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.
We must also make this point very clear that no political settlement in South Africa, however democratic and just, can take hold and survive, if nothing is done radically to improve the standard of living and the quality of life of all our people, and especially the Black masses of our country. This will inevitably demand that the economy should achieve significant rates of growth, while it undergoes a process of restructuring and a reallocation of resources to ensure prosperity and equity.
After many years of struggle, during which many in our country and region have paid the supreme sacrifice, it appears that our country is set on the path towards a negotiated political settlement. This is a goal which our movement has pursued throughout the 78 years of its existence. In the past, however hard we knocked at the door of the powers that be in our country, that door remained locked and barred. Inspired by the arrogance of racism, successive White minority regimes held fast to the view that they could, through the use of brute force, maintain the tyranny of White minority domination for ever.
But you know this more than we do, that no power on earth, even when it commits the sacrilege of invoking God's blessing for its inhuman cause, as did the apartheid regime, can defeat a people that is determined to liberate itself. Nothing can stop the evolution of humanity towards the condition of greater and ever expanding freedom. While the voice of an individual can be condemned to silence by death, imprisonment and confinement, the spirit that drives people to seek liberty can never be stilled.
The struggle of our people, so magnificently supported and reinforced by your solidarity actions and those of the rest of the international community, have obliged the South African government to recognize the validity of these truths. President De Klerk has come to understand that the apartheid system can no longer hold and, at our instance, has accepted that he and his colleagues must enter into dialogue with the genuine representatives of the people to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in our country. We have taken the first steps in this process leading to the situation in which the obstacles to negotiations will be removed.
A good start has indeed been made. Furthermore, we do not doubt the integrity of President De Klerk and his fellow-leaders and are convinced that they are committed to honor all agreements that may be arrived at during the process of negotiations. Despite this, we should not mistake the promise of change for change itself. The reality is that the apartheid system continues. Our country continues to be ruled by a White minority regime. All the fundamental features of the South African racist system remain unchanged. In other words, no profound and irreversible changes have taken place leading to the final abolition of the apartheid system.
In addition, many among our White compatriots are still determined to resist change at all costs, arms in hand. They are ready to drown the masses of our people in a bloodbath to save the system of White minority rule, assert the permanence of the criminal and insulting ideology of White supremacy and ensure the further entrenchment of White privilege. None can therefore guarantee the process of negotiations will soon inevitability lead to the victory of the democratic cause.
It is for these reasons that the struggle against the apartheid system must continue. In this regard, we would like to extend our thanks to the Taoiseach, the government and the people of Ireland for the enormous contribution you have made to the international struggle for the isolation of apartheid South Africa. We salute you for the leadership you have given only recently, within the European community to ensure that the pressure against the apartheid system is maintained. We reiterate that we must continue to keep the pressure on until such time that the people of South Africa themselves signal that the time for change has come.
For more than a quarter of a country, your country has had one of the most energetic and effective anti-apartheid movements in the word. Irish men and women have given wholehearted and often sacrificial support for our struggle in the fields of economic, cultural and sports relations. We therefore salute your sports people, especially the rugby players, your writers and artists and the Dunne's and other workers. All of them will not be forgotten by the masses of our people .
We ask that you stay the course with us. We need your support for the democratic perspectives that we represent. We need your support to generate the material resources we need to repatriate and resettle those of our compatriots who were forced into exile and to reintegrate into our communities the political prisoners who will be released. We need financial resources to help us carry out the massive political work among all sectors of our population that has to accompany the process of the negotiations. We need resources to reconstruct the ANC which has been an illegal organisation for 30 years. We trust that, as in the past, you will stand with us until our common victory is accepted.
In future, we will also need to institute important measures to reconstruct the economy of our country along the lines that we have already indicated. We shall require your cooperation in this as well, so that we build a system of relations that will be of mutual benefit to both our peoples and that will seek to ensure that the conditions are removed when racism can once more impose itself on our people and those of Southern Africa as a whole.
We would also like to take this opportunity to convey to you our thanks for everything you did to secure our release from prison. Even behind the thick prison walls of South Africa's maximum security jails, we heard your voices demanding our release. So strong did that call become that we knew that contrary to the wishes of our jailers, we would return. And as you can see, we have returned.
Our reception in this house and outside is a moving indication that the Irish Parliament and people will stay the course with us, recognizing that while apartheid remains, while South Africa is unfree, the community of nations and the conscience of the world can never be at peace. This gives us enormous strength and assures us of the certainty of our common victory. That victory will come sooner rather than later. Together we will win.
Read more: Nelson Mandela showed us all what could be when good men rule
Source: Irish Times
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