South African’s National Liberation Movement

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National Consultative Conference


Closing address by Nelson Mandela to the National Consultative Conference

16 December 1990

(This is an abridged version of the closing address)

Comrades and distinguished guests.

This consultative conference has been called by the National Executive Committee to consult you on a variety of important issues and provide you with an effective platform where you sincerely express your own views, criticise the leadership for its weaknesses and mistakes and commend them for the enormous achievements.

To enhance the significance of this conference the NEC strongly felt that President Oliver Tambo should be asked to attend the conference in person. This would give you the opportunity to see him in the flesh after three decades, witness the recovery he has made and wish him a speedy and complete recovery. The response of the membership has been magnificent and here today we have 1,600 delegates from inside and outside the country.

Two hours were set aside for a discussion on the President`s address and that of the deputy president but for reasons which are now well known to you all that particular discussion did not take place. Nevertheless for three full days you took part in one or other of the six commissions and in plenary discussions.

You spoke out frankly and brought to our attention a host of weaknesses and even mistakes in our work and made a wealth of suggestions to improve the position. There are weaknesses and mistakes and some of these are very serious both in regard to the carrying out of our tasks to our own membership and to the public.

In these discussions, delegates expressed serious reservations on the way in which we handled issues like negotiations, the suspension of armed action, the violence in which thousands of our people have been slaughtered, the neglect of our soldiers on whom the future of our country rests, the homeland system and other matters.

The leadership has grasped the principle that they are servants of the people and that they must seek guidance from the masses in taking important positions and in the formulation of policy. We accordingly welcome the frank criticism that has been voiced during the last three days. We promise to look into all these criticisms honestly and objectively and there are certain issues in regard to which we will have to make radical adjustments and even changes in the light of your criticism. Our basic response, therefore, is that we accept without qualification most of the criticisms that have been made against us and we will do everything in our power to correct these mistakes.

But our organisation has in the past dealt with a variety of weaknesses and mistakes on the part of our membership as well. Factions and cliques, men and women who used the platforms of the organisation for unprincipled discussions. People who played to the gallery, whose aim in meetings of this nature is to prove how revolutionary they are. Persons who have no idea whatsoever of working in a mass movement, who are totally incapable of putting forward constructive ideas and who are quick to pull down what others have built.

I do not know whether or not there have been such elements in this conference. I have the hope and confidence that you will agree with me when I say I believe that there are no such people amongst you. It is, however, for each and everyone of you to judge. What I would like to stress is that there are certain arguments which have been advanced here which we totally reject. The overwhelming majority of our people generally and the delegates here in particular support negotiations between the ANC and the government.

There have been certain suggestions that have been made which we fully accept, e.g. the suggestion that there should be no discussions on the constitution until all the obstacles to negotiations are removed. But there have also been statements to the effect that there should be no confidential discussions between some of us and members of the government.

This statement could only be made by those who do not understand the nature of negotiations and the practical problems that face us on the ground. There would have been no talks about talks today – no future prospect for negotiations – if there were no confidential meetings between members of the ANC and the government. Confidential discussions and not secret meetings.

Confidential discussions we propose to continue having with the government. We are not prepared to neglect our duties as the leadership because of views which, although we respect those who have uttered them, are totally unreasonable. Such confidential discussions have been marked by frankness on the part of your representatives.

There are many examples to illustrate this but let me give you one example and that is the meeting of 8 October this year. That meeting took place at our initiative. We called for it because we were convinced that if we did not do so there was a danger of the peace process being derailed. We met De Klerk and his delegation and presented to him a document in which we frankly criticised him personally and some members of his delegation and government. The criticism was so sharp that the government asked us not to publish the document.

Some comrades have insisted that we should take no action without consulting the membership. If that statement is made with a qualification then we may agree with it. But when, as has happened here over these three days, that statement is made without qualification, we totally reject it. And, I repeat, it can only be made by people who have no idea of the problems that face the leadership on the ground.

On July 22 I returned to my home at about seven in the evening and found the place fun of Soweto community leaders. They then briefed me on the events that took place that day. I was so horrified when they outlined to me the actions of the South African Police.

Although it was late in the evening I immediately telephoned Mr. Vlok and asked him to come to Soweto so that he could have the opportunity which I had of being briefed by the community leaders on what was happening in the townships. He came over with a number of top police officials, including the Commissioner of Police. For three hours they addressed him on the conduct of the police that day.

Then one of the last incidents: I heard that about 18 of our people were detained at the airport. Delegates that came for this conference. I went to the airport and found no senior person to talk to. I went to see De Klerk. It was a Saturday. He argued that they could not be released before Monday and gave reasons for that. We insisted and they were released that night.

We have also been criticised for neglecting prisoners on death row. There are no people in this country who have been as concerned with the welfare of our people on death row as your national executive. Several of them have visited our comrades on death row. I also, personally, went to the Central Prison and spoke to them.

I briefed them on the situation and assured them that we will do everything in our power to see them out with other prisoners because they are covered in the definition of political prisoners about which we agreed with the government. It is not correct, comrades, that we have neglected our comrades on death row.

Then quite a song has been made about the fact that I have referred to Mr. De Klerk as a man of integrity. Again, this may be due to lack of information on the part of our own comrades. I don`t think that there is any mystery about it. The very first time I gave a report from prison to the national executive and described Mr. De Klerk as a man of integrity, I went further. I said: `The strategies of an organisation are not determined by the integrity or honesty of any particular individual, no matter what position in government they hold`.

Our strategy is determined by objective reality. It is guided by the fact that De Klerk represents a party which introduced one of the most brutal systems of racial discrimination in this country. As long as that is the position, all our strategies will remain in place. They will be reviewed only when our demand for a non-racial South Africa is accepted.

To merely shout that it was a mistake for me to do so is to take my remarks out of context. Please don`t do so. We have also been criticised for the appeal we have made to homeland leaders to join the liberation movement. Again our whole position on this question has been taken out of context. We have discussed this matter very carefully and taken a very clear stand. We want to isolate the government and one of the ways is to get to the very people on which they have relied for the implementation of the apartheid policy on our side.

We are succeeding in doing that and many of these leaders are co-operating with us in settling their problems on the ground and in doing almost everything we ask them to do. We have made it clear that we are not going to serve as an umbrella for discredited leaders. We have said this on countless occasions. We say they must settle their problems with the people in their area and if they don`t we will reject any association with them.

We must also be guided by what is happening on our borders. We heard some of our friends whose economies have been completely shut down by fighting with people who have no real political agenda, whose idea is merely to destroy the infrastructure of the country. They at first took up a position similar to yours: we have nothing to do with them and there can be no discussions with them. But after a lot of damage, after enormous damage has been done, our friends are now discussing with those very enemies to seek a solution for their country because war had not been able to bring about what they had hoped they would achieve.

I would have hoped that our comrades who are serious, who are members of a serious political organisation, would take account of such experiences and take appropriate measures in our country in order to make sure that such tragedies do not befall us. Problems must be looked at from all sides. Whilst we are free to criticise, to point out mistakes we must at the same time be able to see the good politics of the same comrades that we criticise.

One of the most disappointing features of our discussion here is that there was hardly a word of praise for our comrades in the national executive. The men who, with our comrade President here, have put this organisation in a dominant position in the politics of this country. They have preserved and given us an organisation which is making a tremendous impact both internally and externally and whatever weaknesses we have detected in their work the most evident feature is that they have placed this organisation on a new level altogether.

Nevertheless, all those comrades, even though we do not agree with them in regard to the issues I have identified, they are very good comrades whose bona fides and sincerity we accept without qualification. They are our pride and we wish that we could have enough time to sit down with them and to press out the reservations they have. We sincerely hope that we will have that opportunity.

One of the features of this entire discussion is that as a result of frank criticism that has been levelled and the very positive response of the chairpersons who listened, and who guided these discussion, we are leaving this hall closer to one another than we were before the commencement of this conference. We have emerged. from the conference stronger than we were before. For this we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I must remind you that today is the 27th anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the organisation which has given the liberation struggle in this country such muscle. I think it is fitting that we should sing in honour of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Hamba kahle, Mkhonto`. Please stand up and sing.

Finally I want to make an announcement which I hope will delight you. At the suggestion of some delegates here the national executive has decided to give our comrade President the honour of Isithwalandwe.

I must inform you that on a previous occasion he has been offered this honour, but because of his humility he refused to accept it. Well he is my president but on this particular occasion I am ordering him to accept it.

I am expressing the wishes of all of us when I say: this is one of our happiest moments. We have handled our problems as real comrades and everyone here will leave this place feeling that he is a worthy comrade of whom we are very proud.