Shaun Johnson is Chief Executive of the Mandela/Rhodes Charitable Foundation based in Cape Town. He is a former newspaperman, was recruited by Madiba to run this branch of his charity organisations and is also a best selling writer, widely known for his excellent first novel, 'The Native Commissioner', published in 2007.
Johnson is an intriguing character. He was a newspaperman for many years, revelling in the cut and thrust of our profession. He avows, as we all do, that he was fortunate to find such a challenging occupation; yet it was not his first big break in life. That was to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
He attended St. Catherine's College, which he absolutely loved. He went up in 1982, returning to South Africa in time for the launch of the 'Weekly Mail' in 1985. Not too bad a time to be a newsman in South Africa: the State of Emergency was declared 12 months later and momentous events were looming, like the sunrise, on the horizon.
Later, he was at the forefront of the launch of the 'Sunday Independent' and he assumed he would remain a newspaperman all his life, especially when he began to ascend to executive level, holding a position in senior management for more than 5 years within the 'Independent News & Media' group. But others events conspired to divert him, to lure him away from the world of newspapers.
"Unbeknown to me, the Rhodes Trust in the UK decided to mark their Centenary in a really important way by putting together the two totally different legacies of Rhodes and Mandela for the good of future generations."
It needed someone with experience of the Rhodes Foundations plus Mandela and South Africa, and Johnson was asked to head it, based in Cape Town. He admits the offer completely intimidated him and concedes he never regarded himself as a naturally courageous person. It took away all his certainties, represented a very direct step out of his comfort zone. But when he dithered over whether to accept, his wife cut to the quick over the issue.
'What can you discuss: you have been asked to do this in Mandela's name' she told him. What an honour.'
The decision was made and he has revelled in his myriad tasks associated with the role. "The opportunity to work in the name of what Mandela means to humanity has proved irresistible" he concedes.
Courtesy Peter Bills, The Sunday Independent.