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Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 8:49:06 AM
by meng yew choong
Historical moment: (from left) Mandela, Dr Mahathir and Dr Ling waving to the audience during Mandela’s visit to Malaysia in 1990.
TAN Sri Lim Kok Wing first met Nelson Mandela in 1993, when he requested for Malaysia’s help to prepare the African National Congress for South Africa’s first free elections.
It was then three years after Mandela had been freed from 27 years of imprisonment for championing equality in white-minority ruled South Africa.
Diplomatic relations between South Africa and Malaysia were starting to warm up after decades of chill due to Malaysia’s stern anti-apartheid stance, especially during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership.
Upon his release, Mandela assumed the leadership of the ANC, and approached Dr Mahathir for assistance.
Mandela’s request was an enormous one – to provide voter education in a country where nearly 18 million out of the 20 million citizens would cast their ballots for the first time.
And about half of the 18 million were illiterate. The ANC needed to set up facilities, train and educate workers and volunteers.
The party needed to access remote parts of the country and to establish offices nationwide. Although the exercise was aimed at educating South Africans about the importance of voting, it was in reality a means to do much more.
The premier recommended Lim, one of Malaysia’s foremost branding and communications guru, for the task.
“When I first arrived in South Africa, I was struck by the stark contrast of the palatial homes of the whites and the dilapidated shacks of the blacks in the shanty towns. I felt a little of the burden that faced Mandela and ANC,” wrote Lim in his personal account of his work for ANC in a chapter titled South Africa’s First Democratic Elections – A Process of Social Engineering.
The election was about closing ranks, building unity, bringing peace, and removing hostility.
“It was to me a celebration of democratic freedom. To the ANC, it was about managing its success and its ability to squeeze years of experience into a few short months as the party got ready to contest for the right to rule,” Lim told The Star.
Lim literally camped out in Johannesburg for six months for the project.
Peace and reconciliation became the bedrock of ANC communications in post-apartheid South Africa, in spite of the party’s militant past that included armed struggle and economic sabotage.
ANC campaign went with the slogan “A Better Life for All”, a modification of Lim’s proposal of “A Better Future for All”.
Naturally, ANC was grateful to Lim when it won the 1994 elections.
Mandela personally wrote a letter of thanks to Lim, in which he said: “It is with great pleasure and deep gratitude that I write to thank you and your team for the tremendous contribution you have given to our election campaign. Your untiring efforts on our behalf have touched the hearts of us all and you have shown true friendship and solidarity with the people of South Africa in our endeavour to transform South Africa into a free, just and democratic country.
“The size and magnitude of your contribution will have a very meaningful impact on the outcome of the election and, on behalf of the people of South Africa, I thank you.”
For Lim, Mandela will always remain a symbol of peace and the epitome of peace and reconciliation.
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