50th National Conference: address by ANC President Thabo Mbeki, at the Mafikeng stadium
20 December 1997, Mafikeng Stadium
Master of Ceremonies,
We have just completed a historic national conference of the African National Congress, the organisation which you, in your numbers, elected in 1994 to lead you in your struggle against the evils left by the many years of colonialism and Apartheid rule.
It is those many years which denied us the universal right to elect the leaders of our choice, the leaders we can entrust with the responsibility to lead our country.
It is those many years of Apartheid rule which separated us and confined us to the bantustans.
It is those many years which left thousands of the poor without houses nor any form of decent shelter.
It is those many years which denied the majority of our people the opportunity to go to school, to study and be educated.
It is those many years which denied the majority access to decent primary health care and condemned the poor, young, and old, to die of diseases of poverty and ignorance.
Indeed it is Apartheid which condemned the rural areas of our country to underdevelopment where access to clean and healthy water as a privilege rather than a right.
We have just come from the conference of the African National Congress, the organisation which you chose and commanded to lead the struggle to rid our country of these evils, and others besides, which the anti-people system of Apartheid left us.
We say this has been a historic conference in the history of our country.
Surely, it is historic that it is as this conference where your most beloved son, comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, came to say; I have fought a good fight, I have given my whole life to the struggle, I have shown you how to lead from the front-line, Now I have the confidence to pass the custody of so mighty an organisation to the younger generation.
Comrade Mandela represents the stalwarts of a generation which had taken the challenge of leading the African National Congress half a century ago. Surely, his generation has demonstrated to all of us how to lead from the front-line, how to lead with excellence.
That is the generation of Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, J.B Marks, Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Braam Fischer, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dora Tamana, Francis Baard, Ruth Mompati and many others.
Surely, the African National Congress, over the past half century, has made each one of those decades a historical turning point under the able and unwavering leadership of this generation.
Who can doubt the catalytic impact the formation of the ANC Youth League in the 1940s has had in infusing the ANC with a spirit of militant resistance which spoke of the need to take the resistance struggle to every enemy quarter, now and not tomorrow.
Who can doubt that the roaring decade of the resistance mass campaigns of the 1950s moulded the African National Congress into a united mass force glued together by the collective will of the people to deliver themselves from bondage.
Who can dare say that the formation of Umkhonto WeSizwe as well as the impact on our collective consciousness of the Rivonia Trial in the 1960s did not set in motion a popular national and international campaign as well as an armed propaganda campaign which captured the revolutionary imagination of the nation.
Which student of our history can dispute that the workers' struggles which started in 1973 as well as the student uprisings which followed them in 1976, did not help swell the ranks of our movement and actually usher in a new era in the conduct of our revolutionary war.
It was an era which laid the firm basis for the struggle of the 1980s - a combination of militant mass struggles, workers' mass political campaigns and the increase in the conduct of our armed propaganda campaigns.
Around this period, the attention of the world was focused on our country afresh, and the isolation of the Apartheid regime increased.
Indeed, with the struggle reaching such levels, we could not be wrong in declaring that the 1980s was going to be the "Decade of Liberation".
When we voted for the African National Congress in 1994, for the first time in our country, our people gained political independence from Apartheid colonialism.
This is a history which tells us a proud story about the generation which has led our struggle over this period.
So indeed, this conference should be a historical moment if, it is at this conference where the leadership which belongs to this generation says; we have fought a good fight, we have performed a historic duty.
This conference is also historical in the sense that it is the last conference of the African National Congress before we hold our first democratic elections in 1999 under a democratic government, which through your collective and individual struggles and sacrifice, you brought about.
Yet again in 1999 history will present us with an opportunity to choose our political leadership. We shall be presented with the opportunity and the responsibility to elect a leadership that shall lead our country as we confront the challenges of the coming century.
The conference that we have just completed has elected a leadership charged with the responsibility, not only to lead the African National Congress. It is a leadership which also has the responsibility to chart the political as well as the social and economic life of South Africa as a whole.
Seated here in front of you is a leadership, young and old, man and women, on whose shoulders rests the responsibility to make our country a prosperous country which enjoys the highest respect among the nations of the world.
So when you as responsible citizens of our country vote for the African National Congress in 1999, and by so doing, displaying again your confidence in the leadership and the policy positions of the ANC, you shall be giving command to these men and women to lead by example from the front-line in our struggle to attain a better life for all our people.
We must assure you that this leadership is drawn from all the sectors of our society - the youth, the women, the disabled, the business sector, the trade union movement, the communist party, traditional structures, the academic sector, and so forth and so forth.
This leadership carries with it the accumulated experience of eighty five years of the ANC struggle for social justice, prosperity and peace.
It is also a leadership which carries with it the valuable experience of governing gained in the past, and certainly challenging, three and half years as we moved the country from the painful past of political oppression, social conflict and racial discrimination.
It is this experience we plan to build upon as we set ourselves new heights of social and economic achievement.
We can certainly also assure you that our conference in Mafikeng in the past five days has provided us with the opportunity to look at our period in government: identify our weaknesses, reinforce our strengths and map the way ahead of us.
We are confident that the resolutions of this conference have laid the basis for us to take our country into the next century as a shining example of Africa's achievement under the African sun.
We shall be failing in our duty today if we fail to thank the people of the Northwest Province for the way all of us who attended this conference were received- delegates from all over the country, our guest from home as well as those who arrived in you province from all over the world.
We have felt your warm embrace for the week we have spent here.
Comrade Popo Molefe, we want to say we are taking with us fond memories about the hospitality the people of the Northwest extended to us. We are taking with us inspiring memories about how well you hosted an occasion of such a magnitude.
Perhaps we should not have expected a lesser commitment from the people of this province.
Indeed, the people of this province have in the past inscribed into our collective national memory examples of heroism in the struggle against the system of Apartheid.
The forces of white supremacy made their last stand in this province.
The bantustan system which condemned our people to unwanted foreigners in the country of their birth, made its last stand in this province.
Those vents, happening as they did only few days before the national elections of 1994, placed a historic responsibility on the shoulders of the people of the province to sieze the moment and be the detachment which finally crushes the last outpost of counter-revolution to democratic change.
So glorious was your response to the challenge.
So decisive was the march of the people against and over the forces of reaction.
So sweet was the victory of democracy over the Apartheid regime.
The people of this region again lived to the heroic tradition of this region.
You lived to the tradition of Kgosi Botlasitse Gasebonwe who put up a formidable struggle, resisting the colonisation of Tlhaping.
You lived to the heroic tradition of Kgosi Montshiwa, the chief of the Tshidi Barolong who resisted the colonial occupation of Mafikeng until the siege of 1899.
We are proud that you have continued to demonstrate the deep commitment to the cause of justice as some of the stalwarts of the struggle who came from this region have continued to do.
By your example, you reminded us of Sol Plaatjie, the first secretary general of the ANC.
You reminded us of Moses Kotane, J.B. Marks, Edwin Mafutsanyana, Josie Mpama and many others.
With your support, we can only face the future with great confidence.