South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Arusha Conference


Closing speech by Oliver Tambo at the Arusha conference

4 December 1987

The time has come for all of us to leave this friendly city which has been our home for a few days, and return to our respective theatres of struggle. The sadness we might feel at this parting is lessened by the knowledge that we leave as emissaries of a common cause, committed to energise all humanity everywhere to act against apartheid, for a democratic South Africa.

We disperse and shall attack the apartheid enemy of all humankind on all fronts and from all corners of the globe. We shall conduct a concerted offensive because we will be proceeding from the common positions we have agreed at this historic Conference. We depart from the shores of this great African country enormously strengthened by all that happened here during this week which will go down as a watershed in the history of our struggle.

Apartheid is Death

As we close our Conference, the dark clouds of war are gathered over the people of Botswana. Botha is marshalling his terror forces for murder and destruction directed against a people who are exemplary in their devotion to peace. It may be that some among us here we see for the last time because they have been targeted for assassination. It is certain that during the week we have been here, apartheid has murdered yet more people.

The more the agents of this system kill, be it in South Africa or Namibia, Angola or Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe or elsewhere, the more they have to kill. Death has become a condition for the perpetuation of the crime of apartheid. For the perpetrators of this crime, survival must be assured by the construction of a wall of lifeless bodies around the genocidal system.

We have met here because we refuse to accept that murder can ever be the basis for the existence of any social system. We have travelled from all parts of the globe to Arusha because we are moved by a sense of outrage that naked evil has lasted so long. Our very humanity demands that we act. Each day the agony is prolonged constitutes a painful accusation to all of us that we have not yet acted as we should, to rescue humanity itself from the bloody clutches of an unspeakable barbarity.

Together We shall Win

We have been deeply moved by the degree of passion, the depth of commitment and the level of confidence which has marked our individual contributions and our proceedings as a whole. We carry away with us a vivid impression of millions upon millions of people who have said enough is enough. We see a phalanx of humanity which has said no to cant and hypocrisy, identified the genuine solutions from which justice and peace will derive and said what must be done to realise those solutions without delay.

It has been a matter of great honour and inestimable encouragement to us that so many governments and intergovernmental organisations responded to our request to participate in this Conference. In future, the government of a new South Africa will surely find ways to express the gratitude of all our people that you openly identified with us when some thought no better of us than to call us terrorists and a power-hungry clique of individuals.

Between its walls, this hall contains the leaders and representatives of millions of people organised in political parties, trade unions and religious bodies, women`s and liberation movements, youth, student, business organisations and other formations. This is the mass base on which the success of our common struggle depends, the great vehicle of change before whose power all tyrants must tremble and succumb.

Together we shall bring into being and construct the world of justice we all seek, extending a permanent hand of friendship from people to people.

Programme of Action

All of us here have sat and planned together. Out of these deliberations has emerged a set of goals to which we are all committed. After discussion we have set ourselves a Programme of Action. Both the goals and the means for the attainment of those goals are clear. In the result what we have to see happen is the intensification of the struggle on all fronts, both inside our country and internationally. What we have to see is a further shift in the balance of strength so that the world forces against racism and for a democratic South Africa, including the central contingent that we represent, reach the point where they overpower the apartheid regime. Our decisions at this Conference point the way to the achievement of this objective.

The struggle inside our country has to escalate. Mass political action must and will continue and intensify, regardless of desperate repressive measures adopted by the regime of terror. Asserting our right to self-defence and our right and obligation to rise against a persistent and unrelenting tyranny as brutally violent as the one we face, we have the duty to raise the armed struggle to new heights and respond in a meaningful manner to the terrorism of the apartheid State.

The greater numbers of our people, both black and white, should and will rally around the banner of democracy. The alternative democratic power will get ever stronger as the illegitimate apartheid power weakens permanently and irreversibly.

Our people have demonstrated their love for, and loyalty to, our imprisoned leaders. Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners must come out and take their rightful place in the common struggle. Through our own joint efforts at home and abroad we have to strive for their immediate and unconditional release. Internationally we must, above all, work to compel Pretoria`s partners to abandon the path of collaboration with apartheid and participate in the imposition of comprehensive and mandatory sanctions. Those who profess an attachment to democratic beliefs and practices must be obliged to act in ways that are in keeping with words and to be seen actually to take sides against the forces of racism, in support of the democratic alternative.

We Salute You

Outside this hall there have been many people who have worked tirelessly and are working still to enable us to do our work here. They include our technical staff, drivers, the security and hotel personnel and many others. To them all we extend our heartfelt thanks and see them as no less important to the making of history that this past week represents.

I would also like to apologise to and plead for understanding from all those, including the press and some delegates, who might have suffered some inconvenience because of inadequate organisation on our part. This was our first-ever attempt to convene a conference of this kind and inevitably we have made mistakes from which we must draw the necessary lessons.

Undoubtedly those mistakes would have been multiplied a thousand times if we had not had the support, assistance and guidance of our Tanzanian comrades in the common struggle. I would, Comrade Chairman, like to express our profound gratitude for all you have personally done for us and for our people before and during this Conference. I know you will be with us in all our endeavours to translate our decisions into reality. We humbly request you, dear brother, to convey our most sincere thanks to Mwalimu, our dear brother President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, CCM, the Government and people of the United Republic of Tanzania, all of them as fellow combatants in a common cause.

Finally, let me wish everybody a safe journey home. Especially, I would like to extend those wishes to those of our colleagues who travelled from South Africa to attend this Conference. Dear friends and comrades, you have inspired us all by what you said and by the mere fact of your presence here. It may be that not all of us agreed with everything that you said, but everybody here will, unlike the Botha regime, defend your right to say it.

You have experienced the warmth of the peoples of the world towards our country – our country defined not as apartheid South Africa but as the patrimony of all our people. You have seen the esteem in which you are held because you are human beings, because you fight to live as human beings, because you are willing to sacrifice to oblige our enemy himself to live as a human being.

You will undoubtedly go home strengthened by the knowledge, directly acquired from your own experience, that the forces of liberation from racism are not only those in Soweto and Bonteheuwel, Lamontville, Galeshewe and Bochabela. There are fighting forces too in Arusha and Harare, Lagos and Cairo, Moscow, New York, Tokyo, Wellington and Buenos Aires – all of them, as Pierre Albertini and Klaas de Jonge said, willing to sacrifice for the common cause.

Peoples of the world, united against apartheid for a democratic South Africa, we salute you convinced that we shall all march to Pretoria together.