Twenty-four years ago today, March 21st, 1960, 69 Africans were brutally murdered in the black township of Sharpeville, South Africa, when police fired on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators. Though these were not the first, nor indeed the last, victims of such criminal action, that massacre galvanised peoples the world over and focused attention on the pressing need to combat and defeat the scourge of racism.
The designation by the United Nations of March 21st as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was a recognition that racism still prevails in many parts of the world, and that its elimination is the responsibility of us all. Apartheid, the most vicious and institutionalised form of racism, has been declared an international crime.
The fact that 45 years after the racist ideology of the Nazis plunged the world into war, and decades after resolutions have been passed calling for the eradication of apartheid, this meeting, along with thousands of others like it elsewhere in the world, has to take place at all, is a rebuke because clearly we have not done enough to confront the very racism we have gathered here to condemn.
We are, however, happy and honoured to be here today as guests of the Greater London Council. For if the occasion is a rebuke, it is also, we must believe, a pledge to struggle together against racism: above all in South Africa but also immediately around us, even in this old and proud city itself - indeed, to fight racism wherever and whenever it manifests itself.
We extend our thanks to the Chairman, the Leader and members of the Council for inviting us to participate in this important meeting. We should like to call attention to the profound significance of this International Day being marked on the initiative of the governing body of Greater London and with the participation of the national liberation movements of the Namibian and South African peoples - SWAPO and the ANC.
This city has featured prominently in the history of our country. Our people have known London as the imperial capital that betrayed both its principles and the African people, when it gave South Africa a constitution which excluded the black majority from participating in the government of our country. To this day, the heir to Imperial London continues to see the creature it spawned in 1910 as its ally. Flouting the demands of the international community, it chooses to maintain links with the racist minority regime, and uses its veto powers to protect that regime from action by the Security Council.
We are familiar also with another London: the City - which actively participates in our oppression. Its institutions pour investments into the apartheid economy and harvest the profits of our dispossession and exploitation.
But tonight, we are meeting with yet another London, which, with your permission Mr. Chairman, I will call People's London - to distinguish and disassociate it from that centred in Whitehall and the City. This is the London that first forged links with the African National Congress seventy years ago, when it sheltered our then Secretary-General Solomon Plaatje. This is the London of Fenner Brockway, who met and welcomed Solomon Plaatje at the time. It is the London we have known as the birthplace of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, and one of whose most prominent founders is its current President, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.
By declaring 1984 Anti-Racist Year and adopting the Anti-Apartheid Declaration, People's London has become a formidable ally of all those who are engaged in combating racism throughout the world and especially in South Africa. As citizens of an anti-apartheid zone, more Londoners will be mobilised into action to isolate the apartheid regime. Many have already responded to the campaign of the Anti-Apartheid Movement by boycotting South African wines, Cape grapes and Outspan oranges; by cutting sports and cultural links with racist South Africa; by contributing money to the British Defence and Aid Fund, and support to the ANC and SWAPO of Namibia for their humanitarian needs. They have spoken out against apartheid at schools and universities, within the trade union movement, the political parties, the church, inside Parliament and indeed even at annual general meetings of leading British companies with investments in South Africa.
Yet their words and their work have not been enough. Others, so far more powerful, have had a different determination: to keep on friendly - and profitable - terms with the South African regime. The refusal of successive British governments to confront that regime is not a neutral act. It constitutes effective support for racial oppression; for what operates, against the vast majority of South Africans, as a police state; and for a policy of racist aggression against neighbouring states.
For, when we speak of apartheid we mean all these things, and more. Apartheid is not merely racial discrimination. Its central feature is not the segregation of public amenities - of park benches and post office counters. Apartheid means not only racism, national and racial oppression of the black majority in our country, but also the means found necessary to enforce it, and to defend and guarantee its survival in the face of powerful human and social forces moving against it.
Apartheid is a form of violence that operates, every moment of every day, against our people and the other peoples of southern Africa, to perpetuate a white monopoly of political and economic power. Apartheid is everything humankind opposes; and to ensure its survival, it finds it necessary to wage war within South Africa and across the borders.
Recently, there has been a well-orchestrated attempt to present the apartheid regime as the architect of peace in southern Africa. In this propaganda offensive, the events of the past decade are wiped off the record and out of the recollection. Let me remind you of these events, so that you may understand that what Pretoria seeks is peace to preserve apartheid and secure white supremacy.
Less than a decade ago, there was a similar exercise. Then the air was thick with phrases of dialogue and detente. But even as the words resounded and hands were being proffered in apparent friendship, apartheid armies were secretly marching into Angola in the first of many invasions that were to follow. Detente was buried when the Pretoria regime's hypocrisy was exposed.
In 1976, the brutal massacre of defenceless children in Soweto and other South African townships provided confirmation, if such were needed, that despite its protestations of dialogue and detente, the character of the apartheid regime had not changed.
