‘I Am The First Accused’


The first of these two speeches is an extract from Nelson
Mandela’s lengthy speech in his defence at his trial for sabotage and attempting violent overthrow of the South African state in 1964. Since 1960, Mandela had been the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’), the armed wing of the political party the African National Congress. The ANC had been banned for its opposition to the South African  overnment’s system of apartheid, a strict policy of racial segregation that repressed the black South African majority. In his defence, Mandela spoke both as an experienced lawyer and a political activist. He and his co-accused Umkhonto we Sizwe members received life sentences and Mandela was
imprisoned from 1964 to 1990.
Nelson Mandela was born in 1918, the eldest son of a Xhosa-speaking Tempu chief in the Transkei. He attended Methodist missionary school and later gained a law degree at Witwatersrand University, the only black student at the Law School. In 1952 he opened the first black law firm in Johannesburg with Oliver Tambo, later leader of the African National Congress in exile. In 1944 Mandela helped found the ANC Youth League.
During the 1970s and 1980s world protest against apartheid grew, with increased demands for Mandela’s release. In 1989 newly elected President F. W. de Klerk accelerated the dismantling of apartheid. In 1990 the ban on the ANC was lifted and Mandela was released unconditionally. He was greeted rapturously by black and white South Africans and people throughout the world.
I am the First Accused. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961 .
… The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority,  Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion.
Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own, they do not realize that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do, that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs, that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or labourer can ever hope to do this?
‘Africans want to be paid a living wage.’
Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated                                                                                                                                                 bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.
Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.
Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.
Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilitie will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this count because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting agains racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.
‘It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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 idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
In 1991 Mandela succeeded Oliver Tambo as President of the ANC. He travelled widely to maintain international support for the total abolition of apartheid and in 1993 he and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize for their reforming work. After elections in May 1994 the ANC were victorious and Nelson Mandela became President. The speech he gave on the evening of his victory is characteristic of his easy, mature political style.
In 1996, at the age of 81, Nelson Mandela stood down as President. He has been awarded honorary degrees from over 80 universities and numerous peace prizes. In 2004 his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, became a bestseller.
My fellow South Africans – the people of South Africa:
This is indeed a joyous night. Although not yet final, we have received the provisional results of the election, and are delighted by the overwhelming support for the African National Congress.
To all those in the African National Congress and the democratic movement who worked so hard these last few days and through these many decades, I thank you and honour you. To the people of South Africa and the world who an watching: this is a joyous night for the human spirit. This is your victory too.
You helped end apartheid, you stood with us through the transition.
I watched, along with all of you, as the tens of thousands of our people stood patiently in long queues for many hours. Some sleeping on the open ground overnight waiting to cast this momentous vote.
South Africa’s heroes are legend across the generations. But it is you, the people, who are our true heroes.
This is one of the most important moments in the life of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy: pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country ….
And joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops – free at last!
I stand before you humbled by your courage, with a heart full of love for all of  you. I regard it as the highest honour to lead the ANC at this moment in our history, and that we have been chosen to lead our country into the new century.
I pledge to use all my strength and ability to live up to your expectations of me as well as of the ANC.
l am personally indebted and pay tribute to some of South Africa’s greatest leave including John Dube, Josiah Gumede, GM Naicker, Dr Abdurahman, Chief  Luthuli, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, Chris Han and Oliver Tambo. They should have been here to celebrate with us, for this their achievement too.
Tomorrow, the entire ANC leadership and I will be back at our desks. We are rolling up our sleeves to begin tackling the problems our country faces. We ask you all to join us – go back to your jobs in the morning. Let’s get South Africa working.
For we must, together and without delay, begin to build a better life for all South Africans. This means creating jobs, building houses, providing education and bringing peace and security for all.
The calm and tolerant atmosphere that prevailed during the elections depict the type of South Africa we can build. It set the tone for the future. We migh have our differences, but we are one people with a common destiny in our variety of culture, race and tradition.
People have voted for the party of their choice and we respect that. This is democracy I hold out a hand of friendship to the leaders of all parties and their members and ask all of them to join us in working together to tackle the problems we as a nation. An ANC government will serve all the people of South Africa, just ANC members.
We also commend the security forces for the sterling work done. This has solid foundation for a truly professional security force, committed to the service of the people and loyalty to the new constitution.
Now is the time for celebration, for South Africans to join together to celebr the birth of democracy. I raise a glass to you all for working so hard to achieve what can only be called a small miracle. Let our celebrations be in keeping the mood set in the elections, peaceful, respectful and disciplined, showing, are a people ready to assume the responsibilities of government.
I promise that I will do my best to be worthy of the faith and confidence you have placed in me and my organisation, the African National Congress. Let us build the future together, and toast a better life for all South Africans.