July has become the month of Madiba in our country, but the beloved former President of South Africa is never far from the Fern Hill family’s mind. What many might not know is that Fern Hill Hotel hosted the former president in 1996 when he visited to receive the Freedom of Howick. His visit coincided with the formalisation of the Mandela Capture Site, which has since undergone quite an amazing upgrade. It also resulted in the creation of our Mandela Presidential Suite, which has numerous pieces of artwork (painted by Karen Poltera) that incorporate photos of Madiba’s visit.
During an elaborate banquet held in Madiba’s honour, the former president was the centre of attention and the focus for the day. However, as is common knowledge, Madiba always had a focus on children, and who should have been attending the banquet at the age of four years old but our very own Executive Chef Alex Poltera.
To this day, Alex’s two older sisters relish every opportunity to remind him of one of the biggest regrets of his life. During the banquet, Madiba approached a shy, four-year-old Alex and asked if he’d like to sit next to him for the duration of the meal. Alex, who perhaps at the time didn’t realise the importance of the man standing before him, declined the offer and opted to stick close to his mum’s side instead.
How many people have you met who can say that they refused to have lunch with Nelson Mandela? Probably not very many, so the next time you visit Fern Hill and bump into Alex, be sure to ask him all about that fateful banquet from twenty-two years ago, when former President Nelson Mandela was awarded the Freedom of Howick at Fern Hill Hotel, but was snubbed by a four-year-old Alex!