Item 1136 - Address to the Johannesburg Press Club on the Occasion of Receipt of the Man of the Year Award

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ZA COM MR-S-1136


Address to the Johannesburg Press Club on the Occasion of Receipt of the Man of the Year Award


  • 1991-02-22 (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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Receipt of the "Man of the Year Award"

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  • English

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Mr Chairman,
Mr State President and Mrs De Klerk,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish firstly to express my profound and heartfelt appreciation of this honour that the Johannesburg Press Club has deemed fit to bestow on me by electing me as one of the two Men of the Year.

It is a sign of the times our country is passing through that this prize this year is shared by two people who trace their respective political ideals to opposing poles on our national political spectrum. I am confident that this joint award signifies the growing and visible consensus that has begun to emerge amongst the overwhelming majority of South Africans, cutting across racial and political affiliations, that apartheid must be consigned to the dustbin of history now! The developing national mood that includes most South Africans that we must collectively commence the task of building a non-racial democracy.

This consensus has had to built up slowly and we have finally arrived at it by a route that was extremely painful and costly of our national resources, amongst which we must count human lives lost or broken. Perhaps history ordained that the people of our country should pay this high price because it bequeathed to us to nationalisms that dominate the history of twentieth century South Africa. These two - African and Afrikaner Nationalism - embody two fundamentally differing perspectives on the character and future of our country. Because both nationalisms laid claim to the same piece of earth, our common home, South Africa, the contest between the two was bound to be both acrimonious and at times brutal. It is our hope that the progress thus far achieved in the talks that have preoccupied both the ANC and the government over the past twelve months have laid the basis for an end to at least the more brutal aspects of this contest. It is unavoidable that we should continue to debate and ideologically contest each others positions, because that is the nature of politics in any society. We as the ANC have unequivocally committed ourselves to confining this contest to the battlefield of ideas and peaceful political activity. The sooner other parties to the conflict do likewise the better the prospects of peace in our country will become.

On this occasion I wish to give due recognition to the divergent approaches we have adopted in addressing the problems confronting our country. I do this Mr Chairman, not in order to emphasis these differences but rather in order to clarify a standpoint which the ANC has embraced. A spokesman for the government called for frankness and candour in these matter a few days ago. It is that spirit that I shall frame my remarks. If in the process I also manage to persuade a few more converts to our view I will feel I have achieved my purpose.

The gulf that previously separated African and Afrikaner nationalism has narrowed considerably during the past twelve months. If there is any convergence of these two opposing views, such convergence will depend in large measure on. A clear understanding of the underlying values and principles that inform
both 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. It is an opportunity to move as swiftly and as painlessly as possible towards the goals we have increasingly come to share in common.

At its birth African Nationalism in South Africa embraced a number of values, principles and ideals as the key pillars of its political philosophy. These core values have of course undergone evolution with the march of time but are nonetheless recognisable till this day as deriving from a specific tradition.

In 1912, when the ANC came into being as the first nationalist movement in sub-Saharan Africa, and 1913, the year in which the National Party was founded, few ,if any, of the leading statesmen of 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 nationalism of formerly oppressed peoples that today "imperialist" is regarded as a term of abuse. We can, with a degree of hindsight, perhaps say that the struggle for self-determination has been the leit motif of twentieth century history. That struggle has in most instances been linked to second one, the struggle for democracy.

Between 1912 and the mid-1940s, the period during which I entered national politics, the world experienced two devastating World Wars, As a direct consequence, the political value system with which the ANC identified changed and was greatly expanded. Few will dispute that the political culture of human rights, which underwent its severest test during the course of this century, was greatly enriched by the war against fascism, Equally important was the contribution made by the colonial peoples, after 1945, in their struggle for independence. This culture of Human Rights is rooted in and inextricably linked to the political revolutions of the late 18th century and those that took place during the mid-nineteenth century. It was adopted by humanity as its common heritage in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War.

It is not a widely 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 blue ribbon 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. That document, titled ''The African Claims", remains one of the most important statements of the central values subscribed to by the ANC. Anyone who reads it, even today, will agree that it one of the best contributions to this universal human rights culture emanating from our country.

African Nationalism., as it has evolved in South Africa, embraced these ideals and has sought to make them part of the political culture of our country, The environment in which we have struggled to nurse this tender plant so that it takes root has been extremely hostile. We have nonetheless persevered surrounded though it was by robust weeds of racial hatred because these principles are enduring.

Reduced to their essentials, they are:

(a) that all governments must derive their authority from the consent of the governed ;

(b) no person or group of persons should be subjected to oppression or domination by virtue of his/her race, gender, colour or religious belief;

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

(d) all persons should enjoy the right to life, unfettered by impositions from either secular or clerical authorities,

€ all persons should have the untrammelled right to hold and express whatever opinions they wish to subscribe to as long as the exercise of that right does not infringe on the rights of others.

It is in pursuance of these principles that we have waged a struggle, employing whatever means we deemed necessary, to attain the democratic empowerment of those in our country who historically have borne the burden of oppression and exploitation. It is because of our commitment to these ideals also that we have adamantly opposed any political arrangement that will result in domination of either the majority by the minority or the minority by the majority.

These five basic principles are in their essence liberatory. Any re- evaluation and recasting of these cardinal values we have inherited, we would insist, must therefore 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 in the light of such considerations that the ANC also adheres to the second generation of human rights. In the bleak townships, squatter camps, ghettoes, compounds and hostels in which the majority of black South Africans 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 national should be regarded as a national task rather than an issue subject to the fickle whims of fortune.

In those desolate wastelands ,populated by the "surplus people" who were forcibly ejected from their homes so that the pipe-dreams of the architects of apartheid could be realised; in the rural slums and on the over-utilised lands of the Bantustans; the right to life would amount to pious words scribbled on some paper if it did not entail decent, affordable shelter for all.

Those who hunger and thirst for knowledge but have by law been consigned to educational backwaters to fulfil the cynical social engineering of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, know too that for this right to be meaningful they must be enabled to pursue their studies and rise to the limits to which their talents will take them. In practice this requires a system of equitable, free primary and secondary education and training in every aspect of human endeavour and a system of tertiary education backed up by strong support from the state.

We would place equal emphasis on the urgent need for a national commitment to secure creative and productive employment for the millions who daily trudge our streets in. search of a livelihood, Without this, what meaning can we give to right to security in ones person?

The commitment of the ANC to these values goes beyond their impact on the poor and the politically voiceless 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. Thus the ANC has identified with all those who have deliberately been disadvantaged on grounds of their race, religion, sex or national origin. We have applied this principle -with equal force whether the case in question is that of European Jewry threatened with genocide by the fascist regimes of Europe, or it is the Palestinians subjected to victimisation and aggression by the State of Israel.

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

We have stood for and fought alongside those who have been silenced by governments because their views incurred the wrath of some minister or petty official. Editors, writers, musicians and others whose work has been suppressed and banned have always received the unstinting support of the ANC. It is precisely for that reason that I wish to use this platform to unreservedly condemn the bully-boy tactics of some of those -who have come out to demonstrate their support for my wife, Comrade Nomzamo Winnie Mandela during her court appearances. While we appreciate the zeal that sometimes leads to such action, I am duty bound to stress that such zeal is misplaced and misdirected if its outcome is to compromise the integrity of our movement and violates the principles we hold dear.

These values, which the ANC and its supporters have espoused, bear an incredibly high price. We shall not today enumerate the hundreds who have lost their lives in an attempt to make them a reality. We shall for the moment leave unsaid the names of the thousands of families, the homes and the lives that have been 'wrecked so that we can realize them. Those who joined the struggle did so with their eyes -wide open and under no illusion that the path that they had chosen entailed sacrifice, hazards and torment. We all did so not for any 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.

I would like, Mr Chairman, to direct some remarks to the vexing problem of tolerance and the rights of the individual. In this regard I want to stress that tolerance is one of the core principles of the human rights culture the ANC advocates. When I employ the term "tolerance" I do not intend it to be understood as the grudging accommodation of an opinion one does not hold. I employ it to underscore that we must begin from the premises that truth is elusive and can only been derived from the untrammelled competition of differing opinions and through debate.

The search for truth, therefore, cannot be circumscribed within the bounds of certain dogmas and pre-determined beliefs. We eschew political intolerance for this precise reason. But our admonition that force should not be harnessed to gain leverage over the political process applies in equal measure to parliamentary parties as it does to the extra-parliamentary opposition and movements; we address it with equal force to the government as we do to those who stand opposed to the government. In this this respect, "force applies not only to the actual wielding of weapons,. Stones and other physical objects. It must be understood to cover also the employment of such devices as repressive laws, emergency powers and other legal instruments that have the effect of forcibly compelling those -who hold an opposing viewpoint to remain silent I need not recount here the regularity with which the weapons of war have been used by the state to enforce its particular viewpoint.

