Address by Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), at the 26th Assembly of Organisation for African Unity (OAU) Heads of State and Government

9 July 1990

Mr Chairman, President Yoweri Museveni,
Distinguished Secretary General of the OAU, Salim,
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government and Heads of Delegations,
Delegates, Observers and Guests,
Friends and Comrades,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We thank you most sincerely for the opportunity you have given us to address this august Assembly on the question of South Africa.

We approach this task sensitive to the fact that the liquidation of the apartheid system has been one of the central objectives which this organisation has pursued since its foundation. We understand fully that the whole of Africa wants to see apartheid ended.

But we also know that our continent is, quite correctly, determined to remain engaged in the common effort to achieve this result. For this reason, we have to determine together what next we have to do to realise Africa’s dream of the abolition of the apartheid system, the liberation of our people and the restoration of peace to the region of Southern Africa. We will therefore approach our intervention in this spirit, as a contribution to the elaboration of a common African position on the way forward.

But first, we would also like to congratulate you, Mr Chairman, on your unanimous election to the high post of Chairman of the OAU. It was clear from your statement yesterday, if indeed such proof were needed, that under your leadership, our organisation will continue to make an important contribution to the process of ensuring that our continent positions itself correctly relative to, and plays its due role in the exciting development which are changing the structure of international political, economic and strategic relations.

We would also like to salute President Hosni Mubarak for everything he has done to carry out his mandate as Chairman of the OAU. We congratulate the Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim, for the sterling work he and his staff have carried out in comprehensive report he has submitted to the Assembly. We wish you, Mr Secretary General, success in your continuing work as the Chief Executive Officer of the OAU.

We feel especially privileged that our own presence at this summit, for the first time, coincides with the historic event of the occupation by the Republic of Namibia of its seat at his august Assembly. We congratulate our brother and comrade in the common struggle, President Sam Nujoma and his delegation. Comrade President, please convey our best wishes to your government and people, with whom we shall for ever be linked, and assure them of our firm commitment to contribute what ever we can to assist in the process of consolidating the independence of Namibia.

Mr Chairman,

Your Excellencies::

Our own country is on the verge of important developments which could result in speedy movement towards an end the system of white minority and the rule and the birth of a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa. The political process leading towards this outcome has begun.

It is a process we are determined to advance, overcoming whatever obstacles there may be on our way. In this regard, there are certain fundamental considerations which guide our approach to the issue of the resolution of the South African question. It may be useful that we reiterate some of these at this important forum of African opinion.

In any case, we consider it of vital importance that our own continent should have full understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Two of these consideration are that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people."

As the assembly will have noticed, this a quotation from an historic document of our liberation struggle, the Freedom Charter.

An important consequences which derives from this is that these basic political principles enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of our people. They are not ideas which are held by a small group of political leaders and activists. They constitute the very core of the outlook of the conscious masses of our people and their democratic organisations. Any political settlement based on these principles would therefore enjoy the support of the masses.

The principles that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White, means that the political settlement we seek is not aimed at the expulsion of the White community nor at their reduction into second class citizens. Rather, it is aimed at ending the second class status of the Black majority.

It means the building of one Nation, however diverse the languages and cultures of its various parts. We are convinced that without acceptance of these propositions by both the black and the white people of our country, as well as their political representatives, no political solution is possible. We therefore view it as one of our central tasks to continue to propagate these ideas and to win support for them among all the people of our country.

The important principles that no government can justify claim authority unless it is based on the will all the people is also fundamental to any solution. We therefore do not wish to see any government deriving its authority from the will of one section of the population of South Africa. We consider it of critical importance that the practice of defining the people of our country in terms of disparate and competing racial and ethnic political groupings should come to an end.

That is why we have consistently rejected the idea put forward by the Pretoria regime of so-called power-sharing by these racially defined political groups. That is also why the phrase Black majority rule is not part of our vocabulary. The democratic principle of majority rule should be read to signify a political; majority and not a racial majority.

We would therefore be against any settlement which empowers the Black majority politically and disenfranchises the White minority.

We ourselves are non-racial organization. The perspective we advance is supported by both Black and White South Africans. We would want to see the ANC elected into the Parliament as a representative of all the people of our country, who would unite around the ANC not because of their colour or race but because they agree with the policies of our movement.

In addition to their centrality in the end-result, these consideration are also important to the process of deciding the issue of how those who will sit at the negotiating table, to draw up the new, democratic constitution, should be selected. We do not believe that a non-racial constitution could emerge from a constituent body whose members earn their places around the table on the basis of mandates that derive from racial and ethnic constituencies.

Non-racial instruments of change will have to be used to produce a non-racial result. Colour or race must not, once again, become a disability, condemning any section of our population to exclusion from the process of determining the destiny of our country.

Equally as we insist therefore that the rejection of the group concept of the apartheid system should instruct the process of designing a new political system, so do we consider it correct that this new system should secure the political and other rights of the individual. The aim of the negotiations should therefore be produce a truly democratic system in which the fundamental human rights of all citizens are guaranteed and held to be inviolable.

For these reasons there should be instituted a system of one person one vote and a common voters roll, without any attempt to insert into the constitution rights of veto by racially defined political groups. We believe too, that in our case, everybody should have a right to form and belong to any party of their choice, provided that this was not for the purpose of furtherance of racism.

At the same time, there should be adopted an entrenched bill of rights which must be enforced by an independent and representative judiciary. In this context we must mention specifically that such a bill of rights would guarantee the rights of every individual to their language, culture and religion.

We are convinced that these promising, taken together, would meet the demands of the majority, for the democratic transformation of our country. At the same time, they should be sufficient to address the matter of so-called White fears to the extent that they preclude the possibility of discrimination under a new apartheid system.

Conscious of the reality of these White fears, unjustified as the might be in the light of the political system we seek to put in place, we have gone further tom state our readiness to discuss this issue with the White parties and agree on such other measures as may be necessary to address the question of these fears, provided that this does not undermine the democratic system and result in a re-introduction of the apartheid system. Indeed, as this assembly may be aware, we have already begun the process of discussing even with the White political groupings that are to the right of the ruling party.

The apartheid system not only denies the majority of our people their political rights. It is also a system of economic depravation of this majority. The result of this is, as is well known, the enrichment of the White minority of the Black majority. Clearly, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The approach to the process of political change must therefore also encompass on the part of all the political forces involved in the effort to evolve an agreed settlement, a common determination to redress the economic imbalance brought about by the apartheid system. There must be instituted an economic system which does indeed benefit all the people of our country, ensuring that every person enjoys a decent and rising standard of living. Indeed, we have also sought to make the point clear that the political settlement itself cannot survive unless there is a speedy and visible improvement in the quality of life of the people as a whole.

Mr Chairman,

Your Excellencies:

It may not be worth reminding this august assembly that our country has been torn apart by the conflicts and antagonisms produced by the apartheid system. Racial hatred and hostility of the people, one towards another, is the very being of the apartheid system, as must be the instincts to seek revenge for past and current wrongs, on the one hand, and the desire, on the other, to avoid this eventuality by using maximum force to block the process of change.

Obviously no solution could ever be found, if the political forces of our country approached the matter of reaching an agreed settlement driven by these instincts and sustained by hatred of people. We therefore believe that these forces should proceed from the position that peace, stability and the protection of life itself are in the fundamental interest of all our people.

The attainment of these objectives is so critical to the very survival of our country that these political forces should accept the view that they are united by a common interest to find a mutual acceptable solution. The victory they should all seek should inform our proceedings.

Urgency must attach to the process of arriving at a political solution. Nothing should be done to give the apartheid system even one more day of existence. This is the agreed spirit in which both we and the government approach the political tasks ahead of us. We will therefore remain vigilant to ensure that the process of negotiations is not used to legitimise a White minority government and to buy time for the apartheid system,. We believe that all formations participating in the political process on which we have embarked should themselves accept the need for rapid movement forward, in the interest of our people, those of Southern Africa and the rest of the world:

Your excellencies:

All these are some of the fundamental considerations that we spoke about earlier during this intervention. We recommend them to you, convinced that Africa needs to appreciate their importance in themselves and the next context of our common effort to end the system of White minority rule through negotiations. For our part, we are determined to remain faithful to these positions in the interest not the ANC, but of the people of our country as a whole and as a token of our resolve to move forward as possible to end the apartheid crime against humanity.

At its session last year, this assembly took the important decision that the Ad-Hoc committee on Southern Africa should convene without delay and agree on an African position on the question of what was to be done with regard to the question of change in South Africa. As you will remember, I and the other colleagues in the leadership of our movement, were still in prison. However, our President, Comrade Oliver Tambo, made certain that we too were involved in the process of contributing to the elaboration of this position.

I would like to take this opportunity to salute this assembly for what has proved for to be an epoch-making initiative, whose results have gained universal approval and support. I would also like to thank the frontline states and the OAU Ad-Hoc committee on southern Africa for the meticulous manner in which they respected our right to determine our own future, while fully combining with us in the common effort to liquidate the apartheid system and thus achieve the total liberation of our continent.

The result of these efforts was, of course, the historic Harare Declaration and the United Nations General Assembly Declaration on South Africa. It is these documents, drawn up in the first instance by the people of South Africa themselves, which guide the political process taking place in South Africa today. They also provide important guidelines as to the tasks of the international community and define the circumstances under which this community would resolve that an internationally acceptable solution of the South African question had been arrived at.

Proceeding along indicated in these declarations, we have reached agreement with the government on the removal of obstacles to negotiations. Minor outstanding questions relating to this agreement will be resolved in the near future, We have no doubt that the government will take all the necessary practical steps to implement everything that was agreed.

With regard to the issue of the armed struggle, we have made our positions clear that we will review this important element of our strategy in the light of this agreement. It therefore remains an obligation of the government, by implementing what was agreed at Groote Schuur, to create the situation where it becomes possible for us formally to suspend the armed struggle, as visualised in both the Harare and United Nations Declarations.

Part of the reality of our situation is that police violence against the people continues. Furthermore, White right wing groups are very busy setting up armed terrorist groups with the declared aim of defending the system of white minority dominations by force of arms. As you know, these groups have already been activist and are responsible for the death and manning of many people. At the same time, the practice of setting up black mercenary vigilantes also continues.

All emphasises the point that we have a continuing obligation to defend our people against apartheid terror. The ending of this violence is a central feature of our discussions and agreement with the government.

We will continue vigorously to pursue the objective that the government acts to end this violence against the people. In this context, we need to reiterate the point that from its very foundation, the ANC, been committed to a peaceful solution of the South African question. Our positions remain unchanged. We want to see the process of negotiations take place in conditions of peace and will do everything to ensure that this objective is achieved.

However there are many uncertainties which derive from the resolve of sections of the white population to block a settlement by drowning our people in a bloodbath, also imposes on us the requirement that, should white South Africa once more deny us the possibility to bring about change by peaceful means that would be dictated by this eventuality, which we do not desire.

Discussions will begin soon to address the question of who should meet to decide the composition of the body that will draw up a new constitution. This will be an important step forward as it should draw into the negotiations process all representative political formations so that, together, we can take the substantive decisions that will determine the constitutional future of our country.

As we have said in the past, we accept the honesty and integrity of President De Klerk and his colleagues in the leadership of the ruling party, We are convinced that they will keep to such agreements as we arrive at. However this by no stretch of imagination means that the struggle is over.

The fact of the matter is that our country continues to be ruled by a white minority regime. As I have said before, I could not vote when I went to prison 27 years ago. I still cannot vote. The apartheid system continues. Its main pillars are intact. Therefore the struggle to end the apartheid system must continue.

Apartheid South Africa must still be isolated. Our liberation movement still requires your support in this effort to bring about an early demise of the apartheid system. The programme of the action contained in the Harare and United Nations declarations remains valid, historic organs of struggle of the OAU, such as the liberation committee, still have task ahead of them and should therefore be restricted and strengthened to carry out their mission effectively in the context of the rapidly changing situation in our country.

Earlier in the year, in the aftermath of the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations, we addressed an urgent request through the OAU Ad-Hoc and the secretary general of the OAU for financial assistance to help us reestablish the legal structures of the ANC after 30 years of illegality. Since then, we have also appealed for assistance to help us in the process of repatriating our political exiles as well resettling them and will be freed in terms of the Groote Schuur agreement. We have also requested for material assistance to enable us to carry out the extensive work of the mobilisation of our people peace.

I would like to take this opportunity to report on the truly excellent response by a number of African countries to these appeals. We thank these dear brothers and sisters most sincerely and are deeply moved by the confidence they have shown in our organisation, that we will remain true to our word and our history as unrelenting fighters against apartheid, for democracy and peace, for the total liberation of our continent. It would course add to our capacity to act in furtherance of the common cause if other African countries were also able to come our aid.

Mr Chairman,

Your Excellencies:

We have arrived at the point where we speak of victory being within our grasp, as a result of struggle and enormous sacrifices that have been and continue to be made by our people and the peoples of southern Africa and continent. Victory will also come as a result of struggle, even if it is a struggle around a negotiating table, for the victory of the ideals which we all hold dear.

It is very same struggle broke down the prison doors so that I and many of my colleagues could be free. We take this opportunity to thank you all for the extraordinary campaign which you sustained over so many years to secure our release from jail. Everything you did gave us enormous strength to hold on to our principles and to our commitment to the cause of liberation. You gave us the courage to refuse to enter into humiliating and treacherous compromises merely to obtain our release.

Our obligation to you and the millions of people you present is to remain true to the vision of a free and prosperous Africa which inspires all of us, even as we battle to resolve the immediate problems that confront us. We make the solemn pledge that the ANC, its leadership and members, the rest of our democratic movement and the masses of our people will not fail you, because to do so would be a betrayal of everything which all progressive humanity holds dear. We believe that it will not belong before you admit our country into the ranks of the OAU, as a country which we will all be to call African. We salute our brothers and sisters of Palestine and Western Sahara and wish to express our firm wish that everything be done to realise their just aspirations. The fact of the continuing denial of their inalienable rights is not something that we can treat as peripheral to our own struggle or on which we can equivocate. A peaceful way can and must be found to resolve these outstanding problems.

At the same time, we cannot be blind to the continuing conflicts in such countries as Angola, Mozambique and this very Republic.

We are inspired by the initiatives taken by the governments of these sister peoples to find a peaceful solution to the problems they confront. We appeal to all other forces involved in these conflicts themselves to engage in these peace processes, striving for a just, fair and permanent agreed settlement, in the interests of life and yhe survival and dignity of the African people.

We leave the borders of Ethiopia with fond of the hospitality its people and the warmth with which we were received. We thank his excellency, President Mengistu Haile Mariam, the party, Government and people of Ethiopia for all this. We will be happy to return in the future to consolidate the relations of friendship and solidarity between our respective peoples.

Your Excellencies:

The day is not far between we will have the honour and pleasure to receive you in our own country as heroes and heroines of the common struggle to end the apartheid system, transform South Africa into a united, democratic and non-racial country and achieve the noble objective of the total emancipation of our continent from the system of White minority rule For this to come about without undue delay requires that we all stay at our posts of struggle and fix our sights firmly on the objective of securing the victory of democracy over a racial tyranny, as speedily as possible.

The Struggle Continues!

Our Common Victory is Certain!

Thank You for Your Attention.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation