Address by Nelson Mandela at the European Parliament, Strasbourg - France

13 June 1990

Mr Baron Crespo, President of the European parliament
Distinguished representatives of the peoples of Western Europe
Esteemed leaders of the European community;
Your excellencies, ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We feel truly honoured and privileged as we stand at the podium of so distinguished a chamber of democratic government and peaceful international cooperation, as the seat of the European Parliament. These feelings are made more poignant by the fact that we issue from a people that is disenfranchised.

We however also carry with us the pain which derives from the knowledge that we left behind in prison, some of the best sons and daughters of our people, who are incarcerated because they dared to raise their voices to demand rights which many in this chamber probably take for granted. We are moved by the awareness of the fact that this assembly constitutes a prayer to a happier future, a bold response to an earlier European history which gave birth to the most brutal tyrannies and the bloodiest of wars.

We are most grateful to you all that, by your invitation, you enabled us to be here today. But more than this, we thank you that by your ceaseless efforts and those of the millions of people you represent, you liberated from prison so many of us, including my colleagues with whom I was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Your actions in pursuit of the cause of the release of all South African political prisoners and the emancipation of our people from racial bondage, have served as a vindication of the nobility of the human spirit. They have demonstrated the undiminished strength of the universal human conscience which guarantees the transience of all tyrannies, whether in Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain, Greece of the Colonies or apartheid South Africa.

We are indeed truly glad and obliged to you that you battered down the prison doors so that we could be among you and with you at this moment of history, when it seems so clear that the peoples are determined to remake the world in which they live and die. You have given us the opportunity, whose worth surpasses the most precious metal, to participate in that process of helping to remake our own motherland and therefore the rest of the world, so that our people may also be proud to speak of their country as a haven of justice and liberty, peace and prosperity.

Perhaps in equal measure as any other, this continent knows the true meaning of racism. Its peoples have both been perpetrators of racism against others and themselves the victims of an insane and murderous racist ideology. You will therefore know that this ideology and practice demeans and dehumanises both its practitioner and its victim. It locks both into a clinging embrace of conflict and hatred. In the end and at its worst, it inevitably leads to genocide and the most horrendous crimes against humanity.

As South Africans, history has given us the responsibility to make our own due contribution to the elimination of this scourge. We have no qualifications better than any other person's to carry out this historic mission. What we have is the reality of a racist system which has to be ended without delay.

What impels us to act is the daily picture we see, of Black children who are dead when they should have been alive, of stunted adults who should have been as fit as athletes, of bullet-riddled bodies of patriots who should have been alive except that they elected to be counted among the peacemakers.

As we watched the staring eyes of the oppressors and the torturers, year in and year out, and felt the pain of their cruelty, year in and year out, we understood that we could not end the nightmare by surrendering ourselves to the passion of hatred and the spirit of vengeance and retribution.

We understood that were we to succumb to these elemental instincts, we would turn ourselves into a new cabal of oppressors, the instrument for the destruction of our people. We came to learn the very survival of our country demands that we proceed from a position of genuine love and respect for all our people and for all humanity.

And so today we are engaged in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the problems facing our country. In this process we seek no advantage for our own organisation, the African National Congress. We do not pursue any goals which would result in some emerging as winners and others as losers. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both Black and White, emerge as victors.

We recognise President De Klerk and colleagues in the National Party as men and women of integrity. We believe that they speak honestly when they say they seek an end to the apartheid system. We are of the view that they are ready to honour all agreements they enter into. We are therefore prepared to work with them to arrive at a just and lasting negotiated solution.

For this solution to be just and lasting, it must result in the transformation of South Africa into a united, democratic and non-racial country. Anything less than this would condemn our country to worsening and endemic conflict. It would be an insult to the memory of the countless patriots in South Africa and the rest of our region, who have sacrificed even their lives, to bring us to the moment to day when we can confidently say that the end of apartheid system is in sight.

Every adult South African must have the right to participate in governing our country through a system of one person, one vote. The human rights of all our citizens must be guaranteed under an entrenched and justiciable bill of rights, which should be enforced by an independent judiciary. The rights of every citizen to his or her language, culture and religion must also be guaranteed. These are some of the elements which have to be part of the new democratic constitutional framework.

We are further convinced that this new constitution should, as in Namibia, be negotiated by an elected constituent assembly. This would endure that the people themselves decide who should represent them. It would also be of vital importance in ensuring that the new constitution enjoys legitimacy and acceptability among the masses of the people.

It is similarly of central importance that these political changes should be accompanied by serious economic transformations as well. We have to ensure that the economy serves the interests of the people as a whole, is geared to end the terrible poverty and deprivation that is the legacy of the apartheid system, and grows at a rate and in a manner which will enable all the people to enjoy a decent and rising standard of living.

Despite everything we have said, it is important to bear in mind that we are faced with the reality that the apartheid system in our country continues. We continue to be ruled by a White minority government. All the other pillars of the apartheid system have not yet been removed. Police repression is still part of the reality of our daily lives. Our people continue to die in the province of Natal as a direct result of the fact of the system of apartheid.

