WHEN Nelson Mandela was languishing in Pollsmoor Prison, Johannesburg policeman Clinton Vermaak was learning his anti-African National Congress lessons.
“Everybody knew who Mandela was. All the white people hated him,” Mr Vermaak said. “I believed the propaganda like any other white person there.”
It took travelling away from South Africa for Mr Vermaak to drastically alter his opinion.
“I changed my mind big time but in South Africa we lived in a shoebox, with no television or internet. Once we left there, we realised the rest of the world was more liberal.”
Mr Vermaak said he was now saddened by Mr Mandela’s death.
“It’s very, very sad. I think it’s going to be a big headache now for South Africa.”
Mr Vermaak had already left the force when Mr Mandela was released from Pollsmoor.
However, he was on his annual police training camp – still compulsory for anyone who had ever been a policeman – when the African statesman left prison.
“It was very tense. There was a lot of terrorism,” he said. “The ANC were putting bombs everywhere.”
Mr Vermaak left South Africa in 1995, just a year after Mr Mandela’s release, but his family is still in Johannesburg and he returns for regular visits.
“Everybody loves him there now,” Mr Vermaak said.
Mr Vermaak, who owns Brawl Boxing Ballarat, said Mr Mandela once claimed he could have been a world champion boxer if he hadn’t turned to the law and politics.