The following is an article by columnist Jack Newfield wrote on my work shortly after Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the United States.  Mandela had been released from prison in February 1990 and urged that sanctions be retained.  It was not until September 1993 that Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) called for the lifting of sanctions.


Richard Knight


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U.S. Brigade Aids Mandela's Fight

By Jack Newfield


Daily News, Monday, July 2, 1990


When Nelson Mandela was in New York, local politicians trampled each other like rock groupies to get into the same camera angle as the great man who didn't know their name.

Politicians known for their poise and perspective embarrassed themselves trying to grab 30 seconds of glory reflected from Mandela's sun.

But there was one group of people that Mandela asked to see - about 100 veteran organizers in America's anti-apartheid movement.  With his health fragile and time limited, Mandela had to cancel several events, but he insisted on keeping his appointment to say, “Above all, we love you” to the American grunts in his African revolution.

They were the people who kept the pressure on all the years he was in prison.

One of the activists invited to meet Mandela at Community Church was Richard Knight, the corporate research director of the Africa Fund. Knight, 40, has been working in the anti-apartheid movement for 15 years.  He started out organizing against Portuguese colonialism in Angola while he was still at Ithaca College.

Knight (who is white) has been to Africa several times and lives on a $20,000 salary in a rent stabilized apartment.  He dared not dream he would find his life's work vindicated by Mandela personally.

Last week I visited Knight in his tiny cubicle at 198 Broadway.  His desk was invisible under a mountain of annual reports, proxy statements, SEC disclosure forms, financial newsletters and South African newspapers.  They all contain facts, which are bullets for Richard Knight.

Nelson Mandela has entered a realm of amazing grace and glitter that is hard to comprehend.  But it is the research and lobbying of Knight - and many like him - that is going to write the next chapter in the epic history of apartheid's annulment.

Knight is now organizing for the retention of economic sanctions against South Africa until there is one-person one-vote, instead of white supremacy and minority rule.  The lifting of the state of emergency in Natal, or the release of more political prisoners, is not sufficient.

Sanctions are Nelson Mandela's biggest chip in the end-game negotiations in Pretoria.  Twelve European countries and Canada have announced they will retain sanctions, but President Bush is undecided.

President F.W. de Klerk wants some kind of weighted voting, while Mandela said in New York: “The whole issue is one-person, one-vote.  This is the issue people paid for with their lives. It is an issue over which there can be no compromise.

There is little doubt that sanctions and corporate divestment have been an effective tactic. South Africa's economy has felt global economic pressure ever since America's banks refused to roll over Pretoria's loans in 1985.  In 1986 Congress passed the Anti-Apartheid Act which prohibited new investment and banned the importation of South African goods.

Sanctions and divestment did cause black unemployment to rise in South Africa but the ANC and black labor unions said they would endure this short-term pain for a longer term gain.  That was a stoic signal to the world how much blacks inside South Africa desired external economic sanctions.

One are Knight wants to focus on now is the fact that the New York State pension fund of $40 billion has failed to join the divestment movement.  The pension funds of 26 states have divested, including Arkansas, North Dakota and Virginia. But, Knight says, state Comptroller Edward Regan - the sold trustee of New York's vast pension system - “has consistently opposed the objectives of America's anti-apartheid movement.”

Knight also intends to increase the pressure on Sen. Alfonse D'Amato: “This guy used his influence in the Senate to block increased sanctions,” he says.  “We've had protests outside his office.  He doesn't even make pabulum speeches like other Republicans.  I would urge News readers to write him, asking him to change his position on sanctions.”

On the corporate front, Knight is targeting IBM. He says:

“Every computer company in the world has officially denied they do business in South Africa.  But we know the South African police and military have the most sophisticated computers available.  Our research shows that IBM is one of the biggest suppliers of computers to South Africa.  They do it through a former subsidiary in ad indirect way.”

Nelson Mandela is too cosmic a figure to be confined to one week on the Hype Machine between Marla Maples and the Zodiac killer.

The meaning of his life, and the redemption of his suffering, will be determined by thousands of Richard Knights all over the world.






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