Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Rally in Cuba
Item type: Address
Acquisition method: Hardcopy
Unique ID: NMS1526
Speech published in "How Far We Slaves Have Come", By Nelson Mandela and
Fidel Castro; New York: Pathfinder. 80 pp
Occasion: 38th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution Date:
Friday, July 26, 1991
First secretary of the Communist Party, president of the Council of
State and of the government of Cuba, president of the socialist republic
of Cuba, commander-in-chief, Comrade Fidel Castro;
Cuban internationalists, who have done so much to free our continent;
Cuban people; comrades and friends:
It is a great pleasure and honour to be present here today, especially
on so important a day in the revolutionary history of the Cuban people.
Today Cuba commemorates the thirty- eighth anniversary of the storming
of the Moncada. Without Moncada the Granma expedition, the struggle in
the Sierra Maestra, the extraordinary victory of January 1, 1959, would
never have occurred.32
Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country
that has done so much for the peoples of Africa.
We have long wanted to visit your country and express the many feelings
that we have about the Cuban revolution, about the role of Cuba in
Africa, southern Africa, and the world.
The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of
Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African
independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and
From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of
inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of
the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in
the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the
impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.
We too want to control our own destiny. We are determined that the
people of South Africa will make their future and that they will
continue to exercise their full democratic rights after liberation from
apartheid. We do not want popular participation to cease at the moment
when apartheid goes. We want to have the moment of liberation open the
way to ever-deepening democracy.
We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of
social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed
backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the
fields of health, education, and science.
There are many things we learn from your experience. In particular we
are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the
continent and people of Africa.
Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is
But the most important lesson that you have for us is that no matter
what the odds, no matter under what difficulties you have had to
struggle, there can be no surrender! It is a case of freedom or death!
I know that your country is experiencing many difficulties now, but we
have confidence that the resilient people of Cuba will overcome these as
they have helped other coun-tries overcome theirs.
We know that the revolutionary spirit of today was started long ago and
that its spirit was kindled by many early fighters for Cuban freedom,
and indeed for freedom of all suffering under imperialist domination.
We too are also inspired by the life and example of Jose Marti, who is
not only a Cuban and Latin American hero but justly honoured by all who
struggle to be free.
We also honour the great Che Guevara, whose revolution-ary exploits,
including on our own continent, were too powerful for any prison censors
to hide from us. The life of Che is an inspiration to all human beings
who cherish freedom. We will always honour his memory."
We come here with great humility. We come here with great emotion. We
come here with a sense of a great debt that is owed to the people of
Cuba. What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness
than Cuba has displayed in its relations with Africa?
How many countries of the world benefit from Cuban health workers or
educationists? How many of these are in Africa?
Where is the country that has sought Cuban help and has had it refused?
How many countries under threat from imperialism or struggling for
national liberation have been able to count on Cuban support?
It was in prison when I first heard of the massive assistance that the
Cuban internationalist forces provided to the people of Angola, on such
a scale that one hesitated to be-lieve, when the Angolans came under
combined attack of South African, CIA-financed FNLA, mercenary, UNITA,
and Zairean troops in 1975."
We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up
our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African
history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.
We know also that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that
those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of
those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not
merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit
of large sections of humankind.
We know that the Cuban forces were willing to withdraw shortly after
repelling the 1975 invasion, but the continued aggression from Pretoria
made this impossible.
Your presence and the reinforcement of your forces in the battle of
Cuito Cuanavale was of truly historic significance.
The crushing defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale was a victory
for the whole of Africa!
The overwhelming defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale provided
the possibility for Angola to enjoy peace and consolidate its own
The defeat of the racist army allowed the struggling people of Namibia
to finally win their independence!
The decisive defeat of the apartheid aggressors broke the myth of the
invincibility of the white oppressors!
The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling
people inside South Africa!
Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have
The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible
for me to be here today!
Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for
southern African liberation!
Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the
continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid!
Apartheid is not something that started yesterday. The or-igins of white
racist domination go back three and a half centuries to the moment when
the first white settlers started a process of disruption and later
conquest of the Khoi, San, and other African peoples葉he original
inhabitants of our country.
The process of conquest from the very beginning engendered a series of
wars of resistance, which in turn gave rise to our struggle for national
liberation. Against heavy odds, Afri-can peoples tried to hold on to
their lands. But the material base and consequent firepower of the
colonial aggressors doomed the divided tribal chiefdoms and kingdoms to
This tradition of resistance is one that still lives on as an
inspiration to our present struggle. We still honour the names of the
great prophet and warrior Makana, who died while trying to escape from
Robben Island prison in 1819, Hintsa, Sekhukhune, Dingane, Moshoeshoe,
Bambatha, and other heroes of the early resistance to colonial
It was against the background of this land seizure and conquest that the
Union of South Africa was created in 1910. Outwardly South Africa became
an independent state, but in reality power was handed over by the
British conquerors to whites who had settled in the country. They were
able in the new Union of South Africa to formalize racial oppression and
economic exploitation of blacks.
Following the creation of the Union, the passing of the Land Act,
purporting to legalize the land seizures of the nineteenth century,"
gave impetus to the process leading to the formation of the African
National Congress on January 8, 1912.
I am not going to give you a history of the ANC. Suffice it to say that
the last eighty years of our existence has seen the evolution of the ANC
from its earliest beginnings aimed at uniting the African peoples, to
its becoming the leading force in the struggle of the oppressed masses
for an end to racism and the establishment of a non-racial, non-sexist,
and demo-cratic state.
Its membership has been transformed from its early days when they were a
small group of professionals and chiefs, etc., into a truly mass
organization of the people.
Its goals have changed from seeking improvement of the lot of Africans
to instead seeking the fundamental transformation of the whole of South
Africa into a democratic state for all.
Its methods of achieving its more far-reaching goals have over decades
taken on a more mass character, reflecting the increasing involvement of
the masses within the ANC and in campaigns led by the ANC.
Sometimes people point to the initial aims of the ANC and its early
composition in order to suggest that it was a reformist organization.
The truth is that the birth of the ANC carried from the beginning
profoundly revolutionary implications.
The formation of the ANC was the first step towards creation of a new
South African nation. That conception was de-veloped over time, finding
clear expression thirty-six years ago in the Freedom Charter's statement
that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white." This
was an unambiguous rejection of the racist state that had existed and an
affirmation of the only alternative that we find acceptable, one where
racism and its structures are finally liquidated.
It is well known that the state's response to our legitimate democratic
demands was, among other things, to charge our leadership with treason
and, in the beginning of the 1960s, to use indiscriminate massacres.
That and the banning of our organizations left us with no choice but to
do what every self- respecting people, including the Cubans, have
done葉hat is, to take up arms to win our country back from the racists.
I must say that when we wanted to take up arms we approached numerous
Western governments for assistance and we were never able to see any but
the most junior ministers. When we visited Cuba we were received by the
highest officials and were immediately offered whatever we wanted and
needed. That was our earliest experience with Cuban inter-nationalism.
Although we took up arms, that was not our preference. It was the
apartheid regime that forced us to take up arms. Our preference has
always been for a peaceful resolution of the apartheid conflict.
The combined struggles of our people within the country, as well as the
mounting international struggle against apart-heid during the 1980s,
raised the possibility of a negotiated resolution of the apartheid
conflict. The decisive defeat of Cuito Cuanavale altered the balance of
forces within the region and substantially reduced the capacity of the
Pretoria regime to destabilize its neighbours. This, in combination with
our people's struggles within the country, was crucial in bringing
Pretoria to realize that it would have to talk.
It was the ANC that initiated the current peace process that we hope
will lead to a negotiated transfer of power to the people. We have not
initiated this process for goals any differ-ent from those when we
pursued the armed struggle. Our goals remain achievement of the demands
of the Freedom Charter, and we will settle for nothing less than that.
No process of negotiations can succeed until the apart-heid regime
realizes that there will not be peace unless there is freedom and that
we are not going to negotiate away our just demands. They must
understand that we will reject any constitutional scheme that aims at
continuing white privileges.
There is reason to believe that we have not yet succeeded in bringing
this home to the government, and we warn them that if they do not listen
we will have to use our power to convince them.
That power is the power of the people, and ultimately we know that the
masses will not only demand but win full rights in a non-racial,
non-sexist, democratic South Africa.
But we are not merely seeking a particular goal. We also propose a
particular route for realizing it, and that is a route that involves the
people all the way through. We do not want a process where a deal is
struck over the heads of the people and their job is merely to applaud.
The government resists this at all costs because the ques-tion of how a
constitution is made, how negotiations take place, is vitally connected
to whether or not a democratic result ensues.
The present government wants to remain in office during the entire
process of transition. Our view is that this is unacceptable. This
government has definite negotiation goals. It cannot be allowed to use
its powers as a government to ad-vance its own cause and that of its
allies and to use those same powers to weaken the ANC.
And this is exactly what they are doing. They have unbanned the ANC, but
we operate under conditions substantially different from that of other
organizations. We do not have the same freedom to organize as does
Inkatha and other organizations allied to the apartheid regime. Our
members are harassed and even killed. We are often barred from holding
meetings and marches.
We believe that the process of transition must be controlled by a
government that is not only capable and willing to create and maintain
the conditions for free political activity. It must also act with a view
to ensuring that the transition is towards creating a genuine democracy
and nothing else.
The present government has shown itself to be quite un-willing or unable
to create a climate for negotiations. It re-neges on agreements to
release political prisoners and allow the return of exiles. In recent
times it has allowed a situation to be created where a reign of terror
and violence is being unleashed against the African communities and the
ANC as an organization.
