Young has a heart for Africa

SA friend: Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and US ambassador to the UN was at a Joburg Tourism event with US political and business delegates. Picture: Thapelo Morebudi

“A friend to South Africa.”

Jimmy Carter’s former US ambassador to the UN can really call himself that. He’s always been that.

Since 40 years ago “even before you were born” he tells a BET Africa journalist part of a crew interviewing him at the Johannesburg Apartheid Museum at Gold Reef City.

He said so. It is true.

Even if one could assure the former mayor of Atlanta, his ’70’s visit to SA was at the height of the call for trade, cultural and academic boycotts of the anti apartheid movement call and him staying home would have been preferable.

But that’s yesterday’s news.

The fact of the matter is here is a workhorse and spirited pastor who walked side by side by Martin Luther King Jnr.

A legend in his own right and in the minds of many.

Jeff Radebe. Ela Gandhi and David Makhura all hosted him at his last of many visits. Felicia Mabuza-Suttle too. She followed him like a tick.

When she arrived back home as loudmouthed as most Americans who played to these parts post-Mandela early 1990s, Mabuza-Suttle was welcome cheese aping Oprah on her talkshow.

Now on repeat on SABC Encore I tell her we can reminisce on those bad old good old days.

“Call me at the Hyatt for an interview she says,” forgetting the invite later when I enquire.

Back to Young. He said it’s his last visit. He looks tired. It must be the travelling.

Young cuts a quiet figure.

As guest of Joburg Tourism, when he rises and announces it’s his last visit you can see fight in that old dog of struggle. We are here to celebrate him, the last of the giants.

This is honeymoon-land – where he married Carolyn after his four-decade wife Jean died.

Young is a formidable force and acknowledges biblically that even for us in these dark days of seeming political upheaval, even this will come to pass.

“We’ve been saying good things about South Africa and we made them to spend some money getting here,” he says of the dozens of Atlanta-based business and political leaders he brought here.

His foundation’s website had sent a call out for his fellow citizens to come to SA and spend here.

“Tourism is the best hope for Africa to attack poverty in this generation. Money from tourists goes directly into the hands of artisans, servers and workers throughout a country’s hospitality and travel industry,” he says on his website punting Durban, Sun City, Joburg and Cape Town.

Make no mistake, Young loves our country and will go all out to push US trade here and vice versa.

He loves doing this. As he loves working on his legacy at the age of 84 even if he may be, unwittingly, doing the work of Agoa (African Growth and Opportunity Act), creating fertile grounds for dumping.

Like China textiles crippled our clothing industry, Agoa could pluck the feathers of success from our local farmers supplanting them with cheap US imports.

Like with his naivete promoting Nike as an ambassador in sweatshop run nations in the east in the ’80s, I am not sure he understands the deeper ramifications or even whether they bother him.

Like Madiba he is no saint and has no pretences.

From February to August 2006, Wikipedia says of the pastor: “Young served as the public spokesperson for Working Families for Wal-Mart, an advocacy group for Wal-Mart. Young resigned from the position soon after a controversial interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, in which, when asked about Wal-Mart hurting independent businesses, he replied, ‘You see those are the people who have been overcharging us, and they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs’.”

He has a passion for people. Freedom. Black success. He is a connector.

He makes it his business to connect US business with the soul of our, once upon a time, miracle nation.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura who speaks glowingly of Young and Joburg Mayor Parks Tau as well as Jozi executive director for economic development Ravi Naidoo, who outlines the city’s plans to capitalise on US trade with Atlanta and the US, all love the man.

They see the importance of such a delegation out here hanging onto the sweet nostalgia of the Madiba age.

These are the men who take the job of Joburg Tourism seriously.

For indeed it is big business and we need the US to visit and to invest.

For when she sneezes here we can have the Gary Player hankies handy.

“I see just how the US was 50 years ago. We took a delegation to Germany. It was the ’80s and it was tough. We have now 2000 business connections in Germany.

“Right now everyone is taking to the world. So it is important to bring great economies together.

“Our mayor (their Kasim Reed was here) and yours (Parks Tau) are the same age group, they have the same burdens. We have a lot to learn also from SA. From each other.

“Your mayor told you 100 million travellers come through in a year at the Atlanta airport.

“What he did not say was each one pays $10 (R150) to go through our airport.

“With hard work and plans in place and collaboration we have changed the fortunes of Atlanta,” he said.

He said tourists felt at home here.

“Maya Angelou said there is nothing more important that you can do if you can’t make someone feel good about themselves. The markets that I see make me feel good. It makes my wife feel good. Especially the $25 (R367) dollar dress she gets me to buy which they admire back home.”

He called on locals to be patient, to be entrepreneurial and to work with the city and Joburg Tourism.

“Let me say it, ‘I’m going home’ I tell them when I leave US for SA. Yes there’s lies, damn lies and statistics that abound in the media, out there but what sells your country is the peoples’ spirit.

“What sells are the prayers of the archbishop Desmond Tutu of forgiveness, of reconciliation.

“Don’t be concerned about the negativity of today. In five years time there will be other challenges, opportunities.

“But now in the new South Africa, we must work together.

“So let us spend here.

“My wife said it’s time to go to the malls. It makes her happy. So let’s have some exchange of money so when you go back home and they’ll say ‘Daddy when are you going to take us to South Africa?’

“So I say today ‘let’s keep going’.”

“Hats off to comrades my age. There are not many left but there’s work to do.

“Atlanta is successful because we as blacks urged the communities into making a change.”

He’s brought Danny Glover, Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard here several times since freedom, celebrating our new democracy with us.

Now he speaks to our wallets, like Jesus’s fish urging us to pray them into multiplying.

With Uncle Sam down in Atlanta doing the same for the vibrant state why the heck not.

“I came here before you were born,” he tells Mr BET.

And indeed if it is the good pastor pointing us to the collection we must use the good tithe-ings for growth.

Aldrin Naidu