Mandela's bodyguard surprised by reaction to poisoning

The All Blacks lost the Rugby World Cup in extra time to the Springboks in 1995. Photo / File
The All Blacks lost the Rugby World Cup in extra time to the Springboks in 1995. Photo / File

Nelson Mandela's former bodyguard says he's surprised by the reaction to claims the All Blacks were deliberately poisoned on the eve of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.

Rory Steyn, the former chief bodyguard to President Nelson Mandela and a top South African police commander, earlier this week said he believes betting syndicates were behind a large number of the All Blacks' squad coming down with food poisoning before the final against Springboks. New Zealand lost the showcase game in Johannesburg 15-12.

"It is surprising people have had such a strong reaction, but it's a reflection of what passion New Zealanders have for their team," Mr Steyn told the Herald this afternoon. "I wrote about the same beliefs in my book 16 years ago."

Mr Steyn said no fresh evidence has come to light since he reiterated his belief that "coffee and the tea and possibly even the drinking water" had been tampered with at the All Blacks' dining quarters - most probably, he says, at the hands of betting syndicates.

However, Mr Steyn said that some members of New Zealand's 1995 squad - including Eric Rush and Sean Fitzpatrick - have since confided in him that the result had been positive for South Africa.

"A few of those All Blacks have actually said to me since that they think in the long-term, that outcome was good for South Africa, as a nation. It brought us together," he said. "That is a very gracious thing of those men to say."

Mr Steyn is in New Zealand for TedxAuckland, to talk about his time as Nelson Mandela's chief bodyguard.

Delivering a captivating half-hour speech this afternoon, Mr Steyn's anecdotes about working with Mandela drew a standing ovation.

In a stirring start to his address, Mr Steyn recalled how he was one of a lucky bunch of people invited to stand beside the flag-emblazoned coffin of Mr Mandela to say a very personal goodbye.

"It was a tremendous privilege," Mr Steyn said. "Until this day I am grateful for that invitation."

Mr Steyn also delivered two tales about Mr Mandela, one in which the former president left almost 200 world dignitaries waiting for a lunch meeting, just so he could say thank you to a policeman, and another of a July 1996 security nightmare in Brixton, London.

Mr Mandela was making a public appearance with Prince Charles when eager crowds jumped the security barriers, forcing Mr Steyn to scramble the famous pair into the Queen's Rolls Royce - before commandeering a passer-by's tiny car to chase the motorcade down.

- NZ Herald

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