Address by Nelson Mandela to Members of the British Parliament, London - United Kingdom

5 May 1993

My Lords,
Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to thank the Conservative Party and Labour Party's Foreign Affairs Committee for the honour they extended to us by inviting us to be with you today. We are conscious of the fact that the buildings where we are today represent a political history which reaches back through many centuries.

They symbolise past heroic struggles against tyranny and autocracy. They have meaning because, long before today, there was a determined striving to ensure that the people shall govern.

These Houses of Parliament remain today living structures, because, whatever the imperfections of your political system - and there must be many - these structures continue to provide a seat for the furtherance of the humane perspective that the natural conflict of interests, ideas and instincts among any people, can and should be expressed through peaceful struggle rather than through actions which are predicated on violence and death.

I say these things because our own country and people are striving to create a social order, as well as establish the institutions, that will ensure that we, too, resolve the natural conflict of interests, ideas and instincts among ourselves through a peaceful contest rather than through the pursuit of policies whose success is measured by the success of terror.

But I also speak thus, within this historic enclave, because, hidden by the dim mists of history, there is also the reality that, from here, there issued decisions which imposed on my own country and people a condition of existence which condemned us, as South Africans, to seek to resolve our conflicts not through peaceful means but by other than peaceful means.

Your right to determine your own destiny was used to deny us to determine our own.

Thus history brought our peoples together in its own peculiar ways. That history demands of us that we should strive to achieve, what you, through the rediscovery of the practice of democracy, achieved for yourselves.

It demands of you that you should assist us, and therefore yourselves as well, to rediscover for ourselves, as a people, the practice of democracy.

And I say "demands" not because I want to entrust to you the role of a guardian and impose on ourselves the condition of an innocent ward.

I say history demands of you that you help us achieve a speedy transition to a non-racial and non-sexist democracy because your very national interest requires that you do so.

This, history has decreed, and not the sentimental heart of an old man.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentleman:

The universe we inhabit as human beings is becoming a common home that shows growing disrespect for the rigidities imposed on humanity by national boundaries.

These much used words of one of your great poets, John Donne, speak to what we are trying to say:

No Man is an Island, entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the Continent, A part of the main.

South Africa and the former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Angola, Liberia and Nagorno Kharabakh, the Sudan and Northern Ireland are all part of the main.

The evil that occurs in any of these places diminishes us all and the good elevates all humanity.

Many peoples across the globe are hurt, and their rights to independence and sovereignty undermined, when you who are relatively wealthy, attach certain conditionalities to any economic assistance to those who are poor, such as the establishment of democratic systems, respect for human rights, reduction of military expenditures and resolution of disputes by peaceful means. But, as Africans, we too believe that we should, together, transform our continent into one that is governed according to these precepts.

Therefore, between us, there is no difference as to the objectives that must be achieved. There may however be differences about the means that must be used and the root to travel to arrive at these common goals.

But, once more, these processes emphasise precisely the point about the ever-growing interdependence among the peoples.

South Africa has been on your national agenda in various ways since the 17th Century, when the ships of the English East India Company sailed around the Cape.

In more recent times, and with regard to South Africa, the great pre-occupation of members of these Houses of Parliament, the British Government and the public at large has been with the issue of apartheid.

This country has produced men and women whose names are well known in South Africa, because they, together with thousands of others of your citizens, stood up to oppose this evil system and helped to bring us to where we are today, when we can say - at last, freedom is in sight.

These Britons acted in the way they did because they realised that they and their country had as much a moral obligation and a strategic imperative to uproot the pernicious system of racism in South Africa, as they had to destroy a similar system in Nazi Germany.

We firmly believe that, through their struggles, these, your compatriots, have established the fundamental point that you and the people you represent have an obligation to act together with us as we strive to give birth to a new South Africa.

The agenda for that process of transforming South Africa has a number of items that stand out in bold relief. These are:

The determination of an Election date;

the creation of a climate conducive to free and fair elections, including the establishment of a multi-party Transitional Executive Council, an Independent Electoral Commission and an Independent media Commission;

the holding of the first ever general elections in our country, based on the principle of one person one vote, and thus ending the system of white minority rule;

as a consequence of these elections, the formation of an elected constituent assembly to draft a democratic constitution;

as a second consequence of these elections, the formation of an Interim Government of National Unity that will include all the political organisations that will have demonstrated that they have significant support;

the implementation of programmes aimed at dismantling the system of apartheid and reconstructing South Africa into a truly united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country;

the rebuilding and the restructuring of its economy to ensure rapid growth, more equitable distribution of income, wealth and opportunities and an end to poverty as well as racial and gender inequalities; and,

the normalisation of South Africa's relations with the rest of the world.

We would like you to play a role with regard to all these processes.

First among them is your contribution to ensuring that all political actors in South Africa understand that the situation in the country demands a speedy transition to a non-racial democracy. There should be no further delay in agreeing an election date.

We request that you use such contact as you have with political actors to persuade them to abandon their selfish and sectarian positions and stop blocking movement forward.

We would further urge you to use your influence to ensure the earliest possible establishment of the Transitional Executive Council and the related Commissions so that all the political parties and organisations in our country can, inter alia, begin to attend jointly to such matters as ending political violence and implementing poverty alleviation programmes.

As you aware, political violence in South Africa continues to be a matter of grave concern. If anybody had any doubt about how serious the issue is, the recent brutal assassination of one of our outstanding leaders, Chris Hani, should have put paid to these doubts.

We take very seriously the repeated reports we get that good number of our leaders and activists have been put on death lists by white right wing groups, whether they are within or outside the sate security force, that are opposed to change and are prepared to take lives to ensure the perpetuation of the apartheid system.

We ourselves are doing everything in our power to address this matter. It is nevertheless incontestable that the government of the day has to do a lot more to deal with this matter and so must other parties. As we have said, we are also convinced that the establishment of the Transitional Executive Council with its structures for multi-party control of all armed formations and the police would make a decisive contribution in helping us to contain and reduce the level of violence.

Accordingly, we urge that you put pressure on those concerned within South Africa to carry out their obligations with regard to this matter of violence.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the role that this country has already played with regard to this matter, by sending police officers and other experts into South Africa and by the contributions it has made through the United Nations, The Commonwealth and the European Community.

When the elections are held, it will be important that the international community place observers in South Africa to help us ensure that the elections are free and fair and therefore that their outcome is recognised by everybody as being legitimate and acceptable.

We are certain that you will play your part in helping us benefit from such international assistance.

Three years ago we emerged from 30 years of illegality, during which much of our leadership was imprisoned or exiled and the members inside country forced to operate as clandestine units.

In addition to this, precisely because the majority had been denied the right to vote, we suffer from the added disadvantage that we have no experience of elections, of parliamentary practice and of state administration.

And yet I dare say that stability cannot be achieved in South Africa unless the ANC, which represents the overwhelming majority of our people, place a central role in bringing these masses into the peace process, organising they go to the polls in their millions and ensuring that any constitution and government that result from these processes are accepted as being expressive of the will of the people.

The fact that we, like other political formations, will participate in the elections, does not therefore remove the obligation on the international community to assist us and the rest of the democratic movement of our country, both materially and politically.

Indeed, I would venture to say that the process of change enhances the need to strengthen this democratic movement and not the other way round.

I am certain that many of you in this room will recognise the relevance and correctness of what I am saying from your experiences here in Europe.

The processes of democratic transformation in such countries as Spain, Portugal and Greece could not have been as relatively smooth as they were without relatively strong democratic political organisations.

The same lesson is now being confirmed in other parts of Europe, again demonstrating that democratic change requires democratic organisations.

We trust that you will respond to these observations as they affect South Africa positively, and open yourselves to persuasion that, in the common interest, you should extend all-round assistance to us.

As you know in 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Consensus Declaration on Southern Africa, with the active participation of the British government. That Declaration has provided the broad framework for the process of negotiations in South Africa.

It includes within it set of principles which the international community thought had to be implemented to provide the basis for an international acceptable solution of the South African question.

Accordingly we would urge that you should maintain such pressure as is necessary until we do indeed arrive at this international acceptable solution.

There can be no gainsaying the point that the very survival of the democratic settlement towards which we strive cannot be guaranteed unless we address speedily and successfully the socio-economic upliftment of the majority of our people.

Central to this is the achievement of a relatively high rate of growth of the South African economy. We hope that British Companies will participate in this process, to the mutual benefit by investing directly to raise the level of capital formation, help modernise our economy through the transfer of technology, open the way to new markets and create new jobs to absorb the millions of the unemployed.

We also hope that both your public and private sectors will help us to address the urgent issues of education and training, in particular to raise the levels of productivity without which it would be impossible to have a modern and an internationally competitive economy.

Together, we have to confront another particular matter which has to do with a false perception of what South Africa is.

This has to do with our classification as a middle income country. This impact on the issue whether we can receive overseas development assistance or not.

The actual reality of South Africa is, that, beyond the aggregate statistics, the majority of our population, which happens to be black, lives in conditions of dire poverty.

The situation which these millions face is not catastrophic in quantitative terms, but also of a crisis nature in a qualitative and structural sense.

In reality, we face a situation of the coexistence within one country of a first world and a third world economy.

The aggregate statistics disguise the reality of structural poverty and endemic underdevelopment to which the majority of the population is condemned.

This is possible because so rich are the few that are rich that it becomes impossible to see that the poor exist at all.

We raise this matter because it will be necessary that we get your support to persuade the OECD, GATT, the UNDP and similar organisations, that in dealing with South Africa, we are dealing with a developing country.

As you know, this is critically relevant to the issue of how you and other developed countries will handle such issues as development assistance, soft loans and market access as they relate to a democratic South Africa.

Related to this is the challenge to define the relationship between democratic South Africa and the European Community, our largest international economic partner.

To arrive at the correct framework with regard to this matter, will require that you, as parliamentarians who understand what needs to be done really to end the system of apartheid, should use your influence and the influence of your parties to get the European Community to enter into a mutually beneficial agreement with the new South Africa, as soon as is practicable and feasible.

With regard to these socio-economic matters, we are also convinced that it is important that the mass anti-apartheid movement of this country should, in addition to opposing the apartheid system and maintaining the pressure for speedy movement forward to democratic change, also look for ways and means by which it could assist with regard to the developmental issues that face us.

We are therefore very keen that there should be established person-to-person relations between our peoples, so that those who spent their lives fighting the apartheid system should, at the non-governmental level, use their considerable energies to generate the resources, which will enable the ordinary people of this country to remain engaged in the struggle to make South Africa into the country which all of us would like it to be.

We are convinced that a genuinely democratic South Africa will be your reliable partner as the international community continue to grapple with such critical matters as a democratic world order, human rights, development, peace and the protection of the environment.

We therefore believe that it is as much in your interest as ours to ensure that we move forward as speedily as possible to arrive at the point where we do indeed become a democratic country.

A few days ago we bade farewell a to a man very dear to me, our former President, Oliver Tambo, who many of you knew.

I was very pleased and moved by the presence of very high level international delegations at Oliver's funeral.

Their participation in this dignified and solemn occasion was both befitting the status of Oliver Tambo and also said to us that the peoples of the world remain true to their pledge that they will stand with us until the apartheid crime against humanity is a thing of the past.

We count you among these millions who are true friends and dependable allies.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation