Mandela Photographer Speaks at UKZN Lunch

A motivational presentation by renowned photographer, author, ballet dancer and public speaker Mr Matthew Willman was the highlight of a lunch hosted by the Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine (SCM), Professor Ncoza Dlova, for UKZN’s women Heads of Disciplines (HODs) as well as Department of Health female Heads of Clinical Units (HCUs).

Willman, who worked with President Nelson Mandela photographically for 10 years, recounted his personal life journey encouraging audience members to have a purpose in life as well as a plan for it.

Willman said in his initial attempts to meet Mandela he wrote the icon 72 letters over a period of almost 10 years, and included portfolios of his photographic work.

The end result was that he was commissioned as a photographer by Mandela, which provided many opportunities including extensive travel and interacting with presidents of several countries. Willman’s work with Mandela features prominently in five best-selling books.

A collection of Willman’s work is now central to the Mandela Centre of Memory and Presidential Library in Johannesburg.

In his presentation Willman said: ‘The greatest leaders are people of action and not men of words.’

Willman has served 52 different organisations involved in development projects in areas such as food security, HIV/AIDS, health, art and conservation.

In 2011, he founded the Matthew Willman Arts Trust in order to be able to connect with people previously segregated from his own community. The Trust is a charitable organisation committed to making a difference to individuals and communities through tertiary level educational scholarships and financial grants to young up and coming artists.

Dlova, who has read Willman’s book, Tripping with Presidents, spoke about the importance of taking time out to reflect and rest. ‘In our daily lives, we spend all our time as clinicians giving to our patients and we often neglect our own mental health. It is essential that we take some “me time” and use our imagination in order to rejuvenate so that we may offer a better health service to the people we are called to serve.’

The afternoon was spent in quiet reflection with guests speaking about their personal and career challenges. It became apparent that as leaders in their respective fields, the HODs and HCUs did not have a platform where they could meet with colleagues.

Head of UKZN’s Department of Radiology Professor Dibuseng Ramaema took up the challenge to set up a Support Group so that the women could draw strength from each other and seek advice when dealing with issues on a daily basis both in and outside the clinical and classroom setting.

•    Willman has emerged as one of South Africa’s leading independent artists, expressing himself through an extraordinary body of work which includes writing, storytelling and photographic exhibitions. (

Words: Maryann Francis

Photographs: Supplied