A snapshot of South Africa in 1994, taken from San Francisco.
In 1994, I worked in a San Francisco wine store that managed to crowd a very large selection of California wines into a very narrow space that served a diverse customer base, including visitors from foreign countries looking for local wines unavailable back home. One such night, one such foreign couple in their fifties walked in–and everyone else in the store froze and stared at them.
We noticed the wife first; six feet tall, blonde, broad shouldered, deep tan, muscular arms, definitely an athlete.
Her husband dwarfed her.
I would guess six foot five, close to three hundred pounds, but only some of that weight packed onto his slightly protruding belly. The rest? Packed onto what must have been a sixty inch chest and thighs almost as thick as a normal person’s waist. Blonde crewcut and a lot of facial scars.
I thought, “He must have played rugby.”
I introduced myself to them, and while listening to their English-sounding-but-not-England accents I realized that the gentleman did indeed wear a green rugby jersey. I looked closer at the insignia.
“Oh, you folks are from South Africa?”
They replied in the affirmative.
“Is that the shirt of the national rugby team?”
He replied in the affirmative.
“You must be a huge fan.”
She turned away, shook her head slightly, and chuckled.
He replied, “Actually, I played a bit with the Springboks.”
She shook her head and chuckled some more and I had a funny feeling that I stood in the presence of one of the greatest rugby players of the century.
I picked out some good California rarities for them, and surprised them both by knowing something of the differences between Rugby Union and Rugby League. Incidentally, rugby players off the field are rather interesting to watch: at rest, an immovable object; in motion, an unstoppable force.
As I concluded the sale and packaged their purchase, I finally could no longer restrain myself. I had to know.
“Look, I know I’m not supposed to discuss politics at work with customers, but I have to know. All the papers and news shows here in America are filled with stories about Nelson Mandela becoming President and his inauguration, but I don’t think I’m getting the truth.”
“Probably not,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if the writer is liberal or conservative, all they write about is only what they want to see. What’s really going on in South Africa? What do you think of Nelson Mandela?”
They both smiled, and he said, “Well you know, when it became clear that he was going to take over, all the whites were terrified that he was going to socialize everything, seize all our property and income, take away all our rights, the whole communist sort of rubbish. But he turned out to be rather a pleasant surprise.
“He’s actually quite reasonable.”
He’s actually quite reasonable.
To this day, I’ve never heard of a better description of Nelson Mandela, or a better epitaph.
Vonn Scott Bair