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Jewish Journal

Nat Bregman, Mandela’s ‘first white friend,’ dies at 88

by Michael Belling, JTA

August 3, 2011 | 10:48 am

Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gauteng, May 2008. (South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za)

Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gauteng, May 2008. (South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za)

Nat Bregman, whom anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela described as his “first white friend,” died in Johannesburg.

Bregman, who shared an office with Mandela for three years at a Johannesburg law firm, died July 20. He was 88.

He and Mandela were law clerks in the 1940s at the offices of Sidelsky, Witkin and Eidelman when they shared an office.

In a recent interview with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, Bregman recalled that at the time he was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa and invited Mandela to attend “mixed parties” with him. That impressed Mandela.

In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela described Bregman, who established his own law firm in 1946, as “bright, pleasant, and thoughtful.”

“He seemed entirely color-blind and became my first white friend,” Mandela wrote.

Mandela, the former president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, remembered Bregman as being a “deft mimic” who did “fine imitations of the voices of Jan Smuts, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.”

Bregman later combined his professional activities with being a part-time entertainer, particularly in front of Jewish audiences. In his later years he became religiously observant.

Bregman and Mandela, who was jailed for his anti-apartheid activism, renewed their friendship following Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. They met annually at Mandela’s home, where they were joined by Lazar Sidelsky, for whom they both worked all those years ago—the only man Mandela ever called “boss.”

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