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50th National Conference: Nelson Mandela`s closing address

20 December 1997, Mafikeng


My President, Comrade Thabo Mbeki;

My leaders: the Officials, members of the NEC, PEC`s, and BEC`s;

Colleagues and comrades;

Dear Guests.

The time has come to hand over the baton.

The time has come to affirm and celebrate the decisions that you have taken
to put in place a national leadership collective that will take the ANC into the
new millennium. You delegates have spoken, in the true spirit of the ANC.

But you have spoken in more than just your own name and right. As your voices
carried beyond the confines of this hall to every home in the village, township
and suburb, you were echoing the will of the hundreds of thousand of ANC
members; you were expressing the views of the millions of South Africans who see
the ANC as the custodian of their deepest hopes for a better life.

The time has come for me to take leave.

The time has come to hand over the baton in a relay that started more than 85
years ago in Mangaung; nay more, centuries ago when the warriors of Autshumanyo,
Makhanda, Mzilikazi, Moshweshwe, Khama, Sekhukhuni, Lobatsibeni, Cetshwayo,
Nghunghunyane, Uithalder and Ramabulana, laid down their lives to defend the
dignity and integrity of their being as a people.

When we ourselves received the baton from Dube, Sol Plaatjie, Ghandi, Abdul
Abduraman, Charlotte Maxeke, Gumede, Mahabane and others, we might not have
fully appreciated the significance of the occasion, preoccupied as we were by
the detail of the moment. Yet, in their mysterious ways, history and fate were
about to dictate to us that we should walk the valley of death again and again
before we reached the mountain-tops of the people`s desires.

And so the time has come to make way for a new generation, secure in the
knowledge that despite our numerous mistakes, we sought to serve the cause of
freedom; if we stumbled on occasion, the bruises sustained were the mark of the
lessons that we had to learn to make our humble contribution to the birth of our
nation; so our people can start, after the interregnum of defeat and
humiliation, to build their lives afresh as masters of their own collective
destiny.

I am certain that I speak on behalf of the veterans who graced this historic
Conference, and many others, when I say that, if we were fortunate to smell the
sweet scent of freedom, there are many more who deserved, perhaps more than us,
to be here to witness the rise of a generation that they nurtured. But for the
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Oliver Tambo, Moses Kotane, Yusuf
Dadoo, JB Marks, Lilian Ngoyi, Florence Mophosho, Kate Molale, Alex La Guma,
Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Moses Mabhida, Ruth First and others
would have been witness to the end of a lap in a relay that they ran with such
energy and devotion.

It is i their name that we say to you: here are the reins of the movement -
protect and guard its precious legacy; defend its unity and integrity as
committed disciples of change; pursue its popular objectives like true
revolutionaries who seek only to serve the nation.

If we make these demands on you, it is because you accepted the burden of
responsibility when you decided to enter the ranks of this leading movement of
fundamental change. You responded to the call of destiny to bring into reality
the day when the people can indeed govern.

If we make these demands on you, it is because you have run such a successful
Conference - demonstrating for all to see, the quality of the ANC as the
principal agent of social change. In the content of our resolutions, in the
spirit of comradeship which characterised our communion over the last five days,
this 50th National Conference of the ANC has demonstrated once more the strength
of internal democracy in our organisation, inspired by the search for answers to
the challenges that face us.

In this regard, I wish to thank all the delegates and guests, the ANC, our
colleagues in the Tri-partite Alliance, other democratic organisations and our
friends from abroad for ensuring that we have had such a memorable event. I will
remember this experience fondly for as long as I live.

Running like a golden thread through the decisions that we have taken is a
reaffirmation of what the ANC has always stood for:

  • to bring fundamental change to the lives of all South Africans, especially
    the poor;
  • to recognise the actual contradictions in our society and to state them
    boldly, the better to search for their resolution;
  • to avoid steps that further worsen social conflict; and
  • to build our new nation by continually and consciously exorcising the
    demon of tribalism, racism and religious intolerance.

If these objectives are themselves not new; the circumstances in which they
have to be pursued are different: we operate in a world which is searching for a
better life - without the imprisonment of dogma. In this sense, therefore, you
have started along a new path into the new century.

The response of some political parties and sectors of society, including the
media to my Political Report was not unexpected; and, if anything, it confirms
everything that we said.

Comrades and friends;

More often than not, an epoch creates and nurtures the individuals which are
associated with its twist and turns. And so a name becomes the symbol of an era.

As we hand over the baton, it is appropriate that I should thank the ANC for
shaping me as such a symbol of what it stands for. I know that the love and
respect that I have enjoyed is love and respect for the ANC and its ideals. I
know that the world-wide appreciation of South Africa`s miracle and the dignity
of its people is appreciation, first and foremost, of the work of the ANC.

In the early years when I was all green and raw in the movement`s ranks,
Constatine Ramohanoe, the Transvaal President of the ANC took me by train and on
foot to visit villages, cities and dorpies, and taught me and my generation
never to lose touch with the people.

During that period, Moses Kotane, in his curt and disciplinarian manner
showed us ways of nurturing people`s thinking and commitment to the poor. Yusuf
Dadoo brought to the fore the importance of united action among all the
oppressed and democratic forces. Bram Fischer and Michael Harmel brought us into
the debates of the Communist Party and assisted us to appreciate that problems
need to be approached from different angles. Chief Albert Luthuli taught us that
reconciliation is not an antithesis to revolutionary struggle and
transformation.

And Oliver Tambo, was like no one else a brother and a friend to me. He
enriched my own life and intellect; and neither I nor indeed this country can
forget this colossus of our history.

All these giants and more - the living and the dead - were the band of
comrades who not only compensated for my own weaknesses; but they also assigned
me tasks where my strengths could grow and thrive. What I am today is because of
them; it is because of the ANC; it is because of the Tri-partite Alliance.

But I think that this experience transcends my own life and touches on the
very issue of cadre policy which we deliberated on in the past few days. I say
so because I know that among you there are many who have such great potential -
revolutionaries suited to the new age: organisers, intellectuals, mass leaders,
activists and strategists at all levels of the movement. We must nurture you
all, and let your strengths shine through.

The time has come to hand over the baton. And I personally relish the moment
when my fellow veterans and I shall be able to observe from near and judge from
afar. As 1999 approaches, I will endeavour as State President to delegate more
and more responsibility, so as to ensure a smooth transition to the new
Presidency.

Thus I will be able to have that opportunity in my last years to spoil my
grandchildren and try in various ways to assist all South African children,
especially those who have been the hapless victims of a system that did not
care. I will also have more time to continue the debates with Chopo, Zizi and
others, which the 20 years of umrabulo on the Island could not resolve.

Let me assure you and the people of our country that, in my humble way, I
shall continue to be of service to transformation, and to the ANC, the only
movement that is capable of bringing about that transformation. As an ordinary
member of the ANC I suppose that I will also have many privileges that I have
been deprived of over the years: to be as critical as I can be; to challenge any
signs of "autocracy from Shell House"; and to lobby for my preferred
candidates from the branch level upwards.

On a more serious note though, I wish to reiterate that I will remain a
disciplined member of the ANC; and in my last months in government office, I
will always be guided by the ANC`s policies, and find mechanisms that will allow
you to rap me over the knuckles for any indiscretions.

Our generation traversed a century that was characterised by conflict,
bloodshed, hatred and intolerance; a century which tried but could not fully
resolve the problems of disparity between the rich and the poor, between
developing and developed countries.

I hope that our endeavours as the ANC have contributed and will continue to
contribute to this search for a just world order.

Today marks the completion of one more lap in that relay race - still to
continue for many more decades - when we take leave so that the competent,
generation of lawyers, computer experts, economists, financiers, industrialists,
doctors, lawyers, engineers and above all ordinary workers and peasants can take
the ANC into the new millennium.

I look forward to that period when I will be able to wake up with the sun; to
walk the hills and valleys of Qunu in peace and tranquillity. And I am confident
that this will certainly be the case because, as I do so, and see the smiles on
the faces of children which reflect the sunshine in their hearts, I will know,
comrade Thabo and your team, that you are on the right track; you are
succeeding.

I will know that the ANC lives - it continues to lead!