Speeches and Quotes to take note of

1. Nelson Mandela: Response to Botha’s offer of conditional release

I am not prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I cherish my own freedom but I care even more for your freedom. Too many people have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I, have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organization, the African National Congress, which was banned.

What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on pass offenses? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in the banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my every citizenship is not respected?

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. I cannot and will not give any understanding at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. (February 1985 – delivered by his daughter Zindzi to a packed Jabulani stadium in Soweto).

2. Lillian Ngoyi

We are women, we are workers, we stand together. And we will never accept passes. We will never carry passes under any conditions. We know what these passes are doing to our men. We have seen them bundled into vans and sent to farm labour camps. Passes will place us at the mercy of the police. (1956, during the women’s march)

I am still not prepared to worship a monster. Whenever police decide to swoop, political opponents will find themselves sleeping in the same cells and facing the same charges. This shows the futility of infighting when faced with a common enemy.

When Lillian got banned in 1957, she said:

I must say I had a tough time, but my spirits have not been dampened. You can tell my friends all over the world that this old girl is still her old self. I am looking forward to the day when my children will share in the wealth of our lovely South Africa. When I die, I’ll die a happy person because I have seen the rays of our new South Africa rising.

3. Desmond Tutu (I am not defying the government, I am obeying God).

“I want the government to know, now and always, that I don’t fear them. I will do all I can to destroy this diabolical system, whatever the cost to me.” (During apartheid)

Tutu believed that every person in the world is a member of one family. He said that “would we let our own brother or sister die of hunger? What stronger bond could there be than family? A person is a person through other persons.”

“I feel that freedom is coming for us all. Maybe I am whistling in the dark, but I believe there is still a possibility of freedom coming peacefully.”

“We long to put behind us all the pain of apartheid, but we are charged to cherish the truth about our dark past and pray that all those injured in body and in spirit should be healed through the Commission. Let us not become hostages to the past. Let us commit ourselves: let it never happen again.” (Tutu spoke these words at the TRC)

4. Walter Sisulu

The ANC has created a remarkable spirit of national reconciliation by being generous in victory and forgiving in government. We have only been able to do so because of our people’s wonderful tolerance and absence of any desire for revenge. But forgiving is not the same as forgetting. We must never forget that the ANC leadership would have remained in our cells, and our people would have remained in the prison of apartheid, without the support of the many millions who struggled across the world to defeat the old South Africa. Of course we shake hands with our enemies, both inside our country and abroad. But our hearts remain with all those who supported us when it really mattered to. (Foreword – Sing the beloved country by P. Hain).

5. Mohandas Gandhi (pay careful attention to this one)

“Truly speaking, it was after I went to South Africa that I became what I am now. My love for South Africa and my concern for her problems are no less than for India.”

“Let the accusation of breaking the law fall on us. Let us cheerfully suffer imprisonment. There is nothing wrong in that… if the government sends us to gaol, I shall be the first to court imprisonment. And if any Indian is put to trouble because of his refusal to register…, I will appear in his case free of charge.”

6. Reverend Isaac Wauchope

“You are going to die, but that is what you came here to do… let us die like warriors, the sons of Africa.”

I hear myself say: “Goodbye, my strength is gone” and then I feel strong hands of a Native gripping my wrists and holding me up. Then several others catch me round the chest and shoulders and drag me, nearly dead, into the boat, and so I am saved.

7. Chief Albert Luthuli

“I, together with thousands of my countrymen, have in the course of the struggle for these ideals, been harassed and imprisoned, but we are not deterred in our quest for a new age in which we shall live in peace and in brotherhood.”

“Any Chief worthy of his position must fight timelessly against such debasing conditions and laws. If the government should resort to dismissing such chiefs, it may find itself dismissing many Chiefs.”

“We should rest content in the conviction that we are performing a divine duty when we struggle for freedom”. (Speech to the Natal Congress of the People in Durban, 5 September 19540.

Other quotes

Yusuf Dadoo: We need now to fight together as one oppressed nation.

Duma Nokwe: Racialism of whatever kind is an abomination.

Tsietsi Mashinini: Students today want to be recognised as human beings (1976).


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