South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Conference​


Nelson Mandela`s closing address

22 December 1994

Comrades, the ANC has held many national conferences in its history. One of these was the 1949 Conference, which was held here in Bloemfontein. That Conference was the closing of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. The Conference produced what later became known as the 1949 Programme of Action. That Programme was the brainchild of the ANC Youth League. We called that body a youth league, even though some of its leaders were forty years and above. It was a strategic plan which, by the standards of those days, was most comprehensive. The Programme changed the character and outlook of the ANC. It called upon our people to resign from all apartheid institutions, like the Natives Representative Council which was established in 1936 for Africans; the Bunga, which was supposed to be the law-making body of the Transkei; and the District Councils Advisory Boards. The Conference called upon our people to resign from all these. It urged the employment of weapons of struggle, like general strikes, stay-at-homes, boycotts, protest demonstrations, defiance campaigns. It sought to transform the organisation from one which drew its leadership from the elite to one whose leadership represented all sections of our people.

The 1952 Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, in which 8,500 people defied certain laws, were arrested and sent to jail, that was the result of the implementation of that 1949 Programme of Action. As you would imagine, a programme of this nature led to heated debates in the 1949 Conference of the ANC, because some of the leaders of those days were never prepared for mass action, to say nothing of arrest and imprisonment. There was a great deal of controversy, heated discussions and even insults. It was in that conference that Dr Xuma, who had led the ANC for several years, was toppled. I think after so many years I must now confess what we actually did. As the Youth League, we asked Dr Xuma whether he was prepared to start mass campaigns and be prepared to go to jail. He said:

“You`ll have to get another president to do that, not me.” We then approached Professor Z K Matthews and asked him to stand. He said: “Please excuse me, I`m lecturing at Fort Hare.”

Then we wanted somebody of status. We couldn`t find one in the ANC. And then we went to a rival organisation, which was also having its conference here in Bloemfontein, and got Dr Moroka, who was the Treasurer General of the All African Convention, a rival of the ANC; we asked him if he was prepared to stand as President of the ANC. And we asked him further, whether he would be prepared to launch mass action in this country and go to jail if necessary. He said yes. Then we wrote out and gave him a ticket, a membership card. And he came to the Conference, and that is how he was elected President General of the ANC. Nevertheless, that Conference was one of conflict and tension.

Then there was also the 1955 Congress of the People, attended, like this Conference, by 3,000 delegates. They came from a wide range of organisations: political, labour, religious, cultural, sports bodies, and they came together and passed and adopted the Freedom Charter. Thereafter, the ANC held its own conference, in order to adopt the Charter. Again, there were tensions and conflicts – serious differences. It was after the ANC had adopted the Freedom Charter that a group of dissidents who had charged that this was a Marxist document, emerged at that conference, and subsequently broke away and formed the PAC.

The present Conference is remarkably different from those two conferences I have referred to. For one thing, this Conference has confounded the prophets of doom who predicted that the leadership would be roasted by delegates – by you – for neglecting the concerns of its constituency and concentrating on reconciliation. They said that the leadership would be attacked for the way they had mismanaged the affairs of Umkhonto we Sizwe. They told the country that there would be fierce battles for positions, and that some leaders would be toppled. Contrary to such predictions, delegates here during these last five days have shown an unprecedented degree of unity.

One of the dreams of every national organiser, and indeed of every member of the ANC, is that from every conference, especially a national conference, the organisation should emerge from that conference more motivated, more united than ever before. That is what we have achieved in this Conference. Four top officials were returned unopposed. The rest – that is, two of the officials – were elected with massive majorities, demonstrating the supreme confidence in the integrity and ability of such leaders.

Throughout these five days delegates realised and appreciated the historic mission of the African National Congress and that the organisation will discharge that mission only if delegates approach issues before conference with a high sense of responsibility and discipline. In this regard, the comprehensive report by the Secretary General, and the input by the then National Chairperson on strategy, set the tone for the success of this Conference. Like several conferences before, this one was also a mirror image of the new South Africa we are building, from both the ethnic factor as well as the gender question. I have not taken count of how many ladies have been appointed at this Conference, but I think that there are close to fifteen. And for the first time in our history, delegates discussed, not resistance, but reconstruction and development. No more did we discuss subjects like the suspension of the armed struggle, like negotiations, which were hot issues in the last National Conference. Our delegates were concerned with implementation of the RDP, bettering the lives of our people. The level of discussion was very high and the concerns of people on the ground – the building of a better life for all – formed an important part of the agenda. All commissions contributed to the success of the Conference, and gave excellent guidance to delegates during the discussions.

As has been pointed out here by many speakers, what is of immediate concern to us now are the forthcoming local government elections, which we must win at all costs. In many respects, these elections are far more important – far more crucial – than the national elections on the 27th of April. It is in the level of local government that we come into physical contact with the problems of the people. It is at that level that delivery in terms of the RDP has to take place. We cannot be general in fighting for local government elections. We have to move from the elevated, from the general tone of our work to specifics. At that level what the people want to hear is: How many jobs are you going to create within the next 12 months? How many houses are you going to build? How many clinics? How many schools? How many boreholes are you going to make? You have to know the conditions in that particular area very thoroughly to make an impact on people at that level.

To succeed in this regard, there are certain measures that we have to take. We must explain, very carefully, why now we need these elections, barely two years after the national elections.

I was talking to Cde Sam Nujoma, the President of Namibia, the other day. And he told me that they had problems when they conducted the local elections two years ago. As they went around the country and asked people to prepare to vote, people said:

“Now what is the point about this, why must we have local elections?”

And SWAPO said: “No, in terms of the law, you rule yourselves here, and therefore the time has come for us to have a new government, a local government here.” They said: “But we elected you only a few years ago to rule the whole country, including our area. Why must you now want another election?” They had to explain very carefully to convince the people that those elections are necessary. In these last national elections, the voters of Namibia performed excellently. But that is the result of a very systematic and vigorous campaign, from SWAPO, to explain the issues to the people on the ground in very simple terms. And that is what we are required to do. Success in local government elections will, among other things, require a broad and effective machinery. We will have to discard the sectarian tendencies of establishing structures which are confined only to members of the ANC. We can`t win elections in that way. We have to have broad structures, in which we are going to involve influential community leaders in that area.

In all levels of the organisation – whether local, regional, provincial or national – we need new blood, fresh blood. One of the problems we have had as an organisation is the almost instinctive resistance to fresh blood. Some of us, unfortunately, feel threatened when we say let us have new, young people, well trained. In this developing situation, we cannot survive if we do not recharge our organisation by ensuring that we have fresh blood. People who are not burdened with many duties as members of our National Executive are. Members of our National Executive, at least the outgoing National Executive, spend the whole day, starting from about 08h00, sometimes earlier, attending one meeting after the other, sometimes in Johannesburg, Pretoria and elsewhere. And by the time they go to bed, they are hopelessly tired and unproductive.

Well, on a serious note, one of the aspects of prison life I appreciated, in spite of the tragedy of being imprisoned, especially for a long term of years, in prison for many years, is the fact that one got the opportunity to sit down and think. We do not have that privilege here. To sit down and think at the end of the day and to assess your humble contribution as member of a team, is an important part of organising and of carrying out your political duties. In fact, I have urged all the members of the National Executive, and I now repeat that appeal, that after this Conference they must all disappear and forget about problems, about political problems. They must go for a holiday. Then they will come back fresh and ready to lead.

Comrades are bound to differ on numerous issues that come before the Executive. Differences of opinion among comrades, honestly held and expressed in a disciplined manner within the structures of the organisation, should be encouraged rather than discouraged. They are healthy, they lead to vigorous debate and to an examination of problems from all angles. Unfortunately, some comrades do not always welcome opposition, even from their comrades and tend to sideline, and even slander, comrades who have independent views.

But when you do so, please do not make the mistake I made in the fifties. We went to a meeting of the National Executive and Chief Lutuli was President at the time. And Prof Z K Mathews, who had lectured to me at Fort Hare, was Deputy President. They went to a meeting called by the Institute of Race Relations. At that time it was all white. And when they came back we asked for a report. They said: “We went there in our private capacity. We have no obligation to report to you.” We said: “No. You went there because of the positions you hold in the African National Congress.” They said: “No, no, no, we went there in our private capacity; we`re not going to report.” We tried to pressurise them, then one comrade suggested that we should adjourn, and during the adjournment they said: “Nelson, you must launch an attack on these old men. We are going to support you.” Well, I was very young, and headstrong, and we went back to the meeting. I then pressed the Chief and the Prof to give us a report, immediately. They said: “You can do what you like, we are not reporting.” Then, in my frustration, I said: “Well, then it`s clear that you are inferior to whites. You are prepared to share secrets with whites which you are not prepared to share with us.” So Prof Matthews says to me: “What do you know about Whites? I taught you at Fort Hare. You came from the countryside, you are a country bumpkin. You heard of whites from me, you had never even seen them before you came to Johannesburg.” Whilst I was suffering from this acute embarrassment, Chief Luthuli made it worse. And he says: “Now, you say I am inferior to whites. Then I`m not fit to be a leader of the ANC. I tender my resignation.” Now I never thought that he would resign. I thought that I could pull him down and he would remain in that position. But when he threatened to resign, those fellows who said they were going to support me started saying: “This man has gone too far. This man has gone too far.” And I remained all alone. I had to retreat and apologise. Don`t make that mistake.

We are grateful to the outgoing National Executive Committee for the excellent leadership they have given during the last three years. The masses of our people have, throughout the decades, fought very hard against racial oppression and many paid the highest price. We are all indebted to them. But few will deny that it was the outgoing NEC that skilfully led the entire country to an impressive victory, that has been hailed both inside and outside South Africa, as having committed a modern miracle. It is the outgoing National Executive Committee that achieved that impressive victory.

The Cabinet, the outgoing Cabinet, as well as the incoming Cabinet, consists of highly motivated, able and hard-working men and women who, as I have said, work 24 hours a day to discharge their duties. Members of the Cabinet have done so in order to honour the pledges we made in the run-up to the elections. We are fortunate to have such remarkable leaders in the government. They will guarantee, and I hope the present Executive as well, that the endemic corruption, waste and inefficiency that characterised the apartheid government will be tackled effectively in the weeks and months and years that lie ahead. But it is, we must confess, something of an irony that, as a government dominated by the ANC, we should talk of fiscal discipline, the waste and the inefficiency of the apartheid regime when, in fact, there is no financial discipline in the African National Congress, when there is waste, where there is inefficiency. I am sorry a comrade objected to us presenting our Financial report, because it is proper, this is a public organisation, it is your organisation, you should know the facts in detail about how we have been incompetent in this regard. How we had no financial discipline. How a parasitic class in the African National Congress has emerged, where regions cannot raise funds themselves, they depend on the headquarters. If the regions have no money, where do they think their organisation, the headquarters, get the money. The late Treasurer General, Tom Nkobi, went around the world all alone. He did marvellously. Between February 1990 and June last year, he raised no less than $66 million cash from Africa. In Asia, he raised no less than $44 million. That was more than $100 million. Before he died this year he had collected no less than $25 million this year. And we have reduced the overdraft which the press is talking about. We are a poor organisation. We had enormous responsibilities. But we, under the leadership of the late Treasurer General, were able to raise that amount. What were the regions doing, because an organisation, if it is an organisation, must be able to finance itself.

I have told a story some time before. That story will be known to Cde Billy Nair. Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker, then Presidents of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Natal Indian Congress respectively, after the passive resistance campaign launched by the Indian Community in this country, a rousing campaign in which almost every Indian family went to jail, they used a lot of money. They then decided to go to India to raise funds. And they met Ghandi. And they said: “Well, we have come to raise funds.” And he said: “Have you got a following from the Indian Community?”

They said yes, and quoted figures. Ghandi said: “Now you go back to South Africa and raise your money from your following. Go back.” And they never came back with a penny. The result is that that changed the attitude of the Indian Congress. They went to their own people and built massive reserves, from which they were able to finance their activities.

We are far from that as an organisation. Every region pesters the head office for financial support. They don`t know how to go round and raise money in their respective areas. As long as that situation exists, it is ironical for us in government to talk about monetary discipline, waste, inefficiency on the part of the apartheid regime. This is one of the matters which we must attend to.

There is another aspect which I want to raise. I have expressed my confidence in the outgoing National Executive Committee, I have that confidence in the incoming National Executive Committee. As I say, they are men and women of high integrity and outstanding ability and commitment. But we must never forget the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It has happened in many countries that a liberation movement comes into power and the freedom fighters of yesterday become members of the government. Sometimes without any idea of mischief, precisely because they are committed and hard working, they concentrate so much on their portfolios that they forget about the people who put them in power, and become a class, a separate entity unto themselves, who are not accountable to their membership, and who rely on law, that now I am a Cabinet Minister, the political organisation that put me in power can do nothing. One of the ways of preventing that temptation is for members of the Cabinet to go regularly to their areas, talk to the people. Go to the squatters or informal settlements, enter those rooms and see how people live, talk to them and also explain to them, on a regular basis, what the government is doing to give them feedback as to what the government is doing to address their needs. Such a disaster, I am confident, will not happen to these men and women. But it is not our good wishes that are going to avoid that disaster. It is an inbuilt system in your style of work that will prevent such disasters. I am confident that I lead a Cabinet that will endeavour to scrupulously avoid such pitfalls.

Lastly, I must congratulate the incoming National Executive. I am proud to lead such men and women of a high calibre. I also would like to thank all the members of the Preparatory Committee, the staff of the Secretary General, and all others who have helped for the remarkable work they have done to make this Conference the success it is. Similar thanks go to the staff and workers of this University. It was a significant gesture for this University to allow a Conference of an organisation they once condemned as subversive, as treasonable, to hold a Conference here.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of some of our delegates during these last five days left much to be desired. This point was made by the now Deputy President of this organisation, Cde Thabo Mbeki. Some of the things they did cannot be repeated, cannot be explained here. It would be discourteous to the audience for us to spell them out. I had, yesterday, to contact the Acting Rector here, and to apologise for that disgraceful behaviour. Now, that is an indictment, not only against the organisation, even though we know, as the Deputy President said yesterday, that these are not members of the organisation. The Deputy President is more diplomatic than I am. What he was saying was that these people who behaved in this manner are men who have been infiltrated into our organisation by the enemy to tarnish our image. It is the duty of every leader of the delegation to investigate this behaviour. They ought to have been more efficient and more strict than they were. They should have been able to account for the movement of all their delegates, and now that they have not done so I hope they`ll go back to their areas and conduct a searching investigation, because people who behave in this way are not fit to be members of the ANC.

And my final word of thanks goes to the delegates, as I have said, for the high level of discussion they have shown. It was from all angles, an impressive performance. Please travel safely back to your areas, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thank you. .