Alison Redford remembers her former boss: 'He lives here for me in my heart'

EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she remembers Nelson Mandela as a man of courage and patience amidst the violence of South Africa.

As a lawyer before running for office, Redford worked for Mandela in the early 1990s as they strove to rebuild South Africa’s legal system and lay the groundwork for the first all-race elections that led to Mandela becoming president.

She recalled how they would receive reports of factions on both sides violently attacking one another, trying to undo the process before it began.

“There were times when we were involved in constitutional negotiations where we were hearing about political fighting in townships where people were literally slaughtering each other because they were members of opposing political parties and he always believed that even though he knew that was going on, we couldn’t let that become the agenda,” Redford said Thursday.

“The agenda had to be about constructive, long-term change. He wasn’t doing this for today. He was doing this for the five year olds and the six year olds and the kids that hadn’t been born yet.”

Redford was working for Joe Clark in Ottawa when she first met Mandela when he visited Canada after his release from prison in 1990. Soon after, she went to work for him as a wide-eyed 20-something lawyer.

She has previously told a story of being invited to a New Year’s Eve party with Mandela while working in South Africa.

“I went to this resort and was by myself, and I’m by the pool and the security guy, who I know, comes up to me and he’s with Mandela and he says, ‘Madiba would like you to spend New Year’s Eve with him tonight.'”

Redford joined Mandela at a small dinner for 10 at a nearby hotel.

At the table was his personal nurse, a young woman from Japan. She’d been with him for more than a year, but now she was moving on. But for more than an hour that night, said Redford, the nurse was his whole world.

“The only thing he wanted was for her to have fun on New Year’s Eve,” Redford recalled in a 2012 interview. “He was getting people to come and dance with her and she wasn’t the kind of person who wanted to dance anyway.

“I’ll never forget that.”

In 1994, Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa.

For Redford, her South African experience was the launch point of a period of eye-opening globe-trotting as she created and advised on human rights and democratic systems in some of the most desperate regions of the world: Zambia, Namibia, Vietnam, Mozambique, Bosnia.

Redford said she is still inspired by Mandela.

“He lives here for me in my heart,” she said Thursday, her voice breaking.

“He really does.”