Address by President Nelson Mandela to boards of Anglo-American and De Beers on retirement of Harry Oppenheimer, Johannesburg

13 December 1994

Mr Harry Openheimer
Ladies and Gentlemen

I feel deeply honoured and privileged to share with such distinguished leaders of our business community, this moment at which you bid farewell to your chairman, Harry Oppenheimer.

It is given to few people to direct the affairs of a major corporation for six decades. When the company is one which comprises not only a substantial part of a country's economy, but is seized with the management of an industry that has been the foundation of its economic development, then such a record is rare. When, in addition, the period has been on of such dramatic social and political change as we have seen, then we are in the presence of something quite unique.

You have had a leader, if I may use that word, who has left his imprint not only on the business of your companies, but on our country's affairs. In doing both he has earned respect in this country and internationally.

For most of those six decades, leaders of business kept a distance from the political affairs of our country. That division was one which your chairman did not accept, either for himself or for the company. It is common knowledge that we have not always seen eye to eye with you on many issues. But we do remember that it was from this quarter that there came the vanguard of those from within the establishment who defied the prohibitions of the apartheid regime. They reached across the divide in order to seek out the ANC, and by doing so, helped open the way for the transition on which we have embarked as a nation.

The impact of the mining industry and of Anglo-American in particular, on our national life, is measured in the number of ANC leaders for whom it was the crucible that formed them, such as JB Marks, Cyril Ramaphosa and Elijah Barayi.

The company has helped set the pace towards the building of good industrial relations in the mining industry in recent years. This is reflected in the extent to which negotiations in recent years have been concluded without strikes and the widening scope of agreements to include health and safety, education and training.

However, for all the progress that has been made, these steps are part of a long process of transformation which has only just begun. The dazzling achievements of the mining industry and of your great corporations were bound up with a profoundly unjust labour system. The problems it has bequeathed us are deeply rooted and will required commitment and dedication to eradicate. The co-operation of business and mining houses will be crucial.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

We hope that you will address the challenges that South Africa faces today with a similar courage to that which Harry Oppenheimer has shown over the years. These new problems include, centrally, the need to uplift the lives of the great majority of South Africans, the need for confidence in the economy and more productive investment, as well as to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth and economic power.

To you, Sir,

Retirement is a moment tinged with sadness for what is left behind. But it is also a moment of release and personal freedom, all the more so when you can rest assured that you have left the company with the strength, the continuity and the vision to meet the challenges which our mining industry faces, both in our country and internationally.

Perhaps for the rest of us it should be a moment of celebration that, releases from the responsibilities for your company, you will be even more of an asset to the nation.

Source: South African Government Information Website