Item 1135 - Address by Dr Nelson Mandela Deputy President of the ANC to the International Press Institute

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ZA COM MR-S-1135


Address by Dr Nelson Mandela Deputy President of the ANC to the International Press Institute


  • 1991-04-22 (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 the International Press Institute

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  • English

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Mr Chairman,
Your Imperial Highnesses,
Your Excellency, the Deputy Foreign Minister,
Distinguished Editors and other representatives of the media, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish firstly to express my profound and heartfelt appreciation of this honour you have bestowed on me by inviting me to address this august gathering, the fortieth General Assembly of the International Press Institute. The media in general, and the international press in particular, have performed a singularly good service for the cause of democracy in South Africa, not by being propagandists on behalf of the ANC, but merely by reporting events in South Africa over the last decade.' am also personally deeply indebted to the international press who kept my name and that of the other political prisoners alive and before the international public. In its way that assisted in finally achieving our release.

I am addressing you at a time when my home, South Africa, is passing through extremely troubled times which have witnessed the deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens is an indication of the social distance apartheid has created between black and white that it appears that most of our White compatriots appear oblivious to this horror. This, unfortunately affects the leading South African newspapers and electronic media as well. To say that our country is experiencing a deep crisis is to understate the true extent of the bloodletting. In the first three months of 1991, something in the region of 600 people lost their lives as a result of this violence. During 1990, 2,900 people perished. Apartheid created living patterns ensure that most White South Africans are unaware of these shocking figures.

We have taken the drastic step of placing a series of demands before the South African government to signal that we cannot continue with "business as usual" while citizens of our country are perishing by the thousands! We did it to put the government and those unaffected by the violence on notice that, while this situation obtains, there cannot be said to exist a climate for normal political activity. We took the measures we did to register our sternest protest against the continued use of repressive violence to thwart perfectly legitimate political expression by the Black community.

It is a matter of record that during the past two decades South Africa and its White governments provided a haven for those who plotted and the restoration of colonialism in the region; that an aspect of this strategy to suppress insurgents was the employment of bands of irregulars, special counter-insurgency units, including Hit Squads and Death Squads with the specific assignment of destroying the democratic movement by the systematic murder of its personnel, leaders and supporters. Among the victims of these activities can be counted workers, lawyers, doctors, academics and two noted journalists.

The gory work of these units was complimented by that of gangs of vigilantes, acting as auxiliaries of the security organs. We may recall the "Witdoeken (White turbans) who made an appearance in 1986; the Amafrika of Uitenhage and other vigilantes who terrorised townships and their residents into quiescence.

The ANC has formed the opinion that these wanton acts of terror, mass murder and organised mayhem are neither ethnic in character nor merely an outgrowth of political rivalry among Black political organisations. Though factional conflict among Black political groups is a factor in this violence, we are convinced that it is no longer the major factor. Faction fighting among rival political groups cannot explain away the blatant connivance of sizeable sections of the government's security organs. Nor can such disputes explain the outright refusal of the government to check the activities of its police who still employ ruthless violence to suppress the political activities of the Black population. What we are witnessing is an attempt to bludgeon African communities into submission and prevent the growth and development of independent bodies of popular expression. The aims of the orchestrators of this killing is to instil a psychosis of mistrust and insecurity among the people in order to disintegrate the institutions they have built to resist oppression.

If we appear less sanguine than many international leaders about the irreversibility of the changes that have taken place since release from prison, it is because of the facts that I have recounted. The tardiness with which the government has acted on the commitments it made both in the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes, compelled us in December to put it on notice that we will have to reconsider our position if the remaining obstacles are not removed by 30 April 1991. We still have great cause to be alarmed by the attitude adopted by Mr De Klerk and his colleagues, because political trials still continue; detention without trial continues; more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in jail, despite the recent releases and the rate at which exiles are being permitted to return home appears calculated to use them as hostages.

While we do appreciate the concerns of foreign governments and businesspeople who wish to re-establish relations with South Africa, we still insist that it would improve matters greatly if the representatives of the victims of apartheid were consulted before such precipitate steps were taken. In this regard, I want to mention the exemplary attitude displayed by the USA, which has been in regular contact with us, from the highest quarters in the administration, and has not treated the issue of sanctions as if the only people who matter are the South African government, which at best represents a mere 17 per cent of our population.

There is a growing and visible consensus that has developed among the overwhelming majority of South Africans, cutting across racial and political affiliations, that apartheid must be consigned to the dustbin of history !The developing national mood, that includes most South Africans, that we must collectively commence the task of building a non-racial democracy has had to be cultivated slowly, but we have finally arrived at it by route that was extremely painful and costlyderhaps history ordained that the people of our country should pay this high price because it bequeathed to us two nationalisms that dominate the history of 20th century South Africa. These two - African and Afrikaner Nationalism - embody two fundamentally divergent perspectives on the character and future of our country. These differences became the cause of even greater acrimony precisely because the piece of earth they contested was their common home - South Africa.

