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Opening address by Oliver Tambo to the National Consultative Conference

14 December 1990

The Chairperson,
Deputy President Comrade Nelson Mandela,
Members of the National Executive Committee,
Regional Convenors and members of the Regional Leadership,
Commanders and members of our glorious army, Umkhonto we Sizwe,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow Delegates, Comrades and friends,

I salute you all in the name of all patriotic South Africans, especially those whose sterling contributions have made this day a reality. Many of these have laid down their lives, and still countless others were maimed for life whilst on active duty in the service of their people and country. It is thanks to these, to whom we shall forever be indebted, that today we are witnessing an epoch-making event. It is thanks to these heroes and heroines of our struggle that we are able to attend the first legal ANC Consultative Conference inside South Africa, after an underground existence spanning over three decades. We are making history, reshaping the destiny of our country because many, who are not able to be here, have given their all for this day to dawn. They perished so that the nation could live; they did not perish because they loved life any less. It is appropriate, therefore, that we all rise and observe a moment of silence in honour of the martyrs of the South African struggle. (Minute of silence).

I salute you all throughout the ranks of our Movement at this hour of your glory and triumph. I salute Nelson Mandela who turned his prison cell into a theatre of struggle. In particular, I honour him for generously allowing his name to be used in campaigns for the release of all political prisoners. I salute Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada, Harry Gwala and Oscar Mpetha for holding on steadfastly and refusing to succumb to the whims of their jailers. All those who unflinchingly fought from behind prison bars have earned themselves our highest admiration.

I salute you who have fought inside and outside the country under very difficult conditions. In the heroic traditions of your forebears, Shaka, Hintsha, Sekhukhuni, Mosheoeshoe and others, you have demonstrated valour, boundless commitment and resilience in the face of impossible odds. It is thanks to you that today the dignity of a black person is being restored and, together with it, the dignity of our beloved country. No longer can anyone afford to ignore the voice of the overwhelming majority of our people. It is thanks to you that, at last, freedom looms large on the horizon. We, too, are finally seeing light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. Yes, we are at the crossroads where the future is fusing with the present. It is us, the generation gathered here in this hall, black and white, that history has singled out to represent the aspirations of generations past and generations still to come. We can uphold and defend their trust upon us. This is the magnitude of the task we face, the real challenge that delegates to this conference must meet without fail.

Armed Struggle

Twenty-nine years ago, on the 16th December in 1961, the ANC and its allies announced the formation of our army Umkhonto we Sizwe. Seen against a history of peaceful forms of struggle which Congress had espoused and practised since its formation in 1912, the move to armed struggle was a radical departure which marked the opening of a new page in the history of our struggle. This decision was taken only after the government had closed all doors to peaceful opposition, by banning the ANC and other political organisations in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre. Having decided to fight, we managed to launch and sustain an all-round offensive which has finally brought the apartheid system to the brink of defeat. As a result, the government has been persuaded to unban the ANC and other political organisations.

This Conference is, therefore, as significant as the changing political landscape in our country; for we have never met at a time when there was such an amount of promise, in an hour so packed with possibilities of a great leap forward. At no time have a people heading warring camps in this country come together to find a common way out. This is happening for the first time in 70 years. Naturally, our hopes regarding the future of our country have been raised.

Intensify Struggle

We however, should remain vigilant and ready to confront new challenges with the same tenacity as before. The massacres in the townships and elsewhere are a painful reminder that apartheid is still firmly in place. Accordingly, the struggle against apartheid should be intensified at all fronts. In this regard, our strategy and tactics should be informed by the objective situation internally and internationally. Whatever form of struggle we have employed in the past, and may still have to employ in future, the golden link is always our absolute determination to regain our freedom. On this we should never be found wanting. At no stage should anyone be left in doubt regarding our will and readiness to free ourselves.

On the international front we are at a point where political, military, cultural and economic sanctions have been imposed. It is true that several Western countries have tried to undermine the sanctions movement. Nevertheless, the imposition of sanctions in the face of outright hostility from some countries, is a victory of no small measure given the crucial role of the international factor in our struggle. We take this opportunity to thank the international community for standing solidly behind us. In particular, we thank the anti-apartheid movement, individuals and governments who supported us all these years.

Once again Pretoria`s traditional allies are counselling that De Klerk should be rewarded for responding positively to our peace initiative. In this regard, the Harare Declaration which has since been adopted by the United Nations, albeit with some modifications, should not be undermined. However, in defending this document, it is no longer enough for us to repeat the tried slogans. We should, therefore, carefully reevaluate the advisability of insisting on the retention of sanctions, given the new developments in the country and abroad.

At no stage should we ever allow the strategic initiative to shift to the other side. Let us, therefore, root ourselves amongst the people, live their experiences, share their trials and tribulations and, jointly with them, find ways and means to advance our cause at both local and national levels. As in the past, our cadres should be the first to rally to the defence of the people and the last to seek rewards. In addition to drawing millions of our people into the struggle, we should observe democratic practices in all our structures. Conditions of illegality, which in the past imposed some limitations on our adherence to principles of democracy, no longer prevail.

The idea of nonracialism has triumphed in the country. Even the National Party has finally admitted this much, by opening its membership to blacks. This must spur us on to redouble our efforts in transforming our country into an oasis of democracy where a person`s skin colour or sex will no longer be relevant in determining their station in life. Racial and tribal divisions that apartheid has assiduously nurtured over the years should be vigorously fought by all of us. The spirit of nonracialism should not only extend to the people as a whole, but it should also be a firm foundation stone upon which our new society stands. Each of us should, therefore, foster the spirit of oneness amongst all our people. Even though suspicions will not disappear overnight, the building of one South African nation is a national task of paramount importance.


If peaceful negotiations will result in the formation of a united, democratic, nonracial and nonsexist South Africa we are not only willing but ready to enter into such negotiations. Consequently, the ANC has suspended the armed struggle in order to give peace a chance as well as indicate our serious concern for the future of the country and all its citizens. It is least surprising that those bent on destruction should unleash ferocious attacks against the people at this very delicate stage in the negotiation process. However, what is alarming is the government`s apparent inability to bring those responsible to book. Nevertheless, we are determined to move ahead and democratise our country without further ado.

It should be pointed out, however, that negotiations can only succeed if all parties thereto are ready to negotiate and implement agreements in good faith. Failure to do so by either of the parties can only undermine the process itself. So far, the ANC has scrupulously honoured agreements reached. Suffices it to say, the government`s record is, at this stage, far from satisfactory. Naturally, in mapping out the way forward, Conference will take this experience into full account.

No struggle has ever been won on the strength of wishes. Any contest for political power is serious business. It may be that, in the months and years ahead, we could find ourselves relying more on mass action as the predominant form of the struggle. To this end, we must build the ANC and other democratic formations as never before. No single town, village, street, or indeed house should be left unorganised. Let us organise the workers in the factories, organise worshippers in churches and other places of worship, organise students in their places of learning, organise farm labourers in the farms. All South Africans, black and white, should be organised into a mighty vehicle of liberation.

We believe that all the people of this country should take part in negotiations. The state of emergency may have been lifted, but conditions for normal political life remain far from ideal. Our ability to consult widely is highly circumscribed. Many factors, especially a host of repressive laws, such as the Internal Security Act, continue to impinge on the people`s right to organise. The immediate repeal of these infamous laws would contribute towards the restoration of political normality. Additionally, the election of a Constituent Assembly would assist in restoring people`s confidence in democratic processes. The new democratic constitution would thus not only become workable, but would also enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the people. By calling for an elective Constituent Assembly we do not seek to exclude anyone from taking part in negotiations; if anything, the ANC welcomes the widest possible participation.

The Destructiveness of Apartheid

Apartheid has denied and continues to deny our people opportunities to learn and acquire skills and know-how. Because of the twisted logic of racism, our rulers would sooner import skilled white labour rather than educate blacks in the country. The education crisis is a national calamity that should be tackled as such by all of us. The resolution of this crisis, especially black education, is a task that both black and white South Africans must undertake for their own sake. For the ability of the country to develop and hold its own, in the face of heavy international economic competition, will largely depend on the quality of education we provide to the majority of our citizens.

White domination uses violence in a futile effort to defend a lost cause. As a result, the whole country is caught up in a culture of violence. There is no single family which has not been affected by this malaise, and in some communities the scars run very deep indeed. We should spearhead efforts aimed at breaking this vicious circle. For, our well being as a country depends largely on how successful we are in overcoming the legacy of violence that apartheid is bound to leave us. The youth in particular will need special assistance if they are to value peace and their childhood again.

Africa, and the Frontline States in particular, have been at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. These countries have made and are continuing to make immense contributions to our struggle at a very high cost to themselves. Their economies have been ravaged by wars of destabilisation. Thousands of our neighbours have perished at the hands of Pretoria`s bandits. We owe it to them to establish peace in the region and embark on an aggressive regional programme of reconstruction once apartheid has finally been ended. Let us rise to the challenge by ending apartheid now.

One can never overemphasise the importance of unity. Our very survival as a cohesive Movement depends on our unity in action. The struggle is far from over; if anything, it has become more complex and, therefore, more difficult. I have no doubt that we shall emerge from this Conference a stronger force than ever before. It is now my pleasant task to declare this first legal ANC National Consultative Conference open. In so doing, I wish you luck and success in all your deliberations.

Victory is in Sight!

Maatla! Amandla!