Date Posted: December 09, 2013


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Speech by Oliver Tambo at the meeting of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid

Act with sense of urgency

11 June 1981, New York

Your Excellencies,

I should like, on behalf of the delegation that is travelling around with me in the United States, a delegation comprising ANC and SWAPO representatives, to thank you most sincerely for this opportunity to meet members of the Special Committee against Apartheid, members of the African Group, and representatives of member States of the Non-Aligned Movement and other member States of the United Nations.

We welcome this initiative taken by the Special Committee and the African Group as it gives us an opportunity after the Paris Conference on Sanctions against South Africa which we attended together to further our concerns, and to give at least a brief report on the developments in South Africa and in southern Africa generally.

I should like, first of all, your Excellency, to observe that this is the last meeting at which I shall be privileged to participate in the activities and meetings of the Special Committee against Apartheid with you as Chairman.

The period since you took over the Chairmanship of this Committee has been characterised by great developments which have helped to advance our struggle for liberation in southern Africa. The Special Committee against Apartheid under your leadership has been an authentic interpreter of events in South Africa and an authentic spokesman for the people of South Africa and an authentic informant for the whole world in regard to the details of events. Whenever I hear you speak on the South African situation, Mr. Chairman, I never feel that I could have done it any better. We have sought to ensure that the peoples of the world who support our struggle can represent us as effectively and effectually as you have done. We should like to say that we shall miss your voice in this Committee and in the international meetings, where you have spoken. But we share the conviction, with all who are present here and all who have worked with you, that given your proven depth of commitment, we can rely upon you to pursue the struggle for liberation in whatever capacity you may be serving your country.

I should like to take this opportunity to salute that country, Nigeria, for having consistently in its policies and actions underscored the vital importance of implementing decisions of the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement.

I recall many instances in which Nigeria acted forcefully and swiftly against companies and even countries which had violated decisions and resolutions of the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement. The latest statement by the Nigerian Government in regard to the tour by the South African rugby team is an implementation by Nigeria of the Gleneagles Agreement, United Nations resolutions and even the decisions of the recent Paris Conference. In expressing our appreciation of this policy which we have come to associate with Nigeria, I should like to call upon other countries likewise to miss no opportunity to act with swiftness in enforcing the decisions of the international community.

Certainly, Mr. Chairman, the people of South Africa are greatly encouraged by this scene and are confident that if they correctly understand the mood of the countries which have called for sanctions against South Africa at the recent meeting of the Security Council, if they correctly understand the mood of the countries and representatives of peoples which took part in the recent Paris Conference, Nigeria`s action will be repeated by many other countries in the immediate future.

Botha`s "Mandate"

I should like to turn briefly, Mr. Chairman, to the situation in South Africa. One of the talking points in that situation is the elections which were held in April by the racist minority in our country. Those elections were presented to the international community as seeking a mandate by Mr. Botha for his policies of reform. Of course, it was a mandate sought from the white minority in our country. For the majority of the people the elections were a continuing insult. We have never accepted that any fresh mandate was necessary for the continued perpetration of the policies of apartheid, and no new mandate was in fact given.

At best, Mr. Botha felt confirmed in his pursuit of the policies, not of reform, because that is not an issue, but of maintaining the status quo, in which a minority, a racial minority, rules over an unwilling majority without having, without asking even, a mandate from that majority. What is at issue are the structures which have been set up to maintain the status quo and no mandate has been given to tamper with those structures. On the contrary, there has been affirmation of resolve to maintain white domination in South Africa. Therefore, we would like to treat these elections as an insignificant episode.

We readdress ourselves to the situation that obtained before the elections. In that regard even to the extent Mr. Botha claims a mandate, it is surely a mandate for the continued brutal repression of the majority of the people of South Africa, the continued assassination of refugees who can be found easily and readily in Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and Angola.

We ask this Committee to expect a series of assassinations under the authority of the so-called mandate, but in reality, in defence of apartheid domination, and as an expression of the true nature of the apartheid regime. There will be attacks against the neighbouring independent States, there will be acts of provocation and destabilisation against them and there will be continued sabotage of international efforts to solve the Namibian problem. The mandate that Mr. Botha has is therefore one for tyranny in South Africa, Namibia and the rest of southern Africa by that regime, and for the entrenchment of the status quo in South Africa and Namibia.

