Item 1528 - Address by Mr N R Mandela at the occasion of the 40th celebration of the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe

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ZA COM MR-S-1528


Address by Mr N R Mandela at the occasion of the 40th celebration of the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe


  • 2001-12-16 (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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40th anniversary celebration of the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe

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  • English

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Today, as we look back to the formation of the armed wing of our liberation movement, we do so in a country that has proudly taken its place amongst the democracies of the world: a non-racial and non-sexist democratic country, playing a significant role on our continent and the world in search of that peace and friendship of which the Freedom Charter speaks.
As we look back and reflect on the long walk to this point where we can call ourselves a free nation, we place central the role of Umkhonto we Sizwe, our liberation army. When we reflect on the attainment of peace in our land, we honour our army as the combatant for that peace.
The decision to form MK, and to turn to the armed struggle, was taken fundamentally and in the first place out of a commitment to peace. That there was at that time debate and differences of opinion about that proposed course of action only emphasises how deeply committed to peace and the avoidance of violence our liberation movement had always been. The decision to form MK and to organise for armed struggle, arrived at after discussion and debate, was eventually out of the conviction that it represented a route to peace in our country.
We often make the point that the response of an oppressed people is conditioned by the actions of the oppressors. In our case, our organisation had for decades been clamouring and campaigning for discussions and negotiations with the minority-rule government in order to arrive at a peaceful settlement. It was only when it was conclusively clear that they had no interest in such a route and were in fact stepping up the repression, that we turned to the armed struggle through Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Today we live in a society in which we can celebrate the fruits of that decision by our people and its leadership. Throughout our engagement in armed combat, we understood the armed struggle to be subject to our political struggle. We strove to give a moral content to our armed struggle. It was never aimed at, and never conducted itself as, random violence, retribution or indiscriminate killing. Our struggle was against white supremacy, not against white people. Our armed struggle was a complement to our political struggle, never even a means - let alone, end - in itself. Our liberation war was about the achievement of peace and the saving of lives from the systemic inhumane violence of our apartheid opponents. We must pay tribute to those brave heroes and patriots who were there at the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe and those in the generations that followed, picking up the spear of the nation and carrying it forward to this day where we can look back in celebration of a triumphant battle for peace.
Like our mother organisation, the African National Congress, its liberation army Umkhonto we Sizwe distinguished itself in the manner in which it survived, flourished and grew in the testing circumstances of exile, underground and intense repression. Ours counts amongst the few liberation movements in the world that experienced such sustained and growing coherence and that grew in stature and respect in the world. The discipline, particularly political discipline, of our army and soldiers was key to those achievements of our liberation movement.
We owe a great debt to our comrades and compatriots on the African continent. If we today talk so insistently of democratic South Africa as in the first place part of Africa, it is also because our liberation movement and army found such hospitable home in so many African countries. Without their support, material and moral, we would not have been where we are today as a movement and a country.
It is the recognition of that debt of gratitude that spurs us on as a nation and people to play our part in the search for lasting peace on the continent. We weep as we witness how they who so much supported our battle for peace still suffer under the effects of war and violent conflict. If we spend time and effort in attempting to bring peace to, for example, Burundi, it is also as an acknowledgement by a former commander of MK that they - the Burundians - had played their part in supporting our quest for peace.
The political shape of the world has changed fundamentally over the last decade and a half. However, we shall be failing if we do not recognise, in spite of those changes, the support we received from the then socialist countries of Eastern Europe. If a free and democratic South Africa can today play a meaningful role in world affairs, attempting to assist the birth of a world order in which there shall be greater equality amongst nations and people, the historical contributions of those countries will be vindicated.
There were governments in the Western world who always supported us through humanitarian aid and moral support. We hail their sensitive understanding of the morality of our decision to seek peace also through the adoption of the armed struggle.
In the end almost the entire world supported our cause - a cause in which the role of our armed wing played a central role. We must acknowledge that today as we celebrate the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
We must always remain modest about our achievements. But we trust that through the role of Umkhonto we Sizwe we, South Africans, would have helped to contribute to the world's understanding of how an armed movement advances the search for peace. We were never a movement of terror and random violence; we were always in service of a clear and morally achievable political objective; and we were through our political organisation accountable to the people whom we served.
Within the context of our once so-divided country, our armed wing MK was a vehicle of reconciliation and unity. It gathered in its folds over the decades heroes and heroines from all the sectors of our society.
Today is also a national holiday, Reconciliation Day. This day has had various interpretations and modes of celebration throughout our history. In our new democratic order we can hopefully celebrate together, overcoming the destructive and violent divisions of our past. Out of that, Umkhonto we Sizwe should draw great pleasure and reward.
It is also today an important religious day for our Muslim compatriots, many of whom were heroes of the liberation army. We wish all Muslims in our country and the world Bid Mubarak. May peace be upon you.
Umkhonto we Sizwe, our army for peace, has found a new place as equal partners in the new South African National Defence Force. The fallen heroes of our army, and all the veterans of MK, will know that the spear has been picked up and is carried forward in the kind of country for which they fought.
Long live peace and justice. Long live the spirit of Umkhonto.

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation. Accessioned on 03/03/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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