Could you describe your first day at work under Nelson Mandela?
I first met him on the day (May 10, 1994) he was inaugurated at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. And I was the commander of the VIP unit. I had received absolutely no briefing as to what I had to do! We had a new president and he was sworn in just a few hours earlier. So I took it upon myself to go to the stadium and do what I would normally have done for Mr Frederik Willem de Klerk (the last state President of Apartheid South Africa and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993 along with Mandela for bringing an end to the all-white regime).
President Mandela arrived in a helicopter from Pretoria, where he had been sworn in, and was supposed to greet the teams, South Africa and Zambia, before kick-off. But things ran a little late and so he only came there at half-time. And then he had to fly back to Pretoria because there were 184 heads of state waiting there to meet him over lunch. So we got him to sit in the car. But suddenly, he opened the door. So we told the security guy inside, ‘Why do you want to get out?’ and he said ‘I don’t know’.
The president got out of the car. And the only person who was around was a police colonel of the previous regime. Madiba walked up to him and said, ‘Officer, I just want you to know that today you have become our police. I am the president of this country now and you are our police. And from now on, there is no ‘you’ and ‘us’. This old colonel started crying and tears streamed down his face. Madiba just patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘It’s OK. I just wanted to tell you that everything is alright’. And then he walked back to the car and we drove away.
Did Clint Eastwood speak to you before or during the making of ‘Invictus’?
I did not meet him in person, but his production team spent about an hour with me. I gave them a historical background of things. And I even drove them from Madiba’s official residence to the Ellis Park Stadium. That’s the journey he made on the day of the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
How many years were you by Madiba’s side?
I was always a step behind him from 1994-1999. (Incidentally, that’s the title of Steyn’s book, One Step Behind Mandela: The Story of Rory Steyn).
So did your ‘boss’ have a good sense of humour?
Oh, yes! Not that he made jokes with the security team, but there were instances in his speeches and meetings with people that made it obvious to everyone that he had a brilliant sense of humour.
When did you last meet Madiba?
I think it was in April, 2011. He was already very frail. Although he knew who I was because we were speaking about some very specific incidents which happened while I served him while he was president, I could see he couldn’t remember my name. Then, I told him my name. And he said, ‘Oh, yes! Of course, of course’. He was starting to suffer from memory loss then. That day, I made a decision that I wouldn’t go and see him again. That’s because I wanted to remember him as I knew him: President Mandela. I have fond memories of my time with him.
Was he an affectionate ‘boss’?
Yes. He knew the names of the family members of each of his security men. And one day — I think it was in 1997 — he invited us all to his official residence for a meal. He also posed for pictures with each family.
There’s a scene in ‘Invictus’ where a black officer walks up to Mandela complaining about the presence of white officers in the presidential security team. Did such an incident take place?
Yes, it had happened. There were the white cops and the black ANC security guys. But thanks to Madiba, we became one unit. We helped each other and eventually started appreciating each other’s passion for rugby and football, respectively. Eventually, I realised that we had a lot in common. And I can proudly say that I am friends with all of them even today.
DID YOU KNOW?
Rory Steyn is one half of ‘Nicholls Steyn & Associates’, a South Africa-based specialist provider of security solutions. Both Steyn and his partner, Bob Nicholls (part of Mandela’s security team before he became president), have a solid Mumbai connection. While Steyn ran the Mumbai Marathon in 2011, Nicholls saved over 150 lives at the Taj on 26/11.