The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and then-South African President Nelson Mandela met on this day in Johannesburg in 1996, which was barraged with criticism. The short meeting was an exchange of ideas between the gentlemen, with Mandela briefing Farrakhan on the political and social machinations of his country.
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Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), a religious movement that combines Islam with Black nationalism in America. The NOI is often referred to as the “Black Muslims” of America and has been a constant presence in many large urban areas in the States.
Born Louis Walcott on May 11, 1933, Farrakhan came to the Nation of Islam in the 1950s under the tutelage of late-leader the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Farrakhan, now 81, has been attacked in the media for perceived antisemitism and other controversial stances since he’s led the Nation.
In the days ahead of the meeting, Jewish publications and news outlets worldwide questioned Farrakhan’s intentions of meeting with Mandela. In October 1995, Farrakhan successfully organized the Million Man March event in Washington, D.C. (pictured); however, Farrakhan’s sharp critique of Jewish people and Whites in general did not lend him favor with the press. Farrakhan, according to press at the time, was in South Africa as part of a tour across several African nations.
In their meeting, Mandela reportedly “briefed” Farrakhan on three core principles: non-racialism, non-sexism, and religious tolerance. According to the Chicago Tribune, the briefing was more like a lecture on Mandela’s policies, with Farrakhan — for all of the sensationalism surrounding his visit — appearing to accept what was shared.
The pair met for about 30 minutes at Mandela’s home, posing for photo opportunities at the conclusion of their meeting.
Shortly after Mandela’s passing in December 2013, Farrakhan issued a statement of condolences for the leader, saying:
“Why do we honor the birthday of Nelson Mandela?” asked Minister Farrakhan. “To have your birthday honored by people all over the world is saying something about not your birth but your life that makes your birth significant,” he added.
“My teacher the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us that whenever the people are longing for change, nature will produce one from the womb of a woman who is committed and dedicated to service to bring about that change,” said the Minister. “Nelson Mandela is not an ordinary man. He’s an extraordinary human being who in his life weathered many storms.”