Nelson Mandela is a true hero, but who brought about the changes in attitude and policy that led to Mandela’s release from prison, and who convinced the whites of South Africa to allow the blacks freedoms and the vote, and who worked hard at preparing the blacks for peaceful coexistence and self-government? All this was done primarily by Edward J. Perkins, U.S. ambassador to South Africa from late 1986 to late 1989. He was sent there to be an agent of change. He was very tall and very black and convinced that peace was possible if only the white and black people would talk to each other.
He staffed his offices with talented people of all colors and sexes and instructed them, “Everyone has to act as a change agent.” With his mixed staff, he traveled to meet as many leaders as possible of both colors and all factions, listening to their concerns and goals. He only patronized restaurants and other businesses that would accept his mixed staff. Many changed their policy, and U.S. businesses there integrated their employees. Perkins told the powerful they would soon have to change. The whole world was watching and condemning them for their apartheid policy. In early 1989, hard-line President P.W. Botha had a stroke, was deposed, and was replaced with moderate F.W. de Klerk, who in 1990 freed Nelson Mandela and ended the policy of apartheid, effecting change without war. Edward Perkins prepared the way.