On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in South Africa after 27 years in custody. An international tour followed and, just four months after being granted his freedom, Mandela addressed a joint session of Parliament in Ottawa on June 18 as the deputy president of the African National Congress—only the second person who was not either a foreign head of state or the secretary general of the United Nations to do so. In his remarks he explained his cause and thanked Canada for its support.
Honourable Prime Minister;
Distinguished leaders of the opposition parties;
Elected representatives of the people of Canada;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We would like to thank you most sincerely for granting us the honour and privilege to speak from the podium of the House of Commons of Canada, an eminent example of the democratic perspective towards which our people aspire. The fact that we have not had the same opportunity to do the same thing in our own country, even as guests, emphasises the iniquity of the apartheid system which we are all determined to abolished without delay.
Like young people everywhere, as we grew up in South Africa, we embarked on an exciting voyage to discover the world. We were driven by a consuming desire to know the truth about people, about society, about the world of nature. And always central to that search was the need to find out whether there was anything in human nature and society, whether there was anything in the universal order of things, which predetermined the place of the Black person and the African in society.
Instinctively we embarked on this enquiry because we felt that there was something in our society which was wrong, unjust and unacceptable. We had, after all, listened to and responded with warm hearts to passionate sermons which proclaimed that God made Man in his image. We had absorbed and were moved by school lessons which spoke of men being created equal. We had sat as in a trance, as we learnt of White men and women who had fought tyranny in order to establish societies based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Our own life experience, and that of all other Black people around us and beyond the borders of our country, taught us that all these precepts and experiences were not meant to refer to or include men and women of colour. Whatever God’s purposes might have been, it seemed clear that the White race had decreed that only its members were fit to assume the image of the creator. Such liberty, equality and fraternity as there were, were but bonds to unite the White people around the common purpose of denying the Black majority these privileges.
That youthful enquiry into the essence of social reality was at the same time the spark that kindled the fire of rebellion in many a heart among our peers. And like the scorching heat of a soldering iron, it bonded the rebels together as in a fist of steel. Where an oath was sworn, it was simply said that none would rest and none would spare their lives, until the people had regained their liberty, equality and fraternity.
Many have died in the effort to honour that commitment. For three and a half centuries, each generation of our people has supplied its due share of martyrs. An entire people has learnt not to mourn the death of heroes and heroines, but to steel itself for new battles. An entire people has known what it is to recognise the fact of defeat while rejecting the demand that it should surrender.
And so it came about that even those who had not even reached their puberty, knew that they too have a place in the ferried ranks of those who challenged the hypocrisy of a degenerate system which claimed to be part of western civilisation, while its very existence was predicated on the repudiation of everything to which attaches the word civilisation.
Today the hope is abroad among our people that those in our country who saw themselves as the master race have learnt the error of their ways. There is hope that perhaps , at last, they have seen that injustice will not triumph. There is hope that perhaps, at last, they have realised that tyranny is but the progenitor of the forces of its own destruction. The is hope that perhaps , at last, those who sought to deny the humanity of others, have understood that by that act they also dehumanized themselves.
If indeed these are the results that have been achieved, a salute is due to those who struggled in the name of all humanity to ensure that the noble vision of liberty, equality and fraternity includes all and excludes nobody on any basis whatsoever, be it race, colour, creed or sex. Therefore, as we stand here today, Mr. Speaker, and acknowledge the priceless honour you have accorded us in person, we know that we are merely representatives of a people than can truly be called heroic.
We come from a people who, because they would not accept to be treated as sub-human, redeemed the dignity of all humanity everywhere. We represent countless martyrs who have walked into a hailstorm of bullets not because they wanted to die but because they wanted the millions of our people to live. We have sat in prison with great African patriots and noble examples of the human race who faced torture and did not flinch, who met the hangman’s noose with songs of freedom, who accepted their cells as but a school out of which they would emerge with their convictions, their determination and willingness to sacrifice immeasurably strengthened.
We are deeply moved that today you honour all this noble offspring of our people by allowing us, who were outcasts only yesterday, to experience if only fleeting, what it means to stand and speak at a place whose existence is based on the recognition of the right of all the people to determine their destiny, and whose purpose is to ensure that that right is guaranteed in perpetuity. We are made better human beings by the fact that you have reached out from across the seas to say that we too, the rebels, the fugitives, the prisoners deserve to be heard.
Our message, for whose propagation and realisation so many have suffered so much, is indeed simple. It is that South Africa should be transformed into a united, democratic and non-racial country. We wish to see every adult South African enjoying the right to vote and having the possibility to elected to all organs of government without discrimination on grounds of race, colour, race or sex. Its Balkanisation into Bantustans, so-called homelands and group areas has to end.
Given our bitter experience of oppression and repression, we are determined that our country should be a truly thoroughgoing democracy in which the rights of all its citizens will be inviolable and in which all will be equal before the law. Accordingly, in addition to a democratic constitution, there should be an entrenched and justiciable bill of rights, enforced by an independent judiciary.
As reflected in our historic policy document, the Freedom Charter, we are committed to ensure all our citizens enjoy equal rights to their languages, culture and religious freedoms. These provisions, among others, will address the issue of so-called White fears, while meeting the aspirations of the people of South Africa as a whole.
We also visualise an agreed constitutional arrangement whereby there is revolution of power to regional and local levels of government to ensure the broadest possible participation of the people in governing themselves. At the same time, we are opposed to the idea, which some in our country advance, that we should opt for a federal state.
We believe that there is nothing to federate. Certainly, we do not accept that we should accept the fragmentation of our country as a given fact, on which we should try to build the new reality any attempt to do this would merely perpetuate the racial and ethnic divisions whose abolition stands at the core of our struggle. We cannot seek to end apartheid by continuing to maintain the structures of the apartheid system under any guise whatsoever.
We know that you have just completed a gruelling round of negotiations dealing with constitutional reform in this country. We are inspired by the fact that you were able to find compromises which make agreement possible. We believe that we too must be inspired by this manner of proceeding so that we also reach agreement about our own constitution as speedily as possible. We believe that we too must be inspired by this manner of proceeding so that we also reach agreement about our own constitution as speedily as possible, in the interest of all the people of our country.
We are convinced that as part of this process in South Africa, there will have to be elected a constituent assembly to draw up the new constitution, as happened in Namibia. This will ensure that we use democratic means in our search for a democratic result. It will also create the situation whereby the result of the negotiations enjoys legitimacy in the eyes of the people, to the extent that they would have chosen the representatives to whom the task of drawing up the basic law of the country would be entrusted.
We are also determined that the political freedom of which we have spoken should go side by side with freedom from hunger, want and suffering. It is therefore of vital importance that we restructure the South African economy so that its wealth is shared by all our people, Black and White, to ensure that everybody enjoys a decent and rising standard of living.
We do not seek to impoverish anybody, or to redistribute such poverty. But the new democratic society will obviously have to address the issue ox the impoverishment of millions of our people as a matter of urgency. It is also clear that issues can only be properly tackled in a situation in which the economy is growing and producing more wealth at a rate higher than the growth of the population.
In this respect, we should make the important point that, once the democratic transformation has taken place, we will need your assistance to achieve these economic results. We believe that we can and should build on the bonds of friendship and solidarity that we have built up in the course of the continuing struggle against apartheid, to build a partnership for reconstruction of both our country and our region, which have been devastated by the apartheid system. Southern Africa has the human and material resources which will combine to give the millions of our people a bright future and which will make it profitable and worthwhile for the rest of the world to the enter into a mutually beneficial system of cooperation.
For many decades the ANC sought a peaceful resolution of the problems facing our country. In the period since 1986, we redoubled our efforts to persuade the South African Government to enter into negotiations with us. We consider it a victory for all South Africans that the meeting between ourselves and the Government took place in Cape Town at the beginning of last month. As you know, we agreed to remove the obstacles to negotiations which the had identified. We are determined to ensure that this agreement is implemented and believe that the Government is of the same view as well.
It is only fair that we indicate to this August Assembly that we see President De Klerk and his colleagues in the leadership of The National Party as men and women of integrity. We believe that they are honestly committed to participate in a peaceful process which should result in the fundamental political transformation of our country. The fact of our agreement to remove the obstacles to negotiations has thus also served as a demonstration of the bony fixes of De Klerk leadership.
And yet the progress achieved, including the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations, the release of some political prisoners and the lifting of the state of emergency over the greater part of our country, should not lead us to believe that fundamental and irreversible change has taken place, leading to the emancipation of our people.
The fact of the matter is that the apartheid system is still in place. The state’s instruments of repression, in particular the police, continue to kill and maim the opponents of this system, in defence of an apartheid law and order. Many among our White compatriots are armed are forming themselves into commando groups, with the stated aim of physically liquidating the leaders and members of the ANC. They are joined by similarly armed Black vigilante groups, which are ready and willing to serve their White paymasters.
Therefore we still have a struggle ahead of us. The situation in which we are requires that both you and ourselves should not relax our vigilance. As a result of continuing struggle, we must ensure that the movement forward towards the final abolition of the apartheid system is not interrupted.
It is in this context that we have raised and emphasised the importance of maintaining sanctions. Sanctions were imposed to help us end the apartheid system. In the light of what we have, it is only logical that we must continue to apply this form of pressure against the apartheid system. Any move at this stage towards lifting of relaxing international pressure would create the situation in which White South Africa would feel comfortable with the minimal changes that have taken place and once more regress into their earlier position where they felt that pressure had not reached sufficient strength to oblige them to move forward.
I would like to take this opportunity to salute the great Canadian people whom you represent, and with whom we believe you are in full accord on the question of South Africa. They have proved themselves not only to be steadfast friends of our struggling people but great defenders of human rights and the idea of democracy itself. They are to us like brothers and sisters from whose warm embrace we shall never be parted.
We salute and thank them all, political parties, the anti-apartheid movement, the trade unions, the churches, the native people of this country, non-governmental organisations, students and intellectuals, elected representatives who serve in this parliament and elsewhere, the press, the children and many others who raised the flag of solidarity because they knew that the absence of freedom for ourselves reduced their own liberty as well.
In this context, I would also like to pay special tribute to the Prime Minister of this country, Brian Mulroney, who has continued along the path charted by Prime Minister Diefenbaker who acted against apartheid because he knew that no person of conscience could stand aside as a crime against humanity was being committed.
Mr. Prime Minister, our people and organisation respect and admire you as a true friend. We have been greatly strengthened by your personal involvement in the struggle against apartheid and the leadership you have provided within the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Group of Seven and the Francophone summits. We are certain that you will, together with the rest of the Canadian people, stay the course with us, not only as we battle on to end the apartheid system but also as we work to build a happy, peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of South and Southern Africa.
That future is still ahead of us. As for now, and to make certain that our common hopes are realised, we must , together, continue the struggle. We seek your support to sustain the international pressures which you in this country and others in the rest of the world have imposed. We seek your agreement that Canada and the rest of the international community should abide by the perspectives contained in the Hurrier and United Nations declarations on South Africa, including the vision of a truly democratic, non-racial and united South Africa.
In the aftermath of the agreement we reached with the government at the beginning of last month, we also require your support to help us repatriate and resettle those of our compatriots who were forced into exile by the apartheid system. We require your material assistance to help us conduct the extensive political work among the 38 million people of our country, which is such a vital and central part of the process of drawing these millions into the common effort to arrive at a just, permanent and negotiated solution of the South African question.
We trust that, among other things, you will do everything in your power to encourage the people of Canada to contribute to the solidarity fund which has been set up under the leadership of His Grace, Archbishop Ted Scott, a great friend of our people and a man I am proud to know.
Distinguished representatives of the people of Canada:
It has been given to us to be present and to participate in the final struggle to end the evil system of apartheid. A historic moment is in sight. It will not be long now before we, as South Africans, stand up to proclaim that the apartheid fountainhead of racism throughout the world is no more and that political power has passed into the hands of the whole people.
These masses must and will exercise this power with all the sensitivity that is due in our situation. In this context, certain matters are as clear as the light of day. Never should racism in our country and from whatever quarter, raise its ugly head again. All of us South Africans, both Black and White, must build a common sense of nationhood in which all ideas of vengeance and retribution are impermissible. Our country must, by its deeds, take its place among the nations of the Earth as a champion of peace, a defender of freedom and democracy, an enemy of poverty and human degradation.
You have been and are with us as we struggle to end the system of white minority domination. As an expression of our common humanity, and not an act of charity, we ask that you continue to walk the last mile with us. As your future partner, you will have a society whose hallmarks will be tolerance of all views and respect for the life and dignity of every person, both young and old.
We thank you that you bent every effort to secure our release from prison. You gave us the possibility whose importance to us is without measure, to join hands with our own people, with you and the rest of humanity to bring about the change in our country and our region, which even the mute but bloodstained stones in the killing fields of Southern Africa demand must come and must come now.
We shall forever be obliged to you for this and for this unforgettable moment you have given us to speak to you about our dreams and to contribute a little to the everlasting friendship between the Canadian and the South African people.
Our common victory, the victory of democracy and non-racialism, is within our grasp. Liberty, equality and fraternity shall reign supreme in our country as well.