Item 1118 - Nelson Mandela's Address to the ANC Membership

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ZA COM MR-S-1118


Nelson Mandela's Address to the ANC Membership


  • 1990-03-02 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare

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Address to ANC Membership

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  • English

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Comrades, my visit to this country and my meeting with Comrade President Kaunda, the meeting with the National Executive of the ANC, and now my meeting with you comrades, has been an unforgettable experience. Hove you all. I admire you. I respect you and, as your servant, I will obey all the instructions which you will give me today and in future.

If you gave me a khaki suit, army boots, a helmet, a knobkierie and a whistle, if you gave me all these things, and asked me to serve as a night-watchman, I would obey.

It has been more than a pleasure for me to meet comrades with whom I have worked, with whom I have suffered, after a period of thirty years. I am talking now about the secretary general, Alfred Nzo, the treasurer, Comrade Thomas Nkobi, and as a member of the National Executive and the secretary of the Communist Party, Joe Slovo. These are the comrades I am happy to see because when I see them I am reminded of the fondest memories and the happiest moments of my life. I have also had the opportunity to meet a large number of comrades I have never seen before. Some of them, I thought they were giants, and yet I saw dwarfs. Some of them, I thought they were lightweights, and yet, when I saw them, they turned out to be super-heavyweights. Nevertheless, I will leave this place with pleasant memories, because I now know that this organisation that we serve, this organisation which leads the fight to a new South Africa, is in safe hands.

I want to refer you to a statement which I made during the rally in Bloemfontein last Sunday. It is a statement which is very appropriate in this situation. I said then and I now repeat: 'Today our organisation stands as the most powerful symbol of the global rejection of racism, from very humble beginnings. From a meeting of only 100 delegates over seventy years ago, we have become an organisation of hundreds of thousands, embodying the aspirations of millions, and an inspiration to yet more. What have we done to win the respect of kings, presidents, prime ministers and millions of ordinary persons everywhere? We have stood fearless before the guns of apartheid. The blood of our martyrs has stained the floors and walls of apartheid jails. Yet we have never faltered in our quest to create a South Africa where freedom, peace, justice and equality prevail.

This is the noble mission of the ANC and one which we will never forsake. The march to freedom has not been easy. Along the way we have had to develop organisational capacity, tactical flexibility and a breadth of vision to keep our ship afloat on the stormy seas on which we have sailed. We begin as a racially-restricted organisation, articulating the demands of only Africans. The 1940s represented a crucial turning-point in the history of the ANC. In that decade the ANC recognised that freedom was only possible when the masses were involved in the struggle for their own liberation. Mass action became and remained a cornerstone of the ANC's commitment to transforming the political landscape of this country. Some of the leaders who effected that policy shift are still with us. I salute our President, Comrade Oliver Tambo, and other veteran leaders, Walter Sisulu and (Govan) Mbeki, for their participation in the Youth League, which spearheaded this important policy shift.

The formation of the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in 1961, is another major landmark in the history of our struggle. Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed to defend our people against the violence of apartheid. Our organisation has grown to such an extent that we have today outside South Africa no less than 44 branches throughout the world and a membership of about 15 000, including those of Umkhonto we Sizwe. I salute our brave warriors. Your contribution to the struggle for peace is immeasurable. I salute all those who have fallen in battle. You have not died in vain. Martyrs to our cause, your courage enables us to remain unflinchingly committed to our goal of creating a non-racial democracy in a unitary South Africa. Let us observe a minute's silence for all those who have died.

I salute each and every one of you here today. It is due to your courage and steadfastness that I stand before you here, representing the ANC, an ANC which unites not only Africans, as envisaged by the founding fathers, but all South Africans. Since the historic Morogoro Conference in Tanzania in 1969, we are proud to be able to count within our ranks Africans, Coloureds, Indians and whites. We are one nation in one country.

As you are aware, our comrade President, Oliver Tambo, is ill, now in a clinic in Sweden. We were all greatly disturbed when we heard of his illness because this is a colleague whom we have known from our university days. This is a colleague with whom we formed the ANC Youth League. This is a colleague who rose through the ranks to the position of member of the National Executive, who became Secretary General of the ANC, who became Deputy President, who then became an Acting National President and who is now occupying the most important position in the organisation, that of National President. He is the man who has kept this organisation together for a period of almost thirty years. This is a man who has helped to place this organisation in an invincible position to win the freedom for which our forefathers and ourselves have fought so much and for which we have sacrificed so greatly.

It is my intention, after visiting Zimbabwe and Tanzania, to visit him in Sweden to wish him a complete and speedy recovery so that he can come back and resume his position. I have no doubt that in expressing that wish I am also expressing your own wishes.

I also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the South African Communist Party. The SACP was the first political party in this country to be banned by the Nationalist government, and yet it fought back. It remained loyal to the alliance between itself and the ANC. And its members have proved to be loyal and disciplined members of the ANC, and throughout this period they have never attempted to control the ANC or in any way to abuse their positions. That is why, wherever we are, inside and outside prison, we have defended that alliance to the hilt. We have refused to be used by members of the government and other interests to destroy the alliance which has placed us in this position of being vanguard of the liberation movement in this country.

As you know, we have received enormous support from the Soviet Union and the socialist countries. I believe that we would have got that assistance even if there was no alliance between the ANC and the SACP. But the fact of that alliance has made it so easy for us to get the maximum support from the socialist countries. The days that lie ahead are going to be difficult for all of us, and one of our greatest sources of strength is the alliance between the ANC and the SACP.

