Address by Nelson Mandela to Joint Houses of Irish parliament in 1990


It is with a feeling of great privilege that we stand here today to address this house. We know that the invitation you extended to us to speak from this podium is one that is rarely extended to a visitor, even one who comes to you as the guest of the head of Government. I thank you most sincerely for the honour you have bestowed on me individually, on our organisation, The African National Congress, as well as the struggling people of South Africa.

We recognize in the possibility you have thus given us the reaffirmation by the members of this house and the great Irish people whom you represent, of your complete rejection of the apartheid crime against humanity, your support for our endeavors to transform South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist country, your love and respect for our movement and the millions of people it represents.

We know that the joy with which you have received us and the respect for our dignity you have demonstrated, come almost as second nature to a people who were themselves victims of colonial rule for centuries.

We know that your desire that the disenfranchised of our country should be heard in this house and throughout Ireland derives from your determination, born of your experience, that our people should, like yourselves, be free to govern themselves and to determine their destiny. The warm feeling that envelopes us as we stand here is therefore but the affinity which belongs to peoples who have suffered in common and who are tied together by unbreakable bonds of friendship and solidarity.

The very fact there is today an independent Irish state, however long it took to realize the noble goals of the Irish people by bringing it into being, confirms the fact that we too shall become a free people; we too shall have a country which will, as the great Irish patriots said in The Proclamation of 1916, "Cherish all the children of the nation equally."

The outstanding Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, has written that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of a heart. He spoke thus because he could feel within himself the pain of the suffering that Irish men and women of conscience had had to endure in centuries of struggle against an unrelenting tyranny. But then he also spoke of love, of the love of those whose warm hearts the oppressors sought to turn to stone, the love of their country and people, and, in the end, the love of humanity itself.

For three quarters of a century, under the leadership of the ANC, our own people have themselves confronted a racist tyranny which grew more stubborn with each passing day. It had to be our lot that even as we refused to take up arms to save lives, we still had to bury many martyrs who were shot down or tortured to death simply because they dared to cry freedom.

The apartheid system has killed countless numbers not only in our country but throughout southern Africa. It has condemned to the gallows some of the best sons of our people. It has imprisoned some and driven others into exile. Even those whose only desire was to live, have had their lives cut short because apartheid means the systematic and conscious deprivation and impoverishment of the Black millions.

It could have been that our own hearts turned to stone. It could have been that we inscribed vengeance on our banners of battle and resolved to meet brutality with brutality. But we understood that oppression dehumanizes the oppressor as it hurts the oppressed. We understood that to emulate the barbarity of the tyrant would also transform us into savages. We knew that we would sully and degrade our cause if we allowed that it should, at any stage, borrow anything from the practices of the oppressor. We had to refuse that our long sacrifice should make a stone of our hearts.

We are in struggle because we value life and love all humanity. The liberated South Africa we envision is one in which all our people, both Black and White, will be one to the other, brother and sister. We see being born a united South African nation of equal compatriots, enriched by the diversity of the color and culture of the citizens who make up the whole.

This cannot come about until South Africa becomes a democratic country. We therefore insist that everybody should have the right to vote without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever. Equally, all adult South Africans should have the right to be elected to all organs of government without any artificial hindrances being put their way.

To safeguard the freedom of the individual, we will insist that the democratic constitution should be reinforced with an entrenched bill of rights which should be enforced by an independent and representative judiciary. At the same time, all our people will be free to form and join any party of their choice within the context of a multi-party political system.

The struggle we are waging is also for the economic transformation of our country. The system to which we are heir was designed and operates for the benefit of the White minority at the expense of the Black majority. Clearly the situation cannot be allowed to continue in which millions know nothing but the corrosive ache of hunger, in which countless numbers of children die and get deformed as a result of being afflicted by Kwashiokor and other diseases of poverty.
Millions are today without jobs and without land. Nothing awaits them except death from starvation and want.