Nelson Mandela’s ‘I am prepared to die’ speech

6 12 2013

Here is  Nelson Mandela’s ‘I am prepared to die’ speech, which he gave from the dock during the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964. The full transcript is as published on the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website.

“My Lord, I am the First Accused.”
” I am a convicted prisoner, serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961. I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or Communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa, and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said. In my youth in the Transkei, I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambatha, Hintsa and Makanna, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the pride and glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case. Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of exploitation, and oppression of my people by whites.

“We of the ANC have always stood for a nonracial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of nonviolence had brought the African people nothing but more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence — of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country, and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to use peaceful methods. While some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a nonracial state by nonviolence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism. . . . Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of nonviolence and racial harmony was very much with us. We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which blacks and whites would fight each other. We viewed the situation with alarm. Civil war would mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already have examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African [Anglo-Boer] War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of interracial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?

Sabotage, I said, offered the best hope for future race relations. The reaction of the white rulers to our first efforts was swift and brutal: sabotage was declared to be a crime punishable by death. We did not want civil war, I said, but we needed to be prepared for it. Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war were inevitable, we wanted the fight to be conducted on terms most favorable to our people.

The fight which held out prospects best for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare. All whites undergo compulsory military training, but no such training was given to Africans. It was in our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who would be able to provide the leadership which would be required if guerrilla warfare started. We had to prepare for such a situation before it became too late to make proper preparations.

“The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, “Drive the white man into the sea.” The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfillment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter. It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. . . . The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society. . . . The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party’s main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasize class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonize them. It is true that there has often been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But cooperation is merely proof of a common goal — in this case the removal of white supremacy — and is not proof of a complete community of interests. The history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the cooperation between Great Britain, the United States of America and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such cooperation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into Communists or Communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a Communist world. . . . It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accepted Communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades Communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with and work with us. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism.

“I am not a Communist and had always regarded myself as an African patriot. I did not deny that I was attracted by the idea of a classless society, or that I had been influenced by Marxist thought. This was true of many leaders of the newly independent states of Africa, who accepted the need for some form of socialism to enable their people to catch up with the advanced countries of the West. From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that Communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights and the Bill of Rights, are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, the country’s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouse in me similar sentiments.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man looks around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. . . . Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy and to growing violence which erupts, not only politically, but everywhere. . . . Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society. Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. . . . This then is what the ANC is fighting for. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

{I had been reading my speech, and at this point I placed my papers on the defense table, and turned to face the judge. The courtroom became extremely quiet. I did not take my eyes off Justice de Wet as I spoke from memory the final words.}

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

{The silence in the courtroom was now complete. At the end of the address, I simply sat down. I did not turn and face the gallery, though I felt all their eyes on me. The silence seemed to stretch for many minutes. But in fact it lasted probably no more than thirty seconds, and then from the gallery I heard what sounded like a great sigh, a deep, collective “ummmm,” followed by the cries of women. I had read for over four hours. It was a little after four in the afternoon, the time court normally adjourned. But Justice de Wet, as soon as there was order in the courtroom, asked for the next witness. He was determined to lessen the impact of my statement. He did not want it to be the last and only testimony of the day. But nothing he did could weaken its effect. When I finished my address and sat down, it was the last time that Justice de Wet ever looked me in the eye.}

Nelson Mendel

Culled from the book: Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela  





Condom Fails Sub-Saharan Africa: HIV/AIDS On The Rise

3 12 2013
Condom Fails Sub-Saharan Africa: HIV/AIDS On The Rise

Sub-Saharan Africa has two-thirds of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases. So you would think that Western journalists and politicians might condescend to ask us what we think about how to fight AIDS. But they haven’t. A pity, because they would have found that many of us support Pope Benedict XVI’s scepticism about the effectiveness of distributing condoms.

In 2009, the Lancet, a leading British medical journal which regularly pontificates about public health, slammed the Pope for making “a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people”. I wonder if the editor of The Lancet has ever visited rural areas of Nigeria or South Africa. If he did, he would begin to see why fighting AIDS with condoms is like extinguishing a fire with petrol.

First of all, many rural Africans are illiterate and proper use of condoms cannot be relied upon. In any case, many men think that it compromises sexual pleasure. “Would you eat sweets with a wrapper on?” is a common objection.

Secondly, social organisation in rural Africa is quite unlike sedate suburban life in Sussex, or wherever the editor of The Lancet lives. In villages here there is often a low standard of moral behaviour. Men don’t get married but they do want children, so using condoms does not even come into their minds. They sleep with whomever they like until they are very old and need someone to cook for them. A man might be sleeping with six different women in a year. And the women often don’t mind whether a man will marry them or not.

Day to day life is unlike the West. The huts are open and at night there is no electricity to supply light. Anything can happen. Thus rape of children as young as six is not uncommon. As most of these go unreported, the aggressors go scot-free. Even when the rapist is known, nothing much is done.

In South Africa, which has some of the highest rates of AIDS in the continent, researchers claim that half a million women are raped each year. Journalist speak of a “rape epidemic”. More than a quarter of all the females can expect to be raped at least once in their life, even in infancy. Half of the victims are under 18. It is hard to get hard figures, because most attacks go unreported. Tell me, how do you persuade a rapist to use condoms?

If condoms are so effective why is HIV still on the increase in Africa? One factor is certainly that people with condoms are emboldened to take more risks. Part of the counselling of people living with AIDS is “try not to spread it” — in a word, to live abstinence. But before they got the disease they were told “hey, no need to curtail your libido, just use condoms.” If personal control is not achieved before contracting HIV/AIDS it is often impossible afterwards. I overhead a chilling conversation once of a boy planning to sleep with a girl. “What if she has AIDS?” his friend asked. “Well then, I have seven years to live and I will enjoy myself to the limit,” he replied.

There are even more basic obstacles. Many villagers are unschooled and know little about modern science. Poisoning or sorcery is suspected when people fall ill. Western medicine is often seen as a last resort after traditional healers have failed. So doctors find it difficult to explain to HIV/AIDS patients the cause of their illness. It is not uncommon for them to go to their graves with the stubborn belief that an enemy cast a spell on them. The more serious and “treatment defying” an illness is, the more it confirms the malignant power of the sorcerer.
Villages are often cut off from distribution networks for goods and services because of difficult terrain. You can’t jump into your car and make a midnight trip to the pharmacist to buy a packet of condoms. In fact, you might be cut off from condom suppliers for weeks at a time. One doctor related to me a typical example. A youth in a village explained why he did not use condoms with his girl: “well, I had to convince and convince, and when she finally said yes, I could not risk going outside to buy condoms since she might change her mind before I came back.”

And people are not just careless, they are ashamed. Here’s another story from the same doctor. A woman came to him for an antenatal check of her second child (the first was a year old). She discovered that she was HIV positive. She was terrified of what her husband would do to her. The doctors called the husband and tried to break the news gently. To their amazement he told them that he was HIV positive and had been on treatment for over a year — without telling his wife. Why? “Well, someone gave it to me,” he said. Many infected people deliberately spread the disease, thinking; “I can’t be the only one. Since someone gave me the disease, I will give it to someone else.”

Plus, there are other means of transmission of AIDS which are unfamiliar in the West. One treatment you will not find in Cleveland is medical scarification. A traditional healer in a village will make an incision over the affected area to discharge fluid or blood. The healer uses the same implement to cut different people, leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infections. Traditional scarification for aesthetic or cultural reasons also exists and is no more hygienic.

It is true that in rural Africa HIV/AIDS spreads mainly through heterosexual relationships. But it is also transmitted by intravenous drug users. African villagers prefer injected drugs to tablets because, so they think, it is better value for money. So the local chemists (who are seldom trained pharmacists) oblige them. Sometimes they save money by reusing syringes and not swabbing the skin with disinfectant. The resulting infections sometimes create huge abscesses.

The Pan African Health foundation (PAHF), a non -profit HIV/AIDS prevention charity, is building a factory in Nigeria with a capacity of 160 million syringes a year. This will supply 20 percent of Nigeria’s needs and, when fully operational, most of sub-Saharan Africa. Inexplicably, American and British foreign aid agencies which doled out lavish donations for condoms to fight HIV/AIDS were not interested in supporting the foundation. The local state government finally gave some funding.

UNAIDS, the international agency which coordinates research and treatment for AIDS around the world, is a strong supporter of condoms. Its official position is that: “The male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

Note the stress on the word “technology”. The condom is just a technology. And technology is not much good for changing behaviour.

The West is addicted to technology as a substitute for free will and moral effort. If you eat too much, you get gastric banding surgery. If you’re depressed, you take Prozac. If you’re a smoker, you wear nicotine patches. Here in Africa, this fantasy has collided with the reality of the AIDS crisis. There is no technology to tame sexual desire. There is only self-restraint and faithfulness to your partner. These will eventually rein in AIDS; condoms won’t.

By Chinwuba Iyizoba








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