Mandate of the People

I should observe that if there was any mandate worth talking about in the South African situation, it must be a mandate given by the majority. Such a mandate has in fact been given, not during the elections in April of this year, but during the month of May when the regime and its white minority supporters were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the formation of the racist Republic of South Africa. The mandate was given to the African National Congress by more than 80 percent of the people of South Africa. It took the form of a rejection of the celebrations, a response to a call made by the African National Congress on the 8th of January this year, the 69th anniversary of its founding. It was a call upon the people to reject the racist Republic by refusing to participate in the celebration of its 20th anniversary.

Therefore, in May the country was divided into those who are part of this regime and this Republic - the white minority - and the rest consisting of all the black people in South Africa and a large number of white people who disassociated themselves from the anniversary activities. They represent the kind of South Africa envisaged by the African National Congress. They stand for the kind of Republic which the African National Congress and other patriotic forces in our country are fighting to create. The rejection did not take the form of a negative display of lack of interest in the celebrations, but it was active and positive, taking the form of meetings all over the country, involving workers, women, leading churchmen, students and people in the countryside. In the meetings the message that came out was that of a people resolved to put an end to the status quo and to bring about a South Africa of all South Africans, united, nonracial, democratic and above all, friendly to its neighbours and bound by the decisions of the international community.

An interesting aspect of this expression of rejection was that the opponents of apartheid domination, the people who are struggling for liberation to end the colonial structure in our country, acted in complete unity. Their action involved industrial strikes by workers, boycotts by various people including students, and it involved also armed action. For it is part of the strategy of the African National Congress and its allies in the liberation front to achieve a total mobilisation of our people and strike at enemy forces and positions with everything at our disposal, combining therefore political action, demonstrations, boycotts, resistance of every kind, strikes and the use of arms.

Armed Struggle and Mass Mobilisation

Mr. Chairman, when we consult with the Special Committee against Apartheid, we feel both obliged and entitled to refer to progress or the lack of progress that we have achieved in our struggle. We do not want, we would not like, to promote false hopes about imminent success. Yet it is proper that what we consider an achievement should be mentioned to this Committee.

We have given priority to the pursuit of armed struggle in our country, but we have never seen an armed struggle developing with any effect outside of the mass mobilisation, and the activisation of our people, the unification of the patriotic forces in the country, as well as the encouragement of the democratic movement among the white population. The organisation and the activisation of the black workers into action and the mobilisation of the religious community - these are elements in our strategy for moving forward.

I think it is fair to say that we have achieved significant progress towards the realisation of these objectives. The religious forces in our country which are numerous have come into the mainstream of the liberation struggle. We think the posture of the majority demonstrated during the month of May points to a very high level of mass mobilisation and a very high degree of unity. The supporters of our struggle would like to see this unity, would like to see this activity, because in the final analysis as you so correctly pointed out, Mr. Chairman, it is the people of South Africa who by their own activity and sacrifice will put an end to the apartheid system. The rest of the international community can only complement their efforts although that contribution is indispensable. Therefore, we are poised to make advances on the ground in the South African situation.

Recognition of Leadership of ANC

And I think, perhaps in passing, one might observe that the acts of rejection of the apartheid regime demonstrated during May have something to do, to put it at its lowest, with the acceptance by the people of South Africa of the strategy of the African National Congress and its leadership. The leadership by the African National Congress does not rest necessarily on the fact of its having been established so many decades ago and having remained in the field for an equal length of time. It is a leadership which in the final analysis must be tested on the ground and reflected in the responses of the people to the direction it gives. We think there is unity around the objectives which the African National Congress provides, so far at least, the only alternative to the apartheid system in terms of the Freedom Charter which constitutes its policy platform.

We are encouraged in South Africa, and at the African National Congress, by the recognition of the leadership of the African National Congress by an increasing number of countries in the world, the Non-Aligned countries which include African countries, by Socialist countries, and also by Western countries which now include Holland, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany which in Western Europe have joined the Scandinavian countries, and which we believe will soon be joined by France.

Washington-Pretoria Axis

It is against this background, Mr. Chairman, that we are disturbed that the Reagan Administration has chosen to embrace racist and unrepresentative apartheid South Africa as an ally at precisely this time. It seems to us that this declaration of the apartheid regime as a friend and ally can have no purpose other than to legitimise apartheid itself, to introduce the regime into the community of nations and to divide the international community in its support of the cause of the Namibian people and the South African people. It seems to us that in the final resort the declaration of the apartheid regime as a friend and ally creates the basis for intervention in the struggle in South Africa on the side of the racists.

