Item 064 - Address of Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress, on receiving an Honorary LLD Degree at the University of the Witwatersrand

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ZA COM MR-S-064

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Address of Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress, on receiving an Honorary LLD Degree at the University of the Witwatersrand

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  • 1991-09-06 (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 Website

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  • English

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TRANSCRIPT

Mr. Chancellor,
Mr. Vice-Chancellor,
Distinguished members of the university council and senate,
Members of the university staff and students,
Friends.

It is a great honour that this university bestows on me and through me on the African National Congress and all democratic organisations dedicated to the creation of peace and freedom in South Africa.

No institution, especially not an educational institution, can function in an environment where conflict is the order of the day, where the structure of society promotes conflict, where violence is encouraged, subsidized and inflamed. No institution committed to the pursuit of truth can flourish in a social order committed to the pursuit of racism and the preservation of racial domination.

It is therefore natural that a university such as this one, which has a proud record in defence of academic freedom, in opposition to apartheid oppression and repression, while also maintaining high standards of academic excellence, should share the values that motivate the African National Congress.

I am not suggesting that there is or should be a formal structural connection between ourselves and this university. We prize the autonomy of educational institutions and consider that they function best when independent of political organisations and the state. This is indeed one of the lessons of our time.

That being said we do share much and we must build on what we share. What we share is values that are universally respected and this we must advance and defend. Amongst these values area belief in democracy, peace, equality, non-racialism and non-sexism. This naturally provides room for cooperation but it also makes us allies in opposition to apartheid and in our dedication to secure peace, which necessitates a democratic foundation.

This is not the place for me to detail possible bases for future cooperation. Already there is fruitful cooperation between the ANC and scholars from this university in the development of our policies, amongst other areas in the economy, health and land. Academics are also engaged in joint projects with various departments in developing our understanding of numerous other issues.

Even outside of this we benefit a great deal from the published research of many of your scholars, in particular, those demystifying traditional Euro-centric treatment of the history of this country and recapturing some of the hidden history of our struggle and the history of ordinary people who did not appear in earlier texts, which recorded blacks mainly as obstacles in the way of white conquest.

Before passing on to the main issues that I want to tackle it is important for me to record one other debt to this university. This university has produced some of the finest men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the struggle to free our country and secure a better life for all we particularly wish to pay tribute to two people who gave their very lives for this cause - Ruth First, whom I knew as a fine journalist and humanist, and David Webster whom I unfortunately never had the opportunity of meeting, but whose dedication to the cause of freedom is well recorded.

These two patriots had to die because there are some people in this country who find the idea of human freedom repulsive. These people gave their lives so that others could one day live in freedom. We owe it to their memory to ensure that the day of freedom will come sooner rather than later. It will come whether the racists want it or not. It will come because the majority of South Africans have never accepted the denial of their freedom and will not rest until peace and justice have indeed triumphed.

The atmosphere of the country has changed since February 2, 1990. Indeed the language of liberation is the conventional language of not only the ANC but also the Nationalist Party. We may count this as a victory. But we also need to be cautious and not suspend our critical judgment.

This week the Nationalist Party has offered constitutional proposals for a new South Africa, proposals that it describes as amounting to participatory democracy. That is our language. We also seek participatory democracy and that is why the very first clause of the Freedom Charter says 'the people shall govern!' That is why the charter continues by stating amongst other things that

'All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.'

I think that it is important that we pay adequate attention to these proposals because it is crucial that it is not just experts and political organisations that involve themselves in constitutional debate. It is the concern of all South Africans who want to live in peace and freedom.

It is our job, also to consider whether one or other constitutional proposals will secure that end. It is our job to look for real solutions and not allow ourselves to be deceived if something falls short of what is required or conceals what is in fact subversive of what is required.

The language of liberation is one thing. It is our job to see what the NP actually understands by participatory democracy. On closer examination we see that they are not speaking of the people governing. They actually have in mind a scheme to prevent the will of the people from being realised through democratic government. They propose a system that will entrench minority privileges by ensuring that any majority party is powerless to make significant social changes, powerless to remove minority privileges and in many ways powerless to rule.

Let us look at these proposals a little closer. In the first house of parliament, their proposals coincide with ours, where there will be elections on the basis of one person one vote, through proportional representation. But this house cannot make law alone. Its legislation must be passed by a second house.

The second house is based on nine regions, each of which has an equal number of seats, that is to say, the most populous region the PWV, has the same status in this house as the Northern Cape. Immediately this reduces the weight of the majority of the population. But the suggestions do not stop there. In the elections for each region, every party which gets more than 10% of the vote will have an equal number of seats. In other words if the ANC gets 70% of the vote and the NP, DP and CP get 10% each, the organisation with majority support will in fact hold a minority of seats!

That is why the NP calls it a house of minorities. More correctly it should be described as a house to protect minority privilege and block the intention of any democratic government to reconstruct the country on an equitable basis.

But this is not all. At the level of executive control the government claims to follow a constitutional pattern of western Europe - where coalition governments are frequently formed. The difference is that the NP proposals suggest that such coalitions should be constitutionally obligatory

No one party can hold the position of head of state for more than one year. This must be rotated between three to five party heads, each holding office for no more than a year at a time. They must make all decisions by consensus and they pick a cabinet representing all of these parties to carry out their decisions.

