The Welcome Home rally on 29 October 1989 for the released ANC leaders was the biggest political gathering this country has ever seen. It was a day packed with excitement and emotion… a day that will forever live in the hearts of those who were fortunate to be there.
The buses began arriving as early as seven in the morning. Hundreds of buses — some from as far as Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, others all the way from Lesotho and Swazi-land and Botswana— all leaving huge clouds of red dust behind them as they roared into the gravel parking lot of Soweto’s new Soccer City.
Then came the taxis, private cars, more buses. People on bicycles, on foot, and some even on their mother’s backs. Wave upon wave of excited comrades poured into the huge stadium to welcome home their leaders who had two weeks earlier been released from prison.
Ahmed Kathrada, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Oscar Mpetha, Raymond Mhlaba and Walter Sisulu. Each one a giant of the struggle. Each one a hero. Each one a time-tested leader of the people.
The khaki-uniformed marshalls — some with walkie talkies — politely directed the people to their seats. By eleven o’clock the place was full. A sea of over 85 000 faces, toyi-toying, chanting revolutionary slogans, singing freedom songs and clapping to poetry from the likes of Alfred Qabula and the people’s poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli.
Above the stage, the green, black and gold flag of the African National Congress proudly fluttered side by side with the red flag of the South African Communist Party (SACP). The stage itself was wrapped in a big ANC banner.
But the colours of the ANC and SACP could not only be seen on the stage. They were everywhere, throughout the stadium, carried high by the people. Proof that the majority of the South African people fully support the historical ANC-SACP alliance.
“THE ANC LIVES!”
Cyril Ramaphosa — general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and a member of the National Reception Committee (NRC) which organised the rally — introduced himself as co-chairperson of the rally. He said that the ANC was going to speak to the people that day.
“The ANC lives, it is amongst us and its leadership is going to speak to us,” said Ramaphosa.
“All of us who are gathered here are a living proof that the government has failed to drive the ANC into darkness. The ANC has over the years gathered strength within the breast of millions of our people. They may have banned the ANC in paper, but it lives in our hearts today.”
Ramaphosa then announced that the ANC leaders were ready to enter the stadium. The people went mad with happiness. For most in the stadium, it would be the first time they would see their beloved leaders in the flesh.
Before the leaders came in, a unit of “people’s soldiers”, entered the stadium marching the goosestep — just like soldiers from the socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union. These “soldiers” were the “roaring young lions” of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO). They were led by Thandi Modise, the first MK woman soldier to be imprisoned in South Africa. She was released last year, after eight years in jail.
Finally it was the turn of the leaders — the moment everybody had been waiting for. As they entered, the crowd stood up as one. The stadium shook as the people gave them a welcome that they would never forget.
WAVING TO THE PEOPLE
The leaders slowly walked around the field waving to the people, as they made their way to the stage. Each walked with a marshall on either side, with a third holding a red and black Cosatu umbrella to shield them from the harsh sun. The crowd was moved by the sight of the “President of the Western Cape”, 81 year old Oscar Mpetha, being pushed in a wheelchair. Behind him, last in the procession, was the tall, dignified figure of Rev. Beyers Naude.
Shouts of “Viva ANC” and “Long Live!” could be heard loud and very clear by the hundreds of cops parked outside, and perhaps even by those of them who circled in their helicopter above the stadium.
Following close behind the leaders were their partners in love and struggle: Ma-Sisulu, Ma-Motsoaledi, Ma- Mlangeni and Ma-Mhlaba. Sadly, Ma- Irene Mkayi did not live to see this happy day. She died last year.
It was also sad to see Ma-Mandela walking without her husband, who is still in prison after 27 years. One could not help thinking that her time will surely come soon.
A short while later, the crowd once got to its feet again to welcome veteran activist, Helen Joseph and Nokukhanya Luthuli, wife of the late President of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, as they were helped onto the stage in wheelchairs to join the leadership.
At about one o’ clock, Ramaphosa invited the Cosatu Living Wage Choir to lead the people in the singing of the National Anthem. It was a moving moment, all those people, fists in the air, united by a vision of a new South Africa, singing the beautiful words of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
Ramaphosa read a message of support from the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC to the jubilant crowd. This was followed by messages of support from a number of organisations and governments around the world. The last one to be read was from Joe Slovo, Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP).
It was then announced that the National Welcome Back Rally was going to be “officially” opened by the President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo. His opening speech was read by Murphy Morobe, the acting-publicity secretary of the UDF. Morobe co-chaired the rally with Cyril Ramaphosa.
In his message, President Tambo welcomed the released ANC leaders. He praised the people saying that it was through their efforts that the leaders were released — and not because of any change of heart in the government.
The President also thanked the released leaders for the contribution they had made to the struggle. He saluted Nelson Mandela and the many other political prisoners who he said are an inspiration to the the South African people. He urged the people not to rest until Mandela and all other political prisoners have been released.
When the president spoke of his health and said that he was recovering from his stroke, the crowd cheered and clapped with happiness.
After President Tambo officially opened the rally, Peter Mokaba, the President of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), introduced the first of the released leaders who was going to speak, Raymond Mhlaba.
“MAKE YOUR OWN JUDGEMENT!’
Mhlaba told the crowd he wanted to talk about the history of the ANC because there were people who were saying things with the aim of destroying the movement. “But for people like ourselves,” he said, “we need to make a brief review of the history of this movement. And thereafter, we shall be in a position to make our own judgement.”
Mhlaba’s long speech covered all the stages in the history of the struggle — from the oppression of the people in the last century, to the Boer War in 1899, and to the birth of the ANC in 1912. He spoke about the Nationalists coming to power in 1948 and how the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign to fight unjust apartheid laws in 1952.
He spoke about the birth of the Freedom Charter, the huge Treason Trial – that began in 1956, and how the ANC had no choice but to launch the armed struggle in 1961.
“The formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe was not a result of the fact that the ANC is blood-thirsty, but due to oppressive laws,” said Mhlaba.
The ANC leader had a special message for traditional leaders in South Africa. He urged them to join the struggle and follow the direction of other traditional leaders such as Paramount Chief Sekhukhune, Hintsa and Chief Albert Luthuli. He applauded the traditional leaders for organising themselves into the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa).
“We know that, at all times when the chiefs identify themselves with the peoples struggles, they are welcomed by the masses,” he said.
“OUR NOBLE STRUGGLE”
The second leader to speak was Walter Sisulu, former Secretary General of the ANC. He greeted the people on behalf of all the leaders who had just been released, as well as from Nelson Mandela and the hundreds of other comrades-in-arms who are still behind bars.
“We salute you, the people of South Africa, for the courage, determination and sacrifices you have made under the most difficult and repressive conditions to ensure that the flag of our struggle is held high. Your efforts acted as a constant source of inspiration during our long years
Sisulu went on to salute the ANC leaders and rank and file members of the organisation who had worked so hard and earned the organisation the mantle of leader of the liberation struggle.
He also saluted the United Democratic Front and its member organisation, COSATU, as well as all those governments and organisations around the world who support the struggle. He had a special word of thanks to President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia for housing the headquarters of the ANC and thousands of South African exiles. And for President Fidel Castro and the people of Cuba “for the heroic role they have played in the fight against colonialism in this region.”
Sisulu then looked at the results of the government’s policies — corruption, inflation, unstable bantustans and a tri-cameral parliament that is in disgrace. He said that brutal repression under three States of Emergency have failed to break the spirit of resistance of the people. He called on the people to intensify the struggle.
“The building of disciplined and accountable organisations of our people must remain one of our principle tasks,” he said.
Sisulu then turned his attention to the violence in Natal, which he called “a blot on our noble struggle for liberation.” He called on Cosatu, the UDF and Inkatha to continue their search for peace.
“WE STAND FOR PEACE!”
Turning to the question of negotiations, Sisulu said: “The ANC has throughout its history been committed to the politics of peace and negotiations…. We stood for peace in 1912 when we were formed, we stood for peace in our long struggle of resistance, we stand for peace today and we will stand for peace tomorrow.”
Speaking from his experience as a member of the ANC, Sisulu said that in 1952 — when he was the Secretary- General of the ANC — he and the late Dr Moroka, who was then the President of the ANC, wrote to Prime Minister Malan calling on him to negotiate.
He said that the government had been invited to the Congress of the People in 1955, but they did not come. This was followed by a letter from ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli in 1958 to Prime Minister Strydom, urging him to negotiate with the movement.
In 1960 the government banned the ANC and declared a State of Emergency. Thousands of people were detained or forced into exile. The following year, Nelson Mandela — who was under-ground at the time — wrote to Dr Verwoerd, asking him to call a National Convention.
All these pleas for negotiation through the years had fallen on deaf ears. — and it was for this reason that the ANC had no choice but to embark on armed struggle “to defend our people and to fight for our freedom.”
In spite of all the bitter experiences, said Sisulu, the ANC will not allow the past to stop it from constantly searching for the shortest possible path to freedom. He said that the ANC was in agreement with the Harare Declaration which was recently adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Non-Aligned Movement. This declaration states that it is up to the South African government to create the right climate for negotiations.
“Before negotiations could take place,” says Sisulu “we call on the government to meet our five basic demands. Firstly, to release all political prisoners and detainees without any conditions.
Secondly, to lift all bans and restrictions on all organisations that are banned or restricted. Thirdly, to remove all troops from the townships. Fourthly, to end the State of Emergency and abolish all repressive laws. And lastly, to stop all political trials and the hanging of political prisoners.”
“DO NOT BE FOOLED!”
After Sisulu had spoken, Mokaba jumped onto the stage again and led the people in the chanting of revolutionary slogans. Then Ramaphosa announced that Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada was going to be the next speaker. Kathy said he and his comrades had been released to find that racism was still being upheld by the government. The oppressed people of South Africa were still waiting for De Klerk to reject the apartheid of Malan, Verwoerd and the Broederbond.
“We are waiting for them to acknowledge their mistakes and show genuine remorse for 40 years of Nationalist misrule,” he said.
He attacked the governments plan to “broaden democracy”. In the 1970’s the government had asked for six months to end apartheid. Now De Klerk was asking for five years and the Western world is saying that he should be given a chance.
But, said Kathy, nowhere in this five year plan does the government say they will agree to the basic demand of one person, one vote. He said the world should not be fooled by the government’s wish to protect “group rights”. This was just playing with language and a way of ensuring white domination.
He said the government had tried to turn the ANC into a monster in the minds of white people. But the greatest enemy of white South Africans was not the ANC, the SACP, Archbishop Tutu or Dr Allan Boesak. It is the Nationalist Party, the Conservative Party and all those who cling to the idea of white control.
THE UNBREAKABLE ALLIANCE
The people were on their feet again to welcome Sydney Mafumadi — COSATU’s Assistant General Secretary — who was to read the paper written by Govan Mbeki. Mbeki is one of the Rivonia trialists who was jailed with Mandela, Sisulu and the other leaders. He was released in 1987. Shortly afterwards, he was restricted, which prevents him from addressing meetings.
Mbeki said that the Nationalist government and their friends wanted to destroy the alliance between the ANC and the SACP in their struggle against apartheid.
The same people, he said, were trying to drive a wedge between the “Nationalists” and the “Communists” in the ANC, as well as trying to draw a dividing line between the ANC in exile and the “internal” ANC. He said this was “a shabby attempt aimed at deflecting the attention of the people from the fight against apartheid.”
Mbeki traced the history of the alliance between the the ANC and SACP. He showed how, since it was formed in 1921, the SACP has fought side by side with the ANC. This alliance, he said, would continue until apartheid has been destroyed.
A DEEP LOVE
After Mbeki had finished, the crowd was on its feet again, joining Peter Mokaba as he led the slogans again: “Ke dibatabata, tsa Leruma!” (these (ANC leaders) are the roaring lions of the Spear— Umkhonto we Sizwe)
The other released leaders briefly greeted the crowds. Andrew Mlangeni stood up and apologised to the crowd for not being able to speak. His voice was hoarse, he said, from all the chanting and singing. He said that the previous leaders had said it all — and all he wanted to say was that he, and his comrades, loved the people deeply.
The other leaders also had a word or two for the crowd. Oscar Mpetha is suffering from ill-health, but his voice was as strong and as clear as ever. People listened with great interest as he told them about the days he and Chief Luthuli went around the Cape organising the people.
Then it was time for the leaders to leave. When they had gone, many people stayed behind to enjoy some poetry, music and song from Gcina Mhlope, Mzwakhe Mbuli and his band, Sakhile, Bayete and the Jazz Pioneers.
As the sun began to set over the huge stadium, people slowly began to make their way out of the stadium. Outside, the comrade traffic cops — dressed in ANC colours — directed the traffic and waved goodbye.
For many people, it would be many, many hours before they got home. But what did it matter?
They had come to honour and welcome home their leaders and heroes, and they had done so in a great and dignified and disciplined manner. For those who had the privilege to attend, it is a day that will forever live in their hearts. Long live Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Khathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Wilton Mkwayi and Oscar Mpetha! Welcome home!
NEW WORDS jubilant crowd — full of joy to review — to look back on events in the past rank and file members — the ordinary members of an organisation, not the leadership to adopt a declaration or a resolution — to accept a resolution the right climate — the right conditions and feelings drive a wedge — to cause a split privilege — an honour that few people have