As Defence Minister, P.W. Botha had masterminded the Angolan invasion. After he became Prime Minister, attacks on our neighbours featured as a vital component of apartheid's total strategy for survival. No country on our borders has been immune from attack, either by the regime's forces or by bandit proxies such as UNITA, MNR and the so-called Lesotho Liberation Army.
Military action, interspersed with economic sabotage and political destabilisation, have been mercilessly pursued as the regime has been supported by the "constructive engagement" of the Reagan Administration.
Under the protection of its allies and collaborators, Pretoria was allowed to devastate the countries of southern Africa with impunity. There was little concern then for peace amongst those who are now loudest in their applause for Botha. To their eternal shame, they did nothing to deter aggression or strengthen the capacity of independent African states to defend themselves. Aggression was not only allowed, but even encouraged to succeed. Having ravaged the countryside, destroyed the economic infrastructure and weakened the political base, the apartheid aggressor now demands a high price for ending his aggression.
Even as it was escalating its aggression the racist regime offered its victims "non-aggression pacts" - offers that were repeatedly rejected. For if peace was the objective, there was no need for such pacts, as no African country had even threatened, much less attacked, South Africa, and the sole and exclusive aggressive force in the region, the apartheid regime, needed only to desist from its aggression.
In attempting to coerce its neighbours into binding agreements, similar to those signed with its creature bantustans, Pretoria is trying to define the limits of their independence and force them into accepting continued racist domination in southern Africa. Further, the regime seeks to inveigle independent African countries into joint action against the ANC.
The Munich agreement neither changed the character of the Hitler regime nor brought peace to Europe. No agreements imposed on the independent countries of Africa will change the nature of the Botha regime nor create peace in southern Africa. For us to believe otherwise would be to entertain a dangerous illusion: to agree with Pretoria that what has been achieved through aggression constitutes a peaceful solution which the world must endorse and applaud. Such a position would be intolerable for us, and it would be as disastrous as its precedents have proved. For, by adopting such an erroneous stand, we would be encouraging the Pretoria regime to extend its zone of an oppressive peace by intensifying further its aggression.
Pretoria's objective remains unaltered: peace to preserve apartheid, and freedom to continue its war against the Namibian and South African people. For, whatever the immediate results of the current manoeuvres, there is not even the pretence of peace of justice in South Africa and Namibia. In Angola, all that Pretoria has agreed to is the conditional withdrawal of its aggressive forces from the territory it still occupied. There is no offer of withdrawal from its illegal occupation of Namibia, nor to implement the unanimously agreed Resolution 435 which remains the only basis for a peaceful solution.
For the people of South Africa, there is neither the prospect nor the promise of peace. The reason for Pretoria's aggression, and therefore for the wars in the region, lie within South Africa, and there they still remain.
The regime's war against the South African people has been waged for many decades. Despite severe repression, torture, imprisonment and death, resistance continues and even intensifies. The many attempts to purchase our right to self-determination have been rejected. Our people saw through the bantustan fraud and continue to fight apartheid institutions even when they are manned by Africans clothed in the paraphernalia of pseudo-independence. "Coloured" and Indian South Africans are presently girding themselves to demonstrate their total rejection of the new constitution, that seeks to divide them from the African people and offers participation in the leftovers of the oppressor's table.
Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki have rejected unequivocally the recent offer that they would be released if they would agree to go and live in what is known as the "independent republic of Transkei". In their response to the regime's attempts to legitimise apartheid and secure recognition for the bantustans, these national leaders, though imprisoned these twenty years, have reflected and articulated both the mood and temper of all political prisoners, and of our entire people. Their belief in the unfragmented South Africa of the Freedom Charter remains undiminished.
Today, people of all races are united in a broad democratic front of millions, determined to fight for the realisation of a democratic, nonracial South Africa. Our country is now the site of a gathering mass struggle reinforced by armed action by units of the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Unable to come to terms with this reality, or to contain the situation inside South Africa, the regime has sought desperately for alternate solutions.
It is more comforting for it to attribute to external agitation the resistance that springs from our people's commitment to the cause of liberation. And, it is more reassuring for Botha to see our national liberation movement as a transient force, having its roots on foreign soil and drawing its main support from forces outside our borders.
Pretoria, therefore, concentrates its energies on trying to clear southern Africa of the ANC. It hopes that thereafter it will be safe behind its buffer zone. But whatever it or anyone else may wish, the ANC will not go away. The ANC is not some force external to South Africa. It does not owe its birth, its strength and its survival for 72 years now, to some foreign power. Our national liberation movement sprang from the loins of the people, fathered by their dispossession, oppression and exploitation, nurtured by their belief in a just society, and tempered by years of struggle. So long as these conditions remain, so long will our people remain committed to liberate themselves and their country, and so long will the ANC grow in strength and effectiveness.
The apartheid regime has long failed to suppress us by terror. Everything it may try in future will similarly fail to halt the struggle for the liberation of our country.
