Speech of Comrade Nelson Mandela to Soccer City Rally

South African History Online

Soweto, 16th December 1990

Comrade President, Comrades, Members of the NEC of the ANC,
Leaders of the SACP, COSATU and the UDF,
Comrades all.

I greet you in the name of the African National Congress. On your behalf, I
also welcome to this gathering, our President Comrade Oliver Tambo, who is
spending his fourth day in the land of his birth after 30 years in exile.

When Comrade Oliver Tambo left South Africa in March 1960, he was carrying
out a mandate given to him by the leadership of the ANC. It is thanks to the
dedication and wisdom with which he carried out the task the organisation
charged him with that we are here today.

South Africa's Heroes Day

We are meeting on a very historic day, South Africa's Heroes Day, which marks
the 29th Anniversary of the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, forged by the
leadership of our fighting alliance as the instrument to open up the path to our
freedom. This is the day also on which we remember all those who have fallen in
the course of the struggle for freedom. In recalling the names of these heroes
and heroines, we do so not to mourn, but to draw inspiration from their example
and to rededicate ourselves to strive even harder to fulfil the mission they had
set themselves in life.

We meet during the last weeks of 1990, a decade which began with great
promise for all our people. We know that our freedom is in sight and that we are
now on the last mile of a long, long march that must end in our victory!

Comrades and compatriots,

We have just completed two and a half days of intense discussion. The ANC's
National Consultative Conference was indeed an important event. This was the
first time in 31 years that the ANC was holding a conference inside South
Africa. Thirty years ago, when Comrade President Tambo went into exile, the
leaders of the ruling National Party boasted to the world that they had broken
the back of the ANC.

It would be short-sighted to pretend that our movement did not indeed suffer
a number of severe setbacks in the 1960s. We were arrested, tortured and jailed
in our thousands. Our activists were compelled to live as outlaws. We were
hounded out of our jobs and our homes. Others were driven into exile. Yet the
enemy failed to crush us. The ANC did not merely survive! The ANC lived and
after recovering its vigour, has led and inspired the people in all the
struggles we have waged to bring freedom to South Africa.

February 1990 a People's Victory

The National Party government was forced to admit its failure in February
1990. When De Klerk unbanned the ANC, the SACP and other organisations, he was
catching up with a new reality, imposed on him and his government by you the
people of South Africa. He was forced to recognise that although the ANC and the
SACP were illegal in the law books of the government, they were legal in the
eyes of the people. Every banner raised, every slogan painted, every leaflet
distributed contributed to that event. The De Klerk government had come to
realise that it could no longer hope to govern South Africa on its own terms.

Our conference, these last two days was our first opportunity, since our
movement was unbanned for us to sit as a collective of delegates, representing
units and branches spread across the length and breadth of our country, to
assess the changes that have taken place since February 2nd; take stock of our
position, as a movement and as a nation, in the light of both these changes and
those taking place in the rest of the world; to appraise the progress that we
have made since the ANC entered into talks with the government; to explore the
chances of a peaceful transition to democracy; to evaluate and weigh ANC
policies and their relevance to the current situation; to examine also the
regime's policies, how we should respond to them and to map out the way forward
for the ANC and the people of South Africa.

It must be clearly understood that if governments and leading opinion makers
in other parts of the world can today speak of the possibility of a negotiated
transfer of power in South Africa, that possibility owes little to De Klerk
and the leaders of the National Party. Thanks are due to the initiative of the
ANC and its allies who constitute the democratic formations of our people. It is
thanks to us, who pioneered the Harare Declaration and piloted it through
various continental and international bodies that there is today the prospect of
a peaceful transition. It is thanks to our people, who in their millions have
supported that initiative for peace.

This same determination to bring freedom and peace to our country is the
spirit that animated our conference. The mood amongst the delegates, from
whichever quarter of the country they came, was a mood of optimism. This mood
was of course greatly enhanced by the homecoming of our President. We were
additionally rewarded during yesterday with the release of twenty-six political
prisoners, one of whom was able to attend yesterday's sessions.

