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Former Cummins executive recalls time with Mandela


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Submitted photo / Former Cummins Vice President and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James Joseph, right, shakes hands with Nelson Mandela, as Joseph's wife, Mary Braxton-Joseph, looks on. This photo was taken the day Ambassador Joseph presented his credentials to Mandela, Feb. 27, 1996, at Tuynhuys, the Cape Town Office of the President of South Africa.
Submitted photo / Former Cummins Vice President and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James Joseph, right, shakes hands with Nelson Mandela, as Joseph's wife, Mary Braxton-Joseph, looks on. This photo was taken the day Ambassador Joseph presented his credentials to Mandela, Feb. 27, 1996, at Tuynhuys, the Cape Town Office of the President of South Africa.


Nelson Mandela stood behind the metal bars in the small cell on Robben Island where white South African racial segregationists had imprisoned him. There, he told former Cummins executive James Joseph he wanted people to remember the potential of the human spirit.

“It was awesome in many ways,” Joseph said by phone Friday, the day after the Nobel laureate, former anti-Apartheid revolutionary and South Africa’s first black president died at the age of 95.

At the very site where racial segregationists locked him away for 18 of his 27 years in prison to try to quash his spirit, Mandela displayed the indomitability for which he has been revered across the globe.

“Mandela’s passing marks the end of an era,” said Joseph, who served as a vice president for Cummins in the early 1970s. “He was one of the greatest, not just icons, but leaders of the 21st century.”

“There were political leaders who were good. There were moral leaders who were good. He was both,” Joseph said. “His spirit and his contributions will survive in South Africa and around the world for a very long time.”

Joseph traveled to South Africa in the mid-1970s as part of a U.S. delegation that had been invited by a South African nonprofit organization to get an up-close look at the country’s conditions.

About James Joseph

Who: Former executive with Cummins Inc. in the 1970s.

Other roles/jobs:

  • Ordained Church of Christ minister.
  • Named U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.
  • Former professor of the practice of public policy studies at Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University.
  • Now professor emeritus at Duke University.

Cummins Chairman J. Irwin Miller and Chief Executive Officer Henry Schacht asked Joseph at the time to spend a little more time in the country to investigate whether Cummins could operate in South Africa and still hold true to its values of equality for all.

Joseph interviewed business leaders, journalists, government officials and activists and recommended that Cummins refrain from investing in South Africa.

“Cummins was a values-driven company, and my feeling was … that would be a violation of our values,” Joseph said.

Miller and Schacht agreed, and declined the invitation to produce an engine in South Africa.

The decision reflected the leaders’ philosophy that Cummins should do what is right, Joseph said, but they also thought it was good for business.

While in the short term the company would miss out on a business opportunity, Joseph said Miller, Schacht and he felt that in the long run, taking a public stance against apartheid also would benefit the company’s bottom line.

Joseph, an ordained minister, said that as a result of his experiences on that trip, he began to get active in the anti-apartheid movement, which ultimately brought him to the attention of President Bill Clinton, under whom Joseph became the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 1995.

Joseph, now a professor emeritus at Duke University, in 1999 was awarded the Order of Good Hope, the highest honor with which the Republic of South Africa recognizes citizens of another country.

Meanwhile, former Cummins President Joe Loughrey said Friday that although he never met Mandela, the South African leader “had a huge influence on the path I took in life.”

In the late 1960s, while at University of Notre Dame, Loughrey participated in a program for nonviolence, which originated during the Vietnam War, and studied figures including Mandela and Gandhi, who were trying to effect change through civil disobedience — rather than violence.

For his thesis, Loughrey wrote about the evolution of black economic attitudes in South Africa. While doing research in libraries, Loughrey said he read a lot about official reports from the South African government, but also from sources within South African political parties, including the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress.

After obtaining a bachelor’s in economics and African studies, Loughrey joined AIESEC, an international nonprofit that provides leadership training and internship opportunities for students around the world. That organization was considering expelling its South African chapter unless it provided opportunities for non-white South African students. The South Africans told AIESEC that they would provide opportunities if the international organization could find internship spots and raise funds to pay the non-white South Africans’ expenses.

In 1972, Loughrey was part of a team that looked for internship spots and raised funds. One of the companies he approached was Cummins, which provided two internships, while the Cummins Foundation came up with some funding.

Loughrey joined the company shortly thereafter, and the two South African interns spent a year in Columbus soon after he had arrived.

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