Young, Michael Alan. OBE businessman

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Early Career

Michael Young graduated from the University of York in 1972 where he read politics. He subsequently worked on the International Desk of the Conservative Research Department and became a foreign affairs adviser to Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home, to former Prime Minister Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher (in opposition), and to Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington. Young resigned from the Conservative Party following Thatcher's 1979 election victory and joined the Liberal Democrats. He fought the Penrith and the Border seat of Conservative MP William Whitelaw, for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, in both the general election of June 1983 and the July 1983 by-election that followed Whitelaw's elevation to the House of Lords. In 1987's general election he stood as Liberal Democrat candidate for the Isle of Wight but the seat was lost to the Conservatives.

Consolidated Gold Fields and the Mells Park Talks

Young subsequently joined international gold-mining company Consolidated Gold Fields as its public affairs director and political adviser. Consolidated Gold Fields was the parent company of Gold Fields South Africa (the company established by Cecil Rhodes in 1887). Rudolph Agnew was Chairman and Group Chief Executive until 1989, when Hanson plc acquired the company. It was in this strategic role of political adviser that Young, personally against the apartheid regime, was mindful of his company's stake in the country and its need to have a contingency plan should the apartheid system fall. When the exiled ANC leader, Oliver Tambo, visited London in October 1985 and again in June 1986, with a fuller ANC delegation, meetings were held with leading businessmen. Young was present on both occasions as a representative of ConsGold. Young approached Tambo directly after the June meeting and enquired what a company like his could do. Tambo asked if he could 'help build a bridge between the ANC and those Afrikaners close to the government' as progress was impossible without some form of communication.

Young was thus to embark on the controversial, and dangerous, course of effectively initiating secret discussions between the ANC and (indirectly) the South African government. He secured the tacit approval of his Chairman, Agnew, and began to approach senior figures in the Afrikaner establishment. These included academics such as Sampie Terreblanche and Willie Esterhuyse, who were closely associated with Afrikaner philosophy and policy formulation. The first talks between senior figures in the Afrikaner community and an ANC delegation were held in October 1987 at a hotel in Marlow, England. Many of the subsequent talks were hosted in secret by Consolidated Gold Fields at the company's estate in Somerset, Mells Park. The South African Republic's National Intelligence Agency had learnt covertly of Young's approach to Esterhuyse and encouraged his participation in the talks. Esterhuyse revealed the approach to Thabo Mbeki, head of the ANC delegation. Besides helping to establish trust, the disclosure created a secret conduit for communication with the government: the NIS having a reporting line to the president (although no direct evidence exists that President Botha authorised the talks). The involvement of Wimpie de Klerk, brother of FW de Klerk, from August 1988 was to provide another critical sub-channel. Within the ANC, the National Working Committee in Lusaka first became aware of the talks in February 1988. While the fact that their existence was to become public later in 1989, details of location and Consolidated Gold's role in hosting them remained secret. The talks covered fundamental issues such as the release of Mandela and political prisoners, ANC violence, the National Statutory Body, the position and health of PW Botha, the political situation in South Africa, Namibia and Angola and the international perspective. The talks preceded direct negotiations between the South African Government and ANC, and helped establish the conditions, sense of shared understanding and a degree of confidence and trust, that were all necessary in order for such negotiations to flourish. The weekend discussions also furnished important opportunities for their participants to engage in private dialogues and build more personal relationships.

The talks were chaired by Young who reported on progress to Agnew. Participants would vary slightly between meetings and as they progressed, following Mandela's release, included a range of economic, business and constitutional experts. Further to the take-over of Consolidated Gold Fields by the Hanson Trust, Lord Hanson (1922-2004) agreed to continue funding the talks, and Patrick Gillam, chairman of Standard Chartered Bank was also to help raise funds.

Michael Young was present as a guest of Mandela at his inauguration as President of South Africa on 10 May 1994. In 2001 he was awarded the OBE for services to international human rights.

From the guide to the Michael Young Papers, 1986-2001, (Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Michael Young Papers, 1986-2001 Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith African National Congress corporateBody
associatedWith Botha, Pieter Willem., 1916-2006 person
associatedWith Consolidated Gold Fields corporateBody
associatedWith De Klerk, Willem Johannes ('Wimpie)., 1928-2009 person
associatedWith Esterhuyse, Willem Petrus., b 1936 person
associatedWith Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla ., b 1918 person
associatedWith Mbeki, Thabo Mvuyelwa., b 1942 person
associatedWith Pahad, Aziz., b 1940 person
associatedWith Tambo, Oliver Reginald., 1917-1993 person
associatedWith Terreblanche, Solomon Johannes ('Sampie')., b 1933 person
associatedWith Trew, Anthony Andrew., b 1941 person
associatedWith Zuma, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa., b 1942 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Mells Park Frome Somerset
South Africa


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Ark ID: w6bm6jdd

SNAC ID: 72152528