Friday, April 28, 2006

Long Live Freedom Day! Long Live May Day!

Originally uploaded by rogiro.
Long live Freedom Day! Long live May Day!

Statement by African National Congress President and President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki

Our nation celebrated Freedom Day, the 12th anniversary of our liberation, the day before the publication of this edition of ANC TODAY. We have therefore now entered our 13th year of freedom. We do so within the context of a strongly positive mood among the masses of our people, who remain confident that we will make further advances towards the achievement of the goal of a better life for all.

On Freedom Day, I joined thousands of our compatriots in Galeshewe in the Northern Cape, who welcomed us with the same enthusiasm that the masses of our people constantly demonstrate throughout the country. There was no doubt but that the people were indeed in a celebratory mood, driven by the hope for a better future, born of the fact of the freedom we achieved in 1994.

I am certain this was not unique to Galeshewe, as those who attended other Freedom Day rallies elsewhere in our country would testify. This signifies that the masses of our people have taken to heart the promise we made when we said that our country had entered into its Age of Hope.

The marking of Freedom Day by thousands of our people throughout the country could not but remind us that the freedom we were celebrating was brought about by the united action of the masses of our people. This year's anniversaries bring this reality sharply into focus. I refer here to the centenaries of the Bambata Rebellion and the launch of Satyagraha, the 50th anniversary of the Women's March on Pretoria and the 30th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising.

The final assault of our movement to end white minority rule involved not only different forms of struggle but also all sections and strata of our people, joined by millions throughout the world.

This came about because our movement consciously pursued the strategic objective of uniting as many people as possible against racism and apartheid as a necessary condition for speeding up the advance to the victory of the democratic revolution. To promote this goal, our movement put forward the slogan - unite in action; act in unity!

Consistently our movement insisted that the struggle against apartheid was a struggle for self-determination, a struggle to create the conditions for our people as a whole to determine their future. This is the fundamental meaning of the vision spelt out in the Freedom Charter that, The People Shall Govern!

Accordingly, in the same way that our people had to unite in action and act in unity to defeat white minority rule, they would have to unite in action and act in unity to build the new united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. For this reason our movement worked hard not only to unite our people in all their echelons against apartheid.

It also worked to unite these masses and strata around a common vision of what the new post-apartheid South Africa should be. It was for this reason that especially during the 1980s, we made every effort to popularise the Freedom Charter and get all progressive organisations in our country freely to adopt it as their own programme.

In the main, this strategic campaign to unite the progressive movement and the masses of our people around a common perspective about our country's future succeeded. In itself this imposed an obligation on the victorious democratic movement to continue to unite in action and act in unity to build the kind of South Africa projected by the Freedom Charter.

Continuing its strategic tradition of uniting the greatest number of our people to determine their future, our movement has continued the struggle to unite our people to pursue in action a shared agenda for the fundamental social transformation of our country.

To reinforce this perspective and provide it with the cement it needs, not long after our liberation, Nelson Mandela put forward the important idea of a New Patriotism that would inspire all our people to act together in pursuit of a common defined national agenda.

In this context, Nelson Mandela could easily have repeated the challenge placed before the American people by the former US President John F Kennedy - do not ask what your country can do for you: ask what I can do for my country! The call to all of us to embrace a New Patriotism was a call to each and every one of us to define what we would do that would benefit the nation, within the context of an agreed national agenda.

We raised this question on 29 May 1998 when we opened the Debate in the National Assembly, on "Reconciliation and Nation Building", and said:

"We are interested that our country responds to the call to rally to a New Patriotism, as a result of which we can all agree to a common national agenda, which would include:

a common fight to eradicate the legacy of apartheid;
a united offensive against corruption and crime;
concerted action to advance the interests of those least capable to defend themselves, including children, women, the disabled and the elderly;
an agreement about how we should protect and advance the interests of all the different cultural, language and religious groups that make up the South African population;
a commitment to confront the economic challenges facing our country, in a manner that simultaneously addresses issues of high and sustained growth and raising the living standards of especially the black poor;
an all-embracing effort to build a sense of common nationhood and a shared destiny, as a result of which we can entrench into the minds of all our people the understanding that however varied their skin complexions, cultures and life conditions, the success of each nevertheless depends on the effort the other will make to turn into reality the precept that each is his or her brother's or sister's keeper; and
a united view of our country's relations with the rest of the world.

