When We Dance is a fascinating account of the life of a woman who played a major role in South Africa’s journey from apartheid to democracy, and went on to become South African ambassador to Ireland. The book takes the reader on a remarkable journey through Melanie’s life, from her upbringing in South Africa’s Afrikaner heartland, to her involvement with the ANC, & her work in Ireland as South African ambassador and head of UNICEF Ireland. She also writes movingly about her relationship with the late RTÉ presenter Gerry Ryan. Astonishingly and refreshingly honest, When We Dance is a heart-felt and often humorous memoir.
Despite growing up in apartheid South Africa – and marrying the grandson of the man known as the “architect of apartheid”, Melanie Fourie knew a society predicated on racial segregation was wrong. Following a stay in Europe, and fuelled by a meeting with newly-freed Nelson Mandela, Wilhelm and Melanie Verwoerd’s journey of discovery set them against their own families, earned them the hatred of thousands of white South Africans – and frequently threatened to cost them their lives.
As the youngest female MP in the 1994 parliament, she watched Mandela be sworn into office in the very building in which her husband’s grandfather had been assassinated, and then set about combining the onerous duties of running a huge constituency with helping to write the SA constitution. Melanie served seven years in the South African parliament before becoming the country’s ambassador to Ireland. After four years she was appointed as the executive director of UNICEF Ireland, where she worked with high-profile friends, such as Liam Neeson and Vanessa Redgrave to raise the profile of the organisation and to fight the cause of the marginalised in the developing world.
Three years after separating from Wilhelm Melanie became the partner of the very popular media personality, Gerry Ryan. They kept a low profile and despite the Irish public’s fascination with the couple, were only occasionally seen out in public. In 2010 the sudden death of Gerry was the beginning of a traumatic process of mourning for Melanie, made so much more difficult by the unprecedented public and media interest in their relationship. In When We Dance, Melanie writes candidly about all aspects of her life including her struggle since Gerry’s death and her high-profile expulsion from UNICEF Ireland, and is a powerful, and often uplifting, story of one woman’s determinism and astonishing bravery.