We have had ten thousand people murdered in this violence since 1984 and
two thousand this year alone. We have always said that this government
that boasts of its professional police force is perfectly capable of
ending this violence and prosecuting the perpetrators. Not only are they
unwilling, we now have conclusive evidence, published in independent
newspapers, of their complicity in this violence.
The violence has been used in a systematic attempt to advance the power
of Inkatha as a potential alliance partner of the National Party. There
is now conclusive evidence of funds provided by the government葉hat is,
taxpayers' money葉o Inkatha.
All of this indicates the necessity to create an interim government of
national unity to oversee the transition. We need a government enjoying
the confidence of broad sections of the population to rule over this
delicate period, ensuring that counterrevolutionaries are not allowed to
upset the process and ensuring that constitution making operates within
an atmosphere free of repression, intimidation, and fear.
The constitution itself, we believe, must be made in the most democratic
manner possible. To us, that can best be achieved through electing
representatives to a constituent assembly with a mandate to draft the
constitution. There are organizations that challenge the ANC's claim to
be the most representative organization in the country. If that is true,
let them prove their support at the ballot box.
To ensure that ordinary people are included in this process we are
circulating and discussing our own constitutional proposals and draft
bill of rights. We want these to be dis-cussed in all structures of our
alliance葉hat is, the ANC, South African Communist Party, and Congress
of South African Trade Unions, and amongst the people in general. That
way, when people vote for the ANC to represent them. in a constituent
assembly, they will know not only what the ANC stands for generally, but
what type of constitution we want.
Naturally these constitutional proposals are subject to re-vision on the
basis of our consultations with our membership, the rest of the
alliance, and the public generally. We want to create a constitution
that enjoys widespread support, loyalty, and respect. That can only be
achieved if we really do go to the people.
In order to avoid these just demands, various attempts have been made to
undermine and destabilize the ANC. The violence is the most serious, but
there are other more insidious methods. At present there is an obsession
in the press, amongst our political opponents, and many Western govern-ments
with our alliance with the South African Communist Party. Newspapers
continually carry speculations over the number of Communists on our
National Executive and allege that we are being run by the Communist
The ANC is not a communist party but a broad liberation movement,
including amongst its members Communists and non-Communists. Anyone who
is a loyal member of the ANC, anyone who abides by the discipline and
principles of the or-ganization, is entitled to belong to the
Our relationship with the SACP as an organization is one of mutual
respect. We unite with the SACP over common goals, but we respect one
another's independence and separate identity. There has been no attempt
whatsoever on the part of the SACP to subvert the ANC. On the contrary,
we derive strength from the alliance.
We have no intention whatsoever of heeding the advice of those who
suggest we should break from this alliance. Who is offering this
unsolicited advice? In the main it is those who have never given us any
assistance whatsoever. None of these advisers have ever made the
sacrifices for our struggle that Communists have made. We are
strengthened by this alliance. We shall make it even stronger.
We are in a phase of our struggle where victory is in sight. But we have
to ensure that this victory is not snatched from us. We have to ensure
that the racist regime feels maximum pressure right till the end and
that it understands that it must give way, that the road to peace,
freedom, and democracy is irresistible.
That is why sanctions must be maintained. This is not the time to reward
the apartheid regime. Why should they be re-warded for repealing laws
which form what is recognized as an international crime? Apartheid is
still in place. The regime must be forced to dismantle it, and only when
that process is irreversible can we start to think of lifting the
We are very concerned at the attitude that the Bush ad-ministration has
taken on this matter. It was one of the few governments that was in
regular touch with us over the ques-tion of sanctions, and we made it
clear that lifting sanctions was premature. That administration
nevertheless, without consulting us, merely informed us that American
sanctions were to be lifted. We find that completely unacceptable.
It is in this context that we value our friendship with Cuba very, very
much. When you, Comrade Fidel, yesterday said that our cause is your
cause, I know that that sentiment came from the bottom of your heart and
that that is the feel-ing of all the people of revolutionary Cuba.
You are with us because both of our organizations, the Communist Party
of Cuba and the ANC, are fighting for the oppressed masses, to ensure
that those who make the wealth enjoy its fruits. Your great apostle Jose
Marti said, "With the poor people of this earth I want to share my
We in the ANC will always stand with the poor and right- less. Not only
do we stand with them. We will ensure sooner rather than later that they
rule the land of their birth, that in the words of the Freedom Charter,
"The people shall govern." And when that moment arrives, it will have
been made possible not only by our efforts but through the solidarity,
support, and encouragement of the great Cuban people.
I must close my remarks by referring to an event which you have all
witnessed. Comrade Fidel Castro conferred upon me the highest honour
this country can award. I am very much humbled by this award, because I
do not think I deserve it. It is an award that should be given to those
who have already won the freedom of their peoples. But it is a source of
strength and hope that this award is given for the recognition that the
people of South Africa stand on their feet and are fighting for their
freedom. We sincerely hope that in these days that lie ahead we will
prove worthy of the confidence which is expressed in this award.
Long live the Cuban revolution!
Long live Comrade Fidel Castro!