Address by Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), at the religious service at the Cathedral of Uppsala, Uppsala - Sweden

13 March 1990

Your Grace, Archbishop Bertil Werkstrim,
Bishops, Astors and Members of the Church of Sweden,

dear friends

It is an immeasurable feeling of upliftment that we stand in this great place of worship as participants in this service of thanks giving. As no "Man is an Island", so too are we not men of stone who are not moved by the noble passions of love, friendship and human compassion.

Imagine then how our hearts beat as your voices wafted across the great distances that separate us and penetrated through the prison walls, as over the walls of Jericho, to reach us in our cells. Everyday we heard your voices ring-free the political prisoners! We heard your voices sing - Let my people go!

As we heard that vibrant and invigorating cry of human concern, we knew that we would be free. We saw that no prison walls or guard dogs or even the cold seas that are like deadly moat surrounding Robben Island prison, could ever succeed to frustrate the desires of all humanity. We drew strength and sustenance from the knowledge that we were part of a greater humanity than our jailers could claim.

Intended for oblivion, we were discovered by the little people whom we had never met. They wrote to us to give us encouragement and hope. They celebrated our birthdays with us. They remembered us at Christmas. They defied the elements to demonstrate about us. They prayed for our freedom. They did what they could not afford, by contributing some of their earnings so that we could study and purchase what little we could to relieve the rigours of prison life.

In the end, the high and mighty also heard the voice of the little people. They too discovered that buried away in the dungeons of the Pretoria regime were men and women who should never been arrested in the first place. They too joined the noble chorus - free the political prisoners.

We are here today to say thank you to you all and to the Swedish people that you insisted and persevered and by that insistence and perseverance succeeded to liberate some of us, so that we could rejoin our loved ones and our fellow fighters for freedom and so that we could see with our own eyes these human people, whose humanity demanded that they act to challenge the inhumanity which had condemned some of us to die in prison. We thank you God that you had the strength to fight on year in and year out.

But your is not yet done. Those who have been released are but a few. Thousands remain captives of Pretoria's jailers. Only a few days ago, hundreds of these great patriots went on hunger strikes to demand their immediate and unconditional release.

The message they send to you and to us that we must do all in our power to secure their release. Your voices need to be raised with even stronger vigour for the speedy accomplishment of this objective - the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and detainees, including those who languish in the death cells of Pretoria central prison.

Your grace, we are pleased to be here today because this gives us the rare opportunity to extend our profound gratitude to the church of Sweden itself. We know and are moved by the fact that among the first to sound the warning bells about the situation in South Africa were Swedish men and women of conscience who had served as missionaries among our people.

Conscious of the dictates of their faith to take sides with the hungry, the poor and the oppressed, they spread the word about the apartheid evil. And when the time came, the church was in the front ranks in the effort to isolate this evil. Similarly, the church needed no prodding to encourage it to assist in meeting the bodily needs of the victims of that evil.

The example you gave has served as an inspiration to people of faith in our own country as well. We are proud that today the millions of religious adherents in South Africa are engaged in the common struggle to end the racial tyranny which representatives of the Swedish mission started opposing so many years ago.

We are enormously strengthened by the fact that the international ecumenical movement, represented by such bodies as the word council of churches, the Lutheran word federation and the word alliance of reformed churches, is, like those early Swedish missionaries, so firmly engaged in the common struggle to secure justice and peace for our people and the peoples of Southern Africa as a whole.

In a few days we shall have occasion to meet and interact with the Swedish and Nordic public at large, the millions of people who constitute the backbone of the anti-apartheid movement in this region of the world. For now, we would like you to know how happy we are to be with you and how privileged we feel to share this moment with people who are to us true brothers and sisters.

Our common struggle has not ended, the apartheid system remains in place. Death continues to afflict the peoples of South Africa, Mozambique and Angola. We must therefore continue to press on until freedom is achieved. We count on you as our dependable allies who will not rest until South Africa is transformed into a united, democratic and non-racial country.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation