Item 1174 - Speech of the President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela at the Convention of the NAACP

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ZA COM MR-S-1174


Speech of the President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela at the Convention of the NAACP


  • 1993-07-10 (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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  • English

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To attend a convention of the NAACP is for us a homecoming. We are here today not as guests but as comrades-in-arms. We stand here not as people from another land, but as part of you, part of the great family of black people that is to be found in many parts of the world.

We have come as a component part of the historic coalition of organisations, to which both the NAACP and the ANC belong, that has fought for the emancipation of black people everywhere. The fact that we are together at this convention is an affirmation of the bonds of solidarity and common purpose that have united our people even before our two organisations were formed.

I am very glad that I have at last been able to be with you in person, to thank you for the honour you bestowed on us when you linked us to a real hero by awarding me the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal in 1986. We heard the powerful message you sent by this act within the prison walls where we were held and within the larger prison that was apartheid South Africa.

A great tribute is due to that outstanding giant of our common struggle for emancipation, W.E.B. Du Bois, who, as early as 1900 at the Races Conference in London, raised the issue of the oppression and exploitation of the black people of South Africa.

We all know the famous text contained in his classic work, "The Souls of Black Folk", where he writes that:
" The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour-line - the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and in the islands of the sea. "

Because Du Bois and his peers understood that the freedom of the black people was indivisible, the issue of the liquidation of the system of white minority rule in South Africa has been on the agenda of the NAACP since its foundation in 1909.

Time does not allow for a recollection of the inspiring struggle that your organisation has waged for the emancipation of your brothers and sisters in South Africa, which includes the denunciation of the South African Act of Union of 1909, opposition to the racist ideas of Jan Smuts who became a friend of US President Wilson, your granting of a platform to one of our former Secretaries General, Sol Plaatje, who addressed an NAACP Convention in Detroit in the 1920's, drought relief in the Eastern Cape in the '30's, your cooperation with the ANC during the various Pan-African Congresses and the work that W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson did, after 1948, to mobilise opposition to the system of apartheid.

Our own Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws of 1952 later found an echo in your own defiance of unjust laws and practices in this country as you launched the historic civil rights struggle to address the question of the freedom and human dignity of the black folk of the United States of America.

What a great tribute it was both to the ordinary people who have found a home in this organisation and to the Association itself that it was a simple activist of the NAACP, Rosa Parks, who, by her single act of defiance became the David that challenged Goliath, thus setting in train your unforgettable mass offensive for civil rights.

When Thurgood Marshall, acting for the NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund, convinced your Supreme Court, in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case, to determine that " in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place ", he struck a mighty blow against the system of apartheid in South Africa which, as Du Bois and Robeson had clearly seen, was but a mere extension of the Jim Crow laws which imposed a new slavery on the black people of this country.

With so much that binds us, which says very clearly that we share a common destiny, it was therefore both timely and most appropriate that your Executive Director, Dr Ben Chavis Jr, should have set himself the task of working further to strengthen the ties between the NAACP and the ANC.

We believe that this is right! We believe that it must be done!

Our common struggle for the termination of the apartheid crime against humanity and the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country has reached a decisive point.

The forces of racism in South Africa are on the retreat. The countdown to the democratic transfer of power to the people has begun. The first ever general election in our country, conducted on the basis of one person one vote, will be held on April 27, 1994.

The historic challenge facing us all is to ensure that as a result of those elections, democracy wins, non-racism emerges triumphant, non-sexism becomes the victor and the people take power into their hands.

One of the major tasks we face in the struggle to attain these goals, is to ensure that the forthcoming elections are free and fair.

The results they produce must be a genuine and correct reflection of the feelings and aspirations of the people of our country. They must inspire such confidence that their outcome is accepted by both South Africans and the rest of the world as legitimate.

To address this situation, both of us must make certain that the cross-fertilisation which has characterised the relations between our two peoples and organisations must once more express itself in concrete action.

In "The Souls of Black Folk", Dr Du Bois called on his black contemporaries to " value the privileges and duty of voting ".
Ninety years later, this is the message we must convey to 20 million of your black brothers and sisters.

Strange as it might seem, given that we are approaching the end of the second millennium, it is only next year that these millions will have the right and possibility to vote. It is only now that we can participate in peaceful processes to determine our own destiny and to decide the future of our country.

Late as it may be, this represents a decisive victory over the forces of racism. That victory has put new tasks on our common agenda.

I refer, in particular, to the work we have to do in South Africa concerning voter education, voter identification and voter mobilisation.

As part of the process of the empowerment of the black people of this country, you have been ahead of us in dealing with the same questions. What we now need is your experience. What we need is your input to ensure that we organise those who are now voteless to exercise their democratic an inalienable right.

We need to ensure that these masses, millions of whom are illiterate, do not spoil their ballot papers, that they do not vote for any party by mistake, that they actually go to the polling stations on voting day and that they understand fully the liberating effect for themselves, of a secret ballot.

All of this is going to need substantial financial resources to enable us to carry out our work effectively. We appeal to you to join the campaign to generate these resources, understanding, as you do, that the victory we must obtain in South Africa is one that must address the concerns and aspirations of all oppressed people everywhere.

Let me also say something briefly about the so-called black-on-black violence in our country. We would like to make this matter very clear - that what we are confronted with here is a problem of violent resistance to democratic change, and not a situation of ethnic conflicts that are supposedly inherent in African societies.

South Africa is not Bosnia-Hercegovina. Neither is it Somalia or Beirut.

Behind the political violence in the country stand forces that are unwilling to lose the privileged positions given to them by the apartheid system and do not want us to create a climate favourable to free political activity and conducive to the holding of free and fair elections.

It is these thuggish forces that invaded the seat of the negotiations at the World Trade Centre outside Johannesburg a short while ago, intent on halting the negotiations through the use of brute force.

It is they who carried out the dastardly murder of one of our outstanding leaders, Chris Hani, hoping that they can terrorise the people into submission.

As has happened in other countries, there are also black people who derive some benefit from the oppression of their own kith and kin and are therefore ready to kill to frustrate the process of change.

We want to assure you, dear brothers and sisters, that we shall not allow these conspirators to succeed, including those who are to be found within the structures of the incumbent government.

We will continue to talk to those among our people who are lost and misled. We will continue our efforts to bring into the peace process those whites who are driven to resistance by fear and prejudice.

But surely we have no alternative but to act and to oblige the government to act against those who resort to criminal activity to perpetuate a crime against humanity. Nobody has the right to block the long-overdue transformation of our country into a non-racial and non-sexist democracy! Nobody will be allowed to do so!

In the near future, when the matter of the transitional arrangements leading to the holding of free and fair elections has been settled, we shall be calling on the peoples of the world to end the economic sanctions against South Africa.

Let me take advantage of this important occasion to thank you and all those in this country who have stood by us down the years by imposing and supporting sanctions against the Pretoria regime and its hated apartheid policies and practices.

Today we talk about democratic elections because those sanctions worked. The democratic movement of our country will be involved in the statutory transitional structures that will take us to democracy because your pressure worked.

The moment is approaching when we shall have to say that given the achievements to which I have referred, the time has come for us to address the burning question of feeding the millions in our country that are hungry, clothing the millions that are naked, accommodating the millions that are homeless and creating jobs for the millions who are unemployed.

We will then need the investment, the enlightened management, the training capacity, the technology and the expertise that are to be found in this country, within the public sector, in the private sector and among our own, black people.

We are convinced that you understand this in the same way that we do, that the new South Africa must provide a better quality of life for all its people, especially the black masses, and that the success of the democratic transformation itself depends on the success we will achieve in addressing the material needs of the people.

We invite the business people to get ready to return. Those who have sanctions legislation on their statute books and those institutions which correctly remain bound by sanctions resolutions, should position themselves in such a way that they will be able to remove these restrictions as soon as the democratic movement of our country says that the time to end the sanctions has come.

I am informed that with us here today, there are among others, senior executives of Apple Computer. I want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the commitment they have made to help us address the issue of the appalling levels of education in our country, that with such technology as they dispose of, they can help us to take a leap into the 21st century in our efforts to educate our children, train our workers, start new enterprises and provide a decent standard of living for our people.

I invite them and other US corporations to take their place in the new South Africa, for the mutual benefit.

History has placed a challenge at both our doors and commands that, acting together for the common good, we must make an outstanding success of the historic processes of transforming South Africa into a democratic, prosperous and peaceful country.

We must succeed in all this, in the fundamental interest of all who value freedom and human dignity. The poor, the dispossessed, the despised await our common victory with an expectation we dare not disappoint.

Furthermore, we leave it to you to be our own voice to the government of this country, itself to find the resources that would help us to achieve the political and socio-economic objectives that are on our common agenda.

If the peoples of Eastern Europe deserved of help, so surely do those of Africa whose cause addresses the very core of the issue of the creation of a just and equitable human society.

Let me close with these words from an anthem of liberty:
" Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? "
When the countdown to democracy in South Africa is done, shall we not then:
" Lift ev'ry voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty; "
we who:
" have come, treading our path thro' the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last,
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. "

Let us march on till victory is won!



Paragraph beginning: "The forces of racism in South Africa " 1993 was changed to 1994

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 19/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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