The agreement we arrived at in our discussions with the government at the beginning of last month addresses only the issue of the removal of the obstacles to the process of negotiations. This agreement constituted a significant step forward, not only because it will result in the removal of these obstacles, but also because it will demonstrate the good faith of the South African government. Important as these results are, they should not blind us to the fact that they will not result in the removal of the apartheid system.

Indeed, it is also of vital importance that we do not forget that there are many among our White minority domination must come to an end. Many of these are armed. They are to be found within both the army and the police. Others have organised and are forming themselves into armed vigilante groups. These groups are further supported by similarly armed Black killer groups. These armed and trained groups pose a direct threat to the negotiations which are so necessary in order to arrive at a speedy transformation of our country into a non-racial democracy.

What all this means is that the struggle against apartheid must continue. We have not yet arrived at the situation visualised at the European community summit meeting last December and reflected in the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of the same month, when we can say that profound and irreversible changes have taken place, leading to the end of the apartheid system.

It is for this reason that we insist that the struggle must continue. To stop or to deescalate that struggle now would only have the fact of helping to perpetuate the apartheid system. The masses of our people must therefore continue the struggle within our country. The international community shares the same obligation.

That is why we continue to call on the peoples of the world to maintain sanctions. We address the same call to this August parliament with all the force and authority at our command. Sanctions were imposed as a peaceful means of ensuring the end of the apartheid system. As we have said, this result has not yet been achieved. It is therefore only logical that the existing sanctions should be kept in place.

We would like to issue this serious warning that any movement backwards on this issue will threaten the process of negotiations itself. This will happen precisely because reduction of pressure will diminish the strength of the impetus which has obliged the White population of our country to accept the necessity and inevitability of change. The situation should not be created where our people would point an accusing finger at the governments and peoples of Western Europe that at the moment when movement forward seemed possible, these peoples and governments acted in a manner which denied us that possibility.

We would like to take this opportunity to commend this parliament for the role it has played in the struggle to isolate apartheid South Africa, including measures it took to mobilise for effective sanctions and to monitor the implementation of those that had been imposed. We count on you to maintain this pressure on the governments of the European community, speaking on behalf of the millions of people who elected you as their representatives in this parliament.

We also believe that it is important that governments should honour such international agreements as they may enter into. We mention this because last December, the governments of the European community went to great lengths to prepare for and to participate in the special session of the UN General Assembly to which we have referred. It is this session which, at the recommendation of the combined delegation of the European community, adopted the wording that pressures should not be relaxed until profound and irreversible changes and taken place in South Africa.

We must also bring it to your attention that our movement and people also need enormous material resources to enable them to accomplish various objectives. We have the responsibility to reestablish the ANC as a legal organisation after 30 years of illegality. The accomplishment of this task is not only important in the interests of the ANC as such. It is vital for the success of the process of negotiations itself.

Without a strong and viable ANC, able to bring the millions of our people into the political process of a negotiated settlement, there is little chance that this process will succeed. In this context, it is important to remember that the ANC has , since 1986, been working on the government to convince this government to enter to negotiations with us. The very meeting at the beginning of May took place at the initiative of the ANC. We have a responsibility, as much as does the government, to ensure that the process on which we have embarked remains on course.

We also have the responsibility to organise for the return and resettlement of the tens of thousands of our compatriots who were forced into exile by the apartheid system. We shall soon be finalising the details of the General Amnesty which will enable this process of repatriation to begin. This will require large resources so that we are able to address the housing, educational, employment and other needs of the returnees. We trust that you will assist us to generate the resources that we require.

We would like to take this opportunity to convey our sincere thanks to the European community for the assistance it has extended to our democratic movement and people since the special programme of assistance was instituted in 1986. This assistance has definitely made a difference and has been handled by the commission in a manner which has respected the integrity of our democratic movement. But as we have said, we need even larger resources. We understand that the commission will, quite correctly seek more funds this year. We trust that this parliament will continue to be generous when this budget is discussed, as part of its continued commitment to the common effort to end apartheid and achieve democracy in our country.

dear friends

The liberated South Africa will continue to count on your support as it works to reinforce and consolidate the institutions of a democratic society that will be necessary to guarantee that tyranny in any form does not raise its ugly head again. We will participate in the building of a Southern African economic community of free and equal nations which can become an engine of growth, development and prosperity in Africa. As we have been partners in the struggle to end apartheid, so should we use the bonds we have built to strengthen our partnership for peace, democracy and social progress.

We thank you most sincerely for the warmth which you have received us. We thank you too for awarding us with the Sakharov prize in 1988. We take this as a challenge that we should remain true to the vision we all share of a world free of war and of poverty and suffering. We take it as a challenge above all to have the courage to fight for justice and peace, whatever the obstacles. We shall try not to fail you.

Thank You.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation