Only 1,000 were ever produced.

Recalling Mandela, he added: "It is unbelievable that anybody could come out of prison 27 years later and say, 'Let's let bygones be bygones'."

Croydon man remembers Nelson Mandela's 'extraordinary humility'


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