Item 113 - Address by ANC President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, to the Ruth First Tenth Anniversary Commemoration

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Address by ANC President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, to the Ruth First Tenth Anniversary Commemoration


  • 1992-08-17 (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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Distinguished Chairperson,
Comrade National Chairperson, Oliver Tambo,
Comrade Joe Slovo,
Comrades Shawn, Gillian and Robyn,
Comrade Pallo Jordan,
Comrades and Friends,

Ten years ago today, while I was in Pollsmoor Prison, I felt shattered and terribly alone when I received the news that Ruth First had been assassinated. My grief was all the more poignant because I knew both of the men injured in the same blast.

In my mind's eye I saw Pallo Jordan as I had last seen him when, during 1948, I spent a few days in his home. Similarly, I could see Comrade Braganza talking intensely to me when we met during my stay in Morocco in 1962.

But most clearly I could see Ruth:

Ruth engaged in intense debate while we were at Wits University together; who uncompromisingly broke with the privilege of her wealthy background; who readily crossed the racial barrier that so few whites were, or still are, able to cross; a woman whose passion and compassion enabled others, including those from liberal and conservative perspectives, to play their part.

It is a small consolation that her memory lives beyond the grave, that her freedom of spirit infuses many committed to an open society, rigorous intellectual thought, courage and principled action.

Ruth spent her life in the service of the people of Southern Africa. She went to prison for her beliefs. She was murdered because of her acute political acumen combined with her resolute refusal to abandon her principles. Her life, and her death, remains a beacon to all who love liberty.

Many of you here today also knew Ruth personally, and will pay fitting tribute to her. But for us the assassination of Ruth First was not only a personal tragedy of immense proportions. It was part of a pattern of the systematic elimination of leading opponents of apartheid. Ten years later this commemoration is most appropriate, because it is only now that information is beginning to come out about the death squads and the crimes committed in defence of apartheid.

Our country cries out for peace. But this will be difficult to achieve until there is a recognition of the real causes of the violence, and the disbanding of those forces at the centre of what is in reality a low intensity war against the people.

The violence destroying the very fabric of our society has distinct patterns.

Firstly, there is random terror where anyone, irrespective of political affiliation or ethnic origin, can be a victim. This occurs through train massacres, attacks on taxi passengers, revellers in taverns etc.

Secondly, within this random terror, there is the clear pattern of assassination of lower and middle leadership of the mass democratic movement. And this includes those members of the communities working within the peace structures to bring an end to violence. Such assassinations serve to deliberately fuel tensions and generate patterns of revenge killings.

Thirdly, there is the systematic assassination of leading political figures, including Ruth First, Joe Gqabi, Mathew Goniwe, David Webster and Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, to name but a few.

And through all these layers runs a consistent thread: the South African security forces who, until now, have been placed above the law. A gathering such as this should not only pay tribute to those we have lost, but should also focus on how to bring to public knowledge what happened, and what structures still exist, so that the violence can be brought to an end.

The rampant lawlessness can be seen in the systematic torture - by such means as beatings, electric shocks and the use of hoods to suffocate prisoners - as well as the continued occurrence of deaths in police custody.

We are asked to believe that the Boipatong tapes were erased by mistake. But if this is true, the reflection of police incompetence is simply beyond belief. If we accept the argument that the tapes were erased through over-recording, we also have to accept that the police did not know how to use their equipment, did not know they did not know, and were completely unaware that they did not have tape recordings of daily routine calls. If we accept this version of how the tapes were erased, we also have to accept a complete lack of accountability, internal reporting or any system within the police force.

Among the revelations we need to pay attention to is that which places former Law and Order Minister Adrian Vlok as chairing a State Security Council meeting which spoke of "removing Goniwe from society". We need to relentlessly pursue information on the role of General Van der Westhuizen, not only in relation to the Goniwe murders but also more generally, especially given his involvement in a recent bid to assassinate Dirk Coetsee in London.

This is but the tip of the iceberg, and already government ministers are clamouring for a general amnesty. While we do not in principle oppose a general amnesty, such a matter is the province of an interim government. This minority government cannot pardon itself. Furthermore, integral to an amnesty is full revelation of past crimes and who committed them. This is not for the purpose of revenge, but to ensure that we do not carry such festering sores with us into the future.

A cleansing process is not simply the granting of pardons. Moreover, endeavours to equate the criminal activities carried out in defence of apartheid with the actions of those who fought to rid our country of this terrible scourge is not helpful. The actions of the French resistance were never comparable to the actions of the occupying German army.

The way forward requires cool heads and iron discipline. We welcome the proposed investigation into the SADF, SA Police, KwaZulu Police, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Apla and others proposed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali. This investigation into all these forces is to be conducted by Judge Goldstone, and we will afford his commission every assistance.

Flowing from Mr. Vance's visit, the Security Council is meeting today to consider what the next steps should be. There has been a very sympathetic hearing of our request for international monitors to be permanently based in South Africa, and we await a final decision in this regard.

But the most urgent task facing us is to bring all the security forces under a central command structure, and for control to be placed in the hands of a multi-party commission.

All of this is necessary so that we can end the bloodletting, and move forward to peace and democracy in South Africa. Let us all play our part.

The memory of Ruth First and countless others who died that we may be free lives in our hearts. They will never be forgotten.

Thank you.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 9 Nov 2006 by Helen Joannides




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