Statement by Oliver Tambo accepting the Simon Bolivar award on behalf of Nelson Mandela, 24 July 1983, Caracas, Venezuela

The time comes in the life of all oppressed peoples that some among them should, as rebels, lay down their lives to affirm the very humanity of the oppressed. The act of supreme sacrifice thus serves as an assertion of the fact that all oppressors are themselves mortal beings who are as subject to the regularities of human development as those over whom they exercise lordship.

That time came to this continent when Simon Bolivar mortgaged his life to the vision of freedom, independence and equality among peoples. The presence here of the Presidents of the independent republics of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama is a striking tribute to the glorious services he rendered to the people of an entire continent. Yet the example of his life must lead us to conclude that if he were able to speak to us today, observing the world we live in, he would ask to live his life over again. For it is not possible that Simon Bolivar could have stood aside while the uprooted Palestinian nation bled to death in the ghettos of Beirut.

He could not have stood aside while the soil of El Salvador and the sands of the Sahara turned russet brown from the blood of the innocents. He would not have been an indifferent observer as the Namibian oppressed were shot down in Katatura and Kassinga, and their South African counterparts were massacred in Soweto, Matola and Maseru.

Simon Bolivar - The Liberator

Simon Bolivar was and is a Liberator. He hated oppression, and because he hated it, fought to destroy it. He hated falsehood, and therefore perished for the truth. He loathed barbarism and consequently sought to secure human dignity. He fought to do away with everything which aimed to impose misery on the peoples of this continent and the world.

The African National Congress and the peoples of South Africa are inspired by the fact that today we are linked with such a man. We feel immeasurably uplifted that on us, among others, should fall the obligation to infuse a new meaning into the glorious example which was set by Simon Bolivar the Liberator.

In choosing Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, an outstanding and esteemed leader of the liberation struggle of the South African people, to be the other of the first ever two recipients of the International Simon Bolivar Prize, the International Jury has bestowed an honour of rare significance upon Africa, upon the struggling people of South Africa and the African National Congress, and, above all, on Nelson Mandela himself.

The presentation of this historic award to Nelson Mandela alongside so esteemed a personage as His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain, and in the presence at this august ceremony of so distinguished a galaxy of eminent leaders and personalities from different countries and continents, must and will penetrate the fortified walls behind which Nelson Mandela and his colleagues are held in captivity. It will reach beyond the isolation of bans and restrictions imposed on Winnie Mandela and other victims of apartheid repression. It is a call proclaiming and promoting support and solidarity for our struggle - a call which will resonate in the hearts of the South African people and of all our allies and supporters the world over.

With us at this ceremony, and living through the emotional experience of a momentous event for her family, is Princess Zenani Dlamini, wife of Prince Tumbumuzi Dlamini of the Kingdom of Swaziland, and eldest daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Her presence sharpens the meaning of their involuntary absence.

Like Simon Bolivar the Liberator, who "fought neither for (personal) power, nor for fortune, nor even for glory, but for Liberty alone," Nelson Mandela would not wish to accept and receive this prize for himself.

Accordingly, on behalf of his fellow leaders with whom he is serving life imprisonment, and other captives of the apartheid regime, on behalf of the African National Congress and the combat forces of the people of South Africa, organised in Umkhonto we Sizwe - the Spear of the Nation - in the name of the entire democratic movement and the struggling people of South Africa, in the name, and on behalf, of Nelson Mandela himself, we extend our profound gratitude to UNESCO, and the Director-General, His Excellency Amadou-Mahtar M`Bow, and to the International Jury, for the award of the International Simon Bolivar Prize.

Men with Clarity of Thought and Nobility of Vision

Our times and circumstances demand that our people, no less than those of this continent two centuries ago, should produce men and women with the clarity of thought, the nobility of vision, the dedication to the cause of liberty as well as the daring, tenacity, courage and audacity in its pursuit, that Simon Bolivar displayed in his brief lifespan of 47 years. At the age of 46, when he was condemned to life imprisonment, Nelson Mandela had already displayed these attributes. In twenty-one years of harsh incarceration, he has lost none of them.

