Address by Nelson Mandela at the United Nations General Assembly

3 December 1991

We would like to thank you most sincerely for giving us the opportunity to address this forty-sixth session of the General Assembly as it discusses the question of South Africa.

We say this because we are acutely aware and deeply appreciative of the role that this Organization has played since its foundation in the struggle for the emancipation of our people from the tyranny of racial oppression.

We meet here today shortly before the political formations of our country gather together in a Convention for a Democratic South Africa, to begin the process that will lead to the adoption of a democratic constitution.

As our country starts on its final lap towards the realization of the goals enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on South Africa adopted by this Assembly two years ago this month, the leadership of the ANC thought that it was important that we should come back to New York to share with you our views on this subject.

Thanks to the joint efforts of our people and of the Governments and peoples represented here, South Africa has embarked on its own race to normality.

We can see rising on the horizon a new glorious entity which will no longer be spoken of as the pariah among the nations, the detestable example of what is impermissible in the ordering of human relations, the homeland of a crime against humanity.

We are beginning to see emerge a new country which, because it arrives so late at the festival of liberty, must surely value freedom like the apple of its eye and strive hardest to live up to the dream of all humanity throughout the ages for emancipation, prosperity, happiness and peace.

We envision a South Africa which will, in all respects, belong to all who live in it, black and white. Its political life will be governed by a thoroughgoing democratic constitution, based on the principle of "one person, one vote", without any distinction on grounds of race, colour, gender or creed and without any element whatsoever of racial domination and discrimination. This will bring to its demise the present constitution of South Africa, which this Organization categorized as null and void.

We also want to see entrenched all the necessary provisions ensuring the fullest possible protection and advancement of the fundamental human rights of every South African citizen. As part of this, and to ensure the rule of law, there will have to be created an independent and non-racial judiciary, as visualized in earlier documents adopted by the General Assembly.

At the same time, the new South Africa will have to address the burning question of mass poverty, which afflicts millions of our people, especially the black population. Also to be dealt with as a matter of urgency are, of course, questions relating to the gross racial imbalances in the distribution of income, wealth, land and opportunity.

It is common knowledge among the majority of our people that the political settlement we seek to reach cannot survive very long if these questions relating to the standard of living of the people as a whole and the quality of life are not addressed.

That is why the issue of the growth of the economy and its restructuring to serve the needs of the entire population has to be an integral part of the process of the reconstruction of South Africa as a democratic, peaceful and stable country.

The new South Africa will, of course, seek to normalize its relations with the rest of the world. In this context, we must make the point that we fully respect the position spelt out in the General Assembly consensus declaration on South Africa concerning the conditions that our country must meet in order to provide the basis for an internationally acceptable solution of the South African question and for its full integration among the community of nations.

Such integration would undoubtedly have to take full account of the fact that we are an integral part of the region of southern Africa and an integral part of the continent of Africa.

In a world in which regional associations of various kinds have become an important part of the system of international relations, the new South Africa will seek to bring whatever it can to the process of strengthening both the region of southern Africa and our continent as a whole.

But, of course, the reality is that we have not yet liberated our country. It is still ruled by a white minority regime, under an apartheid constitution. Therefore we are faced with the continuing challenge to pursue the struggle until freedom is won.

It has now been agreed that the "convention for a democratic South Africa", to which we have referred, should be held as of 20 December 1991. This will mark an important step forward in the process leading to a negotiated resolution of the political problems facing our country.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the convention will discuss such matters as the principles that will underlie the new constitution, the mechanism to draw up that constitution, an interim government that will take charge of the country until a new democratically elected government is formed, the reincorporation of the Bantustans into South Africa, the time-frames for the transitional period as a whole, and the role of the international community.

As you can see, these are all very important matters, on which we will seek speedy decisions.

Of decisive importance to the work of the convention is the requirement that the ruling National Party should make a clear commitment that the decisions of the convention will be given legal force. Unless that is done, the convention will be no more than a mere talking-shop. Obviously this cannot be allowed.

In the aftermath of the conclusion of the work of the convention, we shall need to move as quickly as possible to establish the constitution-making body.

In our view, that should be an elected constituent assembly. Once established, we see no reason why that assembly should not conclude its work of drawing up the new constitution within the year.

Precisely because we have not as yet reached the goal of liberation towards which all of us have striven, we believe that there is need for continued international pressure to encourage speedy movement forward towards ending the system of apartheid. Sanctions therefore continue to be important.

At the same time, we believe that such sanctions should be lifted in phases corresponding to actual progress being achieved within South Africa. The two major phases ahead of us would be delineated by the establishment of the interim government, and. secondly, the election of the new government in terms of a democratic constitution.

We would therefore urge this assembly and its Member States to handle the issue of sanctions in this manner. We are convinced that this is the best way to use this form of pressure to realize our common objective of securing a speedy end to the system of apartheid.

We appeal to you all to heed the voice of the oppressed on the matter, those who, after all, asked you to come to their assistance by imposing the sanctions.

It is also critically important that the international community should support the peaceful process leading to the democratic transformation of South Africa. We are pleased that the United Nations, as well as other international organizations, will be invited to send observers to the convention for a democratic South Africa.

This will put the peoples of the world in a better position to help determine the precise ways by which they can support the peace process in our country. The point, however, also needs to be made that this Organization, representing the nations of the world, has always taken a firm position as an opponent of apartheid in favour of the perspective spelled out in its own Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We would therefore expect that in whatever way it participates in this political process in South Africa, it will do so as a combatant for democracy, justice and peace.

In our quest for a democratic South Africa there have been discordant voices by some in our country, but we are confident that the people of South Africa are winning. Whether we like it or not, the victory of the people is assured, and those who have decided to sideline themselves by not being party to this process will themselves eventually be sidelined. We, however, as an organization are prepared to discuss with them the importance of a peaceful resolution of our problems, and we have no doubt that in taking this position, we hold views that are identical not only to those of the democratic forces in our country but also to those of democracies throughout the world.

The Assembly is also aware that in our quest to end the violence against the people, which has threatened to derail the peace process, various formations in our country, including the ANC, signed a National Peace Accord almost three months ago. This is a very important agreement and should contribute to the establishment of a climate free of violence and therefore conducive to free political activity.

We should like to take advantage of this occasion to reiterate the call we made when we signed the Peace Accord: that the international community should take such measures as it deems fit to censure and sanction any organization in South Africa that by fomenting violence acts in a manner contrary to the purpose of the Accord. This will greatly facilitate the process of creating a climate free of violence, as visualized in the 1989 consensus Declaration on South Africa.

The new South Africa will also need to embark on an extensive programme of socio-economic transformation. This will be necessary both to address existing needs and to ensure the permanence of the democratic political outcome of the process of negotiations.

It will clearly be impossible for us to carry through this programme of socio-economic changes by relying exclusively on our own resources. We shall therefore require the support of the international community. This support should be seen as part of the completion of the task of ending the apartheid crime against humanity by helping us to dismantle the apartheid system and liquidate its destructive consequences. We would therefore urge this Organization to take the necessary decisions and make the relevant preparations to enable it to enter this area of activity as soon as the situation permits. We would argue that its direct intervention will be necessary as soon as we establish the interim government to which we have referred.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has had to intervene before, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to assist in the process of the repatriation of exiles. We are very pleased that the UNHCR has now set itself up in the country. We are also keenly interested in receiving help from UNHCR in resettling these returnees. This is going to require considerable resources, especially in the light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of returnees will have to be reintegrated in urban communities.

We therefore renew our appeal both to the Organization and to its Member States to extend generous assistance to the UNHCR to enable it to carry out this very sensitive humanitarian programme. In this regard, we hope that the UNHCR will receive such assistance from other agencies of the United Nations as it may need to enable it to carry out its tasks properly.

Democratic South Africa will rejoin the international community in a situation in which a new world order is being born. As this new order will of necessity have an impact on our own destiny, we cannot avoid commenting, however briefly, on what we believe it should be.

It is our view that this new world order should be characterized by, among other things: a democratic system of international relations; respect for the right of nations to self-determination and independence; respect for human rights; the elimination of poverty, deprivation and economic backwardness; an end to the practice of the resort to force to settle international disputes; protection of the environment; the strengthening and democratization of the institutions of this Organization to ensure that it plays its role as one of the principal architects of that new world order.

The world is becoming ever more interdependent. What each one of us does as an independent nation impacts on others. We therefore have no choice but to build a system of relations which, while it guarantees such independence and seeks to exclude the possibility of one country's imposing its will on another, creates the possibility for each to have a meaningful say in how we should live together in one peaceful, stable, prosperous and free world.

This outcome cannot allow of a situation in which the form and the content of the new world order are decided by some and have to be accepted by the rest. If we proceed in this manner we will continue to build conflict and instability into the world order, however much we might describe it as new.

Equally, there can be no new world order while some are super-rich and others remain abysmally poor. Indeed, the very struggle for democracy and human rights throughout the world is made more difficult precisely by these levels of poverty.

Clearly, what might appear an almost superhuman effort has to be made to address the issue of gross imbalances in the world economy, which have resulted in such ills as negative growth rates for many countries, an onerous debt burden and declining standards of living.

The issue of disarmament and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction remains one of the important issues of the day. We therefore commend those countries concerned for progress that has been made in these areas and encourage them to register even more forward movement towards the final resolution of these questions.

In this regard, we would urge the International Atomic Energy Agency to move with all speed to inspect the nuclear installations in our country to ensure full observance of the provisions of the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty.

In the resolution of these and other questions there can be no doubt that this Organization must play a central role. To do so successfully it must become truly an instrument in the hands of all Member States, without any feeling that they are mere pawns.

The reality of the matter is that there is no institution other than this Organization, and its various organs, which can provide the means by which to build an equitable and stable world order. To play this role it must itself enjoy the support and respect of all States throughout the world and function effectively and efficiently.

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Boutros Ghali on his election to the high post of Secretary-General of the United Nations and to wish him success in all his endeavours. On him will fall the task of sort of leading the processes, which have begun, of placing this Organization on the footing which will enable it to play the role we have been speaking of.

Permit me, Mr President, in the name of the African National Congress, and on my own behalf, to pay a tribute to the outgoing Secretary-General, Mr Perez de Cuellar, for his sterling performance at the helm of this international body. His outstanding efforts in the search for world peace have contributed immensely to the realization of this world body's primary principles and purposes. We are also highly gratified by the role he has played in assisting us in our search for peace in South Africa. We wish him well in his future endeavours.

We would urge that everything be done as quickly as possible, in the context of the decisions of this Organization and the Organization of African Unity, to carry out the measures that are necessary to resolve the conflict in Western Sahara.

Equally, we salute all those who have been, and are, involved in the process of searching for a negotiated, just and stable peace in the Middle East, an important element of which is recognition of, and respect for, the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. We wish them speedy movement forward in the effort to reach a comprehensive settlement.

We also wish the people of Cambodia success in their own efforts, supported by the United Nations, to bring to a close a dark chapter in their history, during which millions of innocent people have been butchered like wild beasts.

We look forward to the resolution of other conflicts in the world in Afghanistan, Cyprus, East Timor and elsewhere. We hope that this Organization will play its historic role of peacemaker to help resolve these and other conflicts.

We are taking the final steps towards ending the apartheid system of white minority domination. Acting together, we have the possibility of bringing into being a new country which representatives will be proud and happy to readmit into the ranks of this Assembly.

As we have done in the past, let us continue to act in concert so that we may achieve our common purpose as quickly as possible. Through our common victory over the apartheid system in South Africa, we will also strike an important blow against racism in general, which seems to be raising its ugly head in other parts of the world as well.

By its involvement in the struggle to liberate our people, the Organization has not only been true to the purposes for which it was founded; it will thereby also help to build a new country, which will make its own contribution to the creation of a new world order of equality among the nations, the defence of human rights, development and prosperity for all, peace and stability.

We thank all representatives for the contribution they have made to bringing our country and people to where we are today. We count on their continued support and involvement until our common victory has been achieved.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation