“Business councils in South Africa decided to bring together black and white businesses to celebrate the foundation that Mandela laid during his years of being president of this country,” Christo Van Der Rheede, President of the Afrikaanse HandelsInstitut (AHI), told CNBC Africa in an interview.
This follows after the Black Business Council, Business Unity South Africa and the Afrikaanse Handelsinstitut (AHI) held a joint memorial service at the Bryanston Methodist Church on Wednesday in Mandela's honour.
AHI is an inclusive Afrikaans organisation founded in 1942 that promotes and drives the South African business community
Van Der Rheede stated that it was an opportunity for businesses to go back to basics and remember what Mandela’s legacy was all about.
“I think the death of Mandela really brought us back to basics to say but what was his legacy all about? His legacy was about social cohesion, caring about each other and building an inclusive economy within an open free market system,” he said.
He added that Mandela has laid a sound economic base which opened South Africa’s economy to the world and that local businessmen today are reaping the benefits.
“He [Mandela] laid a very sound economic base and today we reap the benefits. Yes, it’s not perfect and we’re going through hard times but I think he opened up the economy to the world and the majority of this country’s business people are beneficiaries of that,” said Van Der Rheede.
While the majority of the African National Congress (ANC) members’ focus was on political organisation, Van Der Rheede believes that Mandela realised the importance of economic organisation to boost the country’s economy.
As a result, he joined forces between government and organisations such as the AHI due to their high level of economic organisation.
“When the ANC came into power, there was a huge focus on political organisation and rightly so because we wanted to taste the fruits of freedom and we neglected economic organisation. Today, we cry out loud that we want economic freedom. What we don’t understand is that economic freedom can only come about through economic organisation,” he explained.
“Mandela, a highly intelligent man realised that he needed to draw in organisations like the AHI, like the Afrikaans speaking community where there was a high level of economic organisation to boost the economy of this country.”
The AHI and government worked on various projects together during Mandela’s presidency such as the construction of schools and hospitals in the Eastern Cape as well as providing financial expertise to several municipalities.
“Mandela had great appreciation for organisations like the AHI, especially the level of economic organisation, that they entrenched during the 70 years of existence,” added Van Der Rheede.
“He said to the AHI, keep us accountable, we as a government are not above the people, we are by the people for the people. We are not here to enrich ourselves and up to today, the AHI continues with that legacy of forging relationships with the government.”
On the other hand, Van Der Rheede believes that business, government and the community still remain widely fragmented and that the country needs to look beyond race for integration to take place.
“I think we really became a really fragmented society very quickly and I’m quite worried about that,” he added.
“We must forget about being white and black in South Africa. We need to move beyond the point of colour, we must become one with a united South Africa and be part of Africa.”