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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Keynote Address Of The President Of The African National Congress - Cde. Nelson Mandela



Members of the National Executive Committee,Members of the Military Headquarters,Officers and combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe,Comrades,

It is with great honour that I stand here before you at this critical juncture in the history of our country. You, the combatants of our peoples army, Umkhonto We Sizwe, have left an indelible mark on the history of our struggle for freedom and democracy. We are gathered here today to look back on that history, to acknowledge both our strengths and weaknesses and more importantly to consolidate our gains in order to face the challenges ahead.

I am confident that you will display the commitment and discipline that has always been an outstanding quality of our heroic army, when you debate and discuss the significant issues and problems we are confronted with.

Together we have travelled a long and difficult road to freedom and even though we have come a long way we have in no way reached our destination, in fact if we are not vigilant the end point may be much further than we would like to think it actually is.

It is also with great sadness that we are gathered here today, if democratic elections materialise in April next year, MK will cease to exist as we have come to know and love it. I must however point out that in as much as this will represent an end of an important chapter in our history, it is at the same time a consolidation of our collective effort to eradicate the oppressive system of apartheid.


MK from its inception has played a significant role both politically and militarily in the process of liberating our people from apartheid oppression and economic exploitation. MK was and is the embodiment of the fighting spirit of our people and came to represent the highest aspirations and ideals of our struggle. It was by way of example that MK inspired generations of our fighting youth to swell the ranks of our army and the African National Congress.

The history of MK has not been an easy one. The ANC has had to operate under the most difficult operational conditions compounded by insufficient resources. Throughout this MK proved itself capable of mustering all the resources at its disposal, it displayed creativity and initiative which became a hallmark of its operations. The heroic examples of many of our combatants, those who have fallen in the line of duty and those still amongst us today, sent a clear message to the racist regime - that MK was capable of inflicting the most telling blows on the regime and its infrastructure.

It must also be noted, lest we forget, that MK played as valuable a role in the political arena as it did in the military field. Many of our combatants were outstanding political activists who fully understood and internalised the dialectical relationship that exists between our political and military struggle. In fact many of our combatants laid down their lives and were captured by the enemy for the political struggles they were engaged in. The period of armed propaganda was a clear manifestation of this dynamic understanding of the relationship between political and armed struggle. It was MK's commitment to the political objectives of the ANC that ensured its political and moral legitimacy as a genuine peoples army. This understanding translated itself into increasingly sophisticated military operations against the apartheid regime and its structures. Over the decades MK was transformed into an effective political and military force.

It was within this context that MK was tempered and steeled into the revolutionary army that it is today.


It must be acknowledged that the post February 1990 period did affect the ANC organisationally at different levels in an adverse way. MK was no exception to this process of reorganisation and restructuring. The reality is that any period of transition is characterised by change, and it is inevitable that this process will be accompanied by some degree of uncertainty and requires adaptation to the new situation.

The most important point to note in relation to negotiations and its relationship to other forms of struggle is that they are not mutually exclusive. Negotiations must be viewed as the culmination of all our collective efforts on different levels, through the use of a variety of methods, under different conditions to achieve our strategic objective - the transfer of power from the minority to the majority.

The decision to suspend armed activity did not mean an acceptance on our part of the irreversibility of the process of negotiations, but rather a genuine commitment to the process of peace and democracy. The African National Congress has more than any other organisation or political party, blazed the trail of democracy in this country. The suspension of armed activity should also not be viewed as a sign of weakness on our part, it should be viewed as a process of strengthening our position at the negotiating table and our commitment to creating the most favourable conditions for the democratisation process to succeed.

The most significant point in relation to the suspension of armed activity is that it in no way negates either the existence of MK nor the need to strengthen and build our army for the future. In fact, it places greater responsibility and poses new challenges for our army.

It is also important to recognise that negotiations are an advance for our struggle. It is the combined efforts of all our people and that of MK in reinforcing the mass struggles of our people which forced the regime to engage in the negotiations process.

What needs to be done and what you need to deliberate at this conference, is how best MK can contribute positively and constructively to the process of democratisation.


As you are aware we all have lived and are living in historical times. Who would have thought that we would be living witnesses to the collapse of the former Soviet Union ? Who would have speculated the swiftness with which the United States of America would consolidate its hegemony over the world ? Suffice to say that we are living in a world in which the project of revolutionary transformation has become a much more difficult one. To recognise these changes does not for one moment imply that the prospects for and the commitment to democratic transformation has diminished, the reality is that there are millions of oppressed and exploited people the world over who continue to struggle for freedom and liberation. The struggling people of our own country bear testimony to this.

In the Southern African region we have witnessed the decolonization of Namibia. Old regimes have been replaced by new ones through democratic elections and multi - party democracy has become synonymous with political and economic change. The optimism which many individuals across the political spectrum have expressed should not be without caution. What is happening in Angola and Mozambique is the most pertinent example of the disregard that forces of reaction have for democracy. In our own country similar forces of reaction are doing their utmost to derail the democratisation process. Our people collectively need to safeguard and consolidate the process of democracy less we find ourselves on the road to anarchy and destruction.

