Friday, 11 October 2019

Nelson Mandela's speech to the 2000 Labour Party conference

Note: the transcript printed in The Guardian was incomplete against the speech on YouTube. This is my transcription (starting from the Guardian text).

Prime Minister Tony Blair, distinguished guests, I am intimidated. Tony you know as well as I do that the reason why there are so many people here at this moment is purely out of curiosity. They want to see what a pensioner from the colonies looks like. Well you know I am not an old man. Please take these glasses. 

One of the distinguishing features of the anti-apartheid struggle was the very broad support it enjoyed from most political persuasions in all parts of the world.

Apartheid was experienced as such a basic onslaught against human dignity that it demeaned all of us.

The political parties in the major western countries often had different approaches in their support for the freedom struggle in South Africa, but none could ever condone the racism of apartheid.

This universal abhorrence of apartheid contributed significantly to the ultimate victory of freedom, non-racialism and democracy in our country.

One therefore has an appreciation for the support received from people all over the world, irrespective of their party political affiliation.

There were however, political parties and organisations in the western democracies with which the liberation movement developed particularly strong solidarity relations.

These derived from a common approach to such social issues as poverty and the primary concern for the marginalised.

These relationships were built and consolidated in joint action and struggle with the solidarity forces in those countries.

The Labour party of Great Britain is one such organisation. It therefore gives us such great pleasure to join with you here today at your party congress in the year that the party celebrates its centenary.
Allow me in the first place to extend our hearty congratulations to the Labour party. I am certain that I can do so on behalf of all the freedom-loving people in our country, who appreciated the extent to which the attainment of democracy in South Africa was also due to our solidarity partners internationally.

I know that I can do it on behalf of the organisation that you supported so faithfully over many decades, the African National Congress.

Britain was in so many respects the second headquarters of our movement in exile. Your solidarity helped to make those years of exile bearable and contributed to them not turning out to be wasted years. With you we can look back to the proud beginnings of your organisation, rooted in the concern to give organisational voice to those without power.

To have sustained over a century such an organisation is a tribute not only to the Labour party, its leadership and members. It is testimony to the resilience of the spirit that continues to believe that the world can be made a better place for all.

It defies and gives the lie to the pervasive cynicism and loss of hope that characterised so much of political life in the latter part of the last century.

The centenary celebrations of such a political organisation serves to remind us, here at the start of a new millennium, of the continued need to persevere in the pursuit of those ideals.

The internationalism of which the Labour party was such a potent part, as we well know in South Africa, today faces new challenges.

At a time international solidarity was a triumph of the human spirit over the barriers of distance and isolation. We marvelled at that generosity of spirit capable of reaching out to take part in the struggles of those far removed and in distant corners of the world.

Today the world has become the global village of which we once spoke only in wishful metaphor. What happens in one part of the globe is immediately accessible to the entire world and affects others over great distances.

The danger is that globalisation can come to mean only the free flow of goods and finance, the open access to markets, the breaking down of barriers to trade and commerce.

The concern for the common good, which characterised the international solidarity we spoke of, is in danger of being lost in the current understanding of a global world.

We would argue that the shrinking of the globe through the advances in communications and information technology has made it even more incumbent upon us to become once more the keepers of our brothers and sisters wherever in the world they may be. This may very well be one of the major political and moral tasks of the Labour party in the 21st century.

Globalisation is extremely important, no country can avoid it. Those who are saying they are not going to prepare for this phenomenon are like saying I don’t recognise winter therefore I am not going to buy clothing for winter. We have our reservations about globalisation as I have indicated [?] and we must certainly not be afraid to condemn those aspects of globalisation which lead to more poverty in the world. We can no longer tolerate where few powers dominate the world and dictate to the world. All human beings are born equal. They must be treated equally. But one can help, right expectation in regard to this global expectations only of a party that domestically holds dear those values of solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society, especially women, children, the disabled, the aged, those who suffer from terminal diseases like HIV aids, cancer and others. It is a sad fact of our times that in spite of the massive scientific, technological and economic advances humankind has made poverty and social inequality remain features of most societies in the world. Our historic relationship with the Labour party rests upon our common concern to centrally represent the voice and interests of those sectors traditionally excluded from power and privilege.
In our own country poverty remains the greatest social problem and its eradication our greatest political and societal challenge.

