Isithwalandwe President Nelson Mandela and the entire family and relatives,
President Thabo Mbeki,
Deputy President of the ANC, Secretary General and all Members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC,
Leadership of the ANC Women`s League,
Leadership of the ANC Youth League,
The Veterans League,
Leadership of the SACP and Cosatu,
Comrades and friends,
Sanibonani, Dumelang, thobela, molweni, goeie dag, abusheni, good day to you all!
It is an immense privilege for the ANC to have you in our midst today Tata!
Your 90th birthday celebration provides a rare opportunity for us to appreciate the manner in which you have led this organisation and our people.
We are able to learn from your high level of discipline, your clarity on matters of the organisation and its policies as well as high degree of depth of knowledge with regards to the strategies and tactics of this movement.
Today we are gathered as the ANC to say boldly that we are honoured to be able to celebrate your amazing and most extraordinary life, three quarters of which you dedicated to this movement.
You are the glue that has held this revolutionary movement together, and continue to hold this nation together. We are indeed truly blessed to have an icon of your calibre in our midst, in our organisation and in our country.
We know that you expect nothing from the masses of our people than to see the fulfilment of the vision of a peaceful, prosperous, non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa. You seek no glory and no accolades.
Your actions, writings and speeches over five decades bear testimony to the fact that you have always led by example, and that you have the rare skill of capturing ANC policy in just a few words.
In a press statement you issued on 26 June 1961, you made it clear that despite persecution, you were not going to abandon the struggle. "The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days", you said.
Indeed you have continued to do so.
For 27 years, as you languished in prison, millions could only imagine what you looked like, what you liked, and generally what type of a person you were.
Comrade President Tambo painted a poignant in his foreword to the Book entitled No Easy Walk to Freedom by Ruth First, published in 1965. He said: "As a man, Nelson is passionate, emotional, sensitive, quickly stung to bitterness and retaliation by insult and patronage. He has a natural air of authority. He cannot help magnetising a crowd: he is commanding with a tall, handsome bearing; trusts and is trusted by the youth, for their impatience reflects his own; appealing to the women. He is dedicated and fearless. He is the born mass leader".
It provided clues to the curious!
Tata, you have always provided leadership and direction during the most decisive moments in our history.
In 1944, when the time came to infuse some life into the struggle to face a brutal regime, you played a key role in the formation of the ANC Youth League.
You did the same in 1949, when militancy was required, during the Defiance campaign. You led from the front as you wanted an end to racial domination and hatred.
During your trial in the Old Synagogue court in Pretoria in 1962, when you were accused of organizing the 1961 stay away and of leaving the country without a valid passport, you left your accusers in no doubt as to what you stood for.
You said: "I hate the practice of race discrimination, and in my hatred I am sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind hate it equally. I hate the systematic inculcation of children with colour prejudice and I am sustained in that hatred by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind, here and abroad, are with me in that. I hate the racial arrogance which decrees that the good things of life shall be retained as the exclusive right of a minority of the population, and which reduces the majority of the population to a position of subservience and inferiority, and maintains them as voteless chattels to work where they are told and behave as they are told by the ruling minority. I am sustained in that hatred by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind both in this country and abroad are with me".
When it became clear that the brutality of the regime was intensifying, we were left with no option but to embark on the armed struggle. You articulated our position accurately in court rooms and other platforms.
When the ANC was banned you lived the life of a fugitive for 17 months moving from one place to another, hunted by the apartheid police and their informers like a criminal. But being in hiding never stopped you from doing anything you wanted to do to obtain freedom for your people.
President Tambo recalled how astonished he was to see you in Addis Abbaba at the conference of the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa in 1961 and 1962. You had been smuggled across the border!
Following the Sharpeville massacre, which led to the bannings of political organizations, it became virtually impossible to organize resistance. Your famous "M Plan" (Mandela Plan) came into being, organizing people street by street, enabling Congress volunteers to maintain contact with the people. The M Plan should serve as an inspiration for ANC branches currently. We are encouraging them to establish street committees to fight crime in our communities.
