Item 357 - Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the tombstone of Helen Joseph

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ZA COM MR-S-357

Title

Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the tombstone of Helen Joseph

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  • 1996-03-30 (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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Unveiling of the tombstone of Helen Joseph

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  • English

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TRANSCRIPT

Distinguished Mayors of Greater Johannesburg;
Members of the National and Provincial legislatures;
Dear Friends and Comrades;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Whenever I have to speak about the veterans of our struggle like Helen Joseph. Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and others, a feeling of deprivation comes to mind. Under the leadership of these noble South Africans our nation could have taken strides towards prosperity. Blinded by the demon of racism, our previous rulers chose to keep them in prison, house arrest and exile. Others they decided to eliminate. One is forced to wonder how our country would have been today had it been placed under such leadership as early as the nineteen fifties.

Helen Joseph belongs to that league of leaders. Her name is not out of place when quoted alongside those of Moses Kotane, Lilian Ngoyi, Frances Baard, and Kate Molale. It was under their guidance that the African National Congress designed and developed the non-racial policies which are the foundation of our government policy today.

It is three years now since Comrade Helen Joseph, Isithwalandwe-Seaparankoe; passed away. But her memory remains vivid in our minds.

Helen sacrificed a lot in the course of the struggle. She came to South Africa from a privileged background in Britain. In South Africa she could have chosen a comfortable life and turned a blind eye to what was happening. Once in trouble with the law she could have requested a safe passage back to England. But she remained in the battle trenches throughout.

She participated in most of the campaigns during the roaring fifties. She volunteered during the Defiance Campaign; played a prominent role during the writing of the Freedom Charter; was one of the four leaders of the historic women's march at the Union Buildings in August 1956; and was among the 156 national leaders who were charged with High Treason later in the year.

I will always remember her for the period we spent together during the Treason Trial. We were among the 28 accused who remained in the dock until the end of the trail. As our numbers shrank, we all became more attached to one another and grew to know each other very intimately.

The dawn of the sixties heralded the toughest test for the liberation movement. As the screws of apartheid repression tightened and leaders of our people scattered into detention, underground, and exile, Helen was to be the first to be placed under house arrest. During those eight lonely years all she had for company were threatening phone calls and irregular gun shots fired at her house.

In spite of all the decades of house arrest and banning orders, Helen's memory remained in the minds of her compatriots whom she loved so dearly. When the United Democratic Front was formed in 1983, she was elected as one of the patrons by a generation of freedom fighters most of whom were not even born when she was placed under house arrest. Apartheid repression had failed.

After my release I made it a point to visit my dear old friend and comrade. Physically she was old and frail. The popular fiery voice was gone. But the strong-willed Helen was still complete and undaunted. The determination to crush apartheid was unmistakable. There was no trace of regret for what she had sacrificed. We talked about the good old days. Laughed over our mistakes and tried to fill each other out on the three decades we had spent apart. But one could always sense her unique sober analysis of the South African situation. She was optimistic about events. She could feel that our freedom was around the corner. When I left her. I felt stronger and younger and more determined to march the last mile to freedom.

Today we are gathered here to unveil Helen's tombstone. It is not a moment to rekindle old memories and re-live history. But I felt I would be failing in my duty if I didn't put Helen's life history in its true perspective. At this time of transformation in our country, it is inspiring to remember those who transformed themselves decades ago. Helen lived in a non-racial South Africa when all about her thought white baaskap would last an eternity. She is a role model for all of us to follow.

May I, on behalf of the ANC and its allies, thank the organisers for having invited us to this function. It is heartening for us to feel accepted as part of Helen's close friends.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 21/11/06 by Helen Joannides

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