I told Prime Minister, Tony, about an hour or so ago, that apart from poverty, that I’ve spoken about we faced a crisis of a dimension which I can not put in words. In our country 10 teachers die every month of Aids, in one university a student dies every week and in one of the most prominent universities in the country more than 25% of the students are HIV positive, and in our of our neighbouring countries three cabinet ministers one of whom was a doctor, have died of aids. We look to our friends to assist us to stave off a crisis. I told the PM that President Bill Clinton has given me five million dollars to use specifically to fight the scourge. Bill Gates gave me ten million dollars and my wife five million dollars and the partner of Bill Gates gave each of 7 and a half million. There are times when I wish I had not got married. Because if I had not I would have got that 15 million. But what worries me even more is that my wife is becoming even more important than I am. There was an ambassador in SA who came to me and said I want to give your wife an honorary doctorate but if you accompany her you will also get a doctorate. You can see the wretched life I am spending but please don’t tell her that I made this remark.

In South Africa we have achieved a non-racial democracy based on one of the most progressive constitutions anywhere in the world. Our once divided society has come together in an act of national reconciliation that ensures that our political order is stable; we now live out our differences within the framework of our constitutional democracy. The management of our economy is widely acclaimed for the manner in which sound macro-economic fundamentals are maintained.

The people-centred growth of our economy, with new jobs and increasing prosperity for all our people, has however not occurred at the pace and volume we hoped for when we set out on this road of reconstruction and development.

The growth of an economy is no longer merely a national matter. Globalisation has exactly meant that a nation's best made plans can go awry due to international factors beyond its control.

We have seen that with the financial crisis in the Asian markets, even though our economy withstood that crisis better than most of the emergent economies. The effective growth of an economy like ours is crucially dependent upon direct foreign investment; yet one often witnesses how the political stability, social progressiveness and sound economic management in the country are ignored when investment decisions are made.

As we stood together to oppose apartheid in South Africa, we are today called upon to join forces for growth and development.

Democratic South Africa has no pretensions whatsoever to being a mini superpower in our region, on our continent or in the developing world. We do, however, realise that we have a responsibility to articulate common concerns of those regions when we do act on the international stage. In doing so, we turn once more to our traditional solidarity partners, like the Labour party, to add their voice to those clamouring and working for a better and more equitable life for all throughout the world.
One of the issues that gives me encouragement in all the turmoil that are taking place all over the work, the thing that makes me go to bed feeling strong and full of hope and feeling much younger than I am, is that in spite of all the problems, the world is full of good men and women who are prepared to serve not only their country but the entire world men and women who fight socio-economic evils wherever they are to be found in the world. Men and women whose theatre of operations is the entire world, who fight poverty, illiteracy, hunger, want. As I look at you here I can see men and women who are worthy candidates to immortality. When their last day comes we will be able to say here lies a man or women who has done his or her duty to country, and to people. They will be like Aristotle or Plato we will inter them into the earth but their names will live for eternity. That is how I conceive of the Labour Party, because of the way on which is has selected such economic issues like poverty, like hunger, to fight, wherever these are to be found in the world. We are the beneficiaries of that vision, of that sensitivity, to problems across the seas, and that is how the Labour Party has conducted itself up to today. And that is why I am confident that there are good men and women all over the world, those good men and women are to be found in the Labour Party of Britain.

I wish you well as you enter the second century of your organisational life.

The health of a democracy is ultimately dependent upon the vibrancy of its political parties and the active participation of the citizenry. It is our wish that the human solidarity that has inspired the Labour party for such a long time will be kept alive in action. May this century be one where the poor and marginalised come into their own and the gross social inequalities of the past at last are eradicated.

Tony, ladies and gentlemen, I may have told you the story in the past, but it is crucial that I should repeat it here, the day before my 75th birthday my security told me that there was a young lady of about 4 at the gate that wanted to see me. I said let her come in. They said “sir she is very cheeky” I said precisely for that reason let her come in. They did. She was quite a lady. I was sitting in my lounge she did not knock she did not knock she did not wait she said ‘how old are you’. I said I can’t remember but I was born long, long ago. She said two years ago? I said no much longer than that. Then she said ‘why did you go to jail?’ I “no I did not go to jail before because I wanted to I was sent there by other people”. “Who sent you there” “people who don’t like me”. She said “how long were you there?” I said “again I can’t remember but I was there for a very long time”. “No” she insisted “you must tell me how long you were there”. I said “no I have already told you that I can’t remember”. She then said “you are a stupid old man aren’t you”.

Well ladies and gentlemen if you think my remarks have not lived up to your expectations please be a little more diplomatic than that young lady.

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