Address by Nelson Mandela to the African National Congress (ANC) National Conference on reconstruction and strategy, Johannesburg

21 January 1994

Comrade Chairperson,
Esteemed members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC,
Leaders of our allied organisations,
Honoured guests,
Comrades and friends:

I greet you warmly in this, the Year of Liberation for all South Africans.

We have thus characterised the year 1994 to express the deep-seated hope of all our people that, this year, all of us will, at last, achieve our emancipation.

This year a new birth will occur.

The physical being that will be its offspring will be like the new beginning which occurs when the spring rains wash away the dead leaves of winter and give life to the summer green which, as an expression of the rhythm of the seasons, blankets our earth.

That new birth will signal the wonder that we have begun to construct a new social order.

It will say to us and to the world that we, the people of South Africa, have, at last, entered our new age, during which we shall be called upon to respond to the call of history which summons us to achieve our own freedom from tyranny, from injustice, from hunger, from deprivation and from the indignity and insult of racism and apartheid.

As an expression of its glorious humanism, the new age will, at the same time as it liberates the oppressed, endow the oppressor with the gift of emancipation from ignorance, from fear, and freedom from hatred and bigotry.

It will also bless our country with the reward of its emancipation from isolation by the community of nations. We sit at the southern-most tip of Africa as in the eye of a storm.

That storm sweeps across the human habitat. Like the spring rains, it seeks to drive away the pestilences that continue to afflict the world of living beings, the universal malignancies which seem to have found a home in our diseased society.

Today, our country and ourselves have come face-to-face with an historic opportunity to transform ourselves.

By virtue of the fact that they will record success, our victories will say to the peoples of the world that the triumph of all humanity over the same problems that find concentrated expression in our country is assured.

As we rise to the challenge of change, the eyes of the peoples of the world are upon us. These masses are rooting for us. These millions are willing us to succeed.

This moment of opportunity is itself a product of a struggle waged both by ourselves and by the peoples of the world. And yet, in the language of the game of chess, it does not represent our end game.

Our election victory in April will enable us to take a great leap forward.

But this will be a dangerous leap unless we have the vision, the programmatic framework, the strength and the will to bring about fundamental change.

To achieve this requires that we read every sign with great attention, to plan for every eventuality, to learn the hard lessons of history, to know our country and to understand the social forces that make it what it is.

Fundamental change will not occur simply because elections will have taken place on April 27th. It will come about because of our engagement of our actuality, inspired by an unrelenting determination to make an actual and visible change.

The greater the victory of the democratic forces in those elections, the better will be our capacity to transform South Africa.

But this we must also understand, that the more decisive that victory, the more violent the resistance to change might be on the part of those forces that do not want change.

The first challenge we shall face from these forces which represent the past which our people seek to repudiate, will be a determined effort to ensure that our country is unable to hold free and fair elections.

The greatest and most obvious threats facing us in this regard is violence. We must confront this problem on all fronts, including those instances where we, ourselves, might be more the perpetrators rather than the victims of this violence.

As a movement, we are also faced with an insidious threat. This is the threat of complacency.

Encouraged by the good results indicated in many opinion polls and by our direct experience as a result of direct contact with the people, we might allow the situation to arise where by our activists and supporters might get convinced that the victory we seek is already won.

We have to fix this firmly in our minds that every vote counts. We must ensure that this becomes our actual programme that we reach out to every voter and work to ensure that every voter actually votes and votes correctly.

Beyond the elections, we must also realise that we shall continue to confront threats from those who are implacably opposed to democracy.

We have only to look at what is happening around us in the region of Southern Africa to understand the possibility of the kind of havoc which can make it very difficult to build upon the victories of our struggle.

This matter is pertinent to the outcome of the elections, the challenge to defend the democratic victory and our capacity to bring about fundamental change in our country.

In our approach to these and other issues, we must proceed from the fundamental consideration that our responsibility to our people and to the peoples of the world leaves no margin of error in the manner in which we prepare for the democratic transition and implement our vision of transformation, reconstruction and development.

The vision reflect in many of our documents and statements must be translated into a policy framework. Over the past year, many comrades in our movement have been grappling with this task.

Hence this Conference will have placed before it the Sixth Draft of our Strategy, Reconstruction and Development document.

We will therefore receive and consider a document which lays the basis for far-reaching change and the achievement of genuine democracy for the people of our country.

For those of us who are already familiar with the Programme, the objectives it sets might appear relatively easy.

The reality however is that as much as our political liberation was not easy to achieve, so will not be an easy walk to arrive at the point of the socio-economic upliftment of all the people of our country.

We must therefore approach the challenge of reconstruction and development soberly and with both feet firmly planted on the ground.

That approach requires that we also recognise the fact that the Sixth Draft in front of us still requires a substantial amount of additional work to be anywhere near what we want it to be.

It however goes without saying that the principles on which it is based and which it elaborates are very sound and constitute the framework within which our democratic forces should approach their work once they become part of the democratic government.

One of the principal challenges that will face us in that capacity - a challenge we have to meet to make our reconstruction programme implement able - is the task of redefining governance.

Having studied and criticised the old world, we must seek out a new mode of interaction between the people and their elected representatives, and between the governmental structures and the popular organisations of the people.

To strengthen the bond between the electors and the elected, we have, for instance, made certain that the members of our movement had the chance to participate in the process of selecting those whom they wish to see as members of the legislative assemblies.

Without seeking to boast, we can say that we stand head and shoulders above our contenders in the election in the democracy and transparency of our selection process.

We are in the process of producing a governing team whose skills, talents and dedication to the public good assures that we are putting together a winning combination which will inspire the confidence and kindle the hopes of all our people, both black and white.

This team will enter governance not for power and glory, but as an act of responsibility to all our people. It will therefore be ready to deal with the hard questions of our reality, without seeking to delude the people with empty promises, fully understanding that the people have a right to know the truth about what is possible.

Our country has arrived at this exciting conjuncture because we took good care to build a strong organisation of the people - the African National Congress.

In the face of what lies ahead of us, the need for that strong organisation, rooted among the masses, is even greater. We must, therefore, make certain that whatever else we do, we must have the strength to continue to build such an organisation.

This is true of all the other organisations of the democratic movement, including the youth and women's movements, the trade unions, the civics and other representatives of civil society.

What I have been trying to say to this historic conference is that in the period ahead we will encounter many hardships. To overcome them we will need more than good intentions.

We will need strong organisation, effective and accountable government, a realistic plan whose implementation will actually change the lives of our people, and a determined effort to thwart the schemes of those who want to block the emergence of the new society.

Above all, we need the commitment and involvement of everybody present here today in the common effort to create a new society and a new nation.

Before I close I would like to address a special word to those of our compatriots who belong to the organisations that belong to the Freedom Alliance.

We urge them to approach the current negotiations in a serious spirit of give and take and with a determination to find solutions acceptable to all the people of our country and not merely the constituencies they represent.

We take the demands they have presented very seriously. We are determined to address them to the best of our ability. We therefore take the negotiations very seriously and approach them with an open mind to find mutually acceptable solutions.

We appeal to all of them that they take the same attitude, understanding that we are not their enemies. What we are is enemies of racism and oppression. We trust that they too are enemies of racism and oppression and are therefore open to reach the necessary compromises which will deliver our country from the racism, oppression and conflict from which it must emancipate itself.

In the great effort to create a new society and a new nation we dare not fail. History and the world will judge us very harshly if we do not do what is just and correct. We will not have a second chance.

I wish the conference success, confident that you will approach your work with all due seriousness and realism.

Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation