Nelson Mandela, South Africa and the World Bank Group
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Bank President Lewis Preston and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela in Washington, 5 December 1991 (Archives folder #1894243).


With Nelson Mandela’s passing on 5 December 2013, South Africa and the world lost one of its great political, social, and revolutionary figures. One facet of Mandela’s legacy for South Africa was the role he played in the World Bank’s reengagement in South African development. While the Bank offered substantial assistance to South Africa during the 1950s and early 60s, its last loan before 1997 was in 1966 (ESCOM Electric Power Project P037482). When it became apparent in early 1990 that negotiations between the governing National Party and Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) may be imminent, the Bank tentatively began a program of informal economic and sector studies, and capacity-building. From the outset, the Bank’s policy was that it would not begin lending to South Africa until there was sufficient consensus in the country for an expanded role. After discussions with Bank President Lewis Preston and Africa Region VP Edward Jaycox between November 1991 and February 1992, Mandela gave the signal for the Bank to start preparing projects for an interim government, and the Bank’s program was accelerated. Subsequently, the Bank began diversifying its program to include: workshops in South Africa on educational policy, land reform, and small-business promotion; seminars at which South African officials could learn more about the Bank and how it works; internships for South Africans in the Bank’s country departments; more intensive and specific papers on key issues; and the development of quick impact Basic Services Projects that would be ready if and when the Bank was called upon. New loans to South Africa were not provided until 1997 (Industrial Competitiveness and Job Creation Project P048606); however, the groundwork was laid many years earlier.

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A portion of the World Bank Groups Archives' records related to South Africa (Records of the Africa Regional Vice Presidency fonds, Box 126404B).
The World Bank Group Archives’ holdings include an extensive account of the relationship between the Bank and South Africa during this period. For instance, the records relating to Preston’s trip to South Africa on 13-15 February 1992 and his meetings with both Mandela and then-President F. W. de Klerk are contained in Records of the Office of the President – Records of President Lewis T. Preston – Travel files (WB IBRD/IDA EXC-12-5778S). Records include: extensive briefing material; program and schedule; country summary and sector background reports; biographies of government and ANC officials; articles and maps; invitations; and a concluding summary of the trip.

Records found in the Africa Regional Office fonds (WB IBRD/IDA AFR) provide a more detailed overview of the Bank’s activities in South Africa in the early 1990s and the renewal of its relationship with the country’s government and oppositional officials. Created in the Country Operations Division (AF6CO) of Africa Country Department 6 (AF6), these records relate to: the establishment of the Bank’s informal work program; proposed South African missions; aid coordination; the opening of a Resident Mission; economic and sector study; and meetings between Bank and country officials. Records include: chronological files; speeches (primarily made by South African officials and representatives); subject files; internal Bank memoranda; status reports on South Africa; and sector files specific to South Africa (health, transport and telecommunications, public investment and lending, mining, etc.). See below for a letter from President Lewis Preston to Mandela which is found in this fonds.

These records and others related to South Africa’s relationship with the World Bank and Nelson Mandela’s role in the development of that relationship are available to researchers through the World Bank Group Archives. Learn about our records by viewing the descriptions linked above or access our list of Finding Aids. Then visit our Access to Information page to submit a request. You can also search our Projects and Operations database to view final reports specific to South African projects.


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Letter from Bank President Lewis Preston to Nelson Mandela following Preston's trip to South Africa in February 1992 (Archives folder #1780502).