That struggle is not just a civil rights struggle, it is an armed struggle which is going to intensify; it will escalate, it will involve neighbouring countries, and it will do so the more readily and the more easily because the South African regime has won a new ally, more determined, more resolute than any ally that regime has had in the past; an ally which emerges at a time when that regime is more hated in southern Africa than at any time in its history. When it has earned for itself a designation of international terrorist in that region, when it has taken increasing pride in raids and murders across the borders of South Africa, it is at that point that it seems to have qualified for embrace as a friend and ally.

Alarmed by this development, and curious to know how the people of the United States responded to a situation that was of serious concern throughout Africa and throughout the entire international community which has spent so much time and effort and even resources on the South African question, the African National Congress and the South West Africa People`s Organisation responded to an invitation to speak at a conference of black leaders in the United States convened by Transafrica and the Southern Africa Support Project which took place in Washington. We took the opportunity of our presence there to have discussions not only with black leaders, but also with representatives and members of the Congressional Subcommittees on Africa. We tried to appeal over the heads of the Administration to the American people and to alert them to the danger posed by the emergence of the Washington-Pretoria axis on the African scene.

Act with a Sense of Urgency

We believe that before this axis consolidates itself against Africa, the Organisation of African Unity, the Non-Aligned Movement, indeed the United Nations and all genuine supporters of the Namibian and South African causes, should act with a sense of urgency. We believe that the Paris Conference laid a valid basis for urgent action, especially on the need for mandatory and comprehensive sanctions, for unilateral and collective sanctions, for an oil embargo and on the need for an emergency session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the question of sanctions. As part of the sanctions effort, we think there is a great need to explore immediately the ways and means whereby practical expression can be given to the decisions of the Paris Conference. We look forward to the forthcoming meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organisation of African Unity which, we believe, will consider the convening of a special session of the General Assembly.

But it is necessary to address the masses of the people and to bring them into the implementation of the sanctions resolutions. Trade unions and other popular bodies have the capacity, if they have the will, to give effect to these decisions, and to ensure the isolation of the apartheid regime, both in relation to its policies and practices within South Africa and its recalcitrance on the Namibian question - not so much as a penalty, or as a punishment, but as a deliberate act of supporting the struggle of the people of Namibia and South Africa, in brief as a supportive act.

Mr. Chairman, His Excellency the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, when addressing the Paris Conference on Sanctions against South Africa, made the following statement:

"We can no longer afford to ignore the legitimate demands of the blacks in South Africa and Namibia for their freedom. We owe it as a duty both to them and to ourselves to bring this pernicious system of apartheid to an ignominious end by acting collectively to impose mandatory and comprehensive sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Mankind must once and for all dramatically and decisively repudiate this racist doctrine which seeks to undermine human civilisation itself. We neglect to do so only at our eternal peril."

The eternal peril has been planted into the Pretoria-Washington axis. It means that the South African problem will increasingly, rapidly, unfold and escalate into a raging war engulfing all of southern Africa. Certainly, the vigorous arming that is going on in our time seems to envisage and to be a preparation for an approaching world war. It is not being too speculative to suggest that southern Africa could provide the necessary spark.

The Vice-President went on to say that if need be Africa will seek and utilise whatever means are open to it to see through the final liquidation of apartheid South Africa. Even if the heavens fall...

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the African National Congress greatly appreciates the role played by the ambassadors of the Non-Aligned, the Socialist and other committed countries in the campaign for the total isolation of the apartheid regime and support of the struggle of the people of Namibia and South Africa. We salute, in particular, the stance taken by the Foreign Ministers and representatives of these countries during the recent Security Council debate on Namibia when they presented the irrefutable case for comprehensive and mandatory sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

And since the African National Congress considers the struggle in South Africa and Namibia as being one and indivisible, and as being part of the wider struggle of the African and progressive world, we urge the international community to unreservedly campaign for the immediate implementation of Security Council resolution 435.

We further urge the speedy convening of the Security Council to impose sanctions against South Africa. And finally, we call for the international mobilisation towards the enforcement of sanctions so that we at least move away from the mere adoption of resolutions and use sanctions as an effective weapon in support of the just cause of the people of Namibia and South Africa.

I thank you, Sir.

Oliver Tambo was a former President of the ANC

- ANC Website

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