There can be a motion of no confidence in the whole ruling triumvirate or quadrumvirate but not in an individual leader.

This is said to be a way of ensuring that there is participatory democracy. It is in fact a recipe for governmental paralysis and it is plain and simply aimed at preventing majority rule from having any meaning. It is aimed at ensuring that the accumulated privileges of white minority rule remain inviolate.

The NP proposals are a recipe for continued conflict. They are a set of proposals that, if seriously advanced, can only retard progress towards a negotiated solution. This is a cynical exercise designed under fancy constitutional language to dupe South Africans.

And what does De Klerk say of the values embraced in these proposals, in his speech to the NP special congress:

'In our defence of these values, we shall not waver. The National Party has the capacity to prevent the adoption of a constitution which will militate against these values. We will not hesitate to use that ability.'

In other words the regime is not only committed to maintaining minority privileges and paralysing majority rule, but will use its capacity to prevent a constitution based on alternative values from being adopted. What does this mean?

Is the Nationalist Party going to prevent negotiations over models that are fundamentally opposed to that which they propose? Are we going to be limited to negotiating a constitution w1th one or other variant of the minority veto?

What is this capacity that De Klerk threatens to deploy? It is surely the capacity of a government that we argue should not be the ruling authority in the period of transition to democracy. It is a government which claims it cannot make way for an interim government because it is the constitutionally elected authority of this country. The authority of this constitution derives from the support of just over one million voters in the 1983 referendum. It is also a government elected by just over one million people of a population of nearly 40 million.

In short, we speak of a government without a shred of legitimacy and a constitution that is not a South African constitution but a record of the rights of white South Africans and the dispossession and disabilities of the black majority.

We represent far more people than the small number that voted for the Nationalist Party or its constitution. Our constitutional vision is supported in broad terms not only by the ANC but by all democrats.

So we are not persuaded by arguments concerning the constitutional authority of this government. We say that evidence mounts up daily to support our case for an interim government. Evidence such as Inkathagate and the state toleration and complicity in the violence have persuaded many people that our demand for an interim government of national unity is necessary to create a climate of free political activity appropriate for negotiations.

We had hoped that the government would find the will and exercise the power that it has to bring an end to the violence. It has not and appears unwilling to do so. It is clear to us that the main obstacle in the way of peace is the present government. It must go so that we can form a government enjoying broad confidence and with the will to tackle the problems that urgently face us.

This is not the time for selfish short term political advantages to be sought. The violence is something that is damaging the country as a whole. It is essential that all patriotic South Africans appeal to the government to make way, exercise real patriotism and hand over power to an interim government that will get us out of the present mess and take us forward to peace under a democratic constitution

I spoke of the need to think of the long term interests of the country as a whole. Some people may have been surprised at our appeals for the release of right wing hunger strikers. Our intervention has not only been made because these people must live to provide the evidence that they possess of military and national intelligence service involvement in criminal actions.

That is one reason for our intervention. There were two other reasons. One is that we do not want any more unnecessary deaths in a country where lives, albeit mainly black lives are very cheap. The second reason is that the ANC wants to create a basis for future reconciliation in a democratic state. No matter how repugnant we find the beliefs and actions of the extreme right, they form a part of the South Africa of the present and the future.

We do not want them to remain in the future South Africa as a Renamo type force. Let us try to reach these people now and assure them that they have nothing to fear from majority rule. Nothing to fear if the ANC becomes the future government of this country. Nothing to fear from black people and from equality. We know that this is a difficult task but as nation builders, as an organisation committed to creating a new South Africa which will truly be a home for all who live in it we have to undertake this task.

Mr. Chancellor, forgive me for making hardly any reference to educational matters in my address. I felt that it would be more appropriate at this time to address central issues concerning our people as a whole, issues that will condition whether or not the doors of learning and culture will be truly opened.

May I thank you again for the honour you have bestowed on me. I will try to prove worthy of this honour. That means I will pursue the quest for peace and democracy with all the vigour at my disposal. And that will be the task of the ANC as a whole. I ask all members of this university, in whatever way they can to join us in this patriotic task.

Thank you.

Note

EDITORIAL CHANGES

Paragraph beginning: "These two patriots had to die because there are some people in this country who find the idea of human freedom repulsive."
Sentence in web text: "It will come because the majority of South Africans have never accepted the denial of the] r freedom and will not rest until peace and justice have indeed triumphed."
Changes made: "the]r" changed to "their"

Paragraph beginning: "In our defence of these values, we shall not waver. The national party has the capacity to prevent the adoption of a constitution which will militate against these values. We will not hesitate to use that ability.'"
Changes made: "national party" changed to "National Party"

Paragraph beginning: "Is the nationalist party going to prevent negotiations over models that are fundamentally opposed to that which they propose? Are we going to be limited to negotiating a constitution w1th one or other variant of the minority veto?"
Changes made: "nationalist party" changed to "Nationalist Party"

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 7 Nov 2006 by Helen Joannides

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