You were later to join Xhamela and others in the Rivonia Trial, charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the Government by force. Despite the harsh treatment you never strayed from your principles and those of Congress.You aptly outlined the society that we should live in, from the dock during the Rivonia trial in 1964. In those immortalised words, you stated:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".
Tata, you have taught us humility, and the necessity of collective wisdom and collective leadership. We know that you are uncomfortable with accolades, which credit you for all the successes of our struggle.
You made this very clear in your Pretoria trial in 1962, when you said: "It has been suggested that the advances, the articulateness of our people, the successes which they are achieving here, and the recognition which they are winning both here and abroad are in some way the result of my work. I must place on record my belief that I have been only one in a large army of people, to all of whom the credit for any success of achievement is due.
"Advance and progress is not the result of my work alone, but of the collective work of my colleagues and I, both here and abroad.
You added: "I have been fortunate throughout my political life to work together with colleagues whose abilities and contributions to the cause of my people`s freedom have been greater and better than my own, people who have been loved and respected by the African population generally as a result of the dedicated way in which they have fought for freedom and for peace and justice in this country".
When you and all our beloved stalwarts were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, our people were devastated. For decades they lived in hope that you will all return, and that the freedom we yearned for would become a reality.
As the struggle continued, waged internally and internationally, you represented the undying spirit of a people who would never rest until justice and human dignity were restored.
The Mandela name became synonymous with our struggle for freedom. As workers toiled in the factories and farms, as our youth were beaten up by the apartheid police, as children threw stones at police hippos, there was one cry: "UMandela uyobuya".
President OR outlined accurately what you meant to our struggle, in his foreword to the Ruth First book in 1965, when he said:
"Nelson Mandela is in Robben Island today. His inspiration lives on in the heart of every African patriot. He is the symbol of the self-sacrificing leadership our struggle has thrown up and our people need.
"He is unrelenting, yet capable of flexibility and delicate judgment. He is an outstanding individual, but he knows that he derives his strength from the great masses of people, who make up the freedom struggle in our country".
You taught us that principled leadership meant standing by what you believe in, even if it meant sacrificing short-term gains. When PW Botha offered you conditional freedom in 1985 you rejected the insulting offer.
In the powerful statement, read by your daughter Comrade Zindzi to the mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on 10 February 1985, you stated: "Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return".
You have never put your freedom before that of other comrades. You in fact negotiated for the release of other prisoners. In the document you gave to F W De Klerk on 12 December 1989, referring to removing obstacles to negotiations, you spoke strongly about the urgent need to release stalwarts Matthews Meyiwa, Elphas Mdlalose, Anthony Xaba and John Nene.
Imprisoned in 1978, they were not released during the historic releases of 8 political prisoners in 1989, who included Comrade Walter Sisulu.
That action on your part is a lesson in leadership, that a leader must put others before himself or herself.
When you were released from prison in 1990, the world came to a standstill. Your humility was there for all to see.
You said: "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".
And indeed, you handed your life over to us as this nation, and continued to work for the greater good.
You were greatly distressed by the violence in many black residential areas in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, fomented by apartheid agents.
You called for peace even though it was unpopular to do so at the time, when tempers were flaring especially amongst comrades in Natal. You taught us that a leader must do and say things that are unpopular, if these were correct and needed to be said.
Throughout your incarceration you always remembered your family, and taught us the centrality and importance of the family as an institution. When you walked Comrade Zindzi down the aisle on her wedding day after your release from prison, you were fulfilling a role we knew you always wanted to fulfill, to be there for your children during important moments in their lives.
We look to your teachings for guidance as we work tirelessly currently to rebuild and re-unite our movement which has been intensely affected by a host of organisational challenges.