It was our profound hope that the talks between the ANC and the South African government over the past twelve months would lay the basis for permanent peace. The ANC, in August 1990 unequivocally and unilaterally committed itself to confining this contest to the battlefield of ideas and peaceful political activity. The sooner the other party central to the conflict, the South African government, does likewise the better the prospects of peace in our country will become.

The fact that the gulf that previously separated African Nationalism from Afrikaner Nationalism has considerably narrowed bodes well for the prospect of a far less costly transition from apartheid to democracy. If there is to be any convergence its success shall depend in large measure on a clear understanding of the underlying values and ideals that inform each of these two movements. It shall require courage and vision on the part of all South Africans for us to grasp the challenge presented by this unique moment which affords us the opportunity to move as swiftly and as painlessly towards the goals we today share.

At its birth the African National Congress embraced a number of basic principles and values that remain the key pillars of its outlook. These core values have of course undergone evolution with the march of time but are nonetheless recognisable as deriving from a specific tradition.

In 1912 when the African National Congress came into existence as the first nationalist movement in sub-Saharan Africa, few, if any, of the leading statesmen in Europe would have blushed at the term "imperialist". It is an index of the manner in which our political vocabulary has been transformed by the nationalisms of formerly oppressed peoples that today "imperialist" is regarded as a term of abuse. Equally, the notions of the "Whiteman’s burden" and "White domination", so closely associated with the age of European imperialism over Africa and much of Asia, were considered quite respectable until after the Second World war. The struggle for self-determination, can with a degree of hindsight, be said to be the leit motif of 20th century history, That struggle has in most instances been linked to a second one, the struggle for democracy.

My theme this evening will be the interlacing of these two currents in the history of modern South Africa.

Between 1912 and the 1940s, the decade during which I entered politics, the world experienced two devastating World Wars. As a direct consequence, the political value system with which we identified changed and was greatly expanded, Human Rights, a principle linked to and rooted in the democratic political revolutions of the late 18th century and the mid-19th century, underwent its gravest tests during this century, The lessons of the events that preceded it and the war against fascism greatly enriched the human rights culture.

In pursuance of their misanthropic vision and the dream of empire, the fascist regimes routinely deprived religious and ethnic minorities of their most elementary rights, These include the right to shelter, employment, education, health and other entitlements. This persecution culminated in the butchering of 12 million Jews, Gypsies, Slays and the political opponents of fascism in the death camps all over occupied Europe.

The world's judgement of the crimes of Nazism had a profound impact on the human rights culture as it had evolved, For the first time, it became universally recognised that rights could not merely be negatively defined, that is, as the absence of restraint. They must mean the empowerment and capacitation of the citizen by according him/her certain entitlements without which a decent human life is not possible The Nuremburg Trials were an indictment of the Nazi regime as they were an indictment of the racist doctrines that inspired it. It naturally did not escape the colonized peoples that racism was also offered as a rationale for their own subjugation.

The contribution made by the colonial peoples, after 1945, in their struggle for independence is to us of great importance. It is to it that we owe recognition of every people’s right to self-determination. This human rights culture, though rooted in revolutions of a century earlier, was accepted by humanity as its common heritage through adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. The governments of South Africa, then and those of subsequent years, have been the ignoble exception to the worldwide endorsement of these human rights conventions.

It is a little known fact that during the Second World War, after Churchill and Roosevelt concluded the Atlantic Charter, the then President of the ANC, Dr A.B. Xuma, appointed a committee of African thinkers and political leaders to draw up a Charter for Africa, applying the principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter to the African Continent. The document they produced, "The African Claims", remains one of the most important statements of the core values subscribed to by the ANC. Anyone who reads it, even today, will agree that it was an outstanding contribution to this universal human rights culture.

African Nationalism, as it had evolved in South Africa, embraced these ideals and has fought to make them the basis of the political institutions of our country. We have clung to these principles and endeavoured to preserve them in an extremely hostile environment because they are basically liberatorary.

Reduced to their essentials they are:

+ that all governments must derive their authority from the consent of the governed;

+ no person or group of persons should be subjected to oppression and domination by virtue of his/her race, gender, ethnic origin or creed;

+ all persons should enjoy security in their persons and their goods against intrusions by secular or ecclesiastical authorities;

+ all persons should enjoy the right to life, unfettered by impositions from either secular or clerical authorities;

+ all persons should have the right to hold and express whatever opinions they wish to subscribe to, provided that the exercise of that right does not infringe the rights of others.

It is in pursuance of these rights that we have waged struggle employing every means we considered necessary, to attain the democratic empowerment of those in our country who have historically borne the burden of oppression and exploitation. It is because of my personal commitment to these ideals that I have opposed, with equal vehemence, both White domination and Black domination.

These five basic principles, usually referred to as the first generation of human rights, are in their essence libratory. Any re-evaluation and recasting of these cardinal values we have inherited, must serve that essential purpose- the empowerment of the individual citizen by increasing his/her capacity to cope with the complexities of life in the modern era.

