Delivered at the Centenary Celebrations of the birth of President Nelson Mandela, Mvezo Village, Eastern Cape
“After 100 years, we have descended here to the place where one of the most extraordinary lives of modern times began.
We have come here to pay tribute to those who gave him life, to those who taught him honesty and kindness, who imbued in him an essential dignity and an abiding sense of justice.
We salute the people of Mvezo, Qunu and eMqhekezweni. Today Mvezo is on the map not only of South Africa but of the world. Even President Obama learnt to pronounce Mvezo yesterday.
History gave them a young boy called Rolihlahla and they in turn gave the world Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation, a great African freedom fighter and a global icon.
We have come and returned here to the start of a journey that over the course of a century bore witness to the hardship and suffering of a subjugated people, their courageous struggle to be free, the great sacrifices they made and the setbacks they endured, the moment of their liberation and the dawn of a new nation.
It was not a journey of one brave man.
It was a journey of a multitude of women and men, known and unknown, who confronted the tyranny of injustice in pursuit of the dream of freedom.
Nelson Mandela belonged to a remarkable generation of young people who railed against the profound injustices and the daily indignities of their time.
They thought their elders were too cautious, their methods too tentative.
But they were not reckless.
It was with a clear strategic purpose that they formed the ANC Youth League in 1944 and set about transforming the African National Congress into a mass based militant movement.
In doing so, they changed the course of our struggle.
Madiba was foremost among those who understood that militancy alone could not secure change.
It required work and effort.
It required tireless organisation, mobilisation and conscientisation.
It required women and men of courage to step forward to take upon themselves the most difficult tasks of the revolution.
These were tasks that brought no reward, nor recognition.
It says much about Madiba’s character, his contribution and his commitment that at the young age of 34 he was appointed Volunteer-in-Chief to lead the campaign for the defiance of unjust laws.
It was this theme – of voluntary and selfless service – that characterised his lifelong contribution to the South African people.
At great risk to his person, he undertook whatever task he was given.
It turned him into a constant target of harassment, a fugitive, an absent husband and father, and a treason trialist.
But he was a prisoner of his own convictions.
He selflessly continued his work despite the hardships.
He sacrificed his career as a lawyer.
He sacrificed his freedom.
Even as he faced the prospect of a death sentence, he defiantly asserted the moral superiority of the ideals of freedom, justice and equality.
His steadfast commitment to principle remained throughout his life, regardless of the pressure that was placed on him or the hardships he had to endure.
Yet, although he was firm in his convictions, even stubborn at times, he had an enormous capacity for introspection and reflection.
He was the first to acknowledge his mistakes.
He allowed himself to be persuaded by sound argument and clear evidence.
A defining moment in his political development was when he was able to overcome his hostility towards the Communist Party of South Africa.
Through hours of intensive engagement with comrades like Walter Sisulu and Moses Kotane, he came to appreciate the contribution of communists in the National Democratic Revolution.
He came to understand the class content of the national struggle and the national content of the class struggle.
This moment in the evolution of his political thought is instructive, because it demonstrates the extent to which even the greatest leader is shaped by the circumstances of struggle, by the movement and by those around them.
It contains an important lesson, that all of us have a responsibility to continually seek knowledge and understanding, of our society and of our world.
It contains an important lesson about tolerance and the value of inclusiveness.
Consistent with the politics of his movement – which fought for a South Africa that belonged to all who lived in it – Madiba was at his most effective in reaching out to others and forging a unity of purpose among disparate people.
He felt a personal responsibility to mobilise the broadest possible range of forces in support of the struggle for democracy and for social and economic change.
Nelson Mandela was loyal and true to the non-racial character and politics of the ANC.
It was not a concession. It was a matter of principle.
He would certainly be have been concerned by what appears to be the resurgence of racism and ethno-nationalism both in our country and elsewhere in the world.
We are all called upon to stand up and speak out when the values for which Madiba lived and for which so many fought are being denigrated by those who have no interest in progress.
There is no place for racism, for tribalism or for ethnic chauvinism in the South Africa of Nelson Mandela.
Born into a traditional setting, raised in a patriarchal society, Madiba became a leading champion of gender equality.
He was among those who challenged sexist attitudes and practices within the liberation movement and asserted the need for women to assume their rightful place in the struggle.
Madiba fought for the education of the girl child, for the economic empowerment of women and for true equality in all areas of life.
In remembering Madiba, we must recognise that the struggle for gender equality still has much further to go.
We dare not relent in our efforts to build a non-sexist society, to end all forms of violence against women, and to ensure equal opportunity for all.
Comrades and Friends,
We are celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela in the 24th year of our democracy.
As the founding President of our democratic state, he laid the foundation for the great progress we have made since 1994 in improving access to basic services such as water, electricity, housing, health care and education.
He would be glad to see that we are still committed to his dream of assisting the elderly, people with disabilities and children with a basic monthly income in the form of social grants.
Madiba knew the difference these social grants would make in the lives of millions of our people.
It is for this reason that everywhere we go, elderly social grant recipients say in appreciation: “Siyabulela iMali kaMandela. Ri kho livhuwa tshelede ya Vho-Mandela.”
This is an essential part of his legacy that we must never endanger, whether through negligence or wrongdoing or disinterest, for it directly affects the poorest of the poor.
Madiba would welcome the great progress we have made in massively expanding access to education for the black child.
He was no doubt speaking from personal experience when he said: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
We have a moral duty to ensure that no child is denied the right to education; and that once they are in school, we must create a conducive environment for our children to succeed and fully realise their potential.
Madiba would have been pleased with the fact that we are now providing free higher education to children from poor and working class backgrounds.
He would have urged all young people to be focused, dedicated and hard working at school.
As the first President of the democratic South Africa, Madiba had the responsibility to establish a new state that would diligently serve all the people of this country.
The democratic institutions that were established during his Presidency remain central to our efforts to fundamentally and radically transform our society.
If these institutions are undermined, if they are weakened or if they are hollowed out by corruption, then our ability to achieve genuine social justice is severely limited.
We have a duty to strengthen these institutions, to properly resource and capacitate them and to vigorously resist each and every attempt to capture them for narrow interests.
We have a duty to build a state that is founded on Madiba’s values – of integrity, service and selflessness.
As we celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela, we are acutely aware that the free and equal nation for which he fought will not be achieved for as long as economic inequality between black and white, and men and women, persists.
We are now firmly on the path of radical economic transformation to resolve this historic injustice.
We are working to transform our economy and make it more inclusive in its ownership, control and management.
It is in pursuit of this objective that we must dedicate all our efforts and all our resources.
The most effective way to advance broad-based black economic empowerment is to create jobs and develop skills.
Madiba understood that employment provides the most direct route out of poverty.
That must be our central and over-riding task in this year of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela – to grow our economy, to stimulate investment and to create jobs.
To realise Madiba’s dream the 54th Conference of his organisation took forward looking decisions on how we can empower our people through giving them their land back through expropriation without compensation. This process in itself will lead to enhancing the growth of our economy and increase agricultural production and food security. The return of Land to our people will unleash enormous growth in our economy.
To those who are fearful of the prospect of the return of the land to our people I say fear not because we are going to handle this matter in the usual way we solve matters in our country through dialogue and agreement. The restoration of land to our people will unlock the growth of our economy.
Madiba bequeathed us a legacy of fearlessness.
He instilled in us the courage to confront difficult issues. The land issue is one such issue which we should have courage to handle.
To those who say that Madiba sold out I want to emphatically say that Madiba did not sell out. He did not have it in his make up to sell out. He always acted in the interest of our people.
History imposed on him a heavy responsibility.
Karl Marx wrote:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
Nelson Mandela made his own history.
He did so as part of a generation of courageous, principled and committed women and men.
He did so under the harshest of circumstances, transmitted from the darkest of pasts.
But in doing so, he enabled the most brilliant of futures.
The journey that began here in Mvezo a century ago has not ended.
Madiba has run his race. His mortal remains have been returned to the soil from whence they came.
But his journey is not complete.
The free, equal and prosperous society to which he dedicated his life is still being built.
We must carry on, inspired by his memory and fortified by his extraordinary life.
The struggle continues. A luta continua.”