And we find that guidance in your speech to the ANC Transvaal Congress in 1953. You dealt with the problems of ill-discipline and opportunism. You said: "The friends of the people are distinguishable by the ready and disciplined manner in which they rally behind their organisation and their readiness to sacrifice when the preservation of the organisation has become a matter of life and death.
"Similarly, enemies and shady characters are detected by the extent to which they consistently attempt to wreck the organisation by creating fratricidal strife, disseminating confusion and undermining and even opposing important plans of action to vitalise the organisation".
You have always emphasised unity within the ANC. In the message you sent to the Kabwe conference in Zambia, you stressed:
"We feel sure that all those delegates who will attend will go there with one central issue uppermost in their minds: that out of the Conference the ANC will emerge far stronger than ever before. Unity is the rock on which the African National Congress was founded; it is the principle which has guided us down the years as we feel our way forward".
You added that in the course of its history, the ANC had survived countless storms and risen to eminence partly because of the sterling qualities of its membership, and partly because each member has regarded himself or herself as the principal guardian of that unity.
You explained succinctly to the delegates that to lose sight of the need for unity was tantamount to betraying those who paid the highest price so that the ANC should flourish.
During that historic moment when you cast your vote for the first time on April 27, 1994, you once again carried our dreams and aspirations.
At your historic inauguration as the first President of a free, united and democratic South Africa, you outlined your vision for a new South Africa.
You said: "We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world".
You reminded us immediately Tata, of the challenges we faced. You said that the basic needs of the masses of the people must be addressed: the creation of jobs, of houses, the introduction of electricity, building of schools and hospitals, providing free, compulsory quality education, running water, paved roads".
These were challenges that we must confront as the ANC Alliance. And you have always defended the Alliance. When PW Botha claimed in 1989 that obstacles to negotiations were the armed struggle, alliance with the SACP and demands for majority rule, you told him defiantly of the central and non-negotiable nature of the Alliance.
You said: "Even within the ranks of the ANC there have been, at one time or another, people. Who were against this co-operation and who wanted SACP members expelled from the organisation. Those who persisted in these activities were themselves ultimately expelled or they broke away in despair. In either case their departure ended their political careers, or they formed other political organisations, which, in due course, crumbled into splinter groups. No dedicated ANC member will ever heed a call to break with the SACP".
At a mass rally in Soweto in 13 February 1990, after your release, you called upon workers, black and white; to join unions affiliated to COSATU, which had played an indispensable role in our struggle against apartheid.
Tata, during your term as the first President of a free South Africa, you elevated this country from being a pariah to a respected successful modern democracy. You served a very short but highly effective term before handing over to your deputy, Comrade Mbeki in a carefully planned succession strategy.
You prepared the country and the world for a new President to ensure a smooth transition. In your farewell banquet on 16 June 1999, also aimed at introducing the new President to the world, you said:
"Today a worthy son of Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo takes his place amongst the new generation of leaders. It is not merely the passing of the baton from one President to another, a transition from the so-called Mandela era to the Mbeki era, but indeed a significant changing of generations".
You added that South Africa had elected a President who was equal to the challenges we faced.
We all know that you went out of office Tata but you never rested. You were correct when you said at that farewell banquet "It is no easy thing to rest while millions still bear the burden of poverty and insecurity".
Through the Nelson Mandela Children`s Fund and Foundation, you changed the lives of many, especially children. You continued to work tirelessly to make South Africa a better country, and to put a smile on the faces of many.
Tata, your legacy is a book for all to read. If we do not learn, it cannot be your fault. You have played your part.
Your clarity with regards to ANC policy and traditions, the power to persuade others to your point of view even in the most difficult situations, emotional intelligence and love for the ANC, the poor and vulnerable, are just a few of many of your attributes that we cherish.
During your inauguration you saluted the people of South Africa for success in the transition to democracy. The words you uttered then today apply to you in person, Tata.
You said: "The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!". Indeed it will not and should not.
We join the multitudes in the world to say Happy Birthday Madiba! We love you ukhule njalo!