Address by Nelson Mandela at dinner at Annual Conference of the Black Management Forum

October 2002

It is a great privilege to be present at this awards dinner marking the end of the annual conference of the Black Management Forum.

And it is a singular honour to receive the tribute the Black Management Forum saw fit to pay to us. We are not sure that we deserve all the praises that are heaped on us, but we are greatly moved and humbled by this very generous gesture.

We note that the main theme of your conference revolved around issues of leadership in business and in politics, and more specifically on the transformational role that leadership plays in changing society.

That is a very fitting theme for an organisation like yours. The quality of change in our society will greatly depend upon the quality of leadership that is exercised in the various sectors and activities of our communities, organisations and public life.

Our country made one of those pieces of history that will certainly be remembered as an outstanding achievement of the twentieth century when we managed a peaceful transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy. We astounded the world and confounded the prophets of doom when we averted the widely predicted racial bloodbath and civil war.

The world rejoiced with us because apartheid racism was universally experienced as an assault on the dignity of all humankind. Our achievement of a non-racial democracy in which all South Africans enjoyed equality and equal dignity sent a message of hope to a late twentieth century that was overcome by despair at the general state of the world.

Our achievement was widely hailed as a miracle and we as a miracle nation.

On the 27th of April 1994 the people of South Africa - black and white, rich and poor, young and old, men and women - came out in their multitudes to give spectacular assent to that miracle of a united non-racial society.

All of that would not have occurred without firm and visionary leadership. The leaders of the liberation movement had the vision and commitment to put rational considerations above the emotional impulses that would have us refuse to talk to the enemy. And they had the courage to give leadership even in the face of expected opposition to that position.

And while the achievement of non-racial democracy was principally due to the efforts of the liberation movement, the peaceful transition could not have been achieved without the commitment and co-operation of leaders like former President F W de Klerk and others. Again it was the quality of leadership that was decisive in laying the grounds for a national achievement by the people of South Africa.

You, the leadership in the area of management, have a great responsibility to make our nation live up to that miracle status it achieved. And I wish to put a special challenge to you in the arena of transformation.

Although we have achieved a non-racial democratic political order, with one of the most progressive democratic institutions in the world, our society is still marked by great inequalities. Those have to be tackled and addressed as one of our priority national challenges. We see an organisation like the Black Management Forum playing an important role in that regard.

The special challenge I want to put to you as an important corps of leadership in society, is to assertively work for black advancement as a measure of overcoming historical inequalities but clearly in a manner that advances the building of a united and non-racial society.

Our struggle had been one against racism, racist structures, racial discrimination and exploitation; never against White people. It is for that reason that we could say in our speech from the dock that we had fought against white domination and against black domination.

As we lead the transformation of our country making sure that black people take their rightful places as full participants in all sectors and at all levels of society, the guiding principle should be clearly seen and heard that we are building a non-racial society.

Similarly, we must give leadership in manner that ensures that the benefits of the advances we make do not remain only at the level of the privileged and the well off. Addressing inequality is not only a matter of racial demographics, important as that is given our history; it is also about poor and vulnerable sectors of our society directly benefiting through an improvement in the quality of their lives.

We are confident that the talent of leadership assembled in an organisation such as the Black Management Forum will be equal to the task of meeting those challenges.

You have chosen to pay tribute to us as an example of leadership. I want to conclude by pointing you to one of the most outstanding examples of leadership there can be anywhere.

We ourselves had been President of the country and of our organisation, a member of Parliament, the recipient of numerous prizes and awards from all corners of the world, including the Nobel Prize as well as its Spanish equivalent.

But I speak of a person who had not received any of those awards and prizes and did not hold any of those positions; yet his comrades and his people revere him as one of the greatest leaders.

That man is Walter Sisulu. And what is it that makes him such a great leader? His simplicity, his humility, his sincere respect for other human beings.

He never sought positions, recognition or acknowledgement. He was always the one to guide others into positions. To him the cause for which he worked was supreme over all other considerations of personal gain or advancement.

That is the quality of leadership that I can commend to you.

I thank you

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation