< Back

Speech by Nelson Mandela at an ANC rally after the close of the National Consultative Conference

16 December 1990

Comrade President,
Members of the NEC of the ANC,
Comrades 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 1 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 process.

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 1Gerk 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 Force.

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 functioning.

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.