Address by Nelson Mandela at Annual Conference of the African National Congress Youth League

December 1951

It is always a most difficult task to deliver a presidential address to an organisation such as ours. One is expected to give as comprehensive a picture as possible of the political situation, both nationally and internationally. Then included must be the review of the organisational strength and power of the movement and the progress it has made in its efforts to carry the people to victory. Lastly, some indication must be given to the reply the organisation must make to the situation having regard to the preceding analyses. Quite clearly it is not possible to do justice to all these, and yet a presidential address in which anyone of them is missing is not worthy of the name. I have [heard] it said that Dr. Nkrumah addresses conferences for five hours. I do not intend to break his record.

Mankind as whole is today standing on the threshold of great events - events that at times seem to threaten its very existence. On the one hand are those groups, parties, or persons that are prepared to go to war in defence of colonialism, imperialism, and their profits. These groups, at the head of which stands the ruling circles in America, are determined to perpetuate a permanent atmosphere of crisis and fear in the world. Knowing that a frightened world cannot think clearly, these groups attempt to create conditions under which the common men might be inveigled into supporting the building of more and more atomic bombs, bacteriological weapons, and other instruments of mass destruction. These crazy men whose prototype is to be found at the head of the trusts and cartels of America and Western Europe do not realise that they will suffer the destruction that they are contemplating for their innocent fellow beings. But they are desperate and become more so as they realise the determination of the common men to preserve peace. Yes, the common man who for generations has been the tool of insane politicians and governments, who has suffered privations and sorrow in wars that were of profit to tiny privileged groups, is today rising from being the object of history [to] becoming the subject of history. For the ordinary men and women in the world, the oppressed all over the world are becoming the conscious creators of their own history. They are pledged to carve their destiny and not to leave it in the hands of tiny ruling circles - or classes. Whilst the dark and sinister forces in the world are organising a desperate and last-minute fight to defend a decadent and bankrupt civilisation, the common people, full of confidence and buoyant hope, struggle for the creation of a new, united, and prosperous human family. That this is so can be gathered from the increasingly militant and heroic struggle that is being waged in all colonial countries against heavy odds. Our mother body has in clean and unmistakable terms indicated in which camp we are in the general world contest. We are with the oppressed all over the world and are irrevocably opposed to imperialism in any form.

In Africa the colonial powers - Great Britain, Portugal, France, Italy, Spain, and their servitors in South Africa - are attempting with the help of the notorious American ruling class to maintain colonial rule and oppression. Millions of pounds are pouring into the continent in the form of capital for the exploitation of our resources in the sole interests of the imperialist powers. So-called geological and archaeological expeditions are roaming the continent ostensibly engaged in gathering material for the advancement of science and the furtherance of humanity but being in reality the advance guard of American penetration. It is important for us and for the African people as a whole to realise that but for the support of American finance it would have been difficult if not impossible for the Western colonial powers to maintain rule in Africa, nor indeed anywhere in the world. In thinking of the direct enemies of the African people, namely, Great Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and S.A. [South Africa], we must never forget the indirect enemy, the infinitely more dangerous enemy who sustains all those with loans, capital, and arms.

In common with people all over the world, humanity in Africa is fighting these forces. In the Gold Coast a situation exists which is capable of being translated into complete victory for the people. [events] in Nigeria are leading to a similar situation. In French West Africa, the Democratic Rally of African People is leading the people into what is virtually open war against the French imperialists. In Egypt the heroic struggle is being waged which must receive the support of all genuine anti-imperialist forces, albeit with certain reservations. In Uganda the leaders of the Bataka Association who were condemned to fourteen years of imprisonment have had to be released as a result of the attitude of the masses. In Central Africa the people saw through the tricks of the British imperialists who sought to foist a bogus federation scheme on them. What the rulers have reaped instead is a rejection of partnership, trusteeship, and white leadership and a clear demand for self-determination and independence. These are hopeful signs, but precisely because the African liberation movement is gaining strength the rulers will become more brutal and, in their desperation, will practice all manner of deception in order to stay on at any rate to postpone the day of final victory. But history is on the side of the oppressed.

Here in South Africa the situation is an extremely grave and serious one. The plans of the Broederbond to set up an openly police state have so far almost run to schedule. About that there can be no question. This is in the interest of the ruling class in South Africa whether it is nominally in the U.P. [United party] or the Nationalist party.

The United party represents the mining interests and also the rapidly rising industrialist power. The Nationalist party represents farming interests and the growing Afrikaner commercial interest. The farming group as a distinct and separate interest is, of course, dying out if it is not dead already! The financial lords are destroying the farmer group, and instead we have huge semi-industrial estates and plantations through which the big money power seeks to extend its monopoly of economic South Africa to the agricultural sphere. At one time it was thought that the development of a powerful industrialist class would produce a clash involving the primitive feudal-capitalist farming and mining interest on the one hand and the industrialist on the other. It was thought that this clash might result in a realignment of forces that might be advantageous to the oppressed people in the country. But it is becoming clear that there is no possibility of [a] clash between such groups. There is no chance that Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the leading mining magnate, will clash with Harry Oppenheimer, the leading industrialist. There is also noticeable a growing affinity among the English, Jewish, and Afrikaner financial and industrial interests. It is quite conceivable that all their interests find the fascist policy of Malan suitable, as it will enable them to continue their bankrupt role by crushing the tribal union movement and the national movements of the people. It is true that in the rank-and-file of the white parties are a number who whilst they support the maintenance of colour as an instrument of white political and economic supremacy are scared of a naked Hitlerite regime which might later turn out to be a danger to themselves; hence movements like the now thoroughly discredited Torch Commando. This white South African people who have lost all their moral backbone [sic]. The possibility of a liberal capitalist democracy in S.A. [South Africa is] extremely nil. The propaganda among the whites and their desire to maintain what they imagine to be a profitable situation make it utterly unthinkable that there can be a political alignment that favours a liberal white group. In any case the political immorality, cowardice, and vacillations of the so-called progressives among whites render them utterly useless as a force against fascism.

The situation is developing [in] the direction of an openly fascist state. The Broederbond is the centre of the fascist ideology in this country, but like other things it is itself merely an instrument of the ruling circles which are to be found in all white parties. The commandos are the nucleus of a future Gestapo. The acts passed by the government, in particular the Suppression of Communism Amendment Act and the Group Areas Act, provide the readymade framework for the establishment of the fascist state. True to the pattern depicted for the rest of the imperialist world, South African capitalism has developed [into] monopolism and is now reaching the final stage of monopoly capitalism gone mad, namely, fascism.

But the development of fascism in the country is an indication of the fear they have [of] the people. They realise that their world is a dying world and that the appearance of impregnable strength is a mere facade. The new world is the one in which the oppressed Africans live. They see before their eyes the growth of a mighty people's movement. The struggles of 1950 were an indication that the leaders of the Africans and their allies were fully aware of the weakest link in the chain of white supremacy. The labour power of the African people is a force which when fully tapped is going to sweep the people to power in the land of their birth. True, the struggle will be a bitter one. Leaders will be deported, imprisoned, and even shot. The government will terrorise the people and their leaders in an effort to halt the forward march; ordinary forms of organisation will be rendered impossible. But the spirit of the people cannot be crushed, and no matter what happens to the present leadership, new leaders will arise like mushrooms till full victory is won.

The people are possessed of tremendous potential powers which can be unleashed at short notice by a determined leadership. But is the African movement as at present organised capable of answering to the challenge of the present conditions?

African Nationalism

On the ideological plane there can be no question of [the] dynamism of African nationalism as an outlook for our people in the present stage of our struggle. At the present historical stage African nationalism is the only outlook or creed for giving the African people the self-confidence and subjective liberation without which a people can never hope to challenge effectively any national oppression.

As the guardian of African nationalism, the Congress Youth League and, to a lesser extent, the senior Congress are undoubtedly the greatest hope that the African people, and indeed all oppressed people, have that they will ever live in a free, independent, united, democratic, and a prosperous South Africa. The Congress and the Youth League are the instruments through which these aims will be achieved.

African nationalism was born in the ANC and grew in confidence through years of struggle. In the Congress Youth League, African nationalism found new form and was made concrete and crystallised. I wish to say emphatically as possible that there is only one African nationalism and that is the African nationalism propounded by the Congress and the Youth League. In certain quarters there is a feeling that the language of African nationalism within the movement is not uniform. It is said that there are various brands of African nationalism. I think it is more a question of concept of struggle. I have no doubt that so far as this stage of struggle is concerned, our language is sufficiently uniform. It is, however, when we seek to apply our creed to concrete situations that there are revealed different approaches. This was made clear during the three struggles of the past two years. I refer to campaigns of May 1st, June 26th, and May 7th this year. Owing to differences that developed regarding them, there is a tendency to think that these campaigns revealed differences in our concept of African nationalism. Fundamentally, African nationalism is one, and what these campaigns revealed was our inexperience in actual struggle. There is nothing to be afraid of in the setbacks we have suffered. Many of us grew in those campaigns by [the] very reason of our failure. The Youth League has, in my opinion, become stronger.

We learned in those struggles that the face of a liberatory movement must always be turned against the main enemy - fight fascism. We learned that when the masses of the people were on the march, even if we had genuine principled objections to the move, we must never be against the mass movement of the people. We learned that always a true fighter must be on the side of the people against the oppressor. We learned during these campaigns that the political dilettante, the [person] who regards politics as the attendance of conferences and the making of beautiful analyses, is over. Today politics has become the affairs of a professional revolutionary. Our policy and attitude towards the national groups was in practice severely tested in the campaigns. In short, these were in a way a test of our concept of actual struggle. Our imperfections were made clear to us, and the duty of the conference will be directed towards correcting these mistakes and practising honest objective and serious self-criticism to fully prepare ourselves for the struggle we will have to wage early next year. Sons and daughters of Africa, I do not think we differ concerning our ideas of the aims of African nationalism in Africa. In any case the very nature of [the] national movement to which we belong makes it impossible to expect [an] absolutely identical approach. The very nature of the national struggle and the manner of its organisations make it impossible to achieve what is perhaps possible to achieve in a party. African nationalism has to my mind been sufficiently concretised, and its aims are, for the present historical stage, clear. Any attempt to go beyond this might well be unconstructive and will merely [delay] the consideration of what our answer should be to the immediate crises facing our people.

Expressed in what is perhaps an oversimplification, the problem of the Youth League and the Congress today is the maintenance of full dynamic contact with the masses and the fight in the daily issues that face them. We have a powerful ideology capable of capturing the imaginations of the masses. Our duty is now how to carry that ideology fully to the masses. In the past two years we have registered certain big successes in this task in spite of setbacks.

We must here in conference confine our attention to a few vital considerations. Firstly, our National Executive of the Senior Congress has called upon the country to rally to [a] nation-wide struggle that will probably begin at this national conference. In accordance with this policy it has called upon other national organisations to fall in line with this programme. In view of our claim to leadership of South Africa, it was perfectly logical that Congress should take initiative in calling all the people of South Africa to join in its struggle. Needless to say, the whole situation demands an answer of struggle. The possibility of our movement being banned makes it doubly necessary that the message of struggle should be carried to the people in the manner contemplated by the Senior Congress! It is clear that if a movement is banned and its readers' activities proscribed, this should happen in the midst and as a result of an actual struggle. Then also we must make clear our attitude to the participation of other national groups in our struggles, always bearing in mind the international situation and the political theses that the mind of the masses must always be directed towards the fight against Malan and must not be diverted from this for any reason.

Then we have to decide on concrete steps to be taken to deal with the situation that has arisen as a result of the Suppression of Communism Amendment Act. How are we going to react to the liquidation of Congress leaders as [a] result of this act? And how are the operations going to be carried on in the event of our being banned? This is a serious matter and can hardly be discussed in the conference except in very general terms.

We have to discuss measures [for] the creation of strong nuclei of active workers in the struggle on the proper organisation of the League and the Congress [and] the elimination of unredeemable reactionaries, which work has proceeded quite far in certain areas. We have to consider measures to eliminate the looseness and lack of discipline in the movement and also the cultivation of a serious approach to the struggle. In this context we have to examine various tactics and weapons in our struggle, including boycott, civil disobedience, and strikes.

Sons and daughters of Africa, our tasks are mighty indeed, but I have abundant faith in our ability to reply to the challenge posed by the situation. Under the slogan of FULL DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS IN SOUTH AFRICA NOW, we must march forward into victory.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation