Shock over Red Tie Guy’s suspected suicide

By Siyavuya Mzantsi | IOL |

Former US president Barack Obama’s law background was the inspiration behind Mikhail Hendricks’s career choice to become an advocate.

Student Mikhail Hendricks (L),16, embraces U.S. first lady Michelle Obama after she answered students’ questions at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA – Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION)

The 22-year-old Stellenbosch University law student, famously known as the “Red Tie Guy” who charmed television viewers during a 2013 speech by then-US president Barack Obama in Cape Town, died in a suspected suicide on Friday.

The university said it had learnt with “shock and sadness” of Hendricks’s passing. He was staying in their Goldfields Residence.

Hailing from Mitchells Plain, where he was raised by his grandmother, Hendricks was due to fly to Washington DC for the South Africa-Washington International Program next month.

Aubrey van Breda, Hendricks’s guardian, was his teacher at the Cape Academy when he and his family decided to take Hendricks in.

On Sunday, Van Breda said Hendricks came from “very difficult circumstances, but stayed humble through his trials and tribulations’’.

He was a board member at the Constitutional Literacy and Services Initiative (CLASI) – a non-profit organisation that provides ongoing training to law students (teaching fellows) from five law schools.

This to facilitate workshops, classes, public debates and moot competitions in under-resourced schools and community centres around the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, according to the South African Washington International Program (SAWIP).

Hendricks represented his country at the inaugural Euro-Brics Young Leaders Summit in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015.

His dream of meeting Obama became a reality when he was invited to attend a keynote address in Cape Town four years ago.

“We were all excited when he was invited to an event where the former US president was talking. He knew about Obama’s background; he followed him.”

“He knew about about his university days and his involvement as a law student.”

“And because of Obama’s background, it kind of inspired him to become a lawyer. When he read that Obama was coming to South Africa, he was ecstatic, he was blown away.”

“That got him hyped-up. He spoke passionately about it. It was no surprise that when he got invited his whole face just lit up on screen. We are all proud of him and I am happy that he got that glimpse of a moment where he actually stood next to Obama because he really considered him as a hero.”

Van Breda’s wife, Nicolette Hoffmann, said: “He was a very special child. I was reading his journal and as early as 2011 he wanted to be an advocate. I do not know how I am going to manage because this child became mine.”