Speech by Oliver Tambo at the World Conference on Sanctions Against Racist South Africa: Victory is within our grasp, 16 June 1986, Unesco House, Paris

Mr. President,

Your Excellency Mr. Perez de Cuellar, Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Your Excellency President Abdou Diouf, President of Senegal and Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity,

Your Excellency Mr. Mokhtar M`bow, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation,

Your Excellency General Joseph Garba, Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid,

Your Excellency Shridath Ramphal, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth,

Your Excellencies, Ministers, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,

Distinguished delegates and observers,

Comrades leaders of SWAPO of Namibia,

Comrades, ladies and gentlemen

This hall, situated in the historic city of Paris, evokes in us a feeling of inspiration. We who come from South Africa will always associate it with our struggle. To us, it is a battleground on which many battles have been fought successfully in furtherance of the efforts of the peoples of Namibia and South Africa to free themselves from racial and colonial domination, exploitation and aggression. It stands already as an historic tribute to the resolve of the peoples of Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australasia to maintain their humanity by refusing to accept the subjugation of our people.

As you know, Mr. President, we say this because, over the years, we have convened a number of times in this very hall of UNESCO, to consider what we should collectively do to bring to a speedy end the intolerable situation which continues to persist in southern Africa. From here there have emerged decisions expressing a world point of view which has made an enormous contribution to the process which has brought us to the stage when we can say that our common victory is in sight.

We thank the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement for summoning this conference at this critical time in the struggle to free Namibia and South Africa. We extend to everyone present here the greetings of the ANC and the beleaguered people of South Africa. To you all we bring assurance that racism and colonialism in southern Africa cannot survive much longer. At the same time, we carry with us the simple message that the times demand of all of us, drawn from all quarters of the globe, that we sue for victory now rather than later, today and not tomorrow, tomorrow rather than the day after. The long awaited victory is within our grasp.

In that sense, it is most appropriate that we meet in this hall to continue the endeavours that were born here. It is manifestly imperative that gathered as we are at this conference, we should deliberately build on our success, and basing ourselves on our gains, move forward in an uninterrupted offensive that will result in the banishment of racism, colonialism, fascism and war in southern Africa once and for all time.

Significant Successes

And what, Mr. President, are these gains to which we refer? The result of our common efforts is that today there are no people anywhere in the world who do not know what apartheid means, who are not aware of the evil nature of this manhating system. There are today very few people who will not oppose the apartheid monster by word or deed, who are unwilling to do that little more which will bring the monster to its knees. In reality, even the argument in favour of sanctions has been won bar those who, for reasons of racist principle or avaricious self-interest, continue to argue that the Pretoria regime must be treated as an errant child - lovingly kept within the bosom of the family of nations, occasionally, gently chided and offered sweets as an inducement to mend its wayward behaviour.

It would therefore seem clear to us that from these successes, which are truly significant, we can in fact enhance the isolation of apartheid South Africa in a meaningful way. Taking advantage of mass, popular sentiment in favour of sanctions, governments that are committed to anti-racism and truly interested to minimise the bloodshed and usher in an era of peace, freedom and justice in southern Africa, can and must take further steps towards the imposition of comprehensive sanctions.

Equally, this feeling in favour of meaningful action against the apartheid regime provides the basis for public organisations such as political parties, trade unions, churches, anti-apartheid movements and others to mobilise for the imposition of sanctions by the people themselves.

Surely, it has by now become patently clear to all thinking people that unless the world takes decisive action now, a bloodbath in South and southern Africa is inevitable.

General Strike in South Africa

We meet on the day of the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising, which is today South Africa Youth Day. To honour our youth who were killed ten years ago and to advance the cause for which they perished, the African National Congress and all other democratic forces in our country called for a national general strike, which is a resounding success, as well as commemorative mass rallies and meetings.

As all of us present here know, the apartheid regime has, in response, taken unprecedented measures to place itself in a position where it can, this very day, massacre our people in their tens of thousands. Huge numbers of armed soldiers and policemen have been deployed in both black and white areas of our country. The enemy hopes that through sheer use of terror, it will force our people to go to work, and having done so, not to engage in mass demonstrations in the centres of towns and cities.

Nobody knows what the situation will be when this day ends. It is, however, perfectly clear that by this massive deployment of brute force to suppress peaceful actions, the apartheid regime is blatantly telling our people, as it told them ten years ago, that we can never achieve our objective of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa except through armed struggle. Pretoria is saying this in very clear terms, that only armed resistance on our part will win the day.

When the racist rulers communicated this message ten years ago, our youth understood it fully. Today that message is being conveyed to the whole nation clearly and unequivocally. It will similarly be understood fully. Those who sow these seeds will surely reap the whirlwind.

Death has become so much a part of our daily lives that it can no longer serve as deterrence discouraging struggle. Indeed, death has become so much part of our daily lives that the urgent necessity to end the murderous system of apartheid presses on us with the greatest insistence. Therefore, having learnt the lessons that the enemy seeks to teach us today, our people will join the armed offensive in even greater numbers, displaying the same bravery and same contempt for death that they have shown in the last two years and before.

Sombre Prospect

We speak here not in triumph that the Botha regime has dragged our country into the situation which we witness today. The prospect of growing numbers of our people killed and injured does not fill us with joy. We view it as a sombre prospect and wish it could have been avoided.

However, we have also learnt to look reality in the face. That reality demands that in order to win our liberty we must be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. It also demands that we should steel ourselves for war with all the consequences that implies. We are certainly not prepared to live as slaves and will therefore continue to intensify our offensive for the victory of the cause of democracy, national liberation and peace in our country.

The certainty of greatly increased violence is not confined to South Africa. It is a prospect which faces the peoples of southern Africa. Already many people have died in our region and enormous destruction has been caused by the aggression of the apartheid regime. As this regime grows more desperate, so will it seek to wreak more havoc throughout the region.

Responsibility of Major Western Powers

The major Western Powers and in particular the United States, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany and France cannot avoid taking the blame for this inevitable and terrible outcome. It is they who have, above all, shielded the apartheid regime from decisive international action. They have aided and abetted this regime in the past and continue to do so today. Current reports confirm that these governments remain determined to persist in this ignoble and dishonourable role as allies of a truly murderous regime.

It had been our fervent hope that these governments would have drawn the necessary conclusions from the report of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group of which our brother Shridath Ramphal, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, has spoken. Moved by what it saw and heard in South Africa, the EPG has given timely warning about the impending horrendous bloodbath and called for decisive action by the international community to avert this possibility.

Of necessity this call is directed in the first instance at the principal economic partners of apartheid South Africa, the countries we have already mentioned. It is one of the great tragedies of our epoch that countries which see themselves as the most exemplary democracies of all time should choose to go down in history as the force that blocked the birth of democracy in South Africa and elected instead to appease racism and white minority rule and consequently to see our people perish in their millions.

Time is indeed running out if it has not done so already. If those who have the power and the obligation to impose sanctions fail to do so now, then history will surely judge them as co-conspirators and participants in the commission of a crime of immense dimensions.

Act Decisively Now

The African National Congress and the masses of the people it leads are committed to the victory of the cause of democracy in our country. There should be no doubt whatsoever that with your support, we shall emerge victorious. Already, reports coming out of South Africa today confirm that despite all the extraordinary measures of state terrorism that the Botha regime has adopted, our people have observed the call for a general strike in their millions. In action our people are saying we shall never be terrorised into submission. Practically they are rejecting the legitimacy of the Pretoria regime and affirming their recognition of the African National Congress and the rest of the democratic movement of our country as their leaders, the authentic political force that represents all the people of South Africa.

These masses, and their organisation, the ANC, would have dearly loved to liberate our country from a racist tyranny by peaceful means, including negotiations. Indeed, over many years, we tried again and again to achieve this result, to no avail. The Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons has now added its confirmation that the Botha regime is not prepared to resolve the problem of South Africa by negotiations. It is instead as committed as ever to maintain the system of white minority domination.

This surely must lay to rest the illusion that negotiations are an option available to us and confirms the hollowness and bankruptcy of arguments that decisive action should be avoided in the interests of promoting the chances of a negotiated settlement. The call made on us to renounce violence, as it is put, is nothing but a ruse to render us impotent precisely for the purpose of ensuring the perpetuation of the apartheid system. We shall certainly not fall into that trap.

To achieve change we must and will continue to intensify our political and military offensive. We owe it to ourselves as a people and to the thousands who died before, during and after June 16th, 1976. We owe it to the peoples of southern Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. We count on your all-round support, as the representatives within South Africa of the objectives contained in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The obligation to choose to be on the side of the oppressed people of our country and their national liberation movement can no longer be avoided.

On behalf of the ANC and the struggling people, we greet all participants at this timely World Conference on Sanctions against Racist South Africa. We extend our heartfelt thanks to all who have acted to help end the apartheid system. Over many years you have stood side by side with us because you would not countenance the commission of a crime against humanity. We call on you on this important day in our history, the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising, when it is possible that yet more massacres are taking place, that you act decisively now for the total isolation of the apartheid regime.

Sanctions Now!

Our Common Victory is Assured!

ES Reddy