The mischief these practices have already wrought on the political culture of our country can be measured by the evident inability of many of us to engage in sober debate without recourse to threats and even physical abuse. It cannot be considered unrealistic that we demand that as a token of its own commitment to creating a climate conducive to a normal political climate the government take expeditious measures to expunge such obnoxious laws from South Africa's Statute Books.

Tolerance cannot, nor has ever, meant that every idea, practice or opinion shall be placed on the same moral plane. There can be no equivalence between the principle that human life is sacred and as such requires to be protected and the misanthropic notions that encouraged the extermination of human beings. An appeal to tolerance cannot be invoked to legitimate the advocacy of murder, let alone its commission ,Let me stress ,however , that we suppress such advocacy and the commission of such acts not because of our absolute certainty that we are correct, but rather because of the universal recognition that such advocacy is absolutely wrong. It is by the same token that humanity has outlawed slavery in any form, though we continue to debate and haggle over the merits and demerits of other economic systems. Political tolerance, in our view, has always been qualified - qualified in the sense that human history and experience have already demonstrated that certain practices are intrinsically evil and as such do not deserve to be tolerated.

We as the ANC shall continue to play our role in building a political culture that entrenches political tolerance . This does not, nor should it be understood as us withdrawing from the daily cut and thrust of politics and engagement with our opponents and critics. We shall, as we have always done in the past, conduct such debates with courtesy but with a firmness to principle that is apologetic to no one.

Mr Chairman, I have dwelt at some length with the political values we hope to see achieved in our country. Before I sit down there is one other matter which I feel we should raise. I choose the law as my professional career for a number of reasons. When I reflect on that choice today, one of the considerations that loomed largest in my mind was the manner in which the law was used in South Africa, not as an instrument to afford the citizen protection, but rather as the chief means of his subjection. As a young law student it was one of my ambitions to try to use my professional training to help tilt the balance just a wee bit in favour of the citizen.

Unfortunately, it is well-nigh impossible, even with the best will in the world, to administer laws that are intrinsically unjust in a just fashion. Try as many of us did, we could not bring to bear any amount of legal expertise in favour of the citizen because the same process of law-making closed up the loopholes and ambiguities as quickly as we uncovered them.

This, unfortunately is and shall remain the position in South Africa as long as we do not have a democratic system of government. If today many in our country hold the law in contempt this is because of a widely held perception that it is oppressive and has been systematically used to deny millions rights which other people take for granted.

We might all agree that a society not governed by laws is barbarism of the -worst order. We are today witnessing a crime wave of terrifying proportions which if it continues and escalates ,could quickly reduce South Africa to a pile of ashes. I submit, that the most effective means of building a law-abiding society is to cultivate respect for the law. The law in our country will only be deserving of respect to the extent that it serves the ordinary citizen and ceases to be a club wielded by the authorities to bludgeon us into submission or deprive of our rights.

This relates directly to the issue of the legitimacy of the incumbent government and its administrative arm. Legitimacy is both a subjective judgement as well an objective conclusion which can be adduced from generally accepted principles. When we say that the incumbent government has no moral right to govern, we say this not to heap insults or offer offense to anyone. We are merely stating a judgement which any democrat must make if he/she subscribes to basic democratic norms.

It is because of our concern to commence, as soon as possible ,the reconstruction of a law-abiding society that we have called for an Interim government. Obedience to the law should not be based on fear, but rather on respect for the law as the expression of commonly held societal values and shared goals. I fear that the longer we postpone the installation of a government that enjoys the confidence of all sections of our society, so long shall we be condemned to endure this steady drift towards lawlessness, with all the dangers that entails. Peace and freedom are today indivisible, we shall not have one without the other!

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me once more to express my thanks to the Johannesburg Press Club. The challenges that face us as an emergent nation are not really that great if we give them due consideration. What is required of every South African today is the simple recognition that his/her fellow citizens, like himself, are at a root, simple, uncomplicated human beings . We are all "warmed by the same summer" and "chilled by the same winter" and it is recognition of that common humanity that shall bond us into a nation.

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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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