Today, I stand before this august and eminent assembly to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. The question I have pondered without results from the day I first learnt of this possibility and since my arrival in this country three days ago, when I learnt of this occasion, has been: Why me? Why pick on me? In what way do I, more than other South Africans, more than other political leaders and activists of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, deserve to be honoured with a Doctorate by any university, least of all by one that carries the immortal name of Jawaharlal Nehru?
For, the struggle against the inhumanity of apartheid has featured many great men and women, whose contribution to the common effort has been, and in numerous cases, continues to be the most outstanding. Today, that struggle involves as active participants not only the vast majority of the people of South Africa of all races, but also the people of the entire region of southern Africa. It involves peoples in Africa and worldwide. We know that we shall win because we are of the world and the world is with us.
Considering my own relatively meagre contribution in the face of this massive popular effort, it can only be with great humility, even with reluctance, that I accept the honour you have bestowed on me. But allow me to accept it in the name of the youth and the children of South Africa, who have not left it to their parents and professors to fight for their future, but have themselves joined that fight with breathtaking courage.
The present phase of the South African struggle can be traced back to several historic events, starting with the landing of Jan van Riebeeck in South Africa in l652. Or, we could look at the consequences for southern Africa and the international community of the remarkably racist constitution forced on the majority of the people of South Africa by the British Government in 1910. That constitution, as racist today as it was then, provided, in the interim period, fertile ground for the development in our society of ideas borrowed from Hitler`s National Socialism - ideas which, ironically, found vigorous expression and implementation in South Africa even as Nazism lay in smouldering ruins in Germany. The battlefront in the defence of democracy had changed its form and its location. The onslaught came not from Nazism but from something called apartheid, with its operational base not in Germany but in Pretoria. Its objective was to conquer and subdue the whole of South Africa and then spread its domain over the rest of the African continent.
Looking back over the past four decades of apartheid rule, the most striking feature is the massive destruction of human life and property covering the whole region of southern Africa. Quite clearly, the operation of the apartheid system is an act of war, and has the consequences that attach to any war - massive destruction of human life and national property.
The 1910 South African constitution, enforced and defended by racists of the purest blood, stands at the heart of an ongoing war and continuing acts and threats of destabilisation in different parts of southern Africa. The question whether marriages are mixed or unmixed is of no consequence. Nor does it matter any longer that a law is removed from or added to the Statute Book. The fundamental question today is: Who does the removing or adding and on what authority? The legitimacy of the apartheid regime is being called in question.
The central issue is the inalienable right of the people of South Africa together to exercise full and untrammelled power over the affairs of their country, on the basis of a new and fully democratic fundamental law or constitution which, as envisaged in our Freedom Charter, will destroy the apartheid system in all its ramifications and manifestations. For the African National Congress and the popular masses in South Africa, there is only one road to such a constitution: It is the hard and bitter road of resolute and relentless struggle - a road which is "no easy walk to freedom," as Nelson Mandela said, quoting Jawaharlal Nehru.
We know however, from the inspiring example of India under the illustrious leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, that the road is feasible and freedom attainable. Our hearts across the ocean, in the ghettos of racist South Africa, leapt with joy; we shared with you the ecstasy of that rare moment when, at the stroke of the midnight hour on August 15, 1947, Pandit Nehru spoke of the epic Indian freedom struggle, the "tryst with destiny" many of you had had, the great sacrifices made in the course of that struggle, and your determination at the hour of victory to build a peaceful, free and prosperous society. In these words, Pandit Nehru articulated our own aspirations and India filled us with expectations of imminent freedom.
What we did not know in August 1947 was that barely nine months later, a force sweeping with unprecedented violence in the direction opposed to the march of history was to unleash itself on the people of South Africa. It was just as well that India had by her victory lifted the momentum of our struggle in South Africa and given us a sense of triumph. This enabled us to take on the apartheid onslaught.
But even before her independence, India had prepared the international community to rise to the challenge of apartheid by planting the issue of segregation at the United Nations.
Since 1947, most of the colonised world has joined the community of free, sovereign and independent nations. Of equal importance, the issue of segregation, later apartheid, has become a household issue around the world.
All this speaks most eloquently of the centrality of India`s enduring and supportive role in the long and gruelling but heroic struggle of the people of South Africa and southern Africa to end a crime against humanity, of which Britain cannot in the final analysis claim innocence.
