Address by Nelson Mandela to Dáil Éireann

Just months after his release from prison in South Africa, Nelson Mandela visited Ireland in July 1990. The following is the full text of his address to Dáil Éireann


02 July, 1990

The Taoiseach, (Deputy Haughey), the Leader of the Fine Gael Party (Deputy Dukes), the Leader of the Progressive Democrats (Deputy O’Malley), the Leader of the Labour Party (Deputy Spring) and the Leader of The Workers’ Party (Deputy De Rossa) conducted Mr Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress, to the dais, where, members standing and applauding, he was received by the Ceann Comhairle. Mr Mandela then took his seat on the dais beside the Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle (Seán Treacy): A Nelson Mandela chóir, cuirimid fíorchaoin fáilte romhat go hÉirinn agus go dtí Tithe an Oireachtais.

Tá gliondar croí orainn go bhfuil tú ar cuairt ar ár dtír agus is cúis mhór áthais dúinn tú a bheith anseo inniu le labhairt linn.

Mr Mandela, on my own behalf and on behalf of my fellow parliamentarians, I would like to extend a most warm welcome to you, on the occasion of your visit to Ireland. As a small nation we feel privileged that you should have agreed to come to Ireland at an early date. It is an even greater honour for us that you should address a source of great pride and joy. We are proud to welcome to Ireland a man of indomitable courage and shining integrity, a man who has worked tirelessly so that his people can have basic rights, a man who has suffered grievously under the unjust system that is apartheid.

We applaud the spirit of self-sacrifice with which you have fought, giving yourself selflessly to the struggle to abolish apartheid. In the long years of imprisonment, you kept the spirit of freedom alive among your people and never allowed the international community to forget that it is the right of Black South Africa to be free and equal.

We have now arrived at a watershed in the history of apartheid in South Africa. The thirst for democracy in Eastern Europe, South America, Asia and Africa itself can now be felt in South Africa. No more can the minority population hope to preserve a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the majority population. No more can the persistent denial of political rights to the black community be tolerated. It is slowly dawning on White South Africa that political power, economic wealth and freedom must be shared with the black community.

In this context, we wholeheartedly welcome the reforms which President De Klerk has initiated on taking up office but, most particularly, the lifting on 2 February last of bans on several political organisations such as your own African National Congress. And of course we were overjoyed, Mr Mandela, at your own release on 11 February last. Many obstacles lie ahead, not least the fears of the minority population who need to be persuaded that they have an integral role to play in a future democratic, non-racial South Africa. Your role, Mr. Mandela, has been of vital importance in persuading both sides to work for peace and, therefore, to avoid what you described as the spectre of South Africa split into two hostile camps; blacks on the one side and whites on the other, slaughtering one another.

In this context, we welcome your participation and that of the African National Congress in the talks about talks with president De Klerk which took place between 2-4 May last. The progress made in these talks is encouraging.

The substantial removal of the state of emergency on 8 June is an important step in this regard. It is to be hoped that the conclusions of the working party on political prisoners will be accepted by both sides and will lead to the release of all potitical prisoners. Once these obstacles have been removed, that path will be substantially cleared for negotiations to take place leading to a truly democratic, non-racial South Africa, where, as you, Mr Mandela, have stated racial discrimination and prejudice, coercion and confrontation, death and destruction will be forgotten, will be no more.

This House has on numerous occasions expressed its total abhorrence of the morally reprehensive system of apartheid. We and the people of Ireland reject a system which robs the majority of the population of its fundamental rights and which seeks to establish a régime based on racialist principles. We will continue to support the cause of the oppressed peoples of South Africa until all South Africans are accorded freedom and equality, and the right to participate in the political affairs of their country regardless of class or colour.

With these sentiments, therefore, it is now my privilege and great honour to call on you to address this House.

Mr Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress, then delivered his address.

Mr Mandela: A Cheann Comhairle, a Thaoisigh, Deputies and Senators, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen: I must first apologise because I have over the last day or two developed a heavy cold, but the stirring reception we have received both from the Government and the people of Ireland has warmed my heart and every vessel in my body. It is with a feeling of great privilege that we stand here today to address this House. We know that the invitation you extended to us to speak from this podium is one that is rarely extended to a visitor, even one who comes to you as the guest of the head of Government. I thank you most sincerely for the honour you have bestowed on me individually, on our organisation, the African National Congress, as well as the struggling people of South Africa.

We recognise in the possibility you have thus given us the reaffirmation by the Members of this House and the great Irish people whom you represent, of your complete rejection of the apartheid crime against humanity, your support for our endeavours to transform South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial and nonsexist country, your love and respect for our movement and the millions of people it represents. We know that the joy with which you have received us and the respect for our dignity you have demonstrated, come almost as second nature to a people who were themselves victims of colonial rule for centuries.

We know that your desire that the disenfranchised of our country should be heard in this House and throughout Ireland derives from your determination, born of your experience, that our people should, like yourselves, be free to govern themselves and to determine their destiny. The warm feeling that envelops us as we stand here is therefore but the affinity which belongs to peoples who have suffered in common and who are tied together by unbreakable bonds of friendship and solidarity.

The very fact that there is today an independent Irish State, however long it took to realise the noble goals of the Irish people by bringing it into being, confirms that we too shall become a free people; we too shall have a country which will, as the great Irish patriots said in the proclamation of 1916, cherish all the children of the nation equally.

The outstanding Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, has written that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. He spoke thus because he could feel within himself the pain of the suffering that Irish men and women of conscience had had to endure in centuries of struggle against an unrelenting tyranny. But then he also spoke of love, of the love of those whose warm hearts the oppressors sought to turn to stone, the love of their country and people, and, in the end the love of humanity itself.

For three quarters of a century, under the leadership of the ANC, our own people have themselves confronted a racist tyranny which grew more stubborn with each passing day. It had to be our lot that even as we refused to take up arms to save lives, we still had to bury many martyrs who were shot down or tortured to death simply because they dared to cry freedom.

The apartheid system has killed countless numbers, not only in our country but throughout Southern Africa. It has condemned to the gallows some of the best sons of our people. It has imprisoned some and driven others into exile. Even those whose only desire was to live, have had their lives cut short because apartheid means the systematic and conscious deprivation and impoverishment of the black millions.

It could have been that our own hearts turned to stone. It could have been that we inscribed vengeance on our banners of battle and resolved to meet brutality with brutality. But we understood that oppression dehumanises the oppressor as it hurts the oppressed. We understood that to emulate the barbarity of the tyrant would also transform us into savages. We knew that we would sully and degrade our cause if we allowed that it should, at any stage, borrow anything from the practices of the oppressor. We had to refuse that our long sacrifice should make a stone of our hearts.

We are in struggle because we value life and love all humanity. The liberated South Africa we envision is one in which all our people, both black and white, will be one to the other, brother and sister. We see being born a united South African nation of equal compatriots, enriched by the diversity of the colour and culture of the citizens who make up the whole.

This cannot come about until South Africa becomes a democratic country. We, therefore, insist that everybody should have the right to vote without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever. Equally, all adult South Africans should have the right to be elected to all organs of Government without any artificial hindrances being put in their way.

To safeguard the freedom of the individual, we will insist that the democratic constitution should be reinforced with an entrenched bill of rights which should be enforced by an independent and representative Judiciary. At the same time, all our people will be free to form and join any party of their choice within the context of a multi-party political system.

The struggle we are waging is also for the economic transformation of our country. The system to which we are heir was designed and operates for the benefit of the white minority at the expense of the black majority. Clearly the situation cannot be allowed to continue in which millions know nothing but the corrosive ache of hunger, in which countless numbers of children die and are deformed as a result of being afflicted by kwashiorkor and other diseases of poverty. Millions are today without jobs and without land. Nothing awaits them except death from starvation and want.

We must also make this point very clear that no political settlement in South Africa, however democratic and just, can take hold and survive, if nothing is done radically to improve the standard of living and the quality of life of all our people, and especially the black masses of our country. This will inevitably demand that the economy should achieve significant rates of growth, while it undergoes a process of restructuring and a reallocation of resources to ensure prosperity and equity.

After many years of struggle, during which many in our country and region have paid the supreme sacrifice, it appears that our country is set on the path towards a negotiated political settlement. This is a goal which our movement has pursued throughout the 78 years of its existence. In the past, however hard we knocked at the door of the powers that be in our country, that door remained locked and barred. Inspired by the arrogance of racism, successive white minority regimes held fast to the view that they could, through the use of brute force, maintain the tyranny of white minority domination forever.

But you know this more than we do, that no power on earth, even when it commits the sacrilege of invoking God’s blessing for its inhuman cause, as did the apartheid regime, can defeat a people that is determined to liberate itself. Nothing can stop the evolution of humanity towards the condition of greater and ever expanding freedom. While the voice of an individual can be condemned to silence by death, imprisonment and confinement, the spirit that drives people to seek liberty can never be stilled.

