Nelson Mandela: Speech at Cape Town Rally (immediately after his release from prison) – February 11, 1990

Nelson Mandela

[Text of Speech]

Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.

I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.

I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the  people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be  here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.

On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the  millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have  campaigned tirelessly for my release.

I send special greetings to the people of Cape Town, this city which has been  my home for three decades. Your mass marches and other forms of struggle have  served as a constant source of strength to all political prisoners.

I salute the African National Congress. It has fulfilled our every  expectation in its role as leader of the great march to freedom.

I salute our President, Comrade Oliver Tambo, for leading the ANC even under  the most difficult circumstances.

I salute the rank and file members of the ANC. You have sacrificed life and  limb in the pursuit of the noble cause of our struggle.

I salute combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe, like Solomon Mahlangu and Ashley  Kriel who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of all South Africans.

I salute the South African Communist Party for its sterling contribution to  the struggle for democracy. You have survived 40 years of unrelenting  persecution. The memory of great communists like Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram  Fischer and Moses Mabhida will be cherished for generations to come.

I salute General Secretary Joe Slovo, one of our finest patriots. We are  heartened by the fact that the alliance between ourselves and the Party remains  as strong as it always was.

I salute the United Democratic Front, the National Education Crisis  Committee, the South African Youth Congress, the Transvaal and Natal Indian  Congresses and COSATU and the many other formations of the Mass Democratic  Movement.

I also salute the Black Sash and the National Union of South African  Students. We note with pride that you have acted as the conscience of white  South Africa. Even during the darkest days in the history of our struggle you  held the flag of liberty high. The large-scale mass mobilisation of the past few  years is one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of  our struggle.

I extend my greetings to the working class of our country. Your organised  strength is the pride of our movement. You remain the most dependable force in  the struggle to end exploitation and oppression.

I pay tribute to the many religious communities who carried the campaign for  justice forward when the organisations for our people were silenced.

I greet the traditional leaders of our country – many of you continue to walk  in the footsteps of great heroes like Hintsa and Sekhukune.

I pay tribute to the endless heroism of youth, you, the young lions. You, the  young lions, have energised our entire struggle.

I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the  rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you  than on anyone else.

On this occasion, we thank the world community for their great contribution  to the anti-apartheid struggle. Without your support our struggle would not have  reached this advanced stage. The sacrifice of the frontline states will be  remembered by South Africans forever.

My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation  for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my  beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far  greater than my own.

Before I go any further I wish to make the point that I intend making only a  few preliminary comments at this stage. I will make a more complete statement  only after I have had the opportunity to consult with my comrades.

Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that  apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in  order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other  actions of our organisation and people can only culminate in the establishment  of democracy. The destruction caused by apartheid on our sub-continent is in-  calculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been  shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins and  our people are embroiled in political strife. Our resort to the armed struggle  in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe,  was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors  which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but  to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated  settlement will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the  armed struggle.

I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am  therefore in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.

The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it  always has been. No individual leader is able to take on this enormous task on  his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organisation  and to allow the democratic structures to decide. On the question of democratic  practice, I feel duty bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a  person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a  principle which must be upheld without any exceptions.

Today, I wish to report to you that my talks with the government have been  aimed at normalising the political situation in the country. We have not as yet  begun discussing the basic demands of the struggle. I wish to stress that I  myself have at no time entered into negotiations about the future of our country  except to insist on a meeting between the ANC and the government.

Mr. De Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist president in taking  real steps to normalise the situation. However, there are further steps as  outlined in the Harare Declaration that have to be met before negotiations on  the basic demands of our people can begin. I reiterate our call for, inter alia,  the immediate ending of the State of Emergency and the freeing of all, and not  only some, political prisoners. Only such a normalised situation, which allows  for free political activity, can allow us to consult our people in order to  obtain a mandate.

The people need to be consulted on who will negotiate and on the content of  such negotiations. Negotiations cannot take place above the heads or behind the  backs of our people. It is our belief that the future of our country can only be  determined by a body which is democratically elected on a non-racial basis.  Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the over-  whelming demand of our people for a democratic, non-racial and unitary South  Africa. There must be an end to white monopoly on political power and a  fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that  the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly  democratised.

It must be added that Mr. De Klerk himself is a man of integrity who is  acutely aware of the dangers of a public figure not honouring his undertakings.  But as an organisation we base our policy and strategy on the harsh reality we  are faced with. And this reality is that we are still suffering under the policy  of the Nationalist government.

Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize  this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We  have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to  intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a  mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of  freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.

It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.  We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South  Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the  international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid  regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process  towards the complete eradication of apartheid.

Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our  way. Universal suffrage on a common voters’ role in a united democratic and  non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.

In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are  true today as they were then:

‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black  domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in  which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is  an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an  ideal for which I am prepared to die.

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