'How do you write on death when you haven't experienced it?' ... Nelson Mandela to his son-in-law.

Author:Commey, Pusch
Position:Ghana - Biography - Interview

Dr Kwame Amuah (pictured), Nelson ivandela's eldest son-in-law, the husband of his eldest surviving child Makaziwe Vlandela-Amuah, is a man of many parts who comes from Ghana. A nuclear scientist who spent years in academia before going into business, this Harvard alumni is now a big-time business baron with interests in many spheres. He says having an association with Mr Nelson Mandela comes with a cross", and his "cross" has been a sustained vilification in sections of the South African print media. Our Johannesburg correspondent, Pusch Commey, had a wide-ranging interview with Dr Amuah, chairman of OSR Holdings. Here are excerpts.

Q | This is the first interview you have granted to a major publication. Are you media-shy?

I just happen to be a very private person. I have always shunned the limelight. Pretty much every journalist I have ever met has asked for an interview in one form or the other. The answer has always been no. Eventually, I suppose and per experience, the questions will switch to Mr Mandela and how it feels to be associated with him. The question irritates me for a bunch of reasons, but chief among them is the presumption it makes about me as a public figure. I am not a public figure and have no desire to be one. I agreed to your request for an interview for the simple reason that I share the philosophical bent of your publication and that for once there is an echo of souls.

Q | You have been married to Dr Maka-ziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela's oldest surviving child, for several years. How did you meet? Yes, we have known each other and been married for over three decades. Maki and I first met through a friend in common in Cofimvaba, in the Eastern Cape during the days of apartheid. The rest is history, isn't it?

Q | What is your relationship with your father-in-law, Nelson Mandela, like?

This is a question I am often asked and I don't think I have answered it adequately to anyone. It keeps cropping up. In many ways those of us who have been privileged to be part of Mr Mandela's life can answer with certainty. Tata [Mandela's nickname] is a complex character who has learnt the art of containing himself. Very rarely does he show public feelings. We must understand that Tata is of the old stock which holds the adage that a true leader must not show public feelings. Old habits die hard.

To answer your question, I have had a reasonably good relationship with Tata, characterised by mutual respect. We have both had good and bad moments (with respect to my late brother-in-law Makgatho). To be associated with the family for three decades should tell you that there is an echo of souls between a son-in--law and a father-in-law.

Q: Were there intellectual conversations as peers in that department?

You bet. We have had many intellectual debates on issues of cosmology, the existence of God, life after death, and the resilience of the human spirit. Once when I told him I was writing a book on death, he retorted: "How do you write on death when you haven't experienced it? You better write on love as it is something we all experience". When I answered that "love is an abstract concept and that it is an illusion", he said: "So Isaac, you don't love my daughter." Quickly, I retorted: "Tata I do, and that is why we have been in love for all these years." "You believe in love after all," he said.

Q | What were his political views in the transition to democracy?

Tata has been consistent in his political views in as far as I can remember. My first face-to-face encounter with him was in 1983 at Porlsmoor Maximum Security Prison. And while conversations with family members were devoid of politics during visitation periods, he would always make it clear why he was behind bars. It was to emancipate his people. And frankly his political views have remained as constant as Einstein's constant.

Q | There has been debate on Mandela's Pan-African credentials. Would you say he is a true Pan-Africanist and why? Where would you rank him among the pantheon of Pan-Africanists?

No doubt, he has been a Pan-Africanisr and continues to be in the twilight of his life. This elicits the question as to who is a Pan-Africanist. You know, there are varied interpretations of the meaning of an "Africanist". There are those who believe being an Africanist is a geographical concept. And then there are those who refer to themselves as Africanists because of identification with an idea and a commitment to a liberation ideology and emancipation of all people of African descent. I tend to associate myself with the latter concept.

Let me hark back to your question and say without equivocation that Mr Mandela is a Pan-Africanist through...

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