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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

20th Anniversary Speech of Umkhonto we Sizwe


Fellow countrymen and Comrades, Militants of the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), Lerumo la Sechaba

December 16th, 1981, marks the 20th anniversary of our glorious people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the spear of the oppressed black people of our land. This year on Heroes' Day, we look back with pride over 20 years of arduous struggle, and forward with resolve and determination to the battles ahead. We look back, firstly, to December 16th, 1961, when Umkhonto was born; born out of a mighty mass movement led by the ANC, which had united people in every corner of our land against white minority rule; born out of decades of peaceful struggle for freedom and justice, which had brought nothing but increased violence and oppression; born, finally, out of the people's realisation that the violence of the white racists would have to be met with the revolutionary violence of the masses.

Twentieth Anniversary

On this the 20th anniversary of Umkhonto, we recall the words of the Umkhonto Manifesto which has since been written in blood by our fighting cadres across the pages of our history:

"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom."

As we look back over these past twenty years, our glorious martyrs stand out before us: men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for the people's cause; fighters who stood rock-solid in the face of fascist brutality, refusing to submit; soldiers who fought from the frontline, fearless and firm in their conviction of the certainty of victory. From the days of the first sabotage campaigns we identify Molefe, Mini, Mkhaba and others. From the glorious battles of the late 60s when our comrades fell gallantly on the fields of Zimbabwe en route to South Africa, we recognise Patrick Molaoa, Basil February, Peter Mhlongo and others. No less prominent are such heroes as Joe Gqabi, Bram Fischer, Lillian Ngoyi, Joseph Mdluli, Babla Saloojee, Gordon Dikebu, the Matola 12 and countless others. In tribute to all of them - too many to mention here - we lower our flag of black, green and gold. Their names have become part of our glorious history and their record a lasting inspiration to our revolutionary struggle.

Long and Difficult March

In commemorating the 20th anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, we need to acknowledge that our march forward has been long and difficult. We have suffered many setbacks, perhaps the most severe being the capture of the Rivonia leadership by the enemy. Scores of militants are in enemy prisons. Many of our own people, betraying their own future, have turned traitors and they move in our midst. They are paid by the enemy to help keep us in chains. These agents are prowling among the people and within our organisations day and night. Thanks to them, hundreds of our people have been killed, massacred, tortured and imprisoned. Some enemy collaborators have assigned themselves the treacherous task of opposing any form of active mass struggle which would lead to the defeat of the enemy and the liberation of our country. The road to our freedom is indeed no easy walk.

But all along this arduous road to a liberated, a people's South Africa, there have been thousands who have refused to set aside the punishing load. In the hangman's dungeon, staring into the face of death, Solomon Mahlangu said: "My blood will nourish the tree which will bear the fruits of freedom!" And only recently, the national leadership on Robben Island with more than 18 years of gruelling imprisonment behind them, have declared: "Our morale has never been higher!"

Likewise, the morale of our fighting masses and of our people's army has seldom been higher. The black workers of our country have risen as seldom before. The opposition to increased rentals, mass deportations and SAIC-type institutions is scaling new heights. The women and the churches are moving in the front ranks of the popular battles. The people in the bantustans are becoming restive. Teachers, lecturers, students, progressive journalists and cultural workers are taking their place among the masses, and solidarity actions are becoming a growing feature of our mass struggles.

Of supreme importance in this developing mass offensive is the emergence of Umkhonto we Sizwe as an ever-present component of the people's struggles. Born of the people, it is demonstrably of the people. Its strength, like its weakness, is the strength and weakness of the people. Its history and record is a proud example of unity in action. In the 60s Umkhonto fought with the people of Zimbabwe. Within South Africa its cadres often appeared in enemy courts undaunted and inspiring the people with their courage and confidence as they stood accused of seeking the national and social liberation of the people of South Africa. The past four years have witnessed an escalation of both popular and armed actions in close combination. We recall the heroism of our cadres in guerilla attacks which have been associated now with such names as Moroka, Silverton, Boysens, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, the Orange Free State, Sibasa, SASOL, Pretoria, Mabopane, Ermelo, several places in the rest of the Transvaal, the Cape, Natal, the Reef and even - and even - Voortrekkerhoogte. We can now truly say the fighting masses, employing their weapon Umkhonto we Sizwe, are striking at the very heart of the fascist monster. Umkhonto we Sizwe is now inextractably planted in our soil and daily displays an expanding presence. This is a measure of the enemy's failure to halt the march of the people to victory.

Hated Oppressor

In desperation., the enemy will go forth to kill, massacre and destroy within South Africa and across international borders into independent and sovereign States. The enemy has done this; the enemy is doing it and will continue to do so with increased fascist brutality in the years ahead. But such is a people's road to the destruction of anti-human and archaic systems of the Botha-Malan type. For the South African fascists, the enemy consists not merely of the ANC and its allies, nor merely the oppressed, exploited and patriotic masses in our country. The South African regime is fighting the countries and peoples of southern Africa, the countries and peoples of Africa. It is fighting the rest of the progressive world. With the Reagan Administration as their immediate ally, the racists are hoping to reverse the whole course of human history. That is a pointer to the bitterness and ferocity of the unfolding phase of the African struggle, with South Africa as the central theatre.

The nationally hated and internationally notorious racist and fascist oppressor and exploiter must be destroyed. For the Spear of the Nation, the ANC and its allies and for the popular masses of our country, the challenge is a glorious one. The time comes in the life of a people when there remain only two choices: to live and die in perpetual serfdom or to fight and if needs be, to die for freedom. That time has now come to South Africa.

Close Ranks

On this national day of commemoration and rededication, the ANC calls on all patriots of our land, regardless of race, creed or social stratum to close ranks in a mass struggle for a nonracial and democratic South Africa, NOW!

We enjoin the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, to spread itself across the entire face of our country, delivering increasingly mighty blows for liberation.

We invite all the militants, activists and people's leaders in our country to respond with enthusiasm to the call for unity in action against the common enemy.

We must all support and defend SWAPO and the people of Namibia. The genuine independence of Namibia is on the agenda for NOW!

We must stand in solidarity with the countries and peoples of southern Africa who are under constant and mounting subversion by the South African regime.

Forward to the 70th anniversary of the ANC and the Year of Unity in Action!


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.