But how far have we travelled towards the attainment of this noble goal? Today a part of myself is on Robben Island and Pollsmoor, where hundreds who have given up their liberty in the cause of peace are confined; a part of me is among the street and area committees of Port Alfred, Mamelodi, Alexandra Township; a part is in the bowels of the earth, among the black diggers of gold that pays for the guns that kill miners` mothers and children in southern Africa. Yet, a part of me is among the broad masses comprising all colours, marching confidently along the tunnel of progress at the end of which a glow of light has appeared. After decades of darkness, there is light; the end is in sight, whatever the intervening distance in terms of measurable progress. The light is there for all to see, Pretoria not excluded. The latter will seek to buy precious time and postpone the demise of apartheid and white minority rule by taking recourse to massacres within and outside South Africa. But it is not for want of brutal repression that we have reached this far, after decades of permanent violence.
Now that the victims of the apartheid crime can both sense and see the goal of their sacrifices, nothing on earth can, and nothing will, stop them. But they seek nothing beyond a South Africa that will truly belong to all who live in it, and would rather that the new order in South Africa were born now rather than later and without violence, if the apartheid system were capable of nonviolence, which it is not.
It is in this context that the question of a "negotiated settlement" arises. At the moment, the Eminent Persons Group set up by the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government has started a process of negotiations with the Pretoria regime, which should hopefully clear the way for negotiations between Pretoria and the leadership of the broad democratic movement headed by ANC. The indications are that the first set of negotiations are likely to be protracted beyond the envisaged six months. If the experience of Namibia is anything to go by, the second set of negotiations will be put on an endless road if they should see the light of day.
Pretoria`s intention is to shift the focus of world attention from the ongoing crime against humanity and the urgent need to stop it, to an endless dialogue during the course of which, to the delight of the defenders of the criminal system, international pressures fall out of fashion, while the butchery, in the interests of "law and order", proceeds unabated. For what other reasons does the apartheid regime put out unrealistic conditions, which include a demand that the Western Powers should guarantee its right to perpetrate massacres against the people demanding an end to the apartheid system? Significantly, Botha already sees the imposition of sanctions as being contingent, not upon the persistence of the apartheid crime, but only upon extreme instances of carnage such as massacres.
It is the hope of the ANC and the daily victims of the apartheid system that as we sustain and intensify our own struggle, the international community will respond appropriately to its responsibilities. It is indeed our firm belief that inasmuch as our struggle is against human enslavement, against racial tyranny and oppression, against exploitation and human degradation, for the creation of a new socio-political and economic order in our country, it is part of the worldwide struggle for freedom, justice and peace, all of which demand sustained and determined action.
It is in this context that we look with confidence, firstly to the Brussels Conference on Namibia, which started early this week, secondly, to the World Conference on Sanctions scheduled to take place in Paris next month, and the great Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Harare later in the year. The cumulative effect of these powerful forces on the fortunes and misfortunes of the Pretoria regime, on the issue of sanctions and other international pressures should mark a distinct turning point in the fortunes of apartheid.
This is not an issue I need belabour before any audience in India. I mention it at some length because it is a matter of serious concern to all concerned: to all active opponents of the apartheid system, because they seek its speediest demise; to the Pretoria regime because sanctions threaten its survival; and to the regime`s allies because sanctions will help to liberate black workers from the excesses of apartheid exploitation and take away from these allies a most lucrative source of profits.
You have honoured me with a Doctorate in law. You might have expected me to reflect on the subject in the course of response. But South African law as it affects the majority of the South African population is apartheid law. It expresses itself in and secures the effective operation of the apartheid system.
For all the indisputable eminence of South Africa`s jurists as men or women of law, if the system of laws wherewith they practise their calling is founded on naked injustice, is conceived and enforced to serve the ends of injustice, the courts of law which purport to apply that law become instruments in the hands of injustice. Whereas, as in South Africa, the overriding preoccupation of the lawmakers is what we have all come to identify as the apartheid system, then to talk of "law and order" as relating to the victim of the system is to stand reality on its head, for in that situation, for the black persons and other members of the oppressed majority, their reality is total lawlessness and disorder experienced at the hands of the apartheid regime.
Let me conclude by recalling that in 1980, I stood in this same hall to receive, on behalf of Nelson Mandela, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and Peace (1979). In his letter of acceptance, smuggled out of Robben Island, where he was imprisoned at the time, Mandela spoke of the great impact the Indian freedom struggle had made on him, and in particular the impact of the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. Mandela spoke for Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dorothy Nyembe and every other activist of our struggle. Today, we must add another pillar of strength, who continued firmly in the tradition set by her predecessors - she, whose gentle and soothing voice we can hear no more, although her message rings loud and clear as ever before in South Africa - Indira Gandhi.
I wish your prestigious and renowned university continuing success in its endeavour to enrich your great country in various fields of human activity. And to the fraternal leaders and people of India, our best wishes for peace and prosperity.