South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Arusha Conference

Address by Oliver Tambo at the opening session of the Arusha Conference

1 December 1987

As we meet here today, an important conference is taking place in Addis Ababa. This is the Extraordinary Summit Meeting of OAU Heads of State and Government. The leaders of our continent have met to grapple with the critical issue of the African economy and such related matters as the terrible debt burden that the peoples of our continent have to bear.

We have also gathered here on the eve of another important summit meeting, that between United States President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, where vital questions of war and peace in the nuclear age will be discussed.

Both these meetings are relevant to our purpose here because we ourselves are deeply concerned to see the peoples of Africa thrive and prosper and are activists in the struggle for world peace, as all thinking people must surely be. They are relevant also because apartheid means poverty and war, because this criminal system sustains itself through the impoverishment of people and through aggression and repression.

As we extend our greetings and best wishes to the participants at both these summit meetings, we are conscious that the victory of humanity on these fronts would greatly reinforce our own struggle to end the apartheid system. Our assured victory over this system will itself make an important contribution to the worldwide struggle for peace and social progress.

It is our common commitment to this objective which has brought you Mwalimu, your distinguished colleague, our brother Salim Ahmed Salim, and all of us, your guests, to this historic city of the African revolution. The reality we face is that the apartheid system continues to live on. The people of Namibia remain under colonial domination and military occupation. Southern Africa knows no peace.

Everywhere in our region millions of people cannot be certain that they will not die from bombs and bullets. There is no guarantee that development in the independent States can take place or can be sustained, because always there is the threat of deliberate destruction of everything, by forces which see the development of the peoples of Africa as dangerous and impermissible. Democracy and justice are still in bondage. Reaction and tyranny remain unchained, with terrible consequence.

Mwalimu, we have been deeply moved by the message of encouragement you delivered to us today. It spoke to us not of a dream deferred but of one that is surely being transformed into reality. Your confidence in the common victory, which has sustained us in the quarter of a century during which we have known you and worked under your guidance, once more reverberated around this hall and indeed across the globe with firm resonance and unmistakable clarity. Your statement, so simple in its formulation and so profound in its meaning, constitutes our guide to action and a fountain from which we must draw courage, persistence and hope.

International Struggle against Apartheid

Meeting in this hall today are representatives of the overwhelming majority of humanity. Truly we can say that for the next few days, Arusha will be the venue of a World Parliament against Apartheid, for a Democratic South Africa. The fact that all of us have convened for this Parliament at the request of the ANC says all that needs to be said about the relations of friendship, solidarity and common purpose that have developed between our suffering but struggling people and the world community of nations.

The attainment of the level of unity over the question of apartheid as demonstrated by this Conference also suggests that the extent of international education and mobilisation we have all brought about enables the world community to set itself additional tasks in the continuing struggle against apartheid. Indeed, that is one of the central reasons that we meet here today – together to consider the future and together to consider how we should shape that future.

It is almost thirty years since the ANC and specifically the then President of our movement, Chief Albert Luthuli, made the call for the isolation of apartheid South Africa. This call was made because it was clear to us that the political, economic, military, cultural and other relations which South Africa maintained with the rest of the world only served to strengthen the apartheid system and thus to perpetuate our oppression. Our assessment of the impact of these international links on our situation remains unchanged. Consequently, we consider it a matter of strategic importance that we should achieve the objective of the total isolation of apartheid South Africa.

The possibility of succeeding in this regard is greatly enhanced by the victories that we have already scored in the international struggle against apartheid. One of the most important victories we have registered is the raising of international awareness of what apartheid is and what it means in practical terms. There must indeed be very few people in the world who are totally ignorant of this system of racial tyranny and the disastrous consequences it has had on the peoples of South Africa, Namibia and the rest of southern Africa.

It was exactly to stop the spread of knowledge about the reality of the apartheid system that the Pretoria regime imposed the severe press censorship which it maintains to this day. This regime had realised that men and women of conscience who come to know what apartheid is cannot but be moved to act against it. It understood the fact that the more the peoples of the world saw the brutal campaign of repression carried out, especially since 1984, the stronger became the demand for sanctions and the more widespread the support extended to the ANC and the mass democratic movement of our country.

It is on the basis of this international awareness that it has been possible to achieve the success that we have in isolating apartheid South Africa. Only a few countries maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa. There is a mandatory arms embargo in place. Many countries have imposed selective or comprehensive economic sanctions. There is an extensive academic, cultural and sports boycott. All these are important achievements brought about through the sustained work carried out by all who are present here and others who unfortunately could not attend.

Needless to say, more effective action has been thwarted by continued refusal of the major Western Powers to act against apartheid. These Powers have refused to heed not only our own calls but the widespread demand of their own peoples to impose sanctions. During the course of our Conference we shall discuss this matter to find ways and means for further sanctions, regardless of the resistance of their governments. The campaign for people`s sanctions must become a central element in our overall work to isolate racist South Africa.

Apartheid must go

The struggle to liberate South Africa has reached a critical stage. The imposition of the state of emergency by the Pretoria regime is an open admission of this fact. In the end, the battery of repressive legislation that the apartheid regime had enacted since it came to power in 1948 proved insufficient in the face of the determined offensive of the masses of our people. And so the state of emergency was declared. That state of emergency will itself prove insufficient to stop our advance to liberation.

It will prove insufficient because it is impossible to break the will of our people to free themselves. Life itself has proved this. The amount of blood our people have shed since 1976, the number of lives lost, demonstrate two things: the savagery of the apartheid regime and the determination of our people not to be cowed into submission by that savagery. We have broken through the barrier of fear. We have come to recognise death as an inevitable price we have to pay to attain freedom. Our forward march may be slowed down temporarily but it can never be stopped.

Pretoria`s campaign of repression and terror itself provides the argument why the apartheid system must go and go now. The greater the number of children racism kills and detains, the more pressing the demand becomes – apartheid must go! The more townships the apartheid army occupies, the more pressing the demand becomes – apartheid must go! The longer the occupation of Namibia lasts and the greater the degree of aggression against independent Africa, the more pressing the demand becomes – apartheid must go! And because that demand is made by the victims of apartheid violence themselves, it serves as a summons to action, a call to battle and not merely a wish for an end to the tyranny.

Millions of our people are committed to carry out the task of freeing themselves. What they require of us, their liberation movement, is that we organise, mobilise and lead them into a continuous assault on the apartheid regime. To advance on the attack in our millions, confident of victory, is the order of the day. We believe that it is this same confidence in victory, the same determination to raise our offensive to higher levels, which should characterise this historic Conference.

Issue of Political Power

The central question in the conflict within our country is the issue of political power. On one side of the barricades is the Botha regime, its allies and supporters which say that political power must forever be the monopoly of the white minority. On the other side of the barricades is the ANC, the mass democratic movement and their allies and supporters who demand that power must be transferred to the people as a whole. These are the two poles of the South Africa political spectrum, each with its political programme and perspectives and each with its own organised forces of struggle.

Central to the contest between these two forces is the struggle for the allegiance of the people of our country. Today none but the racists and their supporters can challenge the fact that the overwhelming majority of the black oppressed support and accept the ANC and the mass democratic movement as their genuine representatives. All attempts by the Pretoria regime physically to liquidate the broad movement for national liberation, to suppress the ideas this movement espouses and to cut it off from the people have failed.

We have just witnessed a practical demonstration of this with the mass enthusiasm and joy with which my colleague and comrade, Govan Mbeki, has been received by our people. For 24 years he has not been among us, but was locked away on the Island of Bondage. The oppressors had hoped that his name, as those of his fellow prisoners, would be forgotten and their ideas and example transformed into a matter of historical record merely.

Then, on Saturday, two days ago, the Botha regime banned the first of the rallies that Govan Mbeki was due to address. The Pretoria regime took this step because it was frightened by the prospect of the massive attendance of our people at this rally, a response that would have confirmed the preeminent position of the ANC among the people and the loyalty of the masses to the democratic perspectives for which we stand and for which Govan Mbeki had sacrificed so much. To ensure that these truths would not be demonstrated in the streets and stadia of Port Elizabeth, the racists prohibited the people from showing their love and welcome for one whom they accept as their leader, who has come out of a quarter of a century of incarceration to proclaim boldly and unequivocally his oneness with the people in the struggle for a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa.

Message from Govan Mbeki

I would like to take this opportunity to discharge a responsibility which Comrade Govan Mbeki has entrusted us with. In the first instance he would like us to convey to the Conference his warmest greetings. Had he been able to come, he would have been with us today. He looks forward to the day he will be able to travel out of South Africa so that he can, in person, convey to you and the peoples of the world the profound appreciation of all who are imprisoned for the sustained campaign you have waged for their release. He feels a pressing need that everything be done to secure the immediate and unconditional release of his comrades-in-arms who are still in prison.

Being conscious of the decisive importance of the international community to the victory of our common cause, he also asked us to inform you that he looks forward to the results of this Conference, which he assesses as of great importance. He wants us to assure all who are gathered here that he is in good health and will use all his strength and capabilities to contribute what he can to the emergence of a nonracial, democratic and unfragmented South Africa.

He has already extended his thanks to the world public for the large number of messages of welcome he has received, which would have been read at the rally on Saturday. We would like to join him in this, to convey our own deep sense of appreciation for the truly wonderful welcome extended to him by the world community through the many messages sent to him directly or to our Headquarters and through the presence in Port Elizabeth last Saturday of almost the entire diplomatic corps based in South Africa.

Formidable Democratic Movement

We were speaking of the overwhelming support which our democratic movement commands among the black oppressed. This is not to say the apartheid regime has given up the struggle to win over to its side those among the black people it can bribe, intimidate, delude or otherwise seduce to serve as junior partners in the perpetuation of racism. Indeed, the emergence of the so-called vigilantes, the recruitment of black people to the military and paramilitary formations of the apartheid regime, and the continued existence of the bantustan system demonstrate how easy it is sometimes for some among the oppressed to play out the roles that are designed for them by the oppressor.

The terrible bloodletting that continues in and around the city of Pietermaritzburg is a product of the system of apartheid. The forces that created and sustain such bandit groups as the MNR, UNITA and the Zimbabwe dissidents are the same that have today let loose killer squads within South Africa which, as in Zimbabwe only a few days ago, commit the most gruesome murders in defence of white minority rule.

As can be expected, the Botha regime has tried its hardest to maintain the unity of the white population of the apartheid system. It has, however, failed to achieve this objective; white South Africa has never been more divided than it is today. As the struggle intensifies and the crisis of the apartheid system worsens, increasing numbers among our white compatriots begin to find their way towards the democratic positions of our movement.

One of the nightmares that haunts the apartheid regime is exactly this – the prospect of significant numbers of whites, and especially Afrikaners, abandoning racism and joining the movement for democracy in our country. And yet this not only will happen, but is already a matter of reality, however small the numbers might be. We are convinced that the possibility for a rapid increase in these numbers exists.

The presence of senior members of our organisation within the country, capable of breaking through the curtain of ignorance that the Botha regime has drawn around the white community, is an important factor towards the realisation of this objective.

Through struggle, we are building within South Africa the most formidable democratic movement that our country has ever seen. Welded together by the common perspective of a unified, democratic and nonracial country, this movement has drawn literally millions of people into its ranks, each one an active fighter for that democratic future. Composed of the ANC, its allies and the mass democratic movement, it is the force which is challenging the Botha regime for political power and poses an alternative vision of a new South Africa which cuts across everything that the apartheid system represents.

We have among us friends who have come directly from the mass democratic movement within our country to attend this Conference. We would like to extend a special welcome to them. Others, in greater numbers, should have come as well but various last-minute considerations relating to future work inside South Africa prevented them from coming. But as those who have been able to be with us will tell you, the masses of our people, as indicated by Comrade Govan Mbeki, await the results of this Conference with high expectations. I am certain that the representatives from inside the country will be able to share with us something of the struggle being waged to evolve and impose on the situation the alternative perspective which makes up the emergent people`s power which is challenging apartheid power across the board and all along the line.

Purpose of Negotiations

The reality in South Africa is that the policy of apartheid has failed. That is why even its architects proclaim its death while in fact they try desperately to defend it with brute force. As its inevitable demise approaches, the narrower becomes the base on which it stands and the larger the democratic forces become. By its nature an illegitimate system, as it begins to crumble, apartheid uses defensive methods which further emphasise its criminality and thus engender feelings of repugnance from some of its erstwhile supporters.

Faced with an insoluble crisis and the spectre of a democratic movement that is continuously expanding despite the most vicious repression, the Botha regime has raised the issue of negotiations. Let us make it clear from the outset that this regime has no intention whatsoever to enter into genuine negotiations to end apartheid.

Rather, its intentions are to destroy the broad movement for national liberation and hence protect and perpetuate white minority domination by coopting its real opponents. We should here like to reiterate some positions we have stated in the past. There can be no solution of the South African question until our country is transformed into a united, democratic and nonracial entity, until the people themselves exercise power through a system of one person one vote in a unitary State. Without acceptance of this perspective there can be no negotiations precisely because without this political result South Africa can know no peace.

All negotiations would therefore have to be about how to transform South Africa according to these perspectives and not about how to amend the apartheid system.

We would here also wish to state that the very mechanism for negotiations must itself be decided upon by all the concerned parties. We cannot accept anything imposed on us by a regime which is, in any case, illegitimate.

The questions whether to negotiate or not and under what conditions have to be considered by the leadership of our people in their entirety.

This requires that all political prisoners and detainees should be released unconditionally so that we can all discuss these questions and are free to consult our own people as and when we wish and without let or hindrance.

We continue to reject as unacceptable the demands made by the apartheid regime that we should renounce or suspend the armed struggle and that we should terminate our alliance with the South African Communist Party which has existed for more than six decades now. Any cessation of hostilities is something that can be negotiated and agreed, as part of the overall process of negotiating to create a democratic South Africa.

The ANC has never been opposed to negotiations. The whole purpose of our existence is to protect the lives of our people and to create conditions where everyone, without regard to race or colour, can develop as a free and complete human being. We could never deliberately seek the path of war in our quest for liberation if an alternative, nonviolent path were available to us. We must, however, make it clear that we are not interested in talking merely for the sake of dialogue. Any discussions must be seriously meant to end the tyrannical and murderous system of apartheid immediately. This is a demand which our people justly make because it can never be in our interest that the apartheid system last even a day longer if we can help it.

In the past we have, on the basis of the Freedom Charter, defined even further our perspective of a democratic South Africa. The vision we have projected of a nonracial democracy and a prosperous and peaceful country is acceptable not only to the majority of our own people but to the rest of humanity as well. It is a perspective to which we are committed and one which we shall surely realise. We consider that all humanity should be with us, fighting on the side of justice, democracy and peace until victory is won.

Campaign for Sanctions

This Conference has met under the theme: Peoples of the World United against Apartheid, for a Democratic South Africa. We had thought it necessary that as we draw to the end of the 75th anniversary of our movement and in the light of the developing situation in our country, we should put to our allies and friends not only the central and vitally important task of opposing apartheid but also seek to focus on the need to support the democratic perspective and the broad movement that is fighting for the victory of that perspective.

As we have said, we think that it is most important that the campaign for sanctions should be intensified. We expect that Conference will adopt a Programme of Action to give effect to this goal. A particular responsibility rests on our friends from the Western countries to do more to ensure that we get further movement among these, which are South Africa`s principal economic partners.

In this respect we would like to pay particular tribute to the Scandinavian countries which, despite the blockade on sanctions in the Security Council, placed in our path by the United States and the United Kingdom especially, have nonetheless taken important unilateral actions to cut down economic relations with apartheid South Africa. We would also like to salute the people of the United States who so mobilised that their Congress decided to impose sanctions last year.

We mention these not to belittle the work done in other Western countries and the progress made with regard to sanctions. But they are examples which require emulation and on which we should build to achieve the goal of comprehensive and mandatory sanctions. The forces that have been mobilised within the EEC, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the OAU, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Socialist International and elsewhere also constitute our base from which to launch a determined drive throughout the world for comprehensive sanctions.

We would hope that our Programme of Action would cover all areas, including the political and diplomatic, economic, military, energy, educational, cultural and sport. Furthermore, as we have said, we need to pay particular attention to the issue of people`s sanctions. The people themselves must impose sanctions. The trade union movement has enormous possibilities in this regard as has been demonstrated by actions taken in Finland, Australia, the United States and Great Britain among others.

Support the Democratic Alternative

We also believe that our Conference should adopt a Declaration which will make clear the positions of the world anti-apartheid movement in support of the democratic alternative and the movement that represents this alternative. Fundamental to those positions is, in our view, a categorisation of the apartheid regime as illegitimate, the perpetrator of a crime against humanity and threat to international peace and security.

We consider it important that the international community should itself pronounce as its own the objective of transforming South Africa into a united, democratic and nonracial country. This would put paid to all attempts by the Pretoria regime to mislead the world by projecting its so-called reforms (and the dressing up of its public image by coopting a few blacks) as a solution.

Already the issue of negotiations is one which some Western countries want to appropriate as their own. This, too, is an area of struggle, one in which we believe that our friends and allies should also be involved. The Conference may see fit to state its views on this matter as well, in the interests of the total elimination of the apartheid system and the genuine democratic transformation of our country.

We have to intensify the struggle with all means at our disposal. We must heighten the mass political, military and diplomatic offensives. We shall continue to rely on all our friends throughout the world to continue to extend both to the ANC and the mass democratic movement the necessary means to carry out this task in the interests of all humanity.

In this regard we should emphasise that the task of defending and strengthening the mass democratic movement is vitally important. It is also in the context we have said it is necessary that we make a choice between those forces within South Africa which represent apartheid and those which stand and actually struggle for the democratic alternative. The latter are part of this whole humanity united against apartheid, for a democratic South Africa and surely cannot be treated as forces that must be isolated and destroyed. This has particular relevance to the issue of the cultural and academic boycott which fortunately Conference will have an opportunity to discuss.

Southern Africa

We have spoken almost exclusively about South Africa. But obviously that country cannot be subtracted from the rest of the region of southern Africa. Among our documentation, there are papers which deal with Pretoria`s aggression against the Frontline and neighbouring States and the purposes of this campaign. We shall therefore not dwell on those issues. We are very pleased that Comrade President Sam Nujoma will join us to lead our discussions of the Namibian question.

Our Conference will have to address these important issues as well. Certainly, with the background of recent events in our region, including the Homoine and other massacres in Mozambique, the escalation of the aggression against Angola, the gruesome massacre in Zimbabwe in the last few days and the current threats against Botswana and Zambia, we must add our voices to the international outcry against Pretoria`s banditry and act to defend the independent States of our region.

Namibia must be free. We have a responsibility to contribute all we can to the heroic struggle of these sister people, under the leadership of SWAPO. It has been particularly inspiring to hear of the large-scale mutiny of black puppet troops in Namibia who clearly do not have much of a stomach for combat against well prepared forces such as those of the People`s Liberation Army of Namibia. Little wonder that P.W. Botha had to scurry by night into Angola in a despicable adventure, to try to shore up the flagging fortunes of his army of aggression and repression.

Historic Conference

This is, for us, an historic Conference. It is the first time ever that the ANC has invited the rest of the world to come and consider, together with us, the issues on our agenda. The fact that it has been possible actually to meet as we do today signifies above all else that the alternative, democratic power in our country has become a reality and has come to stay. The days when the international relations between South Africa and the rest of the world meant relations with apartheid and colonial South Africa are dead and gone. There already exist new relations between our country and the rest of the world based on the common principles of friendship, solidarity and equality among the peoples. The new South Africa is emerging in the course of struggle.

I wish to express the deep gratitude of the National Executive Committee to you, Comrade Chairman, for your having agreed to preside over this historic Conference.

We could not have found a leader more suited to this task. Your vast experience of the conduct of international gatherings guarantees the success of this Conference.

We would like to extend our deepest thanks to you, Mwalimu, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, President Hassan Mwinyi, the government and people of the United Republic of Tanzania for hosting this Conference and for the enormous amount of work you have done and are doing to make certain that it is a success. From you we expected no less but address these words to you as comrades in arms.

Many countries and organisations have also helped with money, air tickets and other forms of material support to make this Conference possible. We extend our sincere thanks to them too and hope that time will be found during the course of the Conference publicly to acknowledge their invaluable contributions.

We are most pleased that so many of you could come to participate in this Conference and take this as a practical demonstration of your commitment to fight side by side with us until the apartheid crime against humanity is a thing of the past. The confidence you have shown in us is a great source of inspiration to us. The comrades who have come from home will return to tell our people that the world is with us. With that message ringing in their ears, millions will become unstoppable. We guarantee that we shall not fail you. Our common victory is assured.