A surprise encounter: Nelson Mandela

With Ed Turner and Nelson Mandela

Imagine walking out a door and unexpectedly coming face to face with Nelson Mandela.

That’s what happened to me in South Africa in 1990 – one of the biggest and best surprises of my life.

Only months earlier Mandela had been freed from 27 years of imprisonment by South Africa’s president, F.W. de Klerk.

The startling encounter came as my CNN colleagues Ed Turner, Mark Rudolph and I were in South Africa’s capital emerging from a meeting with President de Klerk.

As we exited de Klerk’s office, we were shocked to see Mandela standing alone in an anteroom waiting to meet de Klerk.

After Ed, Mark and I introduced ourselves to Mandela – he was exceptionally gracious – he posed for this photo with us before going into de Klerk’s office.

Three years later, in July 2003, CNN President Tom Johnson and I had the honor of hosting Mandela for a tour and meeting at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

As Tom and I stood curbside at CNN Center waiting for Mandela to arrive, I recall Tom asking me how we should address Mandela. I said, “Mr. President.” Tom’s response: “But he’s not president,” to which I said “Mandela is the president of the African National Congress, and he will soon be the real president of that country.” So we called Mandela “Mr. President.”

Mandela will always be a hero in my book.

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