‘I Am The First Accused’ …Nelson Mandela (1918-2013

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Nelson Mandela

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 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 government’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 Witwaterstrand 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 Klrk 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 practiced 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 wbite  supremacy entrencbes this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. Wben any; bas to he carried Or cleaned the Wbite man Will look around for an African to do it for bim, wbetber tbe African is emploYed by bim or not. Because of this sort of attitude, wbites tend to regard Africans as a separate hreed. They do not look, upon tbem as people With families of tbeir own; tbey do not realize that tbey, bave emotions – that they fall in lave like Wbite people do; tbat tbey want to be

Africans Want to be paid a liVing Wage.

with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs, that they want to earn enought to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘gardeen-boy’ or labourer can ever hope to do this?

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 wbetber there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with th 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 tbe breakdown of family life have secondary e{fects. Children Wander about the streets of the townships because tbey bave no scbools to go te, or no money to enable them to go to scbool, or no parents at bome to see tbat they go to scbool, because botb parents (if tbere be two) bave to Work to keep th, family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, abd 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 impose for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work wbicb tbey are capable of doing, and not work wbicb the Government declares tbem te be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live wbere tbey 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 Africaj they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, 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 of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against 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 is 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 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.

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.

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 are 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 ….

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.

I am personally indebted and pay tribute to some of South Africa’s greatest leaders including John Dube, Josiah Gumede, GM Naicker, Dr Abdurahman, Chief Luthuli, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo. They should have been here to celebrate with us, for this is 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 depicts the type of South Africa we can build. It set the tone for the future. We might have our differences, but we are one people with a common destiny in our rich 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 face as a nation. An ANC government will serve all the people of South Africa, not just ANC members.

We also commend the security forces for the sterling work done. This has laid a 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 celebrate 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 with the mood set in the elections, peaceful, respectful and disciplined, showing we 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.