The struggle of our people, so magnificently supported and reinforced by your solidarity actions and those of the rest of the international community, have obliged the South African Government to recognise the validity of these truths. President De Klerk has come to understand that the apartheid system can no longer hold and, at our instance, has accepted that he and his colleagues must enter into dialogue with the genuine representatives of the people to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in our country. We have taken the first steps in this process leading to the situation in which the obstacles to negotiations will be removed.

A good start has indeed been made. Furthermore, we do not doubt the integrity of President De Klerk and his fellow-leaders and are convinced that they are committed to honour all agreements that may be arrived at during the process of negotiations. Despite this, we should not mistake the promise of change for change itself. The reality is that the apartheid system continues. Our country continues to be ruled by a white minority regime. All the fundamental features of the South African racist system remain unchanged. In other words, no profound and irreversible changes have taken place leading to the final abolition of the apartheid system.

In addition, many among our white compatriots are still determined to resist change at all costs. Arms in hand, they are ready to drown the masses of our people in a bloodbath to save the system of white minority rule, assert the permanence of the criminal and insulting ideology of white supremacy and ensure the further entrenchment of white privilege. None can, therefore, guarantee the process of negotiations will soon inevitably lead to the victory of the democratic cause.

It is for these reasons that the struggle against the apartheid system must continue. In this regard, we would like to extend our thanks to the Taoiseach, the Government and the people of Ireland for the enormous contribution you have made to the international struggle for the isolation of apartheid South Africa. We salute you for the leadership you have given only recently within the European Community to ensure that pressure against the apartheid system is maintained. We reiterate that we must continue to keep the pressure on until such time as the people of South Africa themselves signal that the time for change has come.

For more than a quarter of a century your country has had one of the most energetic and effective anti-apartheid movements in the world. Irishmen and women have given wholehearted and often sacrificial support for our struggle in the fields of economic, cultural and sports relations. We, therefore, salute your sportspeople, especially the rugby players, your writers and artists and the Dunnes’ and other workers. They will not be forgotten by the masses of our people.

We ask that you stay the course with us, we need your support for the democratic perspectives that we represent. We need your support to generate the material resources we need to repatriate and resettle those of our compatriots who were forced into exile and to reintegrate into our communities the political prisoners who will be released. We need financial resources to help us carry out the massive political work among all sectors of our population that has to accompany the process of negotiations. We need resources to reconstruct the ANC which has been an illegal organisation for 30 years. We trust that, as in the past, you will stand with us until our common victory is achieved.

In future, we will also need to institute important measures to reconstruct the economy of our country along the lines that we have already indicated. We shall require your co-operation in this as well, so that we build a system of relations that will be of mutual benefit to both our peoples and that will seek to ensure that the conditions are removed when racism can once more impose itself on our people and those of Southern Africa as a whole.

We would also like to take this opportunity to convey to you our thanks for everything you did to secure our release from prison. Even behind the thick prison walls of South Africa’s maximum security jails we heard your voices demanding our release. So strong did that call become that we knew that, contrary to the wishes of our jailers, we would return and as you can see, we have returned.

Our reception in this House and outside is a moving indication that the Irish Parliament and people will stay the course with us, recognising that while apartheid remains, while South Africa is unfree, the community of nations and the conscience of the world can never be at peace. This gives us enormous strength and assures us of the certainty of our common victory. That victory will come sooner rather than later. Together we will win.

Thank you.

A standing ovation was accorded to Mr. Mandela on the conclusion of his address.

An Ceann Comhairle: Mr Mandela, it is now my great privilege to offer you the profound thanks of this House for your most inspiring address which we will long remember. Thank you also for your kind remarks about us.

Dáil Éireann profoundly salutes South Africa’s most illustrious son. To you, Sir, has fallen the mantle of leader in the great crusade for truth and liberty and the ongoing battle for the rights of men and women, regardless of class, colour or creed. God grant that your endeavours will soon be crowned with great success. Now, as you and your wife Winnie leave us, you must know that you bring with you the warmth and affection not merely of the Members of this House but indeed of Irishmen and women everywhere. Gura fada buan Nelson Mandela, a bhean agus a chlann in ár measc. Go raibh míle maith agat.

The Deputy President of the African National Congress, amid applause, then withdrew from the Chamber, accompanied by the Taoiseach, Deputy Dukes, Deputy O’Malley, Deputy Spring and Deputy De Rossa. Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 12.45 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Máirt, 3 Iúil 1990. The Dáil adjourned at 12.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 July 1990.


The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.