Nelson Mandela never forgot the acts of kindness that had a decisive impact on his life.
He certainly had good reason to remember Lazar Sidelsky, the man who gave the 24-year-old Mandela his first job — as an articled clerk in his prestigious Johannesburg law firm
This week, Mr Sidelsky’s daughter, Ruth Levy, reflected on the impact the moment had had on the future South African president.
“The first time he came and met my father, they immediately struck up a great rapport,” said Mrs Levy.
“Mandela was a very shy but dignified boy then. My father was a very fair and modest man who believed in education. He told Mandela not to dabble in politics — that it would only get him into trouble.”
In 1942, in apartheid South Africa, the decision to employ a young black man in a professional white-collar office environment was virtually unthinkable. The position provided Mandela with the basis to study for an undergraduate degree by correspondence and qualify as a fully trained solicitor.
The two men remained close. Mr Sidelsky visited Nelson Mandela while he was in prison on Robben Island. Mrs Levy says, that during the visit, Mr Mandela turned to one of the prison guards and said: “You see this man — this is the only man I’m prepared to call my boss.”
In 2001, Mr Sidelsky attended an event organised by the South African press honouring Mr Mandela, with much of South Africa’s top brass and ANC official dignitaries in attendance.
The former lawyer, who died the following year, was by then in his late 80s and confined to a wheelchair.
Mrs Levy described how Mr Mandela managed to spot her father in the audience, shouting: “My boss, my boss”.
“As a sign of respect, my father tried to stand up from his wheelchair,” she said.
Seeing Mr Sidelsky struggling from his chair, Mr Mandela shouted back again: “No, no, I stand for you sir, you don’t need to stand for me”.