Nelson Mandela: A Global Hero Goes to Glory

Earl G. Graves, Sr., the Founder and Publisher of BlackEnterprise talks the legacy of Mandela

On his first meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela: "The new South Africa needs us. To be specific, if a truly, multiracial state will grow out of apartheid’s ashes, it needs contributions of African American skills and financial resources. That was the message President Mandela delivered to a gathering of prominent black American business and political leaders when he visited BLACK ENTERPRISE’s offices less than two years after he gained his freedom. Black America has created, sustained and grown its own businesses and sent executives to the nation’s largest corporations. South Africa needs this knowledge."

On Dec. 4, 1991, less than two years after his release from 27 years of imprisonment, black South African hero Nelson Mandela visited the New York headquarters of Black Enterprise. His purpose: to meet with America’s most powerful African American business executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, including the founders of multimillion-dollar companies, as well as bankers, investors, lawyers, and corporate professionals. His mission: remaking an economy for a new South Africa.

“We asked for this meeting because of our desire to learn the principles and strategies of economic empowerment for blacks in our country,” Mandela said as he addressed us in the executive boardroom of BE, flanked by New York Mayor David N. Dinkins and me. “Until we have a very strong business class, it is going to be difficult for us to make real progress.”

By now, we all knew that Mandela had the intellect, influence, sheer determination, and faith to move mountains. He’d demonstrated that on a global, supernatural scale as an iconic symbol and inspiration of the worldwide movement to bring down South Africa’s racist apartheid regime, a system of oppression and exploitation that had been in place for centuries. Attempts to bury and destroy Mandela, beginning with his imprisonment in 1964, only amounted to his resurrection, with unstoppable power and irresistible moral authority.

On this particular visit, Mandela was focused on nothing less than completing the transformation of the country he loved and sacrificed his entire life for. He knew that economic opportunity for black South Africans, not just political enfranchisement, was necessary for real, lasting progress–mirroring the raison d’être of be. Within three years of visiting our offices, Mandela was elected president in the first democratic election in South African history, and I was recruited to serve as a catalyst in bringing the first multinational business enterprise into the new South Africa–a $100 million Pepsi-Cola franchise, of which black men and women were the primary owners and operators.

In so many ways, the triumph of Mandela was and remains a victory for all of us as African Americans and, indeed, anyone in the world yearning for justice and freedom from racism and oppression, as evidenced by Mandela being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the man he would succeed as South Africa’s head of state, F.W. de Klerk. Yes, thanks to his resolute commitment to reconciliation, not retaliation, Mandela even won the cooperation of his jailers in order to rebuild his beloved country. In so doing, he set a new standard for what was achievable by people of conscience in a just democracy–an example that both helped to inspire and was echoed by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, just 14 years after Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela left this mortal plane on Dec. 5, 2013, 22 years almost to the day after he met with black American business leaders in his quest to lay the economic framework for a new South Africa. Our deep mourning at his passing continues but, thank God, cannot last, just as 27 years of prison could neither contain nor diminish Mandela’s devotion to his cause. Even now our grief is being overwhelmed by the joyful power of his life and legacy. Indeed, Mandela’s global inspiration and wise countenance will shine through all eternity. Our hero has gone to glory, glory much deserved.

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  • Will Gibson


    Did you know Formula One drivers and car manufacturers also fought to free Nelson Mandela? As I wrote in my novel LOLA & THE WORLD OF BUDDY SHORTT, facts that are historically true: “At first FISA (the drivers) was for boycotting South Africa completely in that year’s scheduling, but FOCA (the car manufacturers) opposed the ban. Wanting to avoid a split, the two organizations reached a compromise whereby
    the 15-race schedule would open as planned in South Africa, but that race would
    not counted in championship scoring. Under the compromise, the official season
    opened in Holland, but standing on principle Paul—one of the fictive heroes in
    my story—and his team elected to skip the South African race entirely.

    Paul, a team owner, saw Nelson Mandela as one of the great moral leaders of his time. Being a member of both organizations, Paul led the fight to free Nelson Mandela. It wasn’t easy getting a bunch of motor jocks excited about racism. But the drivers listened to him when he argued that the best way to end apartheid was to isolate the
    Pretoria government in the eyes of the world. The men listened him when he
    talked about “fairness,” which appealed to their code of honor It was
    amazing how Paul was able to get so many of those tough, devil-may-care white
    guys to agree with him about the boycott. It was a proud moment for Formula 1
    auto racing.

    –Will Gibson, Novelist


  • Juggling For A Cure

    Fitting that Mandela’s coffin was covered with leopard skin. He was like a leopard when fighting for human rights: graceful and powerful.

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