Nelson Mandela is probably one of, if not the most important public figure in South Africa. An incredible man that has accomplished many incredible things.
There are many stories about Mandela’s release in 1990, some more famous than others, and this story definitely grabbed our attention:
In 1990, as the release of Mandela is cultivating, a Mercedes-Benz plant in East London then comes up with an idea to gift Madiba with a brand new, top of the range Mercedes-Benz.
Fast forward to Madiba’s ultimate release, and the plan to honour this incredible man springs into action.
The workers and bosses of the Mercedes plant built an exceptional car for Madiba in their spare time and for no pay. With the extra hours put in, they assemble the car quickly – in just 4 days.
Some might think that it is strange that a luxury brand such as Mercedes would associate themselves with someone like Mandela so soon after his release, while apartheid culture is still running rampant through the country.
However, this is not the first time Mercedes-Benz South Africa has supported a controversial cause. During the late 1980‘s, the company became the first local automotive company to formally recognise a black labour organisation.
This union was NUMSA – the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
Because of the support from Mercedes, NUMSA then decides to ask them in creating a beautiful, luxury gift to give Mandela upon his release. And so, Madiba gets his wonderful, top of the range, red Mercedes-Benz S500.
Gallery: An iconic car for an iconic man –
Madiba’s car was beautiful. A W126 model of the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. It is not defiitely know whether his car was fitted with a V8 or straight-6, but considering all the effort and care they put into this car, it would have probably been a V8 in either a 5.0 liter or 5.6.
Madiba’s wheels was something quite spectacular and unique to him. The chassis was inscribed with the South African flag and his name. It is also said that Madiba’s car left the factory “blemish free” and that this was the absolute best S Class ever built by the East London Plant.
The iconic car was eventually presented to Mandela on July 22nd, 1990 at the Sisa dukasha stadium in Mdantsane near East London.
A Mr. Philip Groom, who is still a Mercedes-Benz employee, recalls how he was asked to hand over the keys to Madiba. Understandably, he was extremely nervous having to hand over the keys to an icon such as Madiba in front of 30 000 people and even asked his father to help with his speech.
Naturally, the former president was humbled and thus a friendship sparked between Mercedes-Benz South Africa and Madiba.
Years later, in 1998, Daimler Chrysler AG chairman, Professor Jurgen Shrempp, announced that they would be investing a whopping one billion rand into the plant in East London – the day he announced this, Mandela was standing right beside him.
At this same ceremony, Madiba was given a brand new S Class and his old, iconic red S500 was retired.
Luckily for us, Madiba’s iconic red Merc is now on display at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. It is now registered with a personalised number plate reading: 999 NRM GP – NRM obviously being Madiba’s initials, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
With all the famous stories about Madiba, his struggle and release and term as president of South Africa, it is always nice to find out something like this. Maybe less news worthy, but definitely heart warming!