Address by Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), at the welcome ceremony by the President Mitterand of France, Paris - France

6 June 1990

Mr President and Madame Mitterand
Members of the French Government
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Representatives of the People of France and Citizens of the Republic

Mr President, thank you for your warm words of welcome. Your words are a reflection of the support given to our struggle by the people of France. This support has sustained us throughout the extremely difficult decades of struggle.

Mr President:

It is, we believe appropriate that my first words on French soil should be delivered at this historic human rights court. The concept of human rights is synonymous with the French Revolution. If I had not been in France, together with my President, Oliver Tambo, to participate in the activities marking its bicentenary. The French revolution helped to change the course of world history. Yet two hundred years after your glorious revolution, the people of South Africa do not as yet enjoy elementary human rights.

For 27 years, with other patriots, we suffered imprisonment for demanding and fighting for human rights. Today, we are able speak to you because millions of people throughout the world, including you, Mr President, and the French people as a whole, fought for our release. Poets, Artists, Musicians, Writers and Cultural Workers, Political parties, Trade Unions, the Church and other forces in France, both Black and White, have honoured me in various ways. I wish to express to them and the people of France my deepest gratitude for this support. It was and remains support and solidarity for the struggle for a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

Due to the mass struggles of our people and the support of the international community, we can say with confidence that victory is in sight. But as in a marathon race, the last mile can prove to be the most difficult. We need to travel that last mile together in order to bring to an end this shameful blot on human relations. As long as apartheid is in place, our people will continue to suffer its human consequences. It is therefore in the interest of all South Africans, Black and White, indeed of all humanity, that we bring to a speedy end the system of apartheid.

Last month we met with representatives of the South African government. We have agreed that obstacles to a negotiated solution should be removed without delay. This entails the release of all political prisoners and detainees, the return of exiles, the lifting of the State of Emergency and the removal of all repressive legislation which prevents open and legal political activities. We are determined that this agreement should be implemented as a matter of urgency. We count on your continued support for the realisation of this objective.

The South African government has conceded that apartheid can no longer be sustained and has no place in South Africa or anywhere else in the world. They have also recognised that they should deal with the ANC as equals. We do not doubt their integrity on these issues. But the main pillar of apartheid, the system of White minority domination in place.

The objective of the democratic transformation of South Africa has yet not been achieved. The ideals enshrined in the declaration on the rights of man and citizen have still not been realised.

Mr President and dear friends

It should be clear from our history and the sacrifices of our people that repression, prison, torture and even death and massacres can never halt the tidal wave of millions upon millions who struggle for human rights and an end to apartheid. Indeed, the assassination of our representative, Dulcie September, in this very city, served to strengthen the resolve of these millions to bring the apartheid system of terror to an end, without delay.

In the course of our long, bitter and bloody struggle, we have developed a bond between the people of South Africa and the people of France. We are absolutely convinced that in a post-apartheid South Africa, the friendship, solidarity and cooperation between our two peoples will assume a permanent character.

We therefore call on you to make your vital contribution to bringing to an end this crime against humanity. Apartheid has persisted for too long. Apartheid has destroyed too many lives. Apartheid must go. It must go now.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation