When Mandela relinquished the Presidency in 1999, to be succeeded by President Mbeki, the manner of his retirement was in itself a tribute to his achievement. Five years earlier most South Africans had doubted whether elections could be held at all, in the face of violent threats and bombs. Now they took for granted that their country was a working multiracial democracy.For the first time since Mandela had left prison nine years before, he was now a private individual without any political position. For a short time he appeared content with a quiet life with his wife Graa and his growing family of grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, moving between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Qunu and Mozambique.But he soon forgot about the quiet life, and he became more, not less, impatient an old man in a hurry. I have retired, he said at 84, but if theres anything that would kill me it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do. He needs to be very busy, his wife Graa confirmed.He is quite clear that if he slows down he will feel depressed. Hell feel he is not needed any more.
He established a Mandela Foundation that provided his base. His loyal Afrikaner secretary Zelda le Grange organised his endless meetings, travels and phone calls to the worlds leaders. He kept flying across the world, particularly to Britain, America and the Middle East, often in a private plane provided by one of his rich friends. He embarked on the second volume of his memoirs, covering his presidential years, determined to write them himself, without being ghosted. He conducted his research with very personal methods, ringing up old friends and even former enemies, like exPresident De Klerk, to ask for their recollections of crucial meetings.But he still enjoyed meeting sports heroes and film stars such as Whoopi Goldberg or Whitney Houston, whom he welcomed with outrageous flattery (Im only here to shine her shoes).He sometimes seemed to be reliving his own youth in Johannesburg in the Fifties, when he was not only a politician, but a township hero, ladies man, dancer and boxer, and loved talking about the old black musicians, writers and sportsmen.He was lonelier in politics, at least 30 years older than most of the politicians in South Africa, and his contemporaries were dying. He often looked his age, and away from the cameras and with his staff he could be irritable. But he retained his powerful will to live. In 2001 he was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate, but after intensive treatment appeared fully recovered. If cancer gets the upper hand I will nevertheless be the winner, he said. In heaven, I will be looking for the nearest branch of the ANC.