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“This is a very sad day, a very sad day for South Africa and the world. It is almost impossible to adequately express the impact that President Mandela had on our country and our people, nor the collective sense of loss that we as South Africans feel as we start to come to terms with his passing.

“To see the South Africa today compared to 20 years ago, to have witnessed the transformation that has taken place in our country in this generation, is truly remarkable and President Mandela deserves an enormous amount of credit for that. He was our President and the man who changed our lives. Without him our nation would not be where it is today. You cannot say anything bad about the man. By any measure and in any time in history he can be regarded as a great man and a great statesman – a man of wisdom and compassion, too.

“Speaking personally, it was of course the greatest honour for me to have met President Mandela on several occasions and the conversations that we had will always be among the most treasured memories of my lifetime. He is the most special human being that I ever met.

“I met him for the first time in 1994 with Johann Rupert when we had a dinner together and then after that we stayed in touch. I used to play the tournament at Houghton Golf Club and his home was very close by. He came over one time and we exchanged gifts (pictured right). I have still got the picture from that day in 1996 in my office in the US. And then every time I won a tournament he used to call me. My family also had the privilege of meeting him, the most recent time being when Samantha and I were on the same flight as him. He was so generous with his time and it was a special moment for me to share with my daughter.

“Anyone who ever met or saw President Mandela was often surprised that he was such a big man, but his presence went way beyond the physical. There was something magical about him and when he walked into a room he immediately filled it with his amazing aura and charisma, but at the same time he was such a humble man, too. He was an unbelievable guy and the guys who lived in that generation will really miss him.

“He will go down as probably the greatest leader South Africa has ever known, but the truth is he touched the lives of people all around the world and his legacy will surely benefit future generations, too.”

Ernie Els
6 December 2013

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