Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Nelson Mandela actually said in Oakland on 30 June 1990

Nelson Mandela spoke at the Oakland Coliseum in June 1990 to a crowd of almost 60,000 people. It had only been a few months since his release, in February, from imprisonment of more than 27 years.

I was privileged to be there. Few occasions in my life have moved me as much as hearing Mandela personally and specifically address those of us who acted in solidarity with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

I'm writing about his speech today because for most of my adult life I misremembered -- and in two blog posts last year I misstated -- exactly what it was that Nelson Mandela said. (The two blog posts were Nelson Mandela and the death of UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall and Eshelman Hall demolition: all but history.)

What I still remember -- incorrectly according to clear evidence -- is that Mandela mentioned the student organization I worked with as part of the anti-apartheid movement on the UC Berkeley campus, the Campaign Against Apartheid. I remember that he called the CAA out by name. But he didn't. What I remember didn't happen. That's humbling, and a valuable reminder of the fallibility of wetware.

Mandela referred to our struggle to force the obstinate Regents of the University of California to divest the university's holdings in companies that did business in South Africa, which was the struggle in which CAA vigorously participated; but he didn't mention our organization by name. The difference doesn't change the meaning and importance of Mandela's speech in my life; but I am corrected nonetheless.

I discovered my error when I hunted down video of Mandela's appearance at the Oakland Coliseum, shortly after he died last month. Here's the video, in a copy published to YouTube by Chingon Domino:

Mandela's speech begins at about 4'30", and concludes around 26'30" of the video.

Listening and watching to the footage several times, I made a transcript of Mandela's speech (another on-line transcript, posted on Inside Bay Area News and credited to Mercury News, contains a number of minor errors; I believe my transcription is more accurate). I'm including my transcript here, for the record.
Nelson Mandela, 30 June 1990, Oakland, California

Thank you. Thank you.

Mayor Lionel Wilson, Congressman Ron Dellums, distinguished officials of the cities of the Bay Area, sisters and brothers, comrades and friends. On my release from jail last Feb. 11, we walked out of the prison gates to a tumultuous and joyous welcome. Our people in their multitudes had come from all corners of South Africa to receive us back into a world of struggle. The heaven rang with their chants of joy.

Ten days ago, my delegation, my wife, and I stepped, stepped on the soil of this United States. Once more, we were received with overwhelming tributes of friendship and solidarity. This spirit has been repeated in every city we have visited. We have witnessed support for the fight against apartheid and for human liberty and peace in South Africa. It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the unbanning our organization came as a result of the pressures exerted upon the apartheid regime by yourselves. By yourselves, as part of the international community, and by the determined actions of our struggling people. You have inspired us beyond imagination.

On behalf of the African National Congress and its entire membership, we thank you for your solidarity. It is a great honor for us because in fact it is a tribute to the fighting spirit of our people. We say it is a tribute to the fighting spirit of our people, who are also your people. We know that this rally was made possible by the unity in action of all sectors of this community.

Today in South Africa the same spirit has begun to break down the walls of apartheid. There are many obstacles ahead of us both [?] and [?]. Many apartheid laws are still on the statute book. The freedom to conduct a political organization is still threatened by the state and right-wing vigilantes. Our schools are still segregated and inferior. Medical services are inadequate. Unemployment is high. Housing is scarce and the masses of our people are still without land.

It is our responsibility as the national liberation movement to take action for change. Our movement is now accepted after three decades of illegality to operate officially. The task ahead is daunting, but our resolve is strong. In addition, our people are determined to fight for liberty until victory is achieved. The people's campaigns, carried out with amazing courage and great sacrifice, have pushed the government to concede the legal space for a widened political participation. We are at a crucial historical juncture. We cannot turn back. We shall not turn back. We need your support for this final stage. Now, more than ever, we call on you to redouble your efforts. We have spoken elsewhere of the inspired actions of great Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Brown, and many others. Together we must rekindle the spirit of strength and beauty, and dispatch racism once and for all from human society.

We are committed to the establishment of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa. We demand one person, one vote on [sic] a common non-racial court of law. Our people demand democracy. Our country, which continues to bleed and suffer pain, needs democracy. Our country stands on the threshold of fundamental change. But we still have a long road to travel before reaching our destination: freedom. As long as apartheid, as long as apartheid is in place, we appeal to you to maintain sanctions. That is a certain way to reach our objectives. We must keep the pressure on apartheid until victory is achieved.

We salute the state of California for having such a powerful, principled stand on divestment. We salute members of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union Local 10, who refused to unload a South African cargo ship in 1984. In response to this demonstration, other workers, trades people, community activists, and educators gathered each day at the docks to express their solidarity with the dock workers. They established themselves as the front line of the anti-apartheid movement in the Bay Area, and they laid the basis for the Bay Area Free South African Movement. This movement has performed meritoriously in our support, and we were grieved to learn of the death of John George, the chairperson of the Bay Area Free South Africa Movement. BAFSAM also acted in concert with the University of California Faculty/Student Action for Divestment by marching onto campus in solidarity with the students.

Finally, the regents of the University of California voted to divest. We also note that throughout, BAFSAM has emphasized the demand for our freedom and that of all South African political prisoners. We celebrate with you the imminent birth of a new South Africa in which all shall be equal, irrespective of race, color, gender, or creed. We bring you greetings from comrade Oliver Tambo, our president.

I must add that since my arrival in this country, I have received several letters from organizations and individuals from the first American nation, the American Indians. In addition to these letters, I have received valuable, if not priceless gifts from them. Just this morning I received a number of gowns from them. They had wanted to robe me at the airport, but unfortunately our convoy left the airport before arrangements could be made for them to perform the ceremony. When the robes came, and their letter, I was already here. I then requested the mayor to allow me to meet this delegation, which is led by Mr. or Miss Cooper. Unfortunately, we were unable to contact them despite the diligent inquiry by the mayor. These letters which I have received describes [sic] the conditions of the American Indians here, and I can assure you that they have left me very disturbed.

If I had the time, I would have visited their areas, spoken to their leaders and their organizations, and got from them an authoritative picture of the difficulties under which they live. But, unfortunately, my schedule is very tight, and I cannot carry out this wish. But I can assure the leaders of the Indian community that I will return in October. With the permission of my organization, which I am sure I will get, I will visit the Indian areas in this country and get a briefing from the Indian community. We will exchange views as to what I could do to help them in their struggle.

In the meantime, I want to tell you that Oaklands [sic] is the last city that I am visiting in the course of my tour. Let me assure you that, despite my seventy-one years, at the end of this visit I feel like a young man of thirty-five. I feel like an old battery that has been recharged. And, if I feel so young, if I feel like an old battery that has been recharged, it is the people of the United States of America that are responsible for this. It is you, the people of Oaklands [sic], the people of the Bay Area, who have given me and my delegation strength and hope to go back and continue the struggle. You must remember that you are our blood brothers and sisters. You are our comrades in the struggle. Remember that we respect you. We admire you, and above all, we love you all.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Eshelman Hall demolition: all but history
Remembering Richie Havens: down to earth
Nelson Mandela and the death of UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall
When authorities equate disobedience with violence

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