I was impressed also by the youthfulness of almost all the delegations to
conference. Even more impressive, our delegations were young and militant, but
also extremely disciplined.

Conference Mandate on Negotiations

The centrepiece of our discussions were six very important themes. Amongst
these, negotiations and the suspension of the armed struggle was the most
significant. The delegates expressed themselves with great frankness about the
frustrations we have all experienced because of the manner in which the
government has dragged its feet. But we all recognised that negotiations is only
one among many forms of struggle our movement is utilising to bring about
democracy, peace and freedom in our country. The conference unanimously
supported the negotiations strategy outlined in the Harare Declaration and gave
the NEC a clear mandate to proceed with talks about taIks. The delegates however
also noted that we needed to set up a comprehensive team, drawing on the
expertise of our movement and its allies to oversee the entire negotiation

Conference, while it was in no doubt about the wisdom and necessity for the
negotiation process, also wished to place the government on notice that we are
not for negotiation at any price. The delegates therefore put the government on
notice that our people find its foot-dragging and delays in implementing
agreements intolerable. It was therefore resolved to place before government a
deadline, by which time it must have fulfilled all the undertakings it made in
terms of the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes. If the government should fail,
conference instructed the NEC to reconsider further continuation of the talks.

Our discussion on Strategy and Tactics began by recognising that the ANC and
the De Klerk government approach the issue of negotiations with opposed agendas.
The government's aim is to reform the apartheid system out of existence while
carrying over into the future the accumulated privileges and advantages the
white monopoly on power. On the other hand the ANC seeks to attain the total
eradication of apartheid and to overcome as quickly as possible the consequences
of its ravages on our people. Ours is a perspective of the radical overhauling
of every aspect of South African life so that the people are empowered and can
become the masters of their own destiny.

It is this basic distinction, our delegates said, that accounts for the
differing directions in which we are pulling. As a result, though the government
has been forced to admit that its apartheid policies are a failure and that they
threaten to bring the country to ruin, there is no meeting of minds between us
and themselves about the real meaning of democracy and the quickest path to
arrive at it.

Conference therefore concluded that it was important for the ANC to maintain
a correct balance between the various aspects of our strategy and tactics. Mass
mobilisation, mass action, the underground structures of the ANC and
international solidarity still constitute vital elements of that strategy and
must therefore be maintained. Equal emphasis was also placed on the need to
maintain the liberation movement's military capacity in peak form, not only
against the possibility of someday having to resume armed action but also in
order to prepare for the eventual creation of a democratic South African Defence

The delegates felt it was important that we recognise the government's foot
dragging as dangerous signs of a lack of a commitment to peace, which only
continuing international pressure coupled with internal struggles waged by the
oppressed can hope to change. In this regard we also said that it is no longer
acceptable that we give the government open-ended time-tables to deliver on its
promises but should set exact time-frames and be ready to take action in the
event that the government fails. This reinforces the view expressed on the
question of negotiations, that we give the government a definite ultimatum by
which time it must release all political prisoners; repeal all repressive laws;
end all political trials and permit all exiles to return unconditionally.

Building a Strong and Accountable ANC

We all realise that it is easy to make big plans but it is impossible to
fulfil them in the absence of a firm and reliable organisational network that
enables us to reach every part of the country. Building the ANC into a such an
organisation therefore occupied a great deal of our time at conference. Those
who do not wish us well have made much of the fact that we have not reached the
one million mark in our membership drive. While we should not allow this to
dismay us, we should not rest content that we have done our best. Our
discussions on organisation were tough and very searching. We did not spare
ourselves criticism where this was required but neither were we stinting in our
praise where it was due.

We were specifically very critical of our performance thus far in the rural
areas. Though we know there are a number of difficulties in this regard,
conference as a whole noted that we will never be a real people's organisation
unless we can reach the masses of our people in the countryside. Every ANC
member should therefore see him/herself as an organiser, who is committed to
drawing more and more into the fold of the movement.

We- underscored that in building our organisation we must do this through
active engagement in struggle; that mobilisation and building organisation
proceed in tandem and must not be seen as opposites. For effectiveness, our
organisations must also be democratic in form and in their day to day

Accountability of leaders to the rank and file and the accountability of
members to the structures to which they are affiliated is the flip-side of the
coin of democracy. Such accountability must extend also to the relations
existing between the movement as a whole and our people. As a liberation
movement we are the custodians of the people's aspirations and demands. Our
programme, our strategy and our actions at all times are designed to serve the
people. As such we must hold ourselves accountable to them and must be
responsive to their needs and demands.

Over the years the ANC has also built up a close alliance with two other
movements and parties, the South African Communist Party and COSATU. We remain
committed to this alliance and the steady improvement of its performance as the
core of the broad front of democratic and anti-apartheid forces. We therefore
emphasised the duplication, at every level from the national, regional and down
to the local, of the structures of this alliance so that coordination among the
allies is constantly improved.

This region in which we are meeting has in recent months witnessed an
unprecedented level of vigilante violence. This violence has now become a
national problem and is no longer confined to certain regions alone. The
accounts various delegates gave of events in their regions indicate that there
is an organised attempt to spread mayhem and carnage so that it engulfs the
nation as a whole. The aims of those who are planning and directing this scourge
of destruction are very clear - to destroy the prospects of peace and to derail
our march to freedom.

Long before the ANC and the Weekly Mail produced the visual evidence, we all
knew of the collusion between these killers and elements in the police. We know
too from our experience that the reluctance of the government to act against
those responsible for these crimes is because so many of its own personnel are
implicated. To signal our profound dissatisfaction with this situation,
conference called for the immediate suspension of the Joint Monitoring
Committees and the setting up of an independent monitoring group. We also are
demanding an Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on the
real depth of such collusion between elements of the Security establishment and
the vigilantes.

Self Defence Is our Right

We therefore resolved that we the people will have to assume responsibility
for our own defence, because the government has demonstrated its own incapacity
all too often. Conference therefore charged the leadership with the task of
ensuring that self-defence Committees are set up to coordinate and plan the
defence of our communities against the vigilantes and their helpers. Such
committees will have a number of responsibilities including training and the
gathering of intelligence to pre-empt attacks.

It was the view of conference also that we must use mass pressure to compel
the government to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice. To this
end, we shall be raising our campaign for Freedom and Peace Now to greater
heights in the new year. To effect this we agreed that we must also build a
broad front of forces opposed to violence, drawing in all groups, parties,
movements and individuals who have a genuine commitment to peace.

The ANC is Central to a Democratic Future

We cannot overemphasize the importance that the deliberations we have just
completed have for the course of our struggle and the future of our country. The
eyes of the world were on us as we conducted our work as was evident from the
worldwide media coverage. Everyone, except the wilfully blind, knows that the
ANC will and must play a central role in resolving the problems of South Africa.
We therefore approached our work this weekend with an earnestness and
seriousness of mind. This did not of course mean that we did not have lighter
moments. At one point a cloudburst completely disrupted our proceedings.
Unperturbed our delegates assembled and took up a very vigorous toyi-toyi.

There were also the moments of grave let down. We received a report that the
European Community has decided to lift the ban on new investments in South
Africa with deep regret. Our disappointment was heightened by the fact that
conference had earlier unanimously carried a motion, proposed byCornrade
President Tambo, that the international community retain the sanctions package
until we called for its lifting. We obviously need to persuade once more the
leading trading partners of apartheid South Africa about the necessity for
sanctions. That will be one of the items at the top of our international agenda
in the New Year.

Our conference was often an exercise in very hard-hitting criticism and
brutal self-examination. The ANC does not fear self-criticism because we know we
have nothing to hide. We are absolutely confident that the tide of history is
with us and therefore will not wilt under any form of criticism. What is
important is that we emerged from the conference reinvigorated and more united
in our determination to achieve our freedom now!

The order of the day to all our comrades and our people is: Gird your loins
for the final assault. Victory is in sight! As a united people no force on earth
can defeat us.

Last updated : 04-Jul-2012

This article was produced by South African History Online on 03-Apr-2011

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