South African leaders Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel arrive in Seattle on December 8, 1999.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 3/05/2001
  • Essay 3052
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On December 8, 1999, former South African president Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) and his wife Graca Machel (b. 1946) land at Boeing Field to begin a three-day visit in Seattle. Govenor Gary Locke (b. 1950), Mayor Paul Schell (b. 1937) and other dignitaries join 800 school children in welcoming the famed freedom fighter and his wife, a noted social reformer from Mozambique. Their visit was arranged by Craig and Susan McCaw through their foundation, with additional support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, Seattle University, and the Seattle Rotary Club.

The visit grew out of a chance encounter between Mandela and Machel and the McCaws at a South African telecommunications conference. Mandela recognized Seattle as one of the first U.S. cities to boycott South African goods to protest the Apartheid regime and Mandela's 27-year imprisonment. Special events were organized by educator Constance Rice (b. 1945), McCaw foundation executive Bob Ratliffe, and others to help raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Machel's Community Development Foundation, which specializes in micro-lending to combat poverty.

Mandela and Machel's busy Seattle itinerary included a Rotary-sponsored luncheon concert at Benaroya Hall, a fundraising dinner at the Sheraton Hotel, a breakfast with social service and reform leaders, a special student convocation at Seattle University, a world health conference at the University of Washington, and visits to Seattle's Central Area and Madrona Elementary School. They also paid a call on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where they received a check for $30 million, before departing on December 10.


The Seattle Times, December 8-11, 1999; Mandela Visit to Seattle website (

Note: This essay was updated on December 5, 2013.

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