We have to go back in history, many many years ago there was Apartheid which meant that there was segregation between the white and black people.
Now you had certain areas where only white persons could come. There was a divide in education. Black people didn’t have the right to vote, and in Denmark where I live, dockworkers were some of the first that tried to fight against Apartheid : they organized boycots.
And out of that the South Africa committee and the anti-apartheid movement started. I became at some point very active in the anti-apartheid movement.
Old Apartheid sign in South Africa
During these years in the anti-apartheid movement I met lots of people because I was mainly involved in the international work, and every half year I would travel to another European city where we would meet with other people that were fighting against Apartheid.
But when in 1994 the Apartheid was over, I was kind of really tired of that and I was much more interested in the Internet. I started working with the Internet in 1990, and at that point you could send an email, and if you got an answer within a day, then you were really happy because that was extremely fast.
The new Internet Era
People used Unix to Unix protocol which basically meant that one computer would copy whatever was on another computer, this was slow but much faster than anything else.
At some point the Internet browser was invented, and here we have a Netscape browser.
So I started in Denmark with setting up the internet for Non Government Organisations, and this went very well, so I decided that I missed South Africa and decided to open a small company in Pretoria – Hatfield.
This was a few years before Windows integrated their own browser.
I believe it’s gone now but at that time Hatfield was the Hotspot voor South Africa. Now in South Africa I was still involved with helping Non Government Organisations : people that wanted to grow their small communities, better communication, African News Network where we would pay independent from all kinds of countries in Africa to send news to subscribers all over the world.
I believe it’s gone now but at that time Hatfield was the Hotspot voor South Africa.
Now in South Africa I was still involved with helping Non Government Organisations :
- People that wanted to grow their small communities, better communication, African News Network where we would pay independent from all kinds of countries in Africa to send news to subscribers all over the world.
Due to that I was invited to come to a certain reception. So I’m at this reception and everybody’s extremely nicely dressed except for me and another guy. I was wearing a leather jacket, and the other guy had a sweater on.
I felt uncomfortable with that many suits around me unless I’m wearing a suit myself, then I’m okay with the situation, and after a little while Nelson Mandela walks in and everybody gathers around him.
Some time passed and Kader Asmal walked in. Now I know Kader Asmal because he was a professor on international law and specifically human rights in Dublin. I visited him many times before in respect to anti-apartheid matters.
He says : thank you very much for everything you’ve done for South Africa. I hear you collect money and you probably have this one already, but still I would like to give you this, and he proceeds to give me a 10 Rand banknote.
First of all I was ecstatic that the President of South Africa was giving me a present, so I didn’t want to say : I only collect coins.
Secondly : when a person who has been in jail for 30 years gives you something you’re not going to argue with him. You just say : thank you very much.
So I was really really pleased and happy. Then Mandela turns around and leaves, Kader Asmal and some others leave. I continued talking to a guy in a wheelchair, he was very friendly and greatly interested in the Internet.
When we both were leaving he said : I really like your leather jacket. Now remember that I had a fantastic day and I said that he could have it. He says “No, it’s your jacket but where did you get it”.
I said that I bought it in Turkey and that I was going there again in two weeks time. I offered to bring him one and he appreciated that very much to which we exchanged phone numbers.
I go to Turkey, I find a leather jacket that is according to his wishes and a few weeks later I’m back again in South Africa and give him a call. He told me he would send a driver and that I could come over.
The chauffeur arrives and we drive to the Union Building, and I was having tea exactly where the yellow arrow points in the picture. Actually I was having a Cola during this time, but Mr. Shuaib Chalklen was having tea.
Union Building where I had tea (room indicated with yellow arrow) ;
At some point Mandela walks in and he says : Mr. Shuaib Chalklen, do you have some time ? Following this I was left alone on the balcony for 10 minutes and Mr. Shuaib Chalklen comes back.
At this point I realized : this person isn’t “somebody”, he’s somehow something important ! This also explains why Mandela didn’t talk to him at the reception, and he also didn’t seem to be that interested or impressed by Mandela, which I obviously was.
We became friends and a little while later I was supposed to go eat with him. I went to the restaurant and he didn’t show up. That’s strange right ?
Something must have happened and a few days later I found out that his sister died, and that he had to go to Cape Town and take care of his nephew.
This however isn’t the end of the story. Many years later I started I Biotech Company : a company that created plants which would change their color when they would grow on top of landmines.
This went well and at some point we decided to go to Angola and Namibia to test the concept further. What happened was that at some point I was driving together with two other people.
Plants detecting landmines
I was sitting next to the driver and we were driving from Swakopmund to Windhoek through the desert, and one of the tires exploded and the car rolled down the mountain.
Long story short I broke my neck in three places and I was brought to the hospital in Swakopmund, stayed there for a day and was then transferred to the Catholic Hospital in Windhoek.
Swakopmund & Windhoek (Capital) in Namibia
I had good insurance, so I called the insurance company and they talked to the doctor, and the doctor said : he has his neck broken in three places. We don’t have anything we can do for him which would result in a small chance for survival, or you come pick him up.
The ceiling above my hospital bed was made of these sheets with holes in them. I would try to lay as still as possible and count the holes in the ceiling. Vision yourself laying in a bed, 40 degrees celsius, you’re sweaty and eventually you get wounds on your back just from laying in your own sweat.
The next day the insurance company didn’t send anybody and I called them. They replied with sorry, but tomorrow somebody will come. This went on for 5 days in a row, but everyday no one came.
After five days my patience ran out and I thought : they’re going to leave me here, they’re not going to do anything !
Then I started thinking : What can I do ? How can I get out of this situation ?
And then I remembered my friend in the wheelchair, my friend in South Africa. He was shot during the “Soweto Uprising”, and his friends carried him home. He sadly didn’t receive the proper medical treatment and he ended up in a wheelchair.
I had his number and I called him. I explained the situation and hoped he could help me in some way. Upon hearing my story he said : Hold on, I’ll ask “Madiba” (which is a nickname / honorable name for Nelson Mandela).
Hospital where I spent five anxious days waiting for help
He went over to Nelson Mandela, and he said that he would take care of it. Mandela then called the insurance company and told them : “either you made a mistake and fix it now, or I will make sure that you’ll never work in Africa again. Not only in South Africa, but in every country in Africa where I have connections. I’ll make sure you’ll never work on this continent again”.
Approximately 10 minutes later I get a call from the legal boss of the insurance company and he says : “We’re really really really sorry, we made a big mistake. We will pick you up tomorrow. A plane has been rented in Madagascar which is on its way. We will bring you to South Africa to a good hospital, we will take care of everything”.
The next day a special airplane arrived, which had a crew of two pilots, two nurses, even South African doctors. They put me in a bag and made it vacuum so I wouldn’t move during the flight to South Africa.
I spent some days in the hospital over there, and from there I was shipped to Denmark. From the moment I arrived in Denmark I spent one year with my schedule full of operations.
Visible stitch markings from the operations
I’m fine now, during the surgical procedures screws were inserted in my neck. I still cope with a stiff neck, but I still have that banknote which was given as a present by Nelson Mandela and would later save my life.