When the time comes to select a delegation to Cape Town, we will think very very carefully because the non-racial character of our organisation, the alliance that we have established, must be reflected not only in what we say, but also in what we do. That delegation, it must be clear to everybody, that this is a delegation not from the homelands, that this is a delegation not from the urban councils, not from the archbishop Mokwenas and archbishop Mzilikazis. It must be clear that this is a delegation from a people's organisation whose constitution is now based on non-racialism.

I think it is proper, comrades, to give you a brief account of the discussions I have been having with the government over the last three years. I have been discussing with the government the question of releasing political prisoners, who were doing life imprisonment. I did not think that a single individual can be credited with having persuaded the government to release any category of political prisoners. If any political prisoners have been released, it is a result of a number of factors. The demands which the international community has made, the demand world organisations, like the UN, the OAU, the Frontline States, the Non-aligned Movement; this is the result of the work they have done. But even more important, it is the result of the militant struggles which have been put up by you, the masses of the people. If you had not done so, none of us would be standing here before you today. But I nevertheless made representations to the government for my colleagues to be released. They are now here amongst you. There are many political prisoners who still remain in prison, and it is our duty, you, my comrades here, and I, to pile on pressure and not to rest because as long as there is a single political prisoner in prison we are not able to get a proper mandate from our own people.

What is more we have now been informed that our comrades on Robben Island have gone on a hunger strike, demanding release. We also understand that our comrades in Pretoria and in Diepkloof are planning to stage sympathy hunger strikes. Today I spoke to the Minister of Justice in Cape Town and brought this serious situation to his attention. He will be phoning us back tonight, and I can only hope that he will give us good news, because we do not want to sit down when our comrades inside jail are fighting.

The second issue, comrades, which I discussed with the government, is the question of a meeting between the ANC and the government in order to reach an effective political solution. Today it appears that that day is not very far off. As you know, the NEC has decided to send a delegation to Pretoria. But the timing of the date of sending that delegation is subject to discussion and consultation with our membership and other organisations that we feel are entitled to be consulted. When we have done so, we will then set a date when that delegation will go to Cape Town.

We hope that you who have suffered so much, who have lived away from your beloved country, we are hoping for a day when we will succeed in getting you back to South Africa. I have hardly been here for five days, but already I miss Johannesburg. How much more for you. Some of you have spent 30 years in exile. I can assure you that you are in our thoughts because over these years we have learnt to rely on you. You are the men and women we love from the bottom of our hearts. The National Executive has set up a committee to go into all the problems affecting exiles, affecting you, because the question of your return to South Africa is going to raise formidable problems, the least of which is accommodation for you. As I indicated to the Executive this afternoon, you don't want to go back to South Africa to join the squatters. You want to go back to decent houses where you can now relax a bit because you are back at home.

This is the question which we, as the ANC, cannot tackle alone. We have not got the vast resources to be able to tackle this problem. We will turn to the government, we will turn to big business, we will ask them to provide us with the capital, the facilities, for you to have some sort of shelter over your heads after so many years living in exile and in hardship.

The other day we met the leaders of the Frontline States, together with Heads of States from other areas. One of them warned us about the difficulties of adaptation when you have members of an organisation living as exiles, and others inside the country. That is a situation which can raise serious problems of adaptation. But I am convinced, after listening to the discussion of your National Executive for two days, that this is a matter which they will handle with skill and professionalism. But it nonetheless remains a danger. This means, comrades, that the question of the utmost discipline is going to be absolutely necessary. When you go back to South Africa, you must be an example, you must show the children, the youth and adults that you are persons who are fit to lead this organisation by the example which you set.

I have said on a number of occasions that the most important thing that you can do to contribute to the progress of the struggle is to make sure that there are no tensions amongst you. One of the most serious weaknesses in a movement is the danger of cliques. The question of jealousy against those who have talent, the desire to occupy positions, this is not the spirit. The spirit in an organisation is of course. To discuss differences honestly and openly. You discuss honestly and openly, but always with the knowledge that the man with whom you are discussing is your comrade, who is prepared to stand next to you and to defend you against danger to the death.

I have pointed out on a number of occasions that when there are tensions, when there are quarrels in the organisation, men who have no real talents immediately come to the top, and those who are constructive in their approach - men of ability - have no chance. It is only when there is peace, when there is relaxation, that men of ability will come to the top and lead us towards our salvation. You and you alone can create that peace which we require. You and you alone can make other comrades accept that a position is not a mark of good leadership. I am very convinced, after spending years with Comrade Oliver Tambo, that if he was asked to resign in favour of Comrade Alfred Nzo, he would do so without raising a question. That is the spirit in which we should conduct ourselves in the organisation. If Oliver Tambo is president, then you are also president. If Comrade Alfred Nzo is secretary general, then you are also secretary general. If Comrade Joe Slovo is the secretary of the Communist Party, you are also secretary of the Communist Party.

I have pointed out to my comrades to whom I have reported that I have found Mr De Klerk to be a man of integrity. I repeat that again. In the discussions I have had with him, this has been the most formidable impression I have formed of him. I have also found that some of the men around him are also men of integrity who want to help him to travel this new direction that he has chosen. But in my report to the National Executive I warned that as an organisation we are not very much concerned with the virtues of a single individual, even though he may be the President. We are concerned with the policy of the National Party. That party up to today is enforcing the most brutal system of racial oppression this country has ever seen. This is what must influence our policy, our strategy and our tactics.

Lastly, comrades, you have heard the report that I have been elected by the National Executive as Deputy President of the ANC. It is a position which I have accepted with all humility. I expect you to guide me. If I stray from the right path, please catch my jacket and pull me back on to the road. I will obey with all humility and with these words I want to greet you and to thank you for all that you have done during these years.

Viva ANC! Viva!

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 13/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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