Item 1282 - Speech on the steps of the Sydney Opera House

Identity area

Reference code

ZA COM MR-S-1282


Speech on the steps of the Sydney Opera House


  • 1990-10-24 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

Context area

Name of creator

(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

Biographical history

Archival history

Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Mandela's first visit to Australia

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area


Honourable guests, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen
Our visit here is a fulfilment of a long standing wish: to come and thank you personally for the marvellous contribution you have made to our freedom struggle.

Even within the thick prison walls of Robben Island, of Pollsmoor Prison, and of Victor Verster Prison, where my colleagues and myself were imprisoned at various times, the steadfastness of your solidarity filtered through. We rejoiced over the militant demonstrations of your rejection of the inhuman system of apartheid.

I can recall how we prisoners of apartheid whispered to each other about your very healthy and militant actions, of disavowal against an all-white Springbok team from a country where your black brothers and sisters toiled under apartheid rule.

Your actions, and those of anti-apartheid workers worldwide, gave us strength and confidence that our just cause would prevail in the end.

Today I stand before you happy at the opportunity to thank you in person. I salute you and bring you warm greetings from Comrade Oliver Tambo – the President of the ANC, and our entire membership.

The birth of the new South Africa is at hand. Together, we have nurtured the embryo still struggling to be born. The dying monster of apartheid, surfeited from the richest of our sweat and our blood, is still vainly attempting to choke the new breath with its embrace of unemployment, disease, lack of education, poverty and death.

But our people are determined to give breath to freedom. They are proceeding with the same courage and sacrifice they have demonstrated over the long and bitter years of our struggle. I know that this welcome you have honoured me and my delegation with is your tribute to their strength, duty and militant resistance.

We are merely the instrument at their command. You have heard about the talks the African National Congress has held with the South African government. Our situation in South Africa is moving in the direction of a peaceful resolution of our problems. The African National Congress is now unbanned, the exiles are returning home, political prisoners are being released, and the state of emergency has been lifted.

We are pressing forward towards discussing a new constitution, which will guarantee the fundamental right of one person, one vote. In this regard, we cannot and we will not compromise. We want peace in our country, we want justice, we want security. We will do everything in our power to make sure that our people are free. And we’ll work in order to build a new South Africa.

In order to create a proper atmosphere, a proper climate, for these discussions between the ANC and the government to succeed, we have gone out of our way to make concessions. One of the most important concessions that we have made, is to suspend the armed struggle with immediate effect.

We have pledged that during this period of suspension, we will not bring in men and arms into the country, and we intend to honour that. But let me tell you, let me assure you, that if the government does not want to honour the agreements that we have made. If the government continues to make statements which indicate that they are not prepared to accept without reservation, the principle of one-person one-vote then South Africa will be on fire again.

This organisation was formed in 1912, and it was the intention of various South African governments, to destroy it, and to leave blacks without any political organisation to champion their cause. Every conceivable means has been used in order to destroy the African National Congress, and to silence the voice of protest in the country. Not only have these governments failed, but the African National Congress is today the most powerful political organisation inside and outside parliament in South Africa.

Whether we have won the fight or not is irrelevant. The message that we have been able to put across to our people is that it is victory if a man or women has done his duty on Earth. Many of our people have accepted the principle, and they are prepared to fight back if the government does not want to cooperate with us. And the only way of cooperating with us at this juncture is to allow people to enjoy the principle of one person, one vote. This is the only way we can establish a non-racial, democratic, united and non-sexist state for all South Africans.

When I say we are fighting for a non-sexist state, I am not speaking rhetoric. Amongst us here, in our delegation, there are three talented ladies. This speech has been drafted by one of them.

If the ladies here want to be free, all that you have to do is join the African National Congress.

We have been deeply concerned about the recent outbreak of violence that has shaken South Africa, and shocked the progressive world. We reject the claim that this violence is a “black on black” violence or that it is a fight of two different tribes. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I must indicate to you that in the beginning it was true that this was fight between one political organisation and another. This fight arose when one political organisation in our country realised that it was losing support amongst blacks in the country, and when this happened in order to stop the exodus of members from that organisation, it decided to use force. And that is how this violence started.

It started in one province occupied by one tribe, and one tribe only. There was no question of an inter-tribal fight. Over the last four years this violence was confined to this province. But now, since the 22 of July, it was extended to the Transvaal. And then the government propagandist, together with their mass media, now deserted? this violence as a clash between tribes. That was never true.

What happened since July this year, is that the violence assumed new dimensions because now you had highly trained death squads who acted with military precision. Who entered trains, who did not utter a single word but who started hacking, shooting and killing people. They disappeared with the same speed that they entered these moving trains. We have no doubts in our minds as to who is responsible for this latest version in this violence. It is clear to us that we are now having in our country the beginnings of a Renamo movement in Mozambique.

You must remember that in our country, and in spite of the discussions which we are having with the government, the killer mentality amongst the security force is very high. Precisely because the training of the police and army in our country is directed against the oppressed people in the country. Every policemen, every soldier is taught to regard any demonstration by blacks no matter how peaceful, how non-violent, how disciplined they are taught to regard that demonstration as a declaration of war on white supremacy. It is a demonstration which should be put down with the most brutal force any policeman or soldier can command. That is the situation that exists in our country.

And in spite of the magnificent efforts of De Klerk to help bring about fundamental changes in the country. These forces are determined to derail the peace process. That is the problem that faces us. It is not a “black on black violence”! It is now violence inspired by the security forces. And we have warned the government because it is quite clear that the present moment, they are either finding it difficult to supress the current violence, they have lost control over the security forces or the security forces are doing exactly what the government wants them to do.

We will not allow them a cake? We are determined to force them to stop their own security forces from committing this slaughter on blacks in the country.

We have told the government of investigations that have been made, of the affidavits that have been taken, of the checking and cross-checking that has been done on the accuracy of the information contained in these affidavits.

We have identified the National Intelligence Service, the Military Intelligence and a host of other organisations which have been trained in order to carry out this manslaughter. And we have asked the government to take action.
The present line in this violence does not fool us. We are aware that intensive preparations have been made for an even more violent and indiscriminate slaughter of our people. Because what these elements have in mind is that the government should negotiate with a weak African National Congress. The government is seriously disturbed by the rising strength of the African National Congress and the solidarity of the oppressed people in the country.

Although they are sincere in wanting a democratic South Africa, they are never the less worried about the prospect that the African National Congress will be able to influence every stage of our attempt to bring about a new South Africa. I repeat, we are not going to allow the government to escape. The government is going to do what we have agreed upon.

We are not afraid. Our culture of militant resistance conceived out of the accumulated victories won in the anvil of repression and discrimination have given rise to an invincible spirit of non-surrender on our part.

Everywhere and overwhelmingly our people are fighting back – fighting, demonstrating, staying away, singing and praying for decisive change. We are enthusiastically building the African National Congress to face the formidable political machine of the white National Party which is in government. And whose government has ruled our country since 1948.

We are determined that last year was the last time in which whites in our country will vote alone.

With equal fervour, we are reshaping our society, building political, economical and social institutions to create the new South Africa. These tasks demand from us a commitment to entrench new values, including as I have already said, the equality for women. We need your support, moral, material and financial to build a strong African National Congress.

Our guiding light is the [ANC] Freedom Charter, which declares. I quote we will achieve genuine democracy only with the full participation of our people, regardless of race, creed, gender or colour.

[We have no doubt] that, with your continued support and inspiration, victory is certain.

I also would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the choir here. It is quite clear they have spent much time and much energy rehearsing our national anthem. When they sang it, I thought I was in Soweto in South Africa.

When we are in Sydney, when we are in this great country which has supported us for so long, we do not want to seek evidence that you are indeed our allies. That long and consistent support is sufficient evidence. Nevertheless, I want to refer to this choir and their beautiful singing as another example of the commitment of the people of Australia and its youth to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Finally, I would like to thank the mayor for the Order that was bestowed to me by the city of Sydney way back in 1987. I value that honour because it is not conferred on me personally. It is conferred on my comrades, on my organisation and on my people who fought back so gallantly against a very brutal regime.

You have given us a lot of inspiration. You have given us the ability to continue the fight, and to continue with the negotiations, in the certainty that the world generally and the people of Australia and Sydney particularly, are solidly behind us. Thank you.

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Acquisition method: Audio Recording ; Source: transcribed by NMFAudio recording made available by the Lowy Institute for International Policy who copied it from the State Library of New South Wales. Accessioned on 01/04/2014 by Razia Saleh




Accession area

Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related genres

Related places