Though they are the products of the different histories of two peoples divided on two continents by oceans and time, Nelson Mandela and Simon Bolivar stand out for the similarities of their lives and understanding of their times.

Each came from a noble background, yet, renouncing a life of privilege, both chose to devote themselves to the liberation of their people. To the oppressor who sought to judge him a criminal, Mandela said: "If I had my time over I would do the same again, so would any man who dares to call himself a man." Just so did Bolivar declare: "I shall not let my arm fall or my soul rest until I have broken the chains in which the will of the Spanish power holds us."

Simon Bolivar once observed correctly that "an ignorant people is a blind instrument of its own destruction".(The Angostura Discourse) He therefore wrote of the need to mobilise those "(whose) limbs (were) benumbed by chains, their sight dimmed by the darkness of dungeons, and their strength sapped by the pestilence of servitude... (to march) toward the august temple of Liberty.." and to create "a new equilibrium for the universe".

These words, written more than a century and half ago, strike a resonant chord in our hearts because they describe exactly the purposes pursued by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Dorothy Nyembe, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Harry Gwala and many others who are serving life and other prison sentences because they dared to struggle to create a new equilibrium for the universe.

These words move us because they describe the condition of our own people who have, through struggle and under the leadership of the African National Congress, transformed themselves into an instrument for their own salvation. These masses, whose strength the oppressor had sought to sap by the pestilence of servitude, are today marching confidently towards the august temple of liberty.

Writing from Jamaica, Simon Bolivar said he had reason to hope that the civilised nations would hasten to his aid in order that he might achieve that which must prove to be advantageous to both hemispheres. (The Jamaica Letter, September 6, 1815). He observed then that not only the Europeans but even his brothers of the north had been apathetic bystanders in that struggle which, by its very essence, was the most just, and in its consequences the most noble.

The Atlantic Ocean Must Become a Bridge of Solidarity

We, too, in South Africa, had reason to hope that this continent, true to the ideals for which Simon Bolivar fought and sacrificed, would come to our aid to expand the frontiers of liberty in our part of the globe.

We are, however, deeply concerned that some countries of the continent of Simon Bolivar should continue to entertain varied intercourse with the apartheid regime, whose brutal purposes are little different from those of the conquistadores who invaded this continent, massacred whole peoples and destroyed ancient civilisations.

It is our fervent hope that the people and governments of Latin America will reject every form of relationship, collaboration and alliance with the Pretoria regime. Instead, we stand for another alliance - that between the peoples and governments of Latin America and the independent States of Africa, especially those of southern Africa. We believe that the act of awarding this peerless prize to Nelson Mandela, no less than this moving ceremony in the city of Caracas, will contribute to the deepening and consolidation of relations between Latin America and Africa, based on that great vision of international solidarity among free peoples which guided Simon Bolivar as he prepared for the Congress of Panama.

Thus, the great Atlantic Ocean separating our continents must become a bridge of solidarity, uniting Latin America and Africa through a system of political, economic, social and cultural relations. Of necessity, that system of relations must, as far as South Africa and Namibia are concerned, be between the great peoples of this continent and the struggling masses of our countries and their representatives, the African National Congress and SWAPO of Namibia.

Apartheid - Crime Against Humanity

Simon Bolivar once observed that nineteenth century Latin America had "rejected the atrocities (committed by the Spanish invaders three centuries before) as mythical, because they appear to be beyond the human capacity for evil." (The Jamaica Letter). The region and the peoples of southern Africa are today suffering under an oppressive, exploitative, aggressive and dehumanising system, whose criminality is sometimes not properly understood, perhaps because the atrocities it is committing daily appear to be beyond the human capacity for evil.

And yet this is a system which has properly been categorised in international law as a crime against humanity, justiciable under the terms of the International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Apart from Nazism in Germany, this is the only occasion when any social system has been branded a crime against humanity by the international community.

That crime consists in the denial of all democratic rights to the overwhelming majority of our population, by reason of their race and colour. It consists in the conscious genocidal destruction of millions of Africans by banishing them to the so-called bantustans which are nothing but vast camps of hopelessness and death.

