The days I am low and need inspiration I go to the speeches and writings of Nelson Mandela. This is my favourite and most inspiring.
‘Black Man In A White Man’s Court’
This was Mandela’s first court statement, in Pretoria, October 1962. He opened his arguments by saying he believed this was a “trial of the African people”.
In its proper meaning equality before the law means the right to participate in the making of the laws by which one is governed, a constitution which guarantees democratic rights to all sections of the population, the right to approach the court for protection or relief in the case of the violation of rights guaranteed in the constitution, and the right to take part in the administration of justice as judges, magistrates, attorneys-general, law advisers and similar positions.
In the absence of these safeguards the phrase ‘equality before the law’, in so far as it is intended to apply to us, is meaningless and misleading. All the rights and privileges to which I have referred are monopolised by whites, and we enjoy none of them.
The white man makes all the laws, he drags us before his courts and accuses us, and he sits in judgement over us.
It is fit and proper to raise the question sharply, what is this rigid colour-bar in the administration of justice? Why is it that in this courtroom I face a white magistrate, am confronted by a white prosecutor, and escorted into the dock by a white orderly? Can anyone honestly and seriously suggest that in this type of atmosphere the scales of justice are evenly balanced?
Why is it that no African in the history of this country has ever had the honour of being tried by his own kith and kin, by his own flesh and blood?
I will tell Your Worship why: the real purpose of this rigid colour-bar is to ensure that the justice dispensed by the courts should conform to the policy of the country, however much that policy might be in conflict with the norms of justice accepted in judiciaries throughout the civilised world.
I feel oppressed by the atmosphere of white domination that lurks all around in this courtroom. Somehow this atmosphere calls to mind the inhuman injustices caused to my people outside this courtroom by this same white domination.
It reminds me that I am voteless because there is a parliament in this country that is white-controlled.
‘An ideal I am prepared to die for’
Mandela’s best known speech, delivered in 1964 from the dock of the Pretoria courtroom, having been in jail two years already by then. The speech was made famous by its closing lines in which he speaks of democracy and free society, an ideal for which he said he was prepared to die.
I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. After all, I was born in Umtata, forty-six years ago. My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Thembuland, and I am related both to Sabata Dalindyebo, the present paramount chief, and to Kaiser Matanzima, the Chief Minister for the Transkei.
Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organisation of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There was no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.
It is true, as I have already stated that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent states. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of the world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists….
… I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than that of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from West and from the East.
…The complaint of Africans, however, is not only that they are poor and whites are rich, but that the laws which are made by the whites are designed to preserve this situation.
… There is compulsory education for all white children at virtually no cost to their parents, be they rich or poor. Similar facilities are not provided for the African children… The quality of education is also different… The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as African people are concerned, it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.
… Above all, My Lord, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy.
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. [someone coughs]
During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
‘Address in Capetown’
It was in February 1990 that Mandela, just released from prison, made his first public speech in 27 years at the Parade, Cape Town. He ended his speech with the same words he closed his 1964 speech — still believing in an ideal he was prepared to die for.
Intensify the struggle
We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive.
The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts. It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.
We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.
To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid. Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.
Universal suffrage on a common voters’ roll in a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.
In conclusion, I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then. I quote:
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have carried the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
‘The 100-days speech’
Mandela had completed 100 days in office as President in August 1994. This was his opening address for the budget debate that year.
Now and again in the course of my remarks, I will pull out a white handkerchief and wipe my eyes. Don’t be worried. There is nothing wrong. It is my own unique way of attracting your attention.
I stand before you aware of the momentous times that we are traversing. These times also demand of us that we regularly account to this important assembly about the work and process to us by the electorate.
Much can be said about the content of the debate in the current session. On occasion, strong language has been used to drive home a strongly held belief. Within the limits, this shows that we have, at last, a robust vibrant democracy, with broad consensus on the most important national questions.
Down the years, human society has pitted itself against the evils of poverty, disease, and ignorance. Progress has been achieved while reverses have also been sustained. It is incumbent on South Africa to be in the company of those who have recorded more success than failure.
At the end of the day, a yardstick that we shall all be judged by is one and only one. And that is, are we through our endeavours here creating the basis to better the lives of South Africans? This is not because the people have some subjective expectations fanned during an election campaign. Neither is it because there is a magic wand that they see in the new government. Millions have suffered deprivation for decades and they have the right to seek redress. They fought and voted for change and change the people of South Africa must have.
Honourable members, you have been warned.
A hundred days ago, the President and Deputy Presidents of a new democratic republic were sworn in. Our people and the whole world marvelled at what has been variously characterised as a miracle and an epoch-making event. Are we worthy of that trust and confidence?
‘Don’t call me, I’ll call You’
In June 2004, long after he had retired as president, Mandela also retired from public life. This was the speech he delivered at Johannesburg.
I am turning 86 in a few weeks time and that is a longer life than most people are granted. I have the added blessing of being in very good health, at least according to my doctors. I am confident that nobody present here today will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself.
One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release. I intend, amongst other things, to give myself much more opportunity for such reading and reflection. And of course, there are those memoirs about the presidential years that now really need my urgent attention.
When I told one of my advisors a few months ago that I wanted to retire he growled at me: “you are retired.” If that is really the case then I should say I now announce that I am retiring from retirement.
I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but hence forth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me, I’ll call you.