Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Max Vuyisile Sisulu's Speech at the Second Annual Nelson Mandela International Day Lecture in Delhi, IndiaBy: Max Vuyisile Sisulu, MP
Speaker of the National Assembly
Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
10 July 2012
High Commissioner of South Africa to India, His Excellency Reverend Harris Majeke
Members of the Indian International Centre and the Working Group on Alternative Strategies, who are the Co-Hosts of this Nelson Mandela International Day Annual Lecture together with the South African High Commission,
Esteemed Members of the Indian Government and Parliament,
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Mr M.J. Mahlangu
Members of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Mr Murkhajee, Former Indian High Commissioner to South Africa and a family friend
Friends of South Africa
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour and a pleasure to be here in Delhi, India, to join the World Community of Nations in celebrating Nelson Mandela and in reflecting on his life and times. It is indeed a special privilege to deliver the second Annual Nelson Mandela International Day Lecture. The inaugural lecture was delivered by Ahmed Kathrada, a struggle stalwart, comrade and friend of Nelson Mandela who spent 26 years on Robben Island with him.
Let me, right at the outset, congratulate the Indian International Centre and the Working Group on Alternative Strategies for co-hosting this function in this country where clearly a significant part of Madiba’s heart belongs. Responding to a journalist’s question shortly after his release from prison in 1990, when asked which country he would like to visit first, Madiba said
“There is no doubt that my first preference would be India because of the close ties between the African National Congress and the India government… The fact that Nehru, Gandhi and other leaders were in and out of prison encouraged a great deal in our struggles.”
In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared 18 July as the Nelson Mandela International Day in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom. Through this declaration, the world community recognized Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity.
It is thus with immense pride that we, together with the rest of humanity, look forward to the 18th of July which marks Mandela’s 94th birthday. This lecture is in part to commemorate his birthday and we take this opportunity to say “Happy Birthday Tata, Happy Birthday Madiba.” As a nation, South Africa feels privileged that we still have Madiba with us. We have benefited from his leadership for many years and he continues to be a major inspiration to us. This occasion here today, about 8000 kilometers from his home base, bears testimony to the fact that all the peoples of the world share this feeling.
In spite of all his notable achievements, which include a Nobel Peace Prize, a nomination as an Ambassador of Conscience, and true to his humble nature, Nelson Mandela has always managed to deflect the attention given to him. He never referred to himself as the statesman, the Icon of Peace, the freedom fighter that we all know him to be. In his own political home, the African National Congress, he maintained that he was a part of the leadership collective and never sought to place himself above others. He is a product of our organization, his views were honed within the organization and the dreams and aspirations he articulated were those shared with his comrades in arms, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo and many others. When he spoke, he spoke for them all.
As Mandela turns 94, his beloved ANC has just completed its centenary. It is an extraordinary story of achievement and human sacrifice. It is a story which is linked in a significant way to the arrival in South Africa, 152 years ago, of the first indentured labourers from India. Part of the major developments which inspired a new brand of political consciousness among Africans was the Satyagraha campaign of 1906 led by Mahatma Gandhi – a potent act of passive protest against oppression. This would later on also inspire the formation of the ANC in 1912 and strengthen Mandela’s belief in our shared humanity.
Like India, South Africa is a very diverse country, diverse in race, culture, religion, and language. Like yours, the tapestry that is our society, is rich, vibrant and lively, noisy and colourful, beautiful and melancholic. South African Indians are very much a part of this tapestry, stitched in living colour throughout the loom, woven into the very fibres which identify us - to each other and to others. This sense of belonging emanates from a shared history of oppression and a shared history of resistance to oppression. In the case of India, this was resistance against British colonial rule and in South Africa’s case it was resistance against apartheid rule.
South Africa and India are two great democracies with common values and convergent interests. It is these common values and convergent interests that guide our strategic ties and serve as our compass as we continue to deepen our bilateral ties uniquely suited to the challenges of our time. This is what informs the unity of purpose in our historical relationship. The difference between India being the world’s largest and an established democracy, on the one hand, and South Africa being a relatively small and new democracy on the other fades into insignificance in the face of the similarly long and gallant struggles for freedom that our two countries waged against oppression.
On the eve of India’s Independence in 1947, Dr Naicker and Dr Dadoo were sent to India by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress to make a case for support for South Africa’s struggle for freedom and democracy, laying the foundations for a relationship, between the Congress movements of South Africa and India, that would be built in the decades to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela chose India as the first country he visited and how appropriate, as, in 1967, India was the first country to accord the African National Congress diplomatic status. Speaking at a banquet hosted by then-President Venkataraman, Mandela said, of India,
“The indentured labourers also served to establish an umbilical cord that ties together the peoples of our respective countries. As much as India is a particle of our country, so are we too a particle of India. History has condemned us to seek each other out, to deal with each other as members of the same family.
It is that history which makes it possible for each one of us to claim the immortal Mahatma Gandhi as our national hero.”
Under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the ANC guided the negotiations towards the constitutional democracy we have today. Those were turbulent times indeed. The killing, in 1993, of popular ANC leader, Chris Hani, threw our country into a period of uncertainty as the threat of violence hung over South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s leadership during this period proved key to securing the peace, calming the waters and ensuring a smooth transition.
During this period, Mandela spoke with many communities, including the Indian community in South Africa. At one such meeting, Mandela took the opportunity to acknowledge the suffering of the Indian people under apartheid as well as to salute their stance to stand alongside the Black majority, as part of the Black majority, against the apartheid regime.
He provided a detailed update of the negotiation process and the aims and intentions of the ANC going forward. In so doing Mandela addressed, in a substantive manner, the concerns and fears of various communities in our country. In countries like ours, with diverse communities, the work of reconciliation is an ongoing task. Mandela’s lesson to us is that our slogans, good and meaningful as they are, like “unity in diversity” and “strength in diversity” must be backed up with a substantive engagement with the real concerns of our people.
Mandela promised that the ANC would respect the principle of consultation as a key instrument of governance. The ANC has always upheld this principle.
Mandela promised to South Africans a Constitution “that would give expression to the aspirations of all our peoples, whatever their colour, class or creed. It is in this constitution where we could best ensure the protection of religious, cultural and political freedoms.”
At the unveiling of the Gandhi Memorial in June 1993, Mandela expanded on the concept of non-violent resistance in the face of brutal repression. It was auspicious indeed that he should reflect on these issues at a time in our history when our society was in the throes of a precarious transition, and at the place where Mahatma Gandhi would be remembered.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mandela called Gandhi the “Sacred Warrior” and remembered him thus:
“India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen...”
After our first election in 1994, President Mandela drew on the experiences of India to understand the daunting task then facing the ANC in government. He understood that there were useful lessons which the organisation could learn from the Congress Party of India which had been in power since 1947. Speaking at the commemoration of the founding of the Republic of India in 1995, Mandela said:
“Jawaharlal Nehru taught us that the right to a roof over one’s head and affordable services, a job and reasonable income, education and health facilities is more than just a bonus to democracy. It is the essence of democracy itself; the essence of human rights.”
At the same meeting Mandela went on to say:
“Panditji taught that narrow forms of nationalism, intense and powerful as they may be in awakening people to struggle, are inadequate as a basis for achieving victory or for lasting peace. Our experience has shown us the truth of this lesson that exclusiveness must give way to co-operation and inter-dependence. It is a lesson forged in struggle and inscribed in the rapidly changing world order…”
Madiba’s visit was the first to India by a South African Head of State and it served to consolidate the foundation of a strategic partnership between the two countries. Following former President Thabo Mbeki’s state visit to India in 2003, South Africa hosted President APJ Abdul Kalam in 2004 on a reciprocal state visit. This was again, the first state visit to South Africa by an Indian Head of State.
I would argue these bring into focus, the lessons for us and for future generations, from the life of Nelson Mandela and the great leaders who influenced him.
Ladies and Gentlemen, President Mandela and the ANC, guided the nation through the first election, secured peace, and an overwhelming electoral victory. During that period South Africans of all hues rallied with him around what became known, in that period, as the “rainbow nation”.
Our government focused on the Reconstruction and Development Plan, whose purpose was to address the needs of the poorest in our country by shifting national priorities and using scarce resources efficiently. The intention was that the human rights enshrined and guaranteed in our Bill of Rights must be underpinned by real and material benefits for our people.
I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect here today, on what this legacy means for us in South Africa, and also in India today, to whom we are tied, umbilically. Our leaders, and forefathers, Mandela, Nehru, Mbeki, Gandhi, Sisulu, Dadoo and many more, have inspired generations, and continue to inspire more generations of leaders who have come after them.
There is no doubting that the world we have inherited, currently experiencing a deep economic crisis, is rapidly changing causing a shift in global power relations. Both our countries are uniquely positioned to exert influence in this highly fluid environment. The Brics and IBSA groups provide platforms from which we are able to leverage influence for the benefit of our countries and our people. We need to work collaboratively at global fora, like the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, G20 and within international financial institutions.
Ladies and gentlemen, our delegation from Parliament is visiting India to build on this long history between our peoples. We are here to strengthen our Parliament to Parliament relations and continue to develop common positions for the multi-lateral bodies we participate in. India, as the largest democracy in the world, has much to teach us, and we look forward to many informative lessons in the years to come.
I stand in front of you today with a major sense of personal indebtedness to India. My first visit to this country was during my formative years when I was invited to an Afro-Asian Conference. This is where I had the privilege to meet the late Indira Gandhi, who later became Prime Minister of this beautiful country. I can never erase this memory from my mind. Further to this, in 1998, my father, Water Sisulu, one of Mandela’s confidantes, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan award by the Indian government for his exceptional and distinguished contribution to the struggle against apartheid. He is the only African to be bestowed with this Award.
Upon receipt of the Padma Vibhushan Award, my father spelt out very clearly that he accepted the award on behalf of Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani, Helen Joseph and Yusuf Dadoo. This is an important point to emphasize as the ANC has always operated on the principle of collective leadership. Nelson Mandela, our leader on Robben Island and the first President of the Republic of South Africa, always spoke for this leadership.
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests, perhaps a good place to end today would be to remember President Mandela’s words that the “lasting peace our movements fought for had to be underpinned by a visible change in the conditions in which people live and work”.
This sentiment should further strengthen the foundations of our enduring bilateral relationship and continue to help us achieve the objectives which our leaders envisioned for our peoples.
This is the future we must remain hopeful about and work towards.
I thank you.