Item 060 - Speech by the Deputy President of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, to May Day rally

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Speech by the Deputy President of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, to May Day rally


  • 1991-05-01 (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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I want to thank COSATU for this opportunity to participate in marking MAY DAY, in joining with you in celebrating the many victories of workers through the world, and to discuss with you the challenges that still lie ahead for all South Africans.

Because the overwhelming majority of members at the ANC are workers, I think we may sometimes be at fault in not stressing and repeating the importance of the organised participation of workers in our struggle.

On your individual unions, in SACTU, and now in this giant that you have created, called COSATU, workers have struck mighty blows and won victories for all of us.

What has characterised workers in our country, has been the determination not to be isolated from the rest of society, not to be misled opinion that Unions must only concern themselves with shop floor issues.

The recognition that workers rights could not be realised outside a democratic South Africa has made you a formidable regiment in the army of liberation.

On behalf of ANC, I want to say to all of you gathered here, and to all the workers of South Africa, that if the liberation we struggle for is to have any meaning then it must include the realization of the demands of workers.

In the new South Africa we want to create, workers will have to continue to organise, in order to defend and assert their interests as against those of the employers. But we must ensure you will be doing so within an overall system that is not weighted against you and favour of employers as it now is.

That is why the ANC's constitutional proposals included a workers charter, whose content and forum is being determined by workers themselves.

It is the experience of workers that will inform the charter, and the aspiration of workers that must be enshrined within it.

We must congratulate COSATU for the way in which your campaigns facilitated the widest participation of workers in drawing up this charter.

And we commend this process to others.

This particular May Day is of particular significance.

It is the day after April 10th, the date by which it had been agreed that all exiles would have been able to return, all political prisoners released, and the final obstacles to negotiations would have been removed.

As we all know, none of this has happened.

Thousands of the best cadres of the ANC are still not able to return to the land of their birth, or remain in jails across the country. The Government has admitted that more than 4,000 people are in jail because of actions related to what they call "Unrest", and yet they say they are only considering the release of 320 possible political prisoners.

And while they prevaricate, our people are dying: Black people have been dying for generations as a result of the policies of successive white minority Governments. Previously, there was disregarded for black lives, we did not count. Now the purpose is more sinister: our sons and daughters, our mothers fathers and grand parents are being deliberately killed, brutally hacked to reduce our capacity to fight and remove all aspects of racialism and apartheid from our country forever.

The political purpose behind the violence is clear everywhere. Just near here, in Orange Farm we find violence being used to support those who continue to participate in apartheid institutions.

The aim is to drive out those who support the ANC. There are many other examples in places where violence has broken out.

The evidence of police involvement in the violence is now overwhelming.

On television screens, the whole nation has seen and heard witnesses testifying to the failure of the police to stop attacks, and in some cases of actual involvement.

Yet, what action have the authorities taken.?

The next days, as we come to May 9th are very crucial ones for all South Africans. They will determine whether or not our hopes of moving forward quickly towards the establishment of a non-racial, non-sexist democratic society in our country are to be dashed even before we have begun to negotiate .

Important decisions have to be made and section taken, to establish the bona fides, the sincerity and the true intentions of those who have talked of peace and yet unleashed this violence and devastation upon innocent people.

Let there be no mistake, no misunderstanding. The gravity of the situation does not allow for rhetorical gestures of any kind.

The head of any state any where in the world has the power to bring about an end to destruction. We have witnessed decades of violence against innocent protestors, we have seen the mass media condemn those provoked to pick up stones in the defence of the people and we have witnessed the severe sentences imposed on people for gestures such as singing and toy-toying a case in point is that of the Sharpeville 6, where the police were able to pick out six amongst a crowd who killed a councillor. There was never any evidence that they killed anyone, they were just part of a crowd, or in the case of one person jogging past the crowd.

Today men wearing headbands and smashing the skulls of people with knob kieries or knives and choppers are not arrested nor are they condemned by the Government. Today the police are no longer able to identify cold blooded killers in a mob of 100's.

Suddenly the sophistication of the police in bringing an end to mayhem is guarded in courteousness.... today a murderer can walk in the streets and chop people up as long as he is carrying a cultural weapon. This is the message Mr. de Klerk is giving to the country and the international community.

I have often said that the Government takes measures to protect White people in one way and Black people not at all. This is not surprising since they are a white minority, I often wonder what the reaction of the Government would be it the dwellers of a hostel marched onto the ??well?? land communities of White directors or the lush Northern suburbs in Northern Johannesburg.

I would condemn them as I do now......would Mr de Klerk still talk about cultural weapons then I thank not, think he would act swiftly and brutally to end the violence and protect the lives of those people living there.

I particularly wanted to come to Sebokeng on this workers day. Because this place is a very special place. Special, because the actions of the people of Sebokeng have precipitated very important events in our history.

Sharpeville is a word renowned for the bravery of workers who protested against higher bus ??terrifies??, because others were making decisions about your lives, and you were not getting even the very services and amenities that every human being must have in order to live with dignity.

From such actions grew the many local and civic organisations that provide the backbone of the resistance that cheated all the regime's strategies of co-opting blacks to administer our own oppression, the Demes treason trial was the states reaction to your unbending bravery and this period can be counted as one which brought about the unbanning of your National Liberation movement, the African National Congress.

But regrettably our opponent has not yet been defeated. There are still many people in positions of authority, for whom the unbanning of the ANC and talk of negotiation was merely a tactic. They wanted time to regroup, and once again go on the offensive to undermine a negotiating process that must lead to the establishment of genuine democracy in our country.

Those who say they are sincere in their desire for peace must now prove this, by controlling and bringing an end to this violence or else admit their complicity in it.

