A Legacy In Speeches

Mandela 10 Years After His Death

Ashley Montgomery

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, actively protested apartheid for most of his life, and he is known for being one of the world's most famous political prisoners.

His anti-apartheid activism never faltered: He delivered speeches, wrote letters while imprisoned and, after his release, negotiated with South African government officials to end apartheid in the 1990s.
Here are excerpts from some of his most memorable speeches:

1964: Rivonia Trial
On April 20, 1964, Mandela stands on trial in Pretoria, South Africa.

He has been charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state.

At 45 years old, Mandela is a part of the African National Congress (ANC), a group advocating for Black rights. The ANC is considered the oldest liberation movement in Africa, and Mandela is a member of its armed wing.

As part of the ANC, Mandela has led protests and workers strikes, and now he's on trial. Mandela stands before the Supreme Court of South Africa during the Rivonia Trial and delivers an impassioned speech about a brutal system of legalised racism that's tearing his country apart.

"Whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that we have emotions–that we fall in love like white people do; that we want to be with our wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that we want to earn money, enough money to support our families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school."

When the National Party assumed power in 1948, it marked the beginning of legalised racism in South Africa–apartheid. In addition to restrictions on where non-white South Africans could live and work, apartheid also made political protest against the government illegal.

Mandela talks for nearly four hours about the harsh restrictions of living under apartheid.

"Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing and not work which the government declares them to be capable of. We want to be allowed to live where we obtain work and not be endorsed out of an area because we were not born there."

Even as he faces life in prison, Mandela continues his cause for social justice in front of the court.

"We want to be allowed out after 11 o'clock at night and not to be confined to our rooms like little children. We want to be allowed to travel in our own country and to seek work where we want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells us to. We want a just share in the whole of South Africa; we want security and a stake in society."

This speech establishes Nelson Mandela as the voice of the anti-apartheid movement, with the most memorable line at the end:

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an idea for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Less than two months after his speech, Mandela and 19 others are convicted. Most of them are sent to Robben Island prison near Cape Town.

Mandela is sentenced to life. For years, he's kept in a tiny, 7-by-9-foot jail cell.

He does hard labour by day–crushing stones into gravel in a limestone quarry. And he spends time studying philosophy and political theory. Mandela writes letters about civil disobedience and pursues a University of London degree via correspondence.

Meanwhile, violence continues to escalate across South Africa–the nation's economy and reputation suffer. The United Nations leads the call for sanctions against the country. With the passing of the U S Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, many multinational companies leave South Africa.

The white government does not allow photos of Mandela or recordings of his voice, yet his stature continues to grow while he remains behind bars. Protests against apartheid and Mandela's imprisonment are held across the world, in South Africa, the U.K. and the United States. The apartheid system faces increasing international criticism, and South Africa grows more and more isolated.

1990: Cape Town's City Hall

On Feb. 11, 1990, after years-long government negotiations and spending time in two additional prisons, Mandela is released after 27 years.

Just hours after he is free, Mandela delivers his first public address at Cape Town's City Hall.

On Feb. 11, 1990, in Cape Town, South Africa, Mandela delivers his first public speech since his release from prison.

Mandela greets the packed crowd of over 100,000 Black South Africans: "Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you the people."

At age 71, Mandela's hair is graying, and he's wearing his wife's large glasses because he accidentally left his own at the prison.

It has been almost three decades since he has delivered a speech like this, but his cause for his country remains the same.

"Today, the majority of South Africans, Black and white recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action... We have waited too long for our freedom."

In addition to Mandela and his fellow ANC prisoners' release, the white government announces a package of reforms that include lifting the ban on the African National Congress and other Black groups.

1994: South Africa's presidential inauguration

Decades of activism, protests, boycotts and economic pressures dismantle the brutal apartheid regime in the early 1990s. For his negotiation efforts to end apartheid, Mandela shares the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with National Party President F W de Klerk.

In 1994, South Africa holds its first democratic election.

The African National Congress wins over 62% of the vote.

Nelson Mandela is elected president of South Africa, the country's first Black president.

During his inaugural address, Mandela promises continued progress for the country.

"Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom ring. God bless Africa."

1999: Final presidential address to South Africa's Parliament

Mandela serves as president for five years.

In his final presidential address to the South African Parliament, in March 1999, Mandela reflects on his country's fight for racial justice and reconciliation.

"To the extent that I have been able to take our country forward to this new era, it is because I am the product of the people of the world who have cherished the vision of a better life for all people everywhere. They insisted, in a spirit of self-sacrifice, that that vision should be realised in South Africa too. They gave us hope."

He decides not to run for a second term but supports the prosperity of the nation through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

On Dec. 5, 2013–10 years ago–Nelson Mandela died from a prolonged lung infection.

Mourners around the world paid their respects. Mandela's memorial service was held on Dec. 10 in a soccer stadium in Johannesburg. More than 50,000 people gathered in the pouring rain.

People around the world still turn to Mandela's message of self-sacrifice and hope.

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Vol 56, No. 26, Dec 24 - 30, 2023