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Mandela: in his own words

Since his release. Nelson Mandela has spoken out on many issues. Here are some extracts from some of the speeches and interviews he has given so far:


“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today — I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”


“I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am therefore in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.”

“I call, in the strongest possible way, for us to act with the dignity and discipline that our just struggle for freedom deserves. Our victories must be celebrated in peace and joy.”

“It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.”


“On the question of democratic practice I feel duty-bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a principle which must be upheld without any exception.”


“The apartheid destruction on our subcontinent is incalculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins. And our people are embroiled in political strife.”


‘Today I wish to report to you that my talks with the government have been aimed at normalising the political situation in the country. We have not as yet begun discussing the basic demands of our struggle.”

“Mr De Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist President in taking steps to normalise the situation. However there are further steps outlined in the Harare Declaration that have to be met before negotiations on the basic demands of our people can begin.”

“Negotiations cannot take place above the heads or behind the backs of our people.”

“Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the overwhelming demands of our people for a democratic, non-racial, and unitary South Africa.”


“Insignificant things, peripheral issues, they do not need any compromise. You need a compromise on fundamental issues. What those issues will be, and the extent of the compromise, will depend on the type of demand over which a compromise is required.”


“We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.”

“Everything we have set out to achieve is still the same. Nothing has changed. You must remember that the demand in this country is for a non-racial society. We are very far from that, and it is still too early for anybody to expect us to call for the lifting of sanctions.”


“Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.”

“There is not a single political organisation in this country inside and outside Parliament which can ever compare with the ANC in its total commitment to peace…. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to peace will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.”


“I salute the working class of our country. Our movement would not be where it is without your organised strength. You are an indispensable force in the struggle to end exploitation and oppression in South Africa.”

“We call on employers to recognise the fundamental rights of workers in our country.”

“In particular, we call for genuine negotiations to achieve a fair Labour Relations Act and mechanisms to resolve conflict…We call on workers, black and white, to join industrial trade unions organised under the banner of our non-racial progressive federation, COSATU.”


“I salute General Secretary Joe Slovo and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for its sterling contribution to the struggle for democracy. You have survived forty years of unrelenting persecution. The memory of great communists like Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Braam Fischer and Moses Mabhida will be cherished for generations to come.”


“The crisis in education that exists … demands special attention. The education crisis in black schools is a political crisis. It arises out of the fact that our people have no vote, and therefore cannot make the government of the day responsive to their needs.”

“Apartheid education is inferior and a crime against humanity.”

“Education is an area that needs the attention of all our people, students, parents, workers, and other organised sectors of our community…”

“I want to add my voice, therefore, to the call made at the beginning of the year that all students must return to school and learn…”


“We call on our white patriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. Whites are fellow South Africans and we want them to feel safe…we appreciate the contribution they have made towards the development of this country.”


“… I must make it clear that the level of crime in our township is unhealthy and must be eliminated as a matter of urgency.”


“The hijacking and setting alight of vehicles, and the harassment of innocent people are criminal acts that have no place in our struggle. We condemn that…”

“I call on the leadership of UDF, COSATU, and Inkatha to take decisive steps to revive the peace initiative and end the scourge on our proud history … Let us end this mindless violence.”

“I am also concerned by the ongoing violence perpetrated by certain sections of the security forces against our peaceful marches and demonstrations. We condemn this.”


“South Africa is a wealthy country. It is the labour of black workers that has built the cities, roads and factories we see. They cannot be excluded from sharing this wealth.”

“Our people need proper housing, not ghettos like Soweto. Workers need a living wage, and the right to participate in trade unions of their own choice, and to participate in determining policies that affect their lives.”

“…we are also committed to ensuring that a democratic government has the resources to address the inequalities caused by apartheid.”

“Nationalisation has formed part and parcel of the history of this country. The government’s current attitude towards the ANC’s demands for nationalisation seem out of character. Only now that the possibility has arisen that Blacks might be able to participate in the running of the country is the government beginning to privatise.”


“Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax now would be a mistake which future generations would not be able to forgive.”

“We are going forward. The march towards freedom and justice is irreversible. Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can wait no longer. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.”


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