Item 026 - Nelson Mandela's address to the youth

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Nelson Mandela's address to the youth


  • 1990-04-13 (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 Website

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  • English

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…You, who are present here today, and the millions you represent, are the pride of all our people. Your contribution to the struggle, to our irreversible advance towards liberation, has been truly enormous. The sacrifices you have made, and will still be called upon to make, cannot but evoke our greatest admiration for your courage and determination.

You have been in the forward ranks of all our fighting formations. Regardless of the kind of struggle, and regardless of the challenges the struggle posed, you have been the backbone of the struggle for a people's education. You have been at the heart of the heroic efforts of the oppressed and exploited workers of our country. You have played a leading role in the glorious reawakening of our downtrodden rural masses. It is you who are the combatants and commanders of our beloved people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe. The people's movement, the ANC, belongs to you in the same way that you belong to it.

Therefore it is clear, dear comrades, that your place and role in society and the struggle impose the responsibility on you to act in unison as one of the principal motor forces of our struggle. This requires of you political maturity, strong and soundly democratic organisations, smooth running of all your activities, and united, determined action for the victory of the national, democratic struggle.

All of this must be carried out in the context of our ongoing struggle for the sharing of power with the people. Accordingly, we must answer the question: What stage has the struggle reached and what are the tasks that we have forthcoming in order to advance to victory?

Negotiations, a continuation of struggle

We must therefore be clear that negotiations do not mean the end of the struggle. They are a continuation of the struggle and become possible because of the advances that we have scored in the course of our general offensive against the apartheid system….

As a result of the heroic struggles you and most of the masses of the people have carried out on many fronts. Combined with the international offensive for the total isolation of apartheid South Africa. We have arrived at a point where the Pretoria Government has understood and accepted that the system of white minority domination can no longer be maintained. It has to go and has to go now!

Accordingly, the government has accepted that it must negotiate with the genuine representatives of our people to bring into being a new political, economic and social order. Needless to say, this regime has its own view, which it will fight for, as to what this new order should be. We, too, have our own perspective of what we mean when we say that the people shall govern and that the wealth of our country shall be shared by all our people.

These sets of different views today confront one another in struggle as they have done over the decades. The confrontation has expressed itself through the various forms of struggle which we have waged. At present there is an additional theatre of struggle-the theatre of negotiations.

Democratic front

It is also of central importance that the bloc which represents the perspective of a non-racial democracy should participate in the negotiations as a bloc.

During the course of our struggle we have viewed it as a strategic imperative that we should build a broad democratic front to challenge the apartheid regime in united action. The front found an expression in the Conference for a Democratic Future held last December. There is a continuing strategic need to further build and strengthen this front as a vital instrument of mass struggle to destroy the apartheid system and to defend and advance the democracy when victory has been achieved.

These forces must continue to act in unity during this stage of the struggle, which includes a negotiated resolution of the apartheid issue.

We have to bear in mind, all the time, that we have as one of our primary responsibilities the task of organising the masses of our people into the struggle.

The building of a broad democratic front is part of the process of organisation. It therefore must be approached with all due seriousness. A good organiser knows that there is no such thing as a readymade member of any organisation. To organise means to go out and convince those who were not convinced before. It means that the organiser has to exercise patience and display understanding even for the views with which he or she may not agree.

These remarks are relevant, for instance, with regard to the work all of us are carrying out in the rural areas. Here we find, among others, people who are serving in homeland structures as well as the traditional chiefs. Through persuasion and without any harassment, we must draw these compatriots--who also belong among the oppressed people--into the common struggle for liberation. We should observe this manner of operation wherever we go out to organise.

Build ANC structures

We have spoken of the broad democratic front. But of central importance as well is the need for us to build the ANC, the ANC Youth League, and the ANC Women's League. Without these sectoral structures it will be impossible to construct the broad front. As the South African Youth Congress, most if not all of whose members see themselves as part of the ANC, you have a historic responsibility to join hands with the ANC Youth Section to rebuild that central component of our struggling forces in our country--the ANC Youth League.

