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When great minds meet

- Wits University

Professor David Block accompanied Stephen Hawking to meet former President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

When Professor Stephen Hawking, considered one of the greatest minds in living memory and who died this week at the age of 76, visited South Africa in 2008 to launch the Next Einstein initiative he was accompanied by Wits Professor David Block.

Block, a renowned astronomer, still remembers that day clearly when he and Hawking met with former President Nelson Mandela and former minister of foreign affairs, Pik Botha. He also remembers the live television interview during which Hawking asked Block three questions:

Question 1: Why are we here?

Question 2: Where do we come from?

Question 3: Where are we going?

These questions have remained the central during Hawking’s remarkable career as a theoretical physicist.

Professor Stephen Hawking meeting with former President Nelson Mandela, former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha, and Professor David Block from Wits University in 2008. © Nelson Mandela Foundation

“The legendary Stephen Hawking was a gentle man and undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of all time. His intellectual genius surpassed it all,” Block said this week from Norway.

He added that he was touched by Hawking’s humanity, genius, and foresight. “He was a unique man. He resounds with the everlasting legacy to never, never give up. He never did give up. Despite the most severe of medical challenges he never gave up. I found him to be so warm, so welcoming.”

Block said Hawking was “the greatest mind to have lived since the epoch of Albert Einstein”.

Read more about this visit on the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s website: