Item 1145 - Keynote Address to IDASA Conference Delivered by Nelson Mandela President of the African National Congress

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ZA COM MR-S-1145


Keynote Address to IDASA Conference Delivered by Nelson Mandela President of the African National Congress


  • 1991-11-21 (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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Keynote Address to IDASA Conference

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  • English

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We as a people, as a country are at a cross roads. There is a real and frightening possibility of us sliding into a bottomless abyss, a hell of endless pain and anguish. On the other hand, a bright and happy future for all awaits. Will it be forward to freedom and democracy or a throw back into disaster and permanent strife. The pendulum could swing either way unless we take it upon ourselves as South Africans, to secure our common future.

Whether we shall succeed or not depends on what we do now, tomorrow and the trying years ahead. The time to begin sowing the seeds of national healing and reconciliation is now. The hour, to lay the foundations of a new South Africa which we will be proud to bequeath to our children and grandchildren, has come. It is time to make a clear and decisive break with the apartheid crime against humanity. The alternative is anarchy, chaos and more violence. In this regard, time is not at our mercy.

As our new democratic society struggles to be born, the more apartheid continues with attempts to dictate the terms under which it should give way to a democratic order.

It seeks to adapt itself rather than yield to the overwhelming need for fundamental change. In this context, the strategic objective of this archaic system, is to try and manage, contain and, possibly, reverse its terminal crisis. If this were to succeed, the consequences would be too ghastly to contemplate.

It, therefore, remains the national duty of every patriot, to urgently generate, solidify and assert a nationwide consensus on the imperative need to eradicate apartheid in all its ramifications. This consensus must be based on a firm understanding that white supremacy cannot be reformed but must be completely eliminated. It must be informed by the fact that nothing less than real freedom and democracy for all South Africans- regardless of race, colour, creed or gender, will lift our country out of the current crisis. For it is only the advent of freedom and democracy which can lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace and prosperity for all.

However, our new society will not fall like manna from heaven all of us are, therefore, faced with a firm challenge to be armed with a vision- a vision which will empower us to give an optimal and collective response to the transition process. Only in this manner would we be able to pre-empt the possible degeneration of this process into anarchy and the ordination of violence as a permanent feature of our lives.

Since the advent of colonialism on our shores, our country’s wealth, both human and material resources, have been prodigally squandered. In pursuit of narrow interests, white supremacy installed a permanent reign of terror, overt and covert. It strove to install, preserve and consolidate minority privilege and domination founded on the systematic oppression, exploitation, dispossession and degradation of the majority of our people. While the souls of some of our compatriots were corrupted by the excesses of illicit privilege and power, the overwhelming majority were languishing in the most abject poverty, disease and ignorance. This left them no choice but to struggle for their very survival and for the defence of their threatened humanity and sense of decency.

However, we must not, and should not, permit the negative passions authored by apartheid to discolour and tarnish our future. If anything, we must steadfastly hold on to a humanising vision predicated on the fundamental need for national reconciliation. The vision we must embrace is that of national healing and renewal. Only such a path can guide the transition process to an outcome which reflects and respects the democratic will of the widest possible cross-section of the South African people. Our children, our grandchildren, our very future depend on it.

Our new society must be constructed on the sacred rule of the fundamental worth of every human being, the sanctity and inviolability of human life and the inalienable right of every person to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It must affirm all those ideals and values which are at once humanising and conducive to the unfettered self-realisation of each and every individual.

This is the challenge before us. The tall order we must collectively endeavour to meet, by constantly transcending ourselves towards a richer and more dynamic freedom and towards a large and more generous humanity.

If we are all human beings, and I believe we are, we must be prepared to locate and accommodate those of our differences, which are inevitable, within the framework of the common-wealth of ideals, values, interests and inclinations bequeathed to us by former generations. Ours should be a democracy intrinsically informed by our own history and experiences- a democracy appreciative and, where necessary, assimilative of the finest outcomes of experiments with freedom and democracy, the world over.

In this regard, the vision of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa may, one day, come to be judged as the finest achievement of our struggle.

This is so because it is not a vision dangled by conquerors before the conquered. To the contrary, it is a vision that seek to bridge the rifts- an endeavour to heal the wounds which were laid open and enlarged by apartheid. This is our modest blueprint for a free, sane, safe and happy future for us all. It is a blueprint rooted in the deep longing of entire generations of our people for freedom, democracy and peace.

In this sense, it cannot be the exclusive property of the victims of apartheid, rather, it is the province of all people who truly love South Africa- a dream which when realised will spare our children the agony we have lived and suffered under apartheid.

This perspective has, inter alia, drawn inspiration from the universal declaration of human rights and other formal instruments of freedom and democracy. However, it must remain less than final until it is subjected to the ultimate test of democracy- the will of the people of South Africa. Guided by this, we must move forward in the conviction that the people of South Africa have the courage and ability to learn from past errors, to forgive and make a new beginning. Our failure to summon this courage is sure to condemn posterity to a repetition of our tragedy.

It is, therefore, in our interests to have the courage to forgive, to trust, to love and to dream. We have no alternative but to make a sacred and unbreakable covenant with freedom, peace, democracy and progress for all South Africans regardless of race, colour, creed or gender. Nothing less than such a vision, nothing less than such a covenant can propel us all from the current unhappy state of affairs to the happy, robust and triumphant South Africa which all of us and all succeeding generations so richly deserve.

The best part of my life has been given to the struggle against racial domination black or white. It has been dedicated to the struggle for the freedom of all the people of South Africa. Like the lives of countless other patriots, my life was shaped and ordered by my direct experience of oppression, exploitation, and racism. It was given its direction by my innate inability to forsake the dream of freedom. Its focus was sharpened by the understanding that a life of bondage is a life not worth living. It has derived strength and sustenance from my conviction that apartheid is wrong and must ultimately fall under the deadweight of its unworkability.

Like many of you in this hall, like millions of other South Africans, I continue to be called upon to pay the price for my commitment to freedom, democracy, peace and progress.

It has caused all of us enormous pain. Yet my convictions will always be worth more than the anguish they may cause me. However, my fate is not one I would wish upon even the worst of my enemies. It is a cruelty to which no decent society would want to expose its citizens. It is a tragic indecency from which any sane society will seek to shield its children.

I have therefore struggled to protect our children and grandchildren from a similar fate. No anguish on this earth can divert me from the pursuit of this sacred objective.

We may have lost the race against time in our bid to make a positive difference in the quality of life which our children are already inheriting from our generation. They already know the harsh and bitter taste of apartheid. Many of them are already struggling side by side with their mothers and fathers. However, though the worst may yet happen, not all is lost.

We still have the chance, as well as the obligation, to strive to bequeath to our grandchildren and all succeeding generations, the South Africa of our sanest dreams- a South Africa we would be proud of.

I want the best for my grandchildren. I want the best for yours no less. I want the best South Africa for all South Africans. It is a yearning that must bind us all as parents and the parents of parents.

We must, therefore, all of us, give our best, in the name of the finest future for our offsprings. We must make it a South Africa that will not rob the children of their childhood and of their native and spontaneous love of life. It must be one that fosters a healthy respect for and appreciation for all races; one that employs our human variety to energise the human fellowship and unity of all South Africans. It must be a society in which the colour of the skin will not be used either to divide the children or to darken or lighten the possibilities of their freedom, happiness or success but will be seen as cause for the celebration of human variety. It must nourish rather than stunt their potential for full growth and all-round development.

Our grandchildren must inherit a South Africa that will love and care for them and encourage them to excel to their utmost limits. It must be a true motherland which shines on childhood and accords our offsprings free reign to be, to play, to explore, to create, to work, to build, to learn and to flower.

A united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa is the best hope for the delivery of such a society into the hands of our children. It is a vision we advance. It is a vision we invite you to examine, fine-tine and enrich. If needs be, it is a vision we challenge all of you to surpass.

Thank you all.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 18/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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