Address by President Nelson Mandela at the book launch of the series on southern African leaders: "They Fought for Freedom"

1 August 1994

Honourable Chair
Distinguished Guests

There are initiatives which derive their fame from the greatness of the personalities associated with them. There are initiatives which are in themselves noble in their purpose; great in their vision and renowned for their social impact.

The series which you are launching today, "They Fought for Freedom", straddles both categories. It is at one a reclamation of South Africa's history in its true and complete form and a tribute to some of the giants who have made South Africa into what it is today.

As I perused through the pages of some of your works, many fond and sad memories flashed through my mind. Memories of the pleasant and difficult times that we spent with some of the luminaries whose lives are so succinctly captured in these brief but instructive accounts. memories of the privation they suffered and the heroism they displayed to create conditions in which we can build a better life for all South Africans. Memories, too, of the tragic manner in which they left us - some, to the assassin's fatal blows.

It is in tribute to them that we meet here today. And I thank you most profoundly for the invitation to the formal launch of the series. Even if Sol Plaatjie, ZK Matthews, Yusuf Dadoo, Seretse Khama, Samora Machel, Steve Biko, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo cannot be with us today, their vision and force of example will always inspire us.

It is fitting on this occasion that we should congratulate the collective of historians, researchers and other who got this project off the ground. Our praise also goes to the publishers who form part of the broader initiative to ensure that South African history is re-written to reflect the objective and total picture of our past. Indeed, a nation that forgets its yesterday cannot hop to build a better tomorrow.

What gives this initiative added significance is the fact that you conceived of it when it was less fashionable to do so. When, to utter the names of these leaders would land one in a prison cell. To all the historians, including those who served at the Solomon Mahlangu.Freedom College, we say: you played your part in ensuring that the flame of truth continues to flicker under the darkness of apartheid.

No less crucial in this effort were the students themselves who demanded and continue to demand free, equal and quality education - not the education of subservience.

We owe it to all these forces to implement the Reconstruction and Development Programme without delay. We must urgently deal with the legacy of apartheid - poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and lack of environment in which teaching and learning can be efficiently conducted. This requires, among other things, the immediate restructuring of the educational system - as one of the priorities that this session of parliament should deal with.

This series, "They Fought For Freedom" constitutes an important contribution to this effort. It is, today, no longer a series of protest about heroes of a suppressed opposition. It is about leaders who have assumed their rightful position at the centre-stage of South African and regional politics; leaders whose ideas form the bedrock of the policy and culture of the new democratic establishment.

But the series derives its richness also from the fact that it captures the weaknesses of our heroes. Because, we would be doing an injustice to history and to their memory if we claimed they were saints without human follies. Our task is not merely to glorify. It is to edify and creative minds. This is the South Africa and Southern Africa that these great leaders sought to achieve.

By honouring their memory as your series so effectively does, we are together ensuring that their life-experiences become part of the collective knowledge acquired through formal and informal educational networks. We are together forging the new South Africa.

I once more thank the organisers of this event for you invitation. Our message, in brief is: Carry on the good work!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation