Item 1137 - Statement by Deputy President, Nelson Mandela to the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) Third National Congress

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ZA COM MR-S-1137


Statement by Deputy President, Nelson Mandela to the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) Third National Congress


  • 1991-06-21 (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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NUMSA 3rd National Congress

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  • English

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3rd Floor
Munich Re Centre 54 Sauer Street Johannesburg 2001
P.O. Box 61884 Marshalltown, 21 Tel: 834-5301/8 Fax: 834-1019 Telex: 421252
Comrade Chairperson, Comrades Delegates, Esteemed guests,
I thank you very much for the invitation to address your third national congress. As society's most organised social force, the working class has been playing and continues to play a crucial role in our struggle for freedom, democracy and social justice. Your congress is taking place at a crucial time in our forward march to freedom.
The abolition of the so-called pillars of apartheid has been accompanied by a fanfare of propaganda trumpeting the message that apartheid is dead and the funeral will be held on June 30th; the date after which South African babies will no longer be registered at birth according to their race.

Yet, when we look around us, have any one of us reason to believe that apartheid is dead? The government still spends more on whites than on blacks in providing education, health, welfare pensions and so on. The laws
that have repealed; the Land Act, the Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act were painfully silent on the need to redress the wrongs of the past. No one has even spoken of repealing the Bantu Education Act.

If the pillars are gone, what of the foundation on which all else was built? That basic law of our land that denies Africans the vote and reserves political power to the white minority is still intact.

It is because the majority have been denied political power, that it became possible for minority white governments to pass the laws that are now being repealed. And so long as we do not have the right to vote, so long as we do not have democratically elected governments in our country, so long will it remain possible for parliament to re-introduce apartheid laws.

The task, therefore, of destroying apartheid and building a democratic non-racial, non-sexist social, political and economic order should retain its place on our agenda as priority number one.

How do we destroy apartheid? And who is most capable of destroying apartheid? These are some of the questions, which, their apparent simplicity notwithstanding, we should address with renewed urgency. You have placed them high on your agenda, and in 10 days time, ANC members gathered at our national conference will be focussing their attention in a similar manner and working out ways of taking our struggle forward to victory.

Through a combination of mass action, underground activities, armed struggle and international solidarity, we were able to advance to the stage where negotiations became a possibility. The routing of the SADF at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale added to the pressures on Pretoria and paved the way for the withdrawal of racist troops from Southern Africa and the independence of Nambia.

This situtation, coupled with escalating resistance within the country and mounting international pressure, in its turn produced qualitatively new dynamics in South Africa. The opportunity for reaching a negotiated settlement came closer.

Even before the National Party government was forced to unban the ANC, and other political organisations, we had seized the strategic initiative in what was for us a relatively new terrain. Consultations among the membership, and our alliance partners was followed by detailed discussions with the Front Line states and the OAU, leading to the adoption of the Harare Declaration. This was later adopted by the Non-aligned Movement and provided the basis for the United Nations consensus declaration on South Africa. As a result of this, we were able to enter this phase of our struggle with the advantage of an internationally agreed programme for
viable negotiations to end apartheid.

Since the formation of the ANC we have always adopted the method of discussing the problems of the country with the regime. But we have never followed this blindly. Even while we pursued the policy of discussion and persuasion we also recognised its limitations, and when no headway was possible, we were prepared to resort to power. So we embarked on the armed struggle when that was called for. In a similar way we must now exercise the power of mass action in order to back up the demands we put forward in our discussions with the regime.

Through a combination of discussion and exercising the power of mass action, we have made significant gains which have justified the methods we have used. Since these achievements of ours are often clouded by propaganda, I would like to take this opportunity to spell some of them out to you.

After the unbanning we could have waited for de Klerk to comply with the Harare Declaration and remove the obstacles that stood in the way of negotiations in his own time. Instead we decided to hasten the process by engaging the regime in discussions about these obstacles. Before the Groote Schuur meeting, the government still considered the ANC leadership as criminals and terrorists - so much so that they were only prepared to allow them into the country for 7 days in order to participate in the talks. By the end of our discussions, the government had been forced to agree with our definition of a political offence, in which motive was the determining factor.

In August, under threat of refusing to continue the talks we were able to force the reluctant government to accept April 30th as a deadline for granting indemnity and releasing political prisoners.

It is true, that in both cases there was considerable backtracking from the government, and a failure to implement the agreements fully or promptly. But that does not diminish what we achieved and we have found that following our consultative conference and the mass actions leading up to the deadline, large numbers of prisoners have been released and indemnities granted. Though more remains to be done.

Similarly on the question of violence, we have managed to secure a ban on the carrying of cultural weapons, albeit a limited one. And in the next few days under neutral auspices a meeting is to be held at which all parties will be able to discuss and plan a conference to bring an end to violence.

Most importantly perhaps, we note that the demands for group political rights are becoming more muted as our vision of a non racial, non sexist and democratic South Africa gains more and more support, even among the ranks of the National Party.

Comrade chair, the ANC has flourished and survived these many years because we have tried to practice political tolerance and accommodate and adapt in the face of criticism. So while I have acclaimed our successes, let me also acknowledge some of our errors.

We have resisted all attempts by the government to force us into abandoning mass action and have refused to put any limit on our people’s right to go on strike or resort to any form of mass action. But we may not have always got the mix between discussions and mass action right. We have also had to exercise a degree of caution, induced by our concern not to add to the already harsh conditions in which our people live, or to provide excuses for employers to retrench even larger numbers of workers.

We have been engaging in discussions with government, and trying to organise campaigns and mass action while simultaneously coping with the problems of reestablishing the ANC as a legal organisation after a period of 30 years of illegality, trying to merge different styles of leadership and methods and incorporating our various components into a unified force. It would be foolish to suggest that we have managed this process with total success - indeed it would have been a miracle if we had.

Sometimes we have not been as thorough in our consultations within the Tripartite Alliance as we should have been, and reports back have not been systematic. In part this has been because of the speed of events, and the fact that the ANC machinery is not as well oiled and efficient as it should be. Corrective measures are being taken on both these counts.

However I want to assure you that the negotiating team is competent, it has been firm and will remain firm and take into account that it is our initiative to which de Klerk is having to respond.

How then do we now move ahead?

The government has not yet responded to our demands in regard to acting effectively to bring violence under control and act against all those who are involved. On the matter of removing the obstacles to negotiations as listed in the Harare Declaration some considerable progress has been made, though the government continues to drag its feet.

According to the Declaration, the first stage of negotiating should deal with agreeing the principles on which the new constitution should be based and the mechanism by which it will be drafted and agreed. Accordingly, the ANC has proposed an all party conference to address these issues.

It is our intention to table at such a conference the universally understood and accepted principles of democratic practice, based on one person, one vote on a common electoral roll. We will also be putting forward our view that a new South African constitution can only be agreed by those who have been specifically mandated to do so. This is why we consider the most appropriate mechanism for constitution making to be a democratically elected sovereign constituent assembly. Elections for such a body would also enable all the parties to clearly demonstrate their strength and legitimacy.

Last but not least, these talks must address the question of who should administer our country while the constitution is being agreed: that is the nature, powers and composition of an interim government.
Comrade chair, I have spoken long on the destruction of apartheid. That is but the first step in our greater task of building democracy. We do not have to wait to begin that task now. We will not build a democratic society in South Africa unless we first build political organisations and institutions on a democratic basis. Here I believe that the political organisations have much to learn from the experience of the trade union movement. It is imperative that all the people in our country participate in the building of a new constitution. In this regard, a workers charter will do much to bring the contribution of every worker to constitutional discussions. Thereby we shall be able to ensure that the interests of workers are constitutionally guaranteed.

Finally, I wish all participants fruitful deliberations and hope that the decisions you will arrive at will go a long way towards strengthening NUMSA and our entire trade union movement.

Long live NUMSA!!

Long live the South African working class!!



This speech was in three different parts with the pages all mixed up. It has been reconstituted to read coherently.

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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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