Speech by Oliver Tambo at an ANC rally after the close of the National Consultative Conference
16 December 1990
Members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC,
Comrades and friends,
I came on Thursday, having spent a whole week with the world`s greatest man, Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia. I ought to let you know that hidden somewhere in the chest of that man lies a great lover of humanity. He also sent a team of six of his top men to accompany the flight he offered to bring us home. Three of them are present in this gathering. We are more than grateful to him.
On my return flight I was accompanied by my wife, my son-in-law, my two daughters and a son, my three grandchildren. There was also my staff of five men and one woman. Without them life would have been impossible. Besides these mentioned, there were altogether two planes that were provided by President Kaunda to bring us home.
We arrived at Jan Smuts airport to the music of crowds of workers who had dropped work to receive us. Then came the big crowds, from every corner of the country, black and white, whom it was a great delight to be received by. We shall forever be grateful to all the people who assembled at Jan Smuts to welcome us home.
I am happy to be back home, amongst you my people. I salute you all in your own name, you who, through sheer tenacity and will, have brought our struggle to the threshold of a great leap forward. It is a truly emotional moment for us to meet you in your multitudes. I embrace each and every one of you. However, there are thousands who are waiting outside the borders of the country and not allowed to come in. Surely this should not be.
It has taken us many long years of grim and bloody struggle to persuade the National Party to open talks with the true leaders of the black majority. During these tragic decades, many have perished in the course of the struggle. Our deep felt condolences go to the families of the victims of apartheid. We grieve for all these, as we mourn for the many who are still being massacred throughout the country. We salute the orphans, widows, mothers and fathers of the martyrs of the struggle. We salute the thousands who have been maimed for life.
It is with pride and boundless joy that I stand in front of you in the company of that illustrious son of our people, my brother and friend, Comrade Nelson Mandela. What he has said about me so many times, whether it is true or not, I want to repeat to him a thousand times, and this covers all the years of our political life, whether we were in jail or not. It covers our position to this day when the head of the government feels it necessary to seek out the opinion of an African leader. This is happening in the case of our entire leadership of the ANC, SACP, COSATU and so many others. We are as capable of running a country as anybody else. A man who can bring this meeting to take place can run a government efficiently.
South Africa is at the crossroads. Our struggle, complemented by efforts of the international community, has rendered apartheid unworkable. Thus, those who rule us without our consent have been compelled to accept the humanity of a black person in this country. For the first time in a period of 70 years, the legitimate aspirations of the overwhelming majority of our people have possibilities of being realised.
We have come this far because thousands upon thousands of our people refused to accept their oppression as God-given. Organised in your various formations as workers, communities, congregations, youth and others, you fought a heroic and unrelenting struggle. At this juncture, it is fitting that I pay special tribute to the gallant youth of South Africa. I salute you, the young lions, for unflinchingly bearing the brunt of the state repression. You have not retreated and we are winning.
Ever advancing, you relaunched the ANC Youth League on the 27th October this year. That mammoth rally marked yet another landmark of great importance on our path to freedom. I take this opportunity to thank you profoundly for honouring me in the manner you did. I also wish to reassure you that I will forever remain one of your numbers. Once a youth forever a youth.
Our first legal National Consultative Conference in the country, in thirty years, ended today. More than any other event before, this Conference has vindicated a long-held belief in us that we have both the capacity and political will to win freedom for ourselves. I have no doubt that after this watershed event, we are ready to meet the challenge of the day, boldly, creatively and efficiently.
Like in the Congress of the People of 1955, comrades came from all corners of the country, young and old, black and white, to reassert the people`s demand for freedom now. We can therefore, count on the results of this Conference to lay a firm and unshakable basis for a rapid advance to people`s power. It has also prepared the ground for the historic ANC National Conference, which will be held in June 1991.
We are, accordingly, inviting all those who love peace, prosperity and freedom for all, to join in the struggle that is bound to result in the liberation of every single South African. In particular, we urge our white compatriots to join hands with us. Let us act now to salvage our country from sinking further into a bottomless pit. The time has come for us to make a clean break with the past, and begin with the difficult task of healing the wounds that we have afflicted upon ourselves for so long.
We urge all those still harbouring doubts about a democratic future, to take courage in the knowledge that the generosity of the oppressed is matched only by their passionate hatred of the oppression of fellow human beings. Working together as fellow South Africans, we have it within our power to transform this country into the land of plenty for all, where the nightmare of apartheid will just be a faint memory of the past.
We are deeply concerned by the criminal activities of forces of the past, threatening to undermine the process of negotiations. In the name of millions of peace-loving South Africans, I call upon all those involved in the carnage taking place in the townships and elsewhere, to stop the mayhem forthwith. Whoever you are, wherever you are, we implore you to wake up and realise that by spilling the blood of your kith and kin you are cutting your own throat.
We have a last chance to avert a disaster which could cripple our country for centuries to come. In this regard, we have little choice, but to live up to our responsibilities and engage one another in an honest and serious dialogue.
For our part, we are willing to ensure that the transition to a democratic society runs smoothly and with less pain for all our people. It is up to others, especially the government, to play their role constructively.
One thing we should never forget and shall never forget is the role of the international community in our struggle. Countries far and apart will do everything to aid our struggle. You have heard this from us before. But you should have seen the international response the last time Nelson toured the world, a journey he is yet to complete. Above all, we have enjoyed solid support from Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria. The failure of these countries in anything would have been our failure. They hold our ground, and we are grateful.
For as long as apartheid exists all South Africans have an obligation to wage a relentless struggle against the system. The struggle must therefore continue on all fronts. None of us should spare limb or courage in the course of advancing this noble cause.
The international community have an equal duty, not to relax pressure until the apartheid crime against humanity has been ended.
Victory is certain!