It means massacres of unarmed civilians, the use of torture, assassination and terror as a matter of State policy against all those who uphold the cause of liberty, and the murder of prisoners of war, as happened on June 9th, when the apartheid regime executed the three patriots and combatants, Simon Mogoerane, Thabo Motaung and Jerry Mosololi. It means the incarceration under inhuman conditions of the most outstanding representatives of our people, some of whom, like Nelson Mandela, have been in prison for more than twenty years.

The crime of apartheid also means colonisation of and aggression against peoples beyond the borders of our country. Accordingly, as we speak here, large areas of the People`s Republic of Angola are under occupation by South African racist troops. The Kingdom of Lesotho is under a virtual state of siege. The Republic of Seychelles has had to beat back an open act of invasion. Countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia are subject to continuous acts of destabilisation and subversion. Namibia remains colonised.

All these activities in South Africa, Namibia and the rest of southern Africa have but one aim, namely to transform the 100 million people of southern Africa into political, economic and military vassals of the racist white minority in South Africa and its United States and other Western allies. To achieve this aim, the racists, who have no more respect for human life than did their Nazi mentors, have acquired a nuclear capacity which they believe will give them the decisive ability to preserve the apartheid system for ever and to terrorise the whole continent of Africa into submission.

Bolivar and Mandela - Feared by the Enemy

South African patriots such as Nelson Mandela have therefore always viewed the struggle for the liberation of South Africa as one that must, by its victories, contribute to the creation of a new equilibrium for the universe. It is for this reason that he and his organisation, the African National Congress, are feared and hated by those who do not wish to see a new world order come into being, as Simon Bolivar and his revolutionary armies were feared and hated by those who sought to keep this continent a colonial appendage of an imperial Power.

In the new equilibrium that our certain victory will bring about, the world community in general and Africa in particular will be rid of this infamous base of racism, colonialism and reaction, of inhumanity, fascism and war. Thus Africa will be able to devote her undivided attention to solving the burning socio-economic problems confronting her teeming millions.

Our victory must and will contribute to the ongoing process of creating a new equilibrium for the universe, in which nations can cooperate to mutual advantage in conditions of peace and equality among the peoples.

As there can be no justice where there is no liberty, or, since, as Simon Bolivar put it, "to practise justice is to practise liberty," the establishment of just social relations in our country, in our region and on our continent demands that we should win liberty for those who are oppressed in South Africa and Namibia.

The flames of revolution in South Africa and Namibia are burning brighter with each passing day as they burned on this continent almost two hundred years ago. It is to their eternal fame that brave and selfless men and women from among us, such as Nelson Mandela, lit those flames, neither for power, nor for fortune, nor even for glory, but for liberty alone.

Many have perished and many more will perish in the titanic contest of arms and of will that the racist white minority regime has imposed on our country and our people. But everywhere in South Africa our people display a level of courage and determination to be free, which has brought joy to Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in Pollsmoor, Robben Island, Kroonstad, Pretoria and other maximum security prisons and gloom and despondency to their captors. We can truly repeat after Simon Bolivar that: "Their sublime example is proof... that a people who love independence will eventually achieve it." (The Jamaica Letter)

It is not only the lives of Nelson Mandela and Simon Bolivar, but also their times which bear remarkable resemblance. The struggle against Spanish colonialism in Latin America succeeded against a background of a divided Europe trying to reverse the ideals of the French revolution. In many countries the people`s demands for self-determination, democratic government, liberty and social equality were ruthlessly repressed, as the old "divine right" monarchies sought to entrench themselves once more, while certain European Powers arrogated to themselves the right to intervene across territorial boundaries to reverse the tide of history. Yet in the three decades following the birth of Bolivar, countries of this region freed themselves from the Spanish colonial yoke.

In Africa the past three decades have witnessed the liberation of millions of people from Belgian, British, French and Portuguese colonialism. But, as revolutionary change has approached the borders of the apartheid system in South Africa, the racist regime has set itself the aim of once more trying to turn back the tide of history. Resorting to ever-increasing repression within South Africa, the apartheid regime has sent its marauding forces across the borders of South Africa to spread death and destruction in the newly independent countries of southern Africa.

The apartheid system echoes Metternich`s words, "What peoples want is not liberty but peace," as it seeks, through force, to impose subservience to Pretoria, acceptance of apartheid rule and acquiescence in its continuation.

American Imperialism is our Enemy

In the lifetime of Bolivar, on the pretext of keeping out the European Powers, an American President demarcated a United States sphere of influence as he proclaimed the Monroe doctrine. Today, another President has incorporated the continent of Africa and other parts of the world into the United States sphere of influence. So the right of self-determination of the Namibian and South African peoples is subordinated to the primacy of United States interests; while Angola`s right to defend its territory must give way to what is perceived as the paramountcy of United States strategic needs. Bolivar displayed prophetic vision when he said:

"The United States seems to be destined by providence to spread misery in the name of liberty."

Today, with the American press carrying reports about a new offensive to maintain Latin America as "a sphere of United States interests," Bolivar`s fears are being confirmed over and anew.

Sharing similar fears for Africa and Asia, Nelson Mandela warned in 1958:

"Whilst the influence of the old European Powers has sharply declined, and whilst anti-imperialist forces are winning striking victories all over the world, a new danger has arisen and threatens to destroy the newly won independence of the peoples of Asia and Africa. It is American imperialism which must be fought and decisively beaten down if the people of Asia and Africa are to preserve the vital gains they have won in their struggle against subjugation."

OAU and Southern African Liberation

Like Simon Bolivar, Nelson Mandela is and has been a great organiser. In 1962 he travelled to many independent African States in East, North and West Africa to seek united support for the South African struggle. One year later, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed, the cornerstone of its policy being the struggle for the total liberation of Africa. For that specific purpose the OAU established the OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, with its headquarters in Tanzania, consistent with the crucial role that this country played, and continues to play, in the liberation struggle, especially of southern Africa.

Because of this fact Tanzania was the first African independent country where Nelson Mandela set foot after leaving South Africa, and the last he visited before returning to South Africa where, a few months later, he was arrested. The charge on which he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to five years` imprisonment in 1962 was, significantly, that he had organised a most successful illegal national strike or stay-at-home, that he had left South Africa illegally to visit African independent States and England, and that he had received military training.

It gives us immeasurable strength that we can count on the United Nations Organisation, UNESCO and the nations represented here to stand side by side with us until victory is won and this burnished Prize is placed on a worthy pedestal within our country, such that our people can reflect on the sombre visage of Simon Bolivar the Liberator, and reflect within themselves that he too was with us when our turn came to lay down our lives in order to assert the right of a people to a free life.

We take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt congratulations to His Majesty King Juan Carlos on his investiture with the International Simon Bolivar Prize, and feel especially honoured that a South African patriot should have been selected to share this occasion with His Majesty.

We also extend our sincere thanks to His Excellency Luis Herera Campins, President of the Republic of Venezuela, the Government and people of this country, which we are honoured to visit for the first time. We shall depart with fond memories of a warm reception and a spirit of friendship and solidarity of great encouragement to us who are outlaws in our own country.

Our enemies condemned Nelson Mandela; you are honouring him. They entombed him alive; you are making him part of our living presence. They silenced him; you have caused him to be heard. You have done all these because the injustice of his incarceration proclaims the justice of the cause he symbolises - the cause of his people, the cause of humanity. We thank you.

As we accept and receive the International Simon Bolivar Prize with pride and humility, we feel we have acquired the right to inscribe on our battle standards these immortal words that Simon Bolivar wrote in 1812:

"Let us hasten to break the chains of those victims who groan in the dungeons, ever hopeful of rescue. Make not a mockery of their trust. Be not insensible to the cries of your brothers. Fly to avenge the dead, to give life to the dying, to bring freedom to the oppressed and liberty to all." (The Cartagena Manifesto).

Long live Simon Bolivar the Liberator!

ES Reddy

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