In 1998 the late Nelson Mandela is seen here with the late Nkosi Johnson, former child AIDs activist. At Mandela’s right is Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam, to his left is Ian Roach then Honorary Consul; (Mandela’s doctor) Dr Nthato Notlanda; second from right is a representative from Miss Universe Inc and at extreme right is the then Trinidad and Tobago Consul General of New York, Terry Walker. —Photo was taken at the official residence of the President in Pretoria, South Africa

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Roach: Loss of a major presence

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Independent Senator Ian Roach said Nelson Mandela’s death represented the loss of a tremendous presence in the world.  

Roach was this country’s first honorary consul, and was one of the attorneys for the African National Congress and lived in South Africa for 17 years. Roach who worked with Mandela personally, with Mandela’s first Cabinet and all other successive Cabinets until in 2003, when he returned to Trinidad and Tobago said  even though Mandela had been out of in active politics for some time, his presence kept a reverence, evenness and hope in the South African society. 

“What I liked more about President Mandela was how he was able to turn his enemies into his staunchest friends and supporters. That is something that we can learn from with our ethnic challenges, how he (Mandela) was able to heal a society by having no grudge and no preferences, but recognising the humanity in every one.

Roach said he used to joke and tell Mandela “who talking about a rainbow nation. You go to Trinidad and Tobago and you would see a rainbow nation. “And then he had the privilege of coming here and he did tell me afterward ‘that is a real rainbow nation’. 

“He was a special individual...But he always said that he was just the voice of a collective process of changing and transforming a society, which I found was very humbling,” Roach said. “And we can learn a lot from that in our territory and in the world that it is not about I but about we,” Roach said.

“I am grateful that he has been here, not just for South Africa but for the world over,” the Senator stated. Roach recalled that when he first became President he faced criticism that he was embracing the world and not focusing enough on the domestic aspects of South Africa. He said Mandela explained then that he was trying to normalise the African continent. “He said ‘unless our neighbours are keeping peace, you can never be at peace’”, Roach stated, adding that people can benefit tremendously by observing how Mandela lived his life. 

Roach said he has been invited to and attended every inauguration of the President until he (Roach) became paralysed in September 2011. “Before that, I was there four times a year...and I still speak with South Africans on a regular basis,” he said.

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