Unless of course, the Government is saying to us that they are incapable of controlling their own police and army. And if this is what they are saying, then surely we must consider whether such a Government is a credible negotiating party, and in a position to help bring an end to apartheid?

Sometimes, it seems to be forgotten, that the objective of our very long and costly struggle has not been simply to sit down and engage in talks or negotiations.

Black people of South Africa have given their lives, and so many have been wasted in prisons, because we wanted to be free and to live in a non-racial, non-sexist democratic society.

The question for us is, how do we continue to pursue this objective when the path of negotiations on which we in the ANC are prepared to embark is blocked, and those who have the power not only fail to take the necessary steps to unblock it, but add new obstacles.

Whatever steps we take on May 10th, unity amongst us will be crucial.

Last year, people claiming to be members of Inkatha launched attacks upon the residents of Sebokeng.

Since then, the ANC, COSATU, the SACP and CIVICS have worked hard to bring about unity between the workers living in Hostels and those in the community.

Actions of the authorities and employers are not however, directed thyroids assisting in this process. Despite an agreement that workers will be moved and the Madala Hostel at the Iscor plant closed, this has not been done and the administrators of the Madala Hostel where much of the attacks are planned from allow people who are not workers to live there.

Mr. de Klerk delivered a speech in Parliament yesterday where he did acknowledge that the conditions in the Hostels were very poor, but defended the right of single sex Hostels to remain, comparing this with his own experience living in YMCS in London. He says that the Hostels must be upgraded. He does not admit that the Hostels are used to plan attacks by forces who ??do not be consciously planned?? but it certainly has the effect of a well co-ordinate attempt to scuttle peaceful talks as a way to a non racial, non sexist, united and democratic South Africa.

Mr. de Klerk may not wish to acknowledge these facts we cannot ignore them.

The Hostels remain a source of the violence on communities and this cannot be explained away by confusing the present situation of violence as a problem of housing as he did in his speech. The ANC has demanded housing for all the people and we are still demanding this as well as the right of families to live together.

The men who live in these hostels are not single young men without families, they are grown adult parents who see their families once a year and yes this was apartheid grand scheme to control the influx of blacks to the towns.

We cannot accept the message that Mr. de Klerk is giving to the country and the international community and we continue to say that he can stop the violence, if he wishes to do so.

The ANC COSATU, the SACP and the CIVICS organisations have been working on developing the peace committees with Inkatha and right here in Sebokeng we have achieved success at the Sebokeng Hostel, where the community once threatened to break this Hostels up brick by brick, today the people in the Hostels and in the community have a relationship of living together. Despite the terrible deaths which occurred as a result of the attacks by dwellers in this Hostel in 1990.

I am confident that you will continue your efforts to unite and create a community on which all can live in harmony regardless of political affiliation or ??conversion??.

We have until May 9th to hear the response Mr de Klerk will give on how he plans to stop the violence and we have made suggestions to him to ban the lethal weapons be they ............this must also include the all rifles in the hostels and which are in the hands of the right wing organisations.

The Government calls our call for self-defence units an obstacle to the process for the release of political prisoners, this was said by Mr de Klerk yesterday in his speech when as he mentioned examples of how it is the ANC and not the Government who as delaying the process or releasing the prisoners.

This is not acceptable to the ANC, who initiated the peace talks and laid down as an obstacle to the negotiating process the continued exile of its membership and the criminalisation of political protest which led to the arrests and subsequent sentences.

We have not yet heard Mr. de Klerk openly condemn the right wing parties who march in the street with guns at ready and who speak openly on public television of civil defence ??units which will be have the right to defend our lives and our homes. ?? The Government has thus far failed to do so and we have issued more than........people since the start of the violence and very weakened the death ..goes higher .

Comrades if we want to create a democratic system in South Africa in which everyone can participate, then we must make sure that we involve everyone in making the new constitution and deciding what form it should take. ??That is any the ANC is selected future political system, then the future Government and system elections that will still are head.??

Democracy is about participation by all ......something that comes afterwards, but must begin now and be part May 10 will be every decisive day for the ANC and much will depend on the response of the Government to our demands.

We are the ANC, complaints of our failure to attend meetings.

We have not heard Mr. de Klerk say he is putting an end to the violence, he is now going to release all the political prisoners and we can bring home all the exiles.

We have not seen the security laws scrapped and we most certainly cannot support the rewards being a very good......

We are waiting for productive responses now.

I leave here today with this message United all our people, in the Hostels in the townships, in the squatter camps, the struggles are not over we must use every means at our disposal to defend the people and to defend the process to peace.

Our aim is to bring about peace in this country and to unite all its defend this desire we will need to be united now than ever.



There are quite a few places in the text with ??? next to the words. These were on the ANC website text and were not added. It is presumed that the speech was transcribed from a recording and those sections were not clear.

Paragraph beginning: "On your individual Unions, in SACTU, and now in this giant that you have created, called COSATU, workers have struck mighty blows and won victories for all of us."
Changes made: "Unions" changed to "unions"

Paragraph beginning: "Suddenly the sophistication of the police in bringing an to mayhem is guarded in courteousness.... "
Changes made: "an to mayhem" changed to "an end to mayhem"

Paragraph beginning: "The men who live in these Hostels are not single young men without families, they are grown adult parents who see their families once a year and yes this was apartheid grand scheme to control the influx of blacks to the Towns."
Changes made: "Hostels" and "Towns" changed to "hostels" and "towns"

Paragraph beginning: "We have until May 9th to hear the response Mr de Klerk will give on"
Sentence in web text: "this must also include the all rifles in the Hostels and which are in the hands of the right wing organisations."
Changes made: "Hostels" changed to "hostels"

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: ANC Website. Accessioned on 7 Nov 2006 by Helen Joannides




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