It is as a continuation of our commitment to these basic principles that we adhere also to the second generation of human rights.

In the bleak townships, squatter camps, hostels and compounds in which Black people are compelled under, pain of imprisonment, to reside in the urban areas, the right to life would be meaningless if it did not translate into an accessible, dependable and free health service. Indeed, we would assert that this is the right of every citizen, irrespective of earning power or individual circumstances. The health of the nation should be regarded as an obligation undertaken by the state, rather than as a matter subject to the fickle whims of fortune.

In the desolate wasteland of "resettlement camps, the rural slums and over-utilised land, peopled by "The Surplus People', the right to life would be meaningless if it did not entail shelter and decent housing.

To those who trudge our streets daily in search of a livelihood, the right to creative and productive work looms as large as security in one's person.

The commitment of the ANC to these values goes beyond their impact on the. Black and the poor in our country. Consistent with our point of departure that these ideals are universal:

We have stood up for human dignity no matter how or by whom it was threatened. Those who have been deliberately disadvantaged on grounds of race, religion, sex or national origin have found an ally in the ANC. This applies with equal force whether it be the case of the Jews in Europe threatened with genocide by the Nazis, or it be that of Palestinians condemned to homelessness by the State of Israel.

Our principle detractors, the National Party led by Mr De Klerk, cannot make the same claim.

The ANC, with equal determination, stood up for the rights of Asians, whether they reside in Durban or Birmingham, England, who fear to walk the streets because of threats of harassment on account of their racial origin.

Our principal political adversary, the National Party led by Mr De Klerk, cannot make the same claim.

The ANC has fought alongside those in our country who have been silenced by the government because their views or tastes incurred the wrath of some minister or petty official. Editors, writers, journalists, musicians, artists and others whose work has been suppressed and banned have always received the unstinting support of the ANC.

Our principal political adversary, the National Party led by Mr De Klerk cannot make the same claim.

We have unreservedly condemned bully boy tactics, the use of intimidation and coercion on the part of our supporters, Though we appreciate the zeal that sometimes leads to such action, we are duty-bound to stress that such zeal is misplaced and misdirected if it compromises the integrity of our movement and violates the principles we hold dear,

We patiently await the day Mr De Klerk will denounce the methods his police and other security organs have constantly employed to suppress legitimate political expression on the part of the Black majority.

The ANC's Draft Bill of Rights and the Constitutional Principles for a Democratic South Africa, which we unveiled a week ago, are a synthesis of the .best in South African Human Rights traditions. These two documents are the outcome of a debate initiated in 1986 through the ANC's Constitutional Guidelines. We deliberately set out to involve human rights lawyers, academics, authorities and ordinary laymen and women far beyond the ANC's own membership and support: base. We avoided being prescriptive but sought to encourage participation.

That intervention shifted the debate decisively away from a re-arrangement of the apartheid system to its roots and branch eradication. If there is indeed a narrowing of the gap that separates us from the South African government, that is because the government has been compelled to change in order to keep pace with the tide of opinion in our country,

These values, which the ANC espouses and shall continue to espouse, bear an incredibly high price and hundreds have lost their lives in an attempt to make them a reality. Thousands of families and homes have been wrecked so that we can realize them. Those who joined the struggle for human freedom did so with their eyes wide open. They were under no illusion about the path they had chosen. We knew that it entailed sacrifice, hazards, torment and even the risk of death. We all chose it not for personal gain or material rewards. We took this stand because these were goals we saw as worthy and virtuous. We do not now nor shall we ever regret having made that choice.

Freedom of the media and the Press is among the oldest and the most valued freedoms for which people the world over have fought. The ANC has extended its solidarity and shall continue to support journalists, editors, writers and other media people who face persecution because they seek to exercise this right.

As an expression of our commitment to the citizens’ right to know we have inserted this among the articles of the ANC’s draft Bill of Rights. We place an equal emphasis on the right to disseminate such information through the press and other media. We cannot claim that the institutionalisation of these rights is the road to perfection, but at least we have not placed obstacles in the way. We cannot overemphasise the great store we set by a vigorous and free press in the democratic South Africa we hope to create. Ours has become, through political activity, an extremely engaged and critical constituency which will not take easily to political marginalisation. We regard a press that has the courage to speak its mind, without fear or favour, as essential in keeping the public vigilant and alert to any temptation on the part of government to abuse its powers, We would say also that a democratic government that either feared or sought to constrain media scrutiny of its policies and actions is embarked on a course that must inevitably result in the evasion of accountability to the people.

We ask the worldwide fraternity of news people for no favours. We ask them to give due recognition of these facts and to judge us as they do all others. We shall not withdraw from the cut and thrust of politics and we have the confidence that we can engage any of our critics on the strength of our record.

The ANC shall continue to play its role to attain the five great freedoms in our country. We shall do this not because we wish to please anyone or because we wish to cultivate new friends. These are the core principles on which we have built our movement and its programme. We shall continue to uphold them because of their intrinsic value,

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 15/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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