Address by ANC President at the launch of the Nelson Mandela centenary celebrations

Fellow South Africans,

We meet here, in this historic place and on this momentous day, to officially launch the centenary celebrations of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

In this year, we also celebrate the centenary of Albertina Sisulu, a great daughter of the African soil who dedicated her life to the service of her people.

Over the course of this year, we will dedicate activities across the country to recall the profound contribution that she made to the struggle for the rights of our people through her leadership of the ANC and other formations of the Mass Democratic Movement.

We will recall the great sacrifices she made and the pioneering role she played in the struggle for the emancipation of women.

We have chosen to launch the centenary celebrations here on the Grand Parade in the city of Cape Town, because it was here that Madiba spoke his first words to the South African people after 27 years in prison.

He spoke here, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.

It was here that he declared that our march to freedom was irreversible.

That day will forever remain etched in our collective memory as a moment of great joy and great hope.

For all of us as South Africans, it was a new beginning.

It represented the dawn of a new era in the country’s turbulent history.

It encouraged our people to believe even more firmly that the shackles of oppression and exploitation would fall away.

It encouraged them to believe that after years of struggle and sacrifice and suffering, a brighter day would soon rise upon our nation.

It strengthened their resolve to forge a new, democratic society founded on unity, justice and equality.

On that day, our people witnessed not only the return of a great revolutionary and freedom fighter, but the beginning of the end of a system that the world had a described as a crime against humanity.

On that day, our people saw the future of South Africa in Nelson Mandela.

He became an embodiment of their shared hopes, dreams, aspirations and their sense of a common nationhood.

In him, they saw a repository of all the best values and attributes necessary for a new united and democratic society to be built.

Fellow South Africans,

The centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela is an opportunity for renewal and rebuilding.

It encourages us to explore what it means to be South African, to be reminded of what unites us, and to confront – as one people – all that continues to divide us.

This year gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our vision of a non-racial society – to build a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

It is an opportunity to reflect on the long path we have walked to reach this moment in our young democracy, to celebrate the achievements and to acknowledge the shortcomings.

As we emerge from a period of difficulty, disunity and discord, this centenary year offers us a new beginning.

It offers us an opportunity to restore to our national life the values and principles for which he so firmly stood.

It offers us an opportunity to return our struggle to the path along which Nelson Mandela led us.

As we gather here to commemorate that pivotal moment in the life of our nation, let us affirm our determination as a people to realise the vision to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.

Let us work with even greater purpose to unite our people – African, coloured, Indian and white – to build a new nation in which all have equal rights and opportunities.

Let us find a way to work together to build a nation in which all our people have jobs, food, good education, good health and security.

We need to build a country in which all may share in the wealth of our country.

On the day of his release, Madiba had a special message for the people of Cape Town, the city that had been his home for three decades.

He saluted them for their tireless struggle, which he said had been a constant source of strength to all political prisoners on Robben Island.

It was in Cape Town that the first freedom fighters, drawn from the ranks of the Khoi and the San, took up arms to resist the colonial occupation of their ancestral home.

It was here that the first slaves rose up against their masters, declaring that all people shall be free and that none may claim ownership over another.

For over three centuries, Cape Town was a city of resistance, a city of struggle.

We remember too that it was on this day in 1966 that the apartheid government declared District Six – not far from where we have gathered today – as a whites-only area.

By doing so, it established the grounds for one of the most traumatic episodes in the history of this city, the forced removal over 60,000 people from the place that they called home.

The scars of that brutal injustice remain in this city to this day – a stark reminder that we have yet to fully correct this and many other historical wrongs.

We remember today the many great leaders of our people who have called Cape Town home.

We salute such freedom fighters as Sheik Yusuf, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, Cissy Gool, Alex La Guma, ZR Mahabane, Oscar Mpetha, Philip Kgosana, Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, John Mtini, Reg September, Dullah Omar, Ben Turok, Annie Silinga, Essa Moosa, Johnny Issel, Jakes Gerwel, Archie Sibeko, Ashley Kriel and many others.

We remember the other Rivonia trialists – Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni – who were imprisoned alongside Madiba on Robben Island. Denis Goldberg was imprisoned in Pretoria.

Like Madiba, they were made to suffer for their convictions and, like him, their sacrifices, their courage and their indomitable spirit continue to inspire us.

We send special wishes on this day to Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who, like Madiba, once lived in Vilakazi Street in Soweto and who has now become a resident of Cape Town.

There are few people who better embody the spirit of defiance and desire for justice that have characterised the struggles of this city than its adopted son, Desmond Mpilo Tutu.

Now, as the city of Cape Town and the province of the Western Cape confront a devastating water crisis, we are once again called upon to unite in a common struggle against a formidable enemy.

We are called upon to protect the vulnerable and the poor, who are most at risk from the social, economic and humanitarian effects of the drought.

We commend the people of the Western Cape for their fortitude and for their action, individually and collectively, to confront this crisis.

As a nation, we have a responsibility to come to the aid of the people of this province and those similarly affected in neigbouring provinces.

We need to see national government working far closer with provincial and local governments – and with business, labour and civil society – to ensure a common coordinated response to this crisis.

As a nation, this is a challenge we must confront together.

Fellow South Africans,

This is a year of celebration, but it must also be a year of action.

It must be a year in which we work together to forge a social compact for economic growth, job creation and transformation.

We must work together, as Madiba taught us, to push back the frontiers of poverty by providing quality education to the children of the poor and working class.

It must be the year in which we accelerate the return of the land to those from whom it was taken and in which we plant the seeds of an agricultural revolution that grows the economy, feeds the nation and improves the lives of the rural poor.

This must be the year in which make great strides in unlocking the wealth of our economy and attracting greater investment in those industries that have the greatest potential, including mining, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.

This must be the year in which we intensify efforts to unite the peoples of Africa through a continental free trade area, infrastructure investment, cooperation in science and technology and the resolution of conflict and war.

We remember how Nelson Mandela travelled across the African continent gathering support for the struggle against apartheid, how the people of the rest of the continent loved him and how he loved the people of our continent.

In this year, the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, South Africa will introduce a national minimum wage for all workers.

We are grateful to Cosatu, together with other federations, for leading the struggle for a national minimum wage.

This will improve the lives of millions of low-paid workers and make an important contribution to our ongoing efforts to tackle severe inequality.

In defence of Madiba’s legacy, we will continue to wage a relentless war on corruption and mismanagement of the resources of our country.

We will continue to resist any and all attempts to capture our state institutions for the self-enrichment of a few.

We are determined to rebuild the confidence of our people in public institutions and restore the credibility of those elected to serve them.

Fellow South Africans,

At this moment in our history, we are reminded of Madiba’s extraordinary wisdom and insight, of the leadership qualities that prepared him to guide our country along the path to democracy.

It is these qualities that we should seek to understand, appreciate and emulate as we embark upon the path of unity and renewal.

It is Madiba’s example that should inform our approach to the tasks that we must undertake.

As the leadership of the African National Congress, we are currently engaged in discussions around the transition to a new administration and specifically to resolve the issues of the position of the President of the Republic.

The successful resolution of this matter has significant consequences for the country and for the African National Congress.

It is therefore important that we manage the discussions that are currently underway with care and purpose, ensuring that we place the interests of South Africa first.

It is the interests of you, our people, that must be put first, and not the interests of anyone else.

The NEC will be meeting tomorrow to discuss this very matter and because our people want this matter to be finalised, the NEC will be doing precisely that.

We know that this matter to be finalised, we know you want closure.

For Madiba, the unity of all South Africans was paramount.

For him, a necessary condition for the unity of the South African people was the unity of the African National Congress.

Writing to the Kabwe Conference of the ANC in 1985, Madiba said:

“Unity is the rock on which the African National Congress was founded.”

He went on to say:

“In the course of its history, the ANC has survived countless storms and risen to eminence partly because of the sterling qualities of its membership, and partly because each member has regarded himself or herself as the principal guardian of that unity… To lose sight of this basic principle is to sell our birthright, to betray those who paid the highest price so that the ANC should flourish and triumph.”

It is the responsibility of every leader who follows in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela to strive for the genuine unity of the ANC and for the unity of the South African people.

Genuine unity is that which is based on principle, integrity and a commitment to the needs of the people.

Fellow South Africans,

We must continue to draw lessons from Madiba’s life.

He embodied qualities that we seek in ourselves – humility, forgiveness, compassion and an unwavering love for our fellow human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, creed, sexual orientation and the many other features which make humanity such a wonderfully diverse species.

He was a revolutionary and a freedom fighter, who was prepared to take up arms against injustice, who was prepared to negotiate with his oppressor, and who was able to reconcile with his jailer.

His profound and abiding contribution to this nation is best captured in the words he spoke during his trial in 1964, when he said:

“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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

“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.”

As we celebrate the centenary of his birth, let us remember the ideal for which he was prepared to die.

For that it is that ideal – of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities – which we, the children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of Mandela, are now tasked to achieve.

I thank you.

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