PRETORIA, South Africa — Ford Motor Company wishes to express its sincere condolences to the Mandela family, and the nation of South Africa, on this sad occasion. No matter how much we think we have prepared for the death of a hero, we can never be prepared for how deep such a loss is felt.
People all around the world were inspired by the integrity and humanity Nelson Mandela exemplified. He was a beacon of hope and an icon of democracy, whose name will forever be synonymous with compassion, peace and justice.
Born in 1918 to a royal tribal family in the Transkei region of South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, Mandela grew up to become one of the greatest freedom fighters the modern world has ever known. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa while working as a clerk at a Johannesburg law firm and went on to study law at the University of Witwatersrand. He later established a firm with African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver Tambo that specialised in representing poor blacks who struggled under the apartheid system.
The electoral victory in 1948 of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party, which promoted apartheid, fueled Mandela’s passion for political activism. He was arrested in 1956 and charged with treason, and eventually acquitted. In 1961, frustrated with the mounting repression and state-sponsored violence against non-violent activists calling for an end to apartheid, Mandela founded the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).
South African authorities arrested Mandela in 1962. He remained incarcerated for 27 years, becoming a world-wide symbol for the anti-apartheid movement. He was finally released on February 11, 1990. Mandela went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
Shortly after being set free, Mandela embarked on an eight-city tour of the U.S. to consolidate support for the anti-apartheid movement. It was a historic day for the city of Detroit when the South African hero addressed workers at Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant, and later a public gathering at Tiger Stadium.
“You are the men and women who are responsible for the health of the economy of this country. It is you who have made the United States of America a super power,” Mandela told the autoworkers on June 28, 1990. “We thank you for your generosity to receive us. As we head back to Africa, we know we have the full support of the workers of this country. Remember that we admire you, we respect you, and above all, we love you.”
Workers at the plant on that historic June day were moved by Mandela’s strength and presence. "I was so thrilled to see him, I realized I was crying," said Plant Supervisor Willy James.
Mandela, a hero to many, a legend that will live within the hearts of the nation forever. "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended." Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom.
Rest in peace Madiba!