tribute raymond ackerman

Napoleon said that "leaders deal in hope" and no man in modern history has embodied more obviously the hopes and aspirations of humanity than Nelson Mandela. Having willingly sacrificed so much, so that he could offer his country's people the hope of liberty and a better life, he has served as a unique inspiration to millions - many of whom were unborn when he was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment for his unshakeable belief in the essential dignity of all South Africans and their inalienable right to political and economic freedom.

The South African business community still owes Mr Mandela a considerable debt for the foundations laid during his presidency. When he left office in 1999, his administration left behind not only an economic regime which had reinstituted fiscal discipline, reduced budget deficits and earned the plaudits of international bankers, but a political system characterised by institutional stability, democratic habits and the sovereignty of a globally admired constitution.

It is an environment in which commerce has been able to flourish and extend its international reach, in which labour law reform and economic transformation are incrementally transferring control of the economy from the hands of the few to those of an expanding and multiracial middle class.

Numerous businessmen will be familiar with Mr Mandela's unpublicised, but irresistible, appeals for financial support in his quest to build schools and clinics, particularly in the poorest and most deprived of our communities. These appeals were invariably met with enthusiasm, because they came from a man who, by the sheer force of his moral virtue, had captured the loyalty and affection of people both at home and abroad.

It is through initiatives such as these - as much as his political bequest - that his legacy of hope will endure. It is in the lives of those educated in his rural schools, treated at his remote clinics and touched by such projects as the 46664 campaigns, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, that his contribution will be remembered.

And who can forget that night in April 1993 after the assassination of Chris Hani, when Mr Mandela addressed the nation on the SABC, saying: "Tonight, I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being." His appeal that evening for calm and discipline in the face of unprecedented right-wing provocation almost certainly headed off violent retaliation and the collapse of negotiations at the World Trade Centre. Never had his role been more critical or his intervention more decisive.

Like so many others who have been enriched by their encounters with Madiba, I am grateful to have lived in an era when hope became tangible and the vision of a great South Africa became real.