In spite of recent events, we are convinced that the peoples of our region are not prepared to purchase for themselves a peace that is a snare and a delusion, and at the expense of betraying the peoples in South Africa and Namibia. In much the same way, the people of this country refused, in their very love of peace, to turn their backs on the Nazi attack against the freedom of other peoples in Europe.
Indeed, the peoples of southern Africa are perfectly aware that the only guarantee of lasting peace and security for their countries is the liberation of South Africa and Namibia. Our inevitable victory will serve also the fundamental and permanent interests of all the peoples in our region, Africa and the rest of the world.
Over the decades thousands of our people have given their lives for freedom. The nature of the system we fight will demand even greater sacrifices in the years ahead. Inevitably also, we will see larger numbers of whites in our country shedding their blood in defence of apartheid. We must accept this.
The state and the regime about which we have been speaking tonight are not abstract entities. They are real social institutions manned by actual people, with the whites occupying the commanders' posts. It is these posts that we have to attack in order to advance towards our victory.
We speak of this bloodshed neither with joy nor bitterness, but because the South African regime and its effective allies have willed that it should be so.
For 25 years now we have called on the world to impose sanctions against apartheid South Africa. We have made this call in the knowledge that were sanctions to be imposed, this would immeasurably shorten the life span of apartheid and reduce the loss of life that must necessarily accompany a struggle against it.
We have said that the decisive centres of power in this country, as elsewhere in the Western world, have refused to heed that call. Instead, they argue that sanctions do not work and should not be imposed. In that event there can be no alternative to the escalation of the armed struggle.
We believe that the efforts of the international community should focus on removing all forms of support for our oppressors and on the total isolation of the apartheid regime. In such action, local authorities have significant role to play, especially in countries where national governments have refused to act against apartheid.
In the United States three states and more than 22 cities have taken steps to break links with apartheid. In Britain, London, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and Aberdeen are among the more than 100 local authorities which have already broken relations with apartheid and are coordinating their efforts.
We have noted with particular appreciation that as old links are broken, new ones are being forged with the oppressed people through their national liberation movements, the ANC and SWAPO.
The GLC, has taken sides in the conflict between racism and equality. We believe that by its deeds the GLC will help to arouse the population of this great metropolis and others beyond it, to recognise the grave international dangers posed by the apartheid regime, and act accordingly.
This Council has further elected to champion the cause of all those who are oppressed and suffer discrimination, because powerful interests have no regard except for the exercise of power itself, and for the maintenance of a social order that sustains that power.
The ANC is observing 1984 as the Year of the Women of South Africa. We are pleased to join with the GLC in drawing attention to the nature of women's oppression. As your Anti-Apartheid Declaration spells out, women are in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. The presentation of a manuscript of the Anti-Apartheid Declaration to our colleague and courageous fighter Winnie Nomzano Mandela, on January 9th, was a timely act of much-needed solidarity.
For our part, we want to make it clear that our liberation as a people cannot be complete unless the act of national liberation contains within it the genuine liberation of women.
Our principal task at this moment is, and must be, to intensify our political and military offensive inside South Africa. This is the urgent call that we make to the masses of our people, to all democratic formations and to all members and units of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe. Relying on our own strength, through action, we will frustrate the schemes of the enemy of the peoples of Africa and the ally of fascists, and continue our forward march to the destruction of the system of white minority colonial domination in our country.
The central and immediate question of South African politics is the overthrow of the white minority regime, the seizure of power by the people and the uprooting by these victorious masses of the entire apartheid system of colonial and racist domination, fascist tyranny, the super-exploitation of the black majority and imperialist aggression and expansionism.
The question will be and is being settled, in struggle, within the borders of our country and nowhere else. We are entitled to expect that all those, anywhere in the world, who count themselves among the anti-colonial and anti-racist forces, will join hands with us to bring about this noble outcome.
In declaring this day as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the international community has pledged itself to action against racism. On behalf of all those millions who suffer under this scourge, we must call upon the peoples of the world to redeem that pledge.
The powers pitted against all of us are formidable indeed. They include the Reagan Administration which is deeply involved in the scheme for an oppressive and therefore illusory peace in southern Africa. But powerful as these forces may be, they cannot vanquish the millions of men and women, peoples of all continents - Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the USA - of various faiths and political persuasions, who are determined to see an end to all racial discrimination, oppression and exploitation.
I have already said that in coming together on this day we are pledged to work against all manifestations of racism. We are confident that as we expand our action, and extend our unity to incorporate many more people, we will succeed in striking mighty blows against racism in London, South Africa and throughout the world.
Let 1984, London's Year Against Racism, be the year when in the capital cities of the world rhetoric gives way to action, and racism beats its last retreat.
Tonight, the spirit is abroad that the real peoples of South Africa and Great Britain have, together in this hall, signed an accord on which are inscribed in bold letters the words:
Let us march together to liberation and equality, justice and peace!
Together we will win!
The meeting was held at Friends Meeting House