CAPE TOWN (May. 21)
Lazar Sidelsky, a Jewish lawyer who gave a young Nelson Mandela a job as a clerk, died in Johannesburg at 90.
Taking on a young black man as a clerk was “something almost unheard of in those days,” Mandela later wrote of his time with the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman.
Three years ago, Mandela honored Sidelsky and his “first white friend,” Nat Bregman, who worked for the firm with Mandela, at a kosher lunch at Mandela’s home in Johannesburg.
Mandela said in his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom,” that Sidelsky treated him with “enormous kindness.”
Sidelsky lent Mandela money and gave him an old suit. Mandela said he wore the suit every day for five years until there were “more patches than suit.”
“Boss,” Mandela said at the lunch, referring to Sidelsky, had “sufficient vision to make this contribution to black education.”
When Mandela joined the firm, Sidelsky was involved in African education and gave money and time to African schools.
“He treated me as a brother and as an equal,” Mandela said.
Sidelsky advised Mandela not to enter politics, which he felt brought out the worst in people and was the source of trouble and corruption.
Sidelsky is survived by his three children: Colin, who lives in Johannesburg; Ruth Levy, of London; and Rabbi Dov Sidelsky, of Israel; as well as seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.