Remarks by Mr Andrew Mlangeni (MP) at the Nelson Mandela International Day commemorative event at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, 18 July 2013
President of the General Assembly,
Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Distinguished guests, President Bill Clinton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Mr Harry Belafonte,
Ladies and gentleman
I am humbled to be addressing you in this august Chamber here this morning - especially as one of the remaining few of the 8 comrades that were sentenced at what the world came to know as the Rivonia Treason Trial. The 8 of us received life imprisonment sentences that day on 12 June 1964. Whilst the charges laid down against us were for conspiracy and sabotage, the presiding Judge at the time likened the crime to high treason.
I thought of life imprisonment and what it meant. Did it mean that I would spend the rest of my life in prison, only to be released as a corpse? Was there a chance that I might be released sooner? Would I maybe end up serving only 15 years? These were just the thoughts of a young Andrew Mlangeni.
Today I am free - a senior citizen now – and able to enjoy the freedom that our people were denied for centuries. We owe this freedom to our struggle that you the international community supported, as if it was your own. We owe this freedom to the icon that Madiba has come to be - for South Africans and the international community.
The Rivonia Trial was more than just a trial. It was a culmination of the mass struggles of the Congress Movement that was led by the ANC, through the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Freedom Charter of 1955. Amongst other things, the Freedom Charter declares that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. This is the society we set out to establish when we got our freedom 19 years ago, in 1994. The Rivonia Trial also presented Nelson Mandela to South Africa and the world, a modern-day global icon, an embodiment of the values of justice, peace, selfless and reconciliation. Today the world celebrates celebrate Mandela’s 95th birthday. It is a celebration of the human values that Madiba’s life has come to characterize namely: non-violence, peace, righteousness, truth and love for his fellow man.
Today we celebrate 95 years of selflessness and service to mankind. His first words after 27 years in apartheid’s prisons still resonate strongly with his life – and I quote;
“I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands”
Madiba’s words ring true to his life and continue to reflect his commitment to service to his people, the nation and the world. Madiba has become the symbol of hope for mankind because his essence was and remains for the restoration of dignity and shared humanity. For many in the world he represents the desire for a world free from want, marginalization and fear.
Whilst humbled, I am also proud as a South African to be here today to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day with you the international community. Proud because South Africa is fortunate to be the home of this great son of Africa and the world at large.
As a nation, we might not be able to demonstrate our full appreciation for the accolade bestowed upon President Mandela by the UN General Assembly in 2009 for Resolution A/RES/64/13. The support for this resolution was overwhelmingly unanimous – in other words the international community wholeheartedly threw its support in recognizing Nelson Mandela’s “values and his dedication to the service of humanity, as a humanitarian, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the upliftment of poor and underdeveloped communities”, which the resolution articulated.
South Africa’s liberation was, in part, a good example of what the international community can achieve when it is united behind a just cause. Of course there were difficult times during this era of struggle when some around the world considered us as terrorists. Needless to state, the ANC which was banned at home and its leaders already imprisoned, sought to take the legitimate and just struggle of the South African people to the world. We did this as a government in exile, building of one of the biggest international solidarity movements that many of from the international community were part of. And you, the United Nations, and our friends in all parts of the world, Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, Australasia, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Americas embraced us. You supported us in many significant and critical ways to isolate the apartheid, white minority government.
The struggle of the peoples of South Africa which was also epitomized through Nelson Mandela’s life struggle, are threads of the same fabric of challenges that the world has faced and continues to face regarding justice, rule of law, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and equality. In many ways, the UN’s response to the South African struggle for emancipation was a response to global challenges; it was the United Nations that had subsequently declared apartheid a crime against humanity. It was the United Nations that, in response to the heinous acts of the apartheid regime in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960, that March 21 was declared as the International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination. The United Nations, through the exceptional efforts of the Special Committee against Apartheid and other organs of the UN such as the General Assembly and the Security Council, rallied around the just cause and advocated for the total liberation of the South African people from the oppressive and dehumanizing yolk of apartheid. Such committees remind us of other UN efforts such as the Special Committee on the Rights of the Palestinian People, to address just causes around the world.
On Nelson Mandela International Day, each one of us is called upon to give just 67 minutes of one’s time to contribute to touching the lives of others. We must act and act now to ensure that in whatever we do, we carry forward and reaffirm our human spirit; as Madiba articulated in his Long walk to Freedom; and I quote;
In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s own social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education ….. but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of the soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life…” These are the qualities that made Madiba a better human being and these are the qualities that will make a better world.
Our duty now is take forward this example – the spirit of volunteering 67 minutes to uplifting society in recognition of the 67 years that Nelson Mandela spent in the struggle for humanity is a good starting point for us all in making our own little contribution to making the world a better place. We must urgently work together to obliterate all social ills that undermine the vision for a better world for which we all strive.
People around the world want peace, to live in harmony, to have dignity, to enjoy the respect of their human rights and non-discrimination, to enjoy justice and fair-play, to be secure and stable. This is the better life that Nelson Mandela together with the ANC envisioned for the people of South Africa. With your support we realized this life – building each new day in South Africa a better country with better opportunities for its people. This is the real Life sentence that was proclaimed in the Court’s decision in 1964 – the life of hope and promise that was injected into South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela and the democratic era that followed in 1994.
In closing, Mr President, let me express my sincere appreciation to you for arranging this special meeting. The UN has played its part in liberating the people of South Africa. Now you play an even more important role of keeping alive the values that Madiba has given us. I am honored to be among great individuals and friends of South Africa who have joined us today. They have personally and consciously made tremendous strides in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and continue to be friends of a new South Africa whose birth they shared in - President Clinton, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Belafonte we thank you for your sterling contribution to our liberation and for your continued support!
I thank you!