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Looking Back: Mandela Told NYC That Apartheid Was Doomed During 1990 Visit

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When Nelson Mandela visited New York City in 1990, the goal was to maintain sanctions on South Africa until apartheid was fully dismantled, and in turn, New Yorkers gave Mandela a hero's welcome unlike anything that the city has witnessed since. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.

Apartheid was on its deathbed when Nelson Mandela's plane touched down on American soil in June of 1990.

Back then, the 71-year-old South African freedom fighter greeted New York's first black mayor, David Dinkins, and told the assembled crowd of dignitaries that apartheid was doomed.

"Today, we can say with confidence that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Mandela said.

From there, Mandela and his then-wife, Winnie, embarked on a whirlwind four-borough tour that electrified New Yorkers. Hundreds of thousands of people jammed city streets to get a glimpse of a man who, just five months prior, had been freed after 27 years behind bars.

When his massive security detail pulled up to the field at Boys and Girls High School, Brooklyn erupted in cheers.

In Zula, Amandla means power, and it was used as a rallying cry by the African National Congress. As the Mandela-mobile made its way down the Canyon of Heroes for an unforgettable ticker-tape parade, shouts of "Amandla" could be heard along Broadway.

When Mandela reached City Hall to accept the key to the city, he thanked New Yorkers for keeping the pressure on the South African government.

"It is the dying apartheid system that is totally isolated," he said.

Although Mandela's visit left him physically exhausted, he still made his way uptown to Harlem, where he saluted African-American leaders who inspired him while he was in prison.

"Sojourner Truth. Paul Robeson. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King. Marcus Garvey. Fannie Lou Hamer. Adam Clayton Powell. Malcolm X," he said.

Winnie Mandela called Harlem the "Soweto of America" and was caught by surprise by a guest speaker: Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X.

Before Mandela left New York to visit seven other American cities, he stopped by Yankee Stadium for a rally and concert that showed his lighter side.

"I am a Yankee!" he told the crowd.

Four years after his triumphant New York City visit, Nelson Mandela became the first black president elected in South Africa's turbulent history. ClientIP:,, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP