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The East London gift that symbolised a nation's love and gratitude

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Nelson Mandela holds up the keys to his new Mercedes-Benz, a gift from the workers of the MBSA plant in East London, who worked extra, unpaid shifts, to assemble the vehicle.

On 22 July 1990 - just five months after his release from prison - Nelson Mandela travelled to Mdantsane in Buffalo City to accept an extraordinary gift: a custom-made red 500SE Mercedes-Benz.

The distinct red Mercedes - nicknamed Madiba's Merc - was built especially for him by the workers of MBSA's East London plant, as a symbol of love, gratitude and respect.

Plant employees had worked extra, unpaid shifts over a period of four days to assemble the vehicle.

"We made more than a car for Nelson Mandela. We made a symbol of pride and togetherness honoured to this day."

The bright red "Madiba's Merc" today resides in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

The bright red 500SE - which today resides in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg - featured a South African flag and Mandela’s name, along with a personalized license plate reading “999 NRM” GP (NRM for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela).

Mandela took receipt of the vehicle from company worker Phillip Groom at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium.

"On that special day," Madiba reflected later, "the workers of this company made a tremendous gesture when they presented me with a new Mercedes Benz they had built in their own time.

"That was convincing evidence that in South Africa, there are many who are willing to work together and make sacrifices to build our nation. But it was also a sign that at Mercedes Benz, workers and management had a common commitment to the democratic South Africa that was yet to come.

"It was a day that I often remember with fondness." - Nelson Mandela, 25 November, 1998

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