"We believe that these are the issues we must address when we speak of reconciliation and nation building. They stand at the centre of the very future of South Africa as the home of a stable democracy, human rights, equality, peace, stability and a shared prosperity.

"Accordingly we must attend to the question whether with regard to all these issues and at all times, all of us behave in a manner which promotes the achievement of the goals we have mentioned, and therefore take us forward towards the realisation of the objective of reconciliation and nation building, without which the kind of South Africa visualised in our Constitution will most certainly not come into being."

Next month we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of this Constitution. Necessarily, we will assess the progress we have made and the problems we have experienced as we have sought to create "the kind of South Africa visualised in our Constitution".

I am certain that in this regard, we will have to revert back to the important matters of a New Patriotism, of a shared national agenda, and of the responsibility that falls on each and everyone of us to make his or her contribution to the pursuit of that national agenda.

The Freedom Day celebration of the 12th anniversary of our emancipation has served to underline the critical importance of the nature of the new South Africa we mentioned in 1998 -"the home of a stable democracy, human rights, equality, peace, stability and a shared prosperity".

All these are the fundamental features that define the democratic victory our people won at great cost 12 years ago, after a long struggle stretching over many centuries. Our movement we will never permit that anyone should undermine them or treat them with contempt.

This is also because the objectives we mentioned in 1998, focused on freeing the masses of our people from poverty and underdevelopment, and therefore giving meaning to national reconciliation, can only be achieved within the context of the successful defence of the fundamental features of the democratic revolution we have mentioned.

All genuine members of the ANC and the broad democratic movement will have been extremely distressed and concerned that even as we were celebrating Freedom Day and just before, people who claim to be part of our movement had engaged in actions that demonstrate the unacceptable contempt for the gains of the democratic revolution to which we have referred.

I refer here to various actions deliberately intended to weaken and subvert the democracy for which countless numbers of patriots sacrificed their lives, such as violent attacks against mayors and councillors, the destruction of their houses as well as people's municipal property, violent attacks against workers during some strikes, the thrashing of public thoroughfares, vandalism and looting.

Similar behaviour in the past obliged Nelson Mandela to speak on these matters in strong terms. Opening the Second Session of the First Democratic Parliament on 17 February 1995, he said:

"I must also address the question of the attempt by some in our country to introduce anarchy into our society.

"I speak of those who engage in such totally unacceptable practices as the murder of police officers, the taking of hostages, riots, looting, the forcible occupation of public buildings, blocking of public highways, vandalisation of public and private property and so on.

"Some of those who have initiated and participated in such activities have misread freedom to mean license. They have misinterpreted popular participation to mean their ability to impose chaos on society. They have wrongly concluded that an elected government of the people is a government that is open to compulsion through acts of anarchy.

"Let me therefore make this abundantly clear that the small minority in our midst which wears the mask of anarchy will meet its match in the government we lead and the masses of the people who put that government into office.

"This they must know, that we are not afraid of struggle. We are, after all, a product of confrontation and struggle. In the past we were not defeated by forces more powerful than they. In this instance, we will not be defeated by those whose actions have nothing to do with defending or advancing the cause of the people."

The historic task facing all genuine members and supporters of the ANC, and all other genuine democrats is to act in unity and unite in action to advance the national agenda focused on the reconstruction and development of our country, in the interests of the millions of working people who continue to be afflicted by poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment.

As a critical part of this, our movement and all its supporters must do everything necessary to maintain the vanguard and historic position of our movement as the principal architect and defender of democracy. Together, we must defeat those who, as Nelson Mandela said, seek "to introduce anarchy into our society".

A great patriot, Strini Moodley, passed away on Freedom Day. We lower our banners in tribute to him, and convey our condolences to his family and his comrades. A mere four days after his passing, on 1 May, we will come together again in many rallies throughout the country to celebrate workers' day, May Day.

I trust that the progressive trade union movement and the rest of the democratic movement will use the occasion of the May Day rallies to honour Strini Moodley, to reassert the true traditions of progressive trade unionism and the place of this movement within our Alliance, and to define the role of this central motive force for change, the organised workers, in the continuing struggle to build the humane and people-centred society visualised in the Freedom Charter.

We wish all the workers of our country and the world happy May Day, confident that the ANC will continue successfully to lead our country towards the achievement of the all-important objective of a better life for all our people, especially our working people!

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