Andrew Young is remembered as a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner and civil rights leader in the US.
But now aged 84, when he is asked why he keeps on coming back to South Africa, Young skipped the politics and chose a football example to make his point.
He said his “first real awakening about how different South Africans are, was when football legend Kaizer Motaung was only 19 when he joined Atlanta Chiefs and helped them win their first national championship in the US.
“He would kick the ball over his head and do those bicycle kicks I would wonder ‘how did he do that’.”
But what truly shocked him was when Motaung turned down a $1 million offer to sign and extend his contract with Atlanta Chiefs but chose to return to South Africa.
“They offered him a million dollars to stay there in Atlanta, which was the best city in the world back then and he said no and came back to SA. And I said what is the matter with him?”
But Young said he was positively surprised when he came to SA a few years later to find Motaung not just another footballer, but a businessman who owned a team of his own, Kaizer Chiefs.
Citing an example of how South Africa has always been independent-minded, he referred to former president Nelson Mandela, who insisted on acknowledging former Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi, at a time when Gaddafi was internationally reviled.
“SA changed my perspective. While some of you see everything that is going wrong, I see wonderful people doing wonderful things. I would even say SA’s approach to the world is significantly better than current American policy.”
Young was this week honoured by prominent South Africans at an event organised by the US Embassy at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg.
Among those who attended the function in his honour were Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, businessman Patrice Motsepe, deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and lawyer George Bizos.
A former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, Young was accompanied by the current mayor Kasim Reed as well as a business delegation exploring investment opportunities here.
Young worked closely with the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr and was appointed the first African-American ambassador to the United Nations in 1977.
US ambassador to SA, Patrick Gaspard, spoke about how his own involvement in civil disobedience was inspired by Young.
Gaspard said Motsepe had always asked him to strength the bonds between Africans and African-Americans.
Talking about the current US presidential race, Young said he believed that Republican leading candidate Donald Trump was deliberately being demagogic. “I don’t think he believes all the things he has been saying”.