You will of course also have to attend to the question of the mobilisation of those sections of the youth who may not wish to be members of the ANC into the broad democratic movement so that they too can make a contribution to the abolition of the apartheid system and the transformation of our country….

Need for discipline

I must point out that the youth of our country have a special responsibility as far as discipline is concerned. You, as has often been said, are the leaders of this community of the future. As future leaders there are certain responsibilities which we expect you to observe. One of these is utmost discipline. If you are not disciplined, you can never win our confidence. If you do not respect the leadership of the ANC, we can never rely on you….

We expect far more from you than that. We expect you to respect other freedom fighters outside our organisation. We expect you to have the spirit of comrades, of being able to allow those who disagree with you to propagate their own views and their own methods of struggle. We do not wish to force people into our own organisation, into our own thinking. What we want to do is to persuade our people to join us and share our point of view.

Any form of violence, any form of coercion, any form of harassment is against the policy of the ANC…. I appeal to you to behave with the dignity which members of the ANC and other democratic organisations in the country deserve. And I sincerely hope that this appeal will not fall on deaf ears….

Police violence

Recently the government has let loose the South African police against our people. We were disturbed yesterday to hear that the police have used force and violence in breaking up a peaceful demonstration. The police seem also, in some areas, to be working with armed right-wing vigilantes, who themselves are shooting innocent people….

We are not going to allow the situation to arise where the government talks about negotiations and peace and at the same time conducts a war against us. President de Klerk, please take notice: If people are becoming angry and intolerant, whatever you say, it must be measured against the activities of your police and your troops. As far as we are concerned, the government is doing very little to rein in its wild police force, which has been trained to look at every grievance and demand by blacks as a declaration of war.

How different their attitude when they deal with demonstrations by whites. I have said to Mr. de Klerk the last time I met him that I am not aware of a single instance in which police ever opened fire against white demonstrators….

I repeat that President de Klerk must be aware we will not tolerate the situation where on the eve of negotiations it allows his policemen to shoot our people at random.

Traditional chiefs

I have touched on the question of homeland leaders and traditional chiefs. It is not the policy of the ANC to condemn the chiefs as such. These are our traditional leaders, some of whom have an impressive record in the fight against apartheid. We say we must give them the respect that they deserve as traditional leaders.

You must remember that it is going to be difficult for our organisation to take root and be strong in the countryside unless we are able to work together with them in their respective areas. And those who feel that we have nothing to with the chiefs do not know the policy of the ANC and have no idea how to strengthen the organisation in the countryside.

In fact, the National Party detected this weakness on our part, of not having strong organisation in the countryside. That is how they succeeded in forcing the homeland policy on the masses of our people….

In our custom and history. The chief is the mouthpiece of his people. He must listen to the complaints of his people. He is the custodian of their hopes and desires. And if any chief decides to be a tyrant. To take decisions for his people, he will come to a tragic end in the sense that we will deal with him….

Finally, I wanted to appeal to you not to be unnecessarily hostile against the homeland leaders. These men are our flesh and blood and we want them to join the struggle. We know that some of them went into this system honestly, thinking that it was an effective option for us. But those who have discovered their mistakes and are prepared to come over to the liberation movement, let us welcome them with open arms. There is no need to say because a man has made a mistake before, we should no longer work with him….

Those who confess their mistakes, those who are prepared to listen to the people now must go to the people in their areas and settle their problems. When they do that, we will welcome them with open arms….



Paragraph beginning: "You, who are present here today..."
Sentence in web text: "You, who are present here today. and the millions you represent. are the pride of all our people."

Changes made: "today. and" "represent. are" changed to "today, and the millions you represent, are the pride of all our people."

Paragraph beginning: "We are not going to allow the situation…"

Sentence in web text: "If people are becoming angry and intolerant. Whatever you say. It must be measured…"

Changes made: "If people are becoming angry and intolerant, whatever you say, it must be measured…"

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on by




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