Opening address by Nelson Mandela at the Patriotic Front Summit Meeting

29 October 1992

Comrade Leaders of Delegations,
Brothers and Sisters.

It is an excellent thing that we meet here today as part of our process of regular consultation about matters which are of critical importance to the future of our country and people.

I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to speak at this opening session.

I want to take this opportunity to present some ideas directed at the central objective we all share of taking our country forward towards its speedy transformation into a non-racial democracy.


The reality we all have to face is that our people are bleeding as they have never done before. They bleed from the criminal political violence which has already claimed too many lives and whose most recent manifestations are the heinous massacre at Folweni in Natal, the persisting destruction of the Sabelo family and the murder of Reggie Hadebe, Deputy Chairperson of the ANC in the Natal Midlands.

They bleed from the criminal violence perpetrated by robbers, thugs, rapists, racists, the abusers of women and children, ritual murderers, people unbalanced by the prey of intense social pressures and are victims of the demented frenzy of other ogres in our communities.

They bleed from the pestilence of poverty which has thrown people out of jobs, denied them access to food, accommodation, clothing and health.

They bleed from the drought which ravages humans, beasts and the environment, compounded by the crimes of those who intercept drought relief and thus derive personal gain from the desperate suffering of those who were already abjectly poor, but are now thrown into the pit of hopelessness because the rains refused to come.

A fetid cloud of despair envelops our country. Its stench has begun to be felt by many nations beyond our borders and beyond our continent.

People begin to ask - what happened to the hopes that the events of recent years inspired! What has dimmed, or perhaps eclipsed, the rainbow that lit and decorated our skies with such promises of joy! Whence the soulless and soul destroying and fetid cloud of despair!

Many questions are asked and to each an answer must be given.

When we promised the people freedom, were we offering them a mirage?

When we held out a future that will be crowned with happiness and prosperity, were we seeking to blind them to the continuing reality of growing misery and poverty.

When we proclaimed that we represent their true interests, were we hiding from the people our inability to deliver what life itself demands?

Many more questions are asked and to each an honest answer must be given.

To be honest in our answers we will each as leaders, have to disrobe ourselves of the mantle of self-righteousness.

We will each have to open our minds to critical self-examination and examination.

We will each have to admit past wrongs and admit to public correction.

We will each have to question the truths that we considered given and learn to live with a reality which demands that we change the assumptions which inform our action.

We will have to, each one and those we lead, accept that we must break out of a mould which constrained and stultified. when we should have evolved a frame which injected freedom and dynamism to what we had to do to promote the public good.

We shall have done all our people and all humanity an historic service, carrying with it a priceless reward, it at the end of our meeting, we shall have identified the problems our nation faces and said what it is that we should do, to turn those problems into a record of the past.

We must, then, admit that the process of transformation has been slow, lethargic and insufficiently responsive to the sense of urgency which we all know should be the hallmark of our approach to the process of change.

If we accept this, as I am convinced we must, then we will also have to accept that we shall have to elaborate the ways and means by which we can expedite the process leading to the formation and adoption of a new Constitution by an elected Constituent Assembly.

Among other things, this must mean that we should resist with all the energy we can muster, the notion that we should enter into protracted negotiations on a new negotiating forum in order to accommodate certain groupings which, for reasons of myopia, decided not to board the train when it left the station many months ago.

It also means that we should contest vigorously the idea that agreements already reached in the CODESA process should be discarded and the process of negotiations started from the beginning.

An agreement exists between the ANC and the National Party according to which these two organisations will engage in an intensive and extensive bilateral discussion to find common ground on all the outstanding issues on the CODESA agenda.

We meet here today because it is the firm belief of the ANC that prior to this meeting, we should consult as broadly as possible so that the views we present at the forthcoming meeting should be as representative as possible.

In keeping with this view, we are therefore presenting to this important meeting two major documents for your approval. One details our proposals for the agenda of the bilateral meeting. The other contains a strategic perspective which we would like this meeting to adopt as its common position.

Further, we are convinced that if we proceed in the manner we have described, as part of a thorough process of preparation for the resumption of the formal multilateral negotiations, we will, together, create the conditions for the success of these negotiations, for speedy movement forward, as well as avoidance of the deadlock that confronted all of us at the Second Plenary Session of CODESA.

Consequently, what we request of you today is both endorsement of this approach and all the necessary input, on a continuing basis, to ensure that we carry your broad mandate as we go into the process of detailed bilateral negotiations.

The meeting might also find it fit to consider the organisational steps it should agree upon to ensure a continual process of consultation among ourselves so that, after this meeting, we do indeed use both legs, the one being of multilateral consultations and the other being the preparatory bilateral negotiations.

At the meeting between ourselves and the government on the 26th of September, we entered into agreements which relate to the issue of violence, and which must be implemented.

Nevertheless, important as these agreements were, we cannot pretend that they address this matter comprehensively.

We need to reflect on this matter of violence continuously to determine what needs to be done to reduce it and hopefully bring it to an end.

We, for ourselves, have accepted the urgent need for a meeting of the signatories of the National Peace Accord to find practical ways to end the shame of the debilitating bloodletting that has been imposed on the people.

As we examine this matter, we must surely look at our own conduct, going beyond narrow partisan considerations, and play our rightful roles as the leaders of the process of democratic transformation, the principal guardians of peace and militant combatants for the protection of life itself.

We must re-examine many questions, - not necessarily at this meeting - including how to stop the process of retribution for past wrongs, whether the very culture of our people allows for the burning of coffins in public and whether the burning of effigies is not too evocative of earlier scenes of people killed by burning.

I give these only as examples to make the point that we must really be engaged in ways that we may not have been before, to contribute the maximum we can to end the terrible violence which afflicts our society.

We must aim to arrive at the situation whereby by the end of the year we have reached all the necessary agreements that will enable us to move forward speedily to the election of a Constituent Assembly and the Interim Government of National Unity.

We must confront any tendency which seeks further delays in the process of transformation. Our people want freedom. The country disparately requires to be put on a new footing so that we can address the enormous problems we will inherit from the apartheid system.

The world waits for the change that is overdue, ready to engage with us in the process of reconstruction and hopeful that what we will do with our own country will vindicate the hopes of the nations who joined us in the struggle against apartheid and make an important contribution to the rebuilding of our world as a place of peace, democracy, equality, and prosperity.

As we conduct our work here today, I trust we shall all be inspired by the conviction that we must move our country forward speedily in conditions of peace, so that it too can, at last, begin to experience the joys of peace, democracy, equality and prosperity.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation