Mandela prepares to put his feet up

30 May 2004 - 02:00

PUPILS of Dan Tloome Primary School were ordered not to scream for longer than a minute when they saw former President Nelson Mandela.

But they couldn't contain their excitement and they continued singing, waving, ululating and shouting for a few minutes more.

Mandela's visit to the school caused such a big stir among pupils, parents and teachers because it coincided with a decision, expected to be formally announced on Tuesday at the Nelson Mandela Foundation's offices, to drastically scale down his public appearances.

The school, which was officially opened by Mandela on Thursday, is one of 140 schools for which Mandela has raised funds. The total amount he has raised to build schools in South Africa exceeds R170-million.

After a personal plea from Mandela, which is known in business circles as "the breakfast call", Nampak chairman Trevor Evans agreed to donate R2.5-million to build the Dan Tloome school. It has 688 children and 24 classrooms.

"We are still crawling, but it won't be long before we'll be walking, running and jumping," said the principal, Mkhuseli Bewana.

Mandela will open Rebatla Thuto High School in the Free State on Monday, a day before his expected announcement.

Mandela's spokesman and assistant, Zelda le Grange, said there was no question of Mandela retiring or disappearing from the public eye, but his appearances would be cut "to the bone".

"We feel he is much too busy and while he is still 100% healthy, he needs the time to spend with his family," she said.

Mandela had been unable to complete his book about his presidential years because of interruptions by his busy schedule, but he wanted to do so now. While Mandela would always be free to attend any event in future, he might also decide to take a break for two months at a time and that should be respected, she said.

Mandela moved slowly, aided by Le Grange, when he arrived at the school.

Everyone laughed when he pointed to the right of the audience, where all the dignitaries, including North West Premier Ednah Molewa and the MEC for Education, O J Tselabedi, were sitting and said: "All of them are wealthy. Go to them and ask them to share it with you. Ask them for their names and phone numbers.

"Tomorrow morning, you call them and say: 'I need funds because I want to go to school and become a doctor or a lawyer.' If anyone refuses, come and report it to me."

Mandela asked pupils to learn about struggle heroes such as Dan Tloome, after whom the school was named. He said Tloome, a former ANC secretary-general and South African Communist Party chairman who died in 1992, was "my colleague in the old days and together we went to jail several times".

Asked whether the Nelson Mandela Foundation's rural education programme would be as successful without the "breakfast calls" from Mandela, the foundation's education project manager, Makano Morojele, said: "That's a tricky question. But I think the programme will continue to be successful. We have established partnerships with schools and provincial education departments."

The Director-General of the Department of Education, Thami Mseleku, agreed: "The partnership will remain very, very strong. People know it's Madiba's foundation."