These changes in the balance of forces worldwide has also had an adverse impact on the support we have enjoyed historically from friendly countries. The material and financial assistance which we received from traditional sources has been seriously affected and this has meant that we are operating without adequate resources. This is precisely why we have experienced such severe problems in relation to the welfare of our members and in particular that of our combatants. The African National Congress is well aware of this problem and we are constantly struggling to rectify this situation. It is not an easy task and we hope that together we will weather this storm as we have done so admirably in the past.


One of the primary reasons for convening this MK conference has been to look into the important issue of the welfare of our soldiers.

The ANC recognises that this issue has become critical in that we have not been able to adequately address this problem. This conference will hopefully allow us to understand the real extent of the problem and find the necessary solutions.

The issue of welfare is not one that can be reduced to the handing out of money for services rendered. The welfare of our combatants and that of our returned exiles in general is directly linked to a commitment on the part of the ANC to recognise the incredible sacrifices and commitment to liberation by generations of our people who found their way into the ranks of the ANC and MK. Those of our people who have been denied the opportunity to lead normal lives by virtue of the commitment to the liberation of our people must be given access to pensions, health care, housing, education, skills training and employment. It is imperative that we are committed to redressing the historical injustice of apartheid and racism.

It is important that this commitment extends even to the families of those who have fallen in the course of our struggle, to the families of those who have been disabled and brutalized by apartheid.

I want to state unequivocally that the ANC is committed to ensuring that any future democratic government will be committed to providing the necessary means to address this issue.


The key task during the transition period is that of levelling the political playing field. If we are not able to achieve this we will not have free and fair elections in April next year. We understand very well why the regime and its allies are not genuinely committed to the process of levelling the political playing field, because if they do they will lose their monopoly over the critical instruments and means of power. It is for this reason that they are so reluctant to lose control of their security forces and relinquish their monopoly of force. The regime wants to use these issues as a leverage to assert itself at the negotiating table.

The greatest threat to democracy in this country are the security forces of the regime and their supporters in the white right-wing movement. As the ANC we need to be absolutely unequivocal in our demand for the joint multi - party control of all security forces and armed formations. We must make sure that no security force or armed formation can hold the process of democratisation to ransom.

MK can play a vital role in showing the way forward as regards the issue of security. MK must be fully committed to the levelling of the playing field and must lead the way in securing the necessary agreements related to the establishment of the national peacekeeping force and TEC Sub - council on defence. I will not elaborate on the details of these issues as I am aware you will be discussing them at length during the conference.

In addition to addressing the issue of the transitional mechanisms in relation to security forces and armed formations, as MK we need to look seriously at our preparations for participating in the future national defence force. If we are ill prepared and have been unsuccessful in our attempts at converting our guerilla forces into regular conventional ones we will not be able to play a significant role in the integration process. Again I am confident that this conference will look into these issues as matter of urgency and one of significant importance.


I am conscious of the fact that since the MK conference in Venda we have faced numerous problems related to organisational restructuring and the issue of adequate resources. It is necessary to identify the problems related to the non implementation of those resolutions and develop mechanisms to ensure that from this conference we emerge stronger and better equipped to face the challenges ahead.

During this critical period we need to draw on our commitment, our collective skills and resources, our desire for freedom and democracy and our unity which has been forged in battle in order to move forward to freedom and liberation.

If we allow our difficulties to drive a wedge between us the only victors would be those who have oppressed, exploited and brutalised us for so many decades. This conference needs to soberly assess our weaknesses and our strengths, to be open and frank in our discussions in a constructive way without losing sight of the primary contradiction in our society - the existence of the apartheid regime and the need to rid our country of it as speedily as possible.

You are going to be important participants in the future of this country. You have a great historical responsibility and do not for one moment detract from that less you allow yourselves to be marginalised from the very process which will determine your future and that of our country as a whole.

There is a need now to develop our ideas and positions on a broad range of issues ranging from education and skills training to demobilisation and the future training needs of our soldiers. This responsibility should not rest on the shoulders of a few individuals but all of you who are gathered here today.

You are also aware that we have launched an MK national fund. Your deliberations should also look at how best to utilise these funds.


As I have mentioned earlier, December 16th this year may be the last anniversary of MK that we will celebrate. We need to look at how best to celebrate this anniversary so as to highlight the great historical role of MK in our struggle and to honour those of our martyrs who have made the supreme sacrifice. We must never forget the memory of our fallen comrades and here we remember Chris Hani, Cassius Make, Paul Dikeledi, Barny Molokoane, Obadi, Mary Mini and many others who have made the supreme sacrifice. I want to once again reiterate that I am confident you will emerge stronger and clearer as to the tasks you have identified for yourselves.

We must end the violence, the death and destruction, the oppression and exploitation and build a secure future for us all in peace and democracy.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.