Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at Phoenix Settlement, Human Right’s Day, 21 March 2006,
Thank you, Programme Director,
The Chairperson of the Phoenix Settlement Trust, Mr. Mewa Ramgobin,
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Baleka Mbete,
Your Excellency, The High Commissioner of India , Mr. Pal
Ms Ela Gandhi, the grand daughter of Mahatma Gandhi,
The President of the Sai Movement, Dr. Reddy,
The Trustees of the Phoenix Settlement,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel greatly honoured by the invitation to address you today. Today marks the launch of the year-long celebrations of Satyagraha. I must congratulate the Phoenix Settlement Trust for having chosen today, South African Human Rights Day, a day we have set aside in the calendar to mark an extremely tragic day in the history of our country.
On this day forty six years ago, sometime during the late morning, the apartheid regime’s police massacred 69 African demonstrators, who had peacefully assembled at the Sharpeville Police station to protest the Pass Laws. Later that day, at around Six P.M. in the evening, at Langa township in Cape Town, a further three people were killed by police fire.
Till this day, the apartheid regime, its apologists and its former supporters can offer no explanation for these two shootings. At Sharpeville, most of the dead were shot in the back, indicating that they were very likely in flight, away from the armed police. Similarly with the wounded at both Sharpeville and Langa. The massacres that day shocked the world and sent shockwaves through the country.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that March 21st 1960 was the crucial watershed, that separates the phase of non-violent struggle that we had waged until then, from the phase that followed, which saw the founding of uMkhnoto weSizwe in 1961, the attempt to build a people’s army capable of waging an armed struggle for the freedom of our people and our country. Sharpeville also laid bare for the world to see the crass brutality of the apartheid regime; its utter disregard for human life and its contempt for international opinion. In every part of the world one traveled in, one could always point to Sharpeville as the justification for the decision to take up arms!
Yet, there was an important dimension of the events of that day we dare not lose sight of. No one, least of all the demonstrators, nor even those responsible for mobilizing those demonstrations, wanted to see bloodshed on that fateful day. No! Quite the contrary! The Anti-Pass campaign launched that day was conceived, organized and executed as a peaceful, non-violent protest against an unjust law. The only violence that occurred that day was at the behest of the apartheid regime and its minions.
The methods of struggle employed by the oppressed people of South Africa not a very interesting pedigree. What is more, it is important to underline that these tactics were actually conceived and first tested on South African soil! And, let us not forget – they were conceived and tested precisely to oppose and to struggle against the Pass Laws – not as applied to Africans, originally, but as applied to South Africans of Indian descent! There is thus an amazingly long umbilical cord that connects the centenary we are celebrating, the events of March 21st 1960 and the memorialisation of the martyrs who fell that day and Human Rights Day.
“Satyagraha” – the quest for truth and right by bearing witness – was conceived by the Mahatma when the authorities in the Transvaal colony, as it was then called, imposed Pass Laws on the Indian people. That was 100 years ago. As one has had occasion to mention, Satyagraha would have withered on the vine as a concept and as a method of struggle, had it not been for the response Gandhi received from the Indian population of South Africa. Civil disobedience, that is deliberately breaking a law in order to make it unworkable and unenforceable, was first tested by the thousands who responded to Gandhi’s call.
The power of Satygraha lay in the willingness of the practitioner to endure physical and emotional pain, even humiliation. It taught the practitioner how to conquer fear and to transcend self pity. It is the expression of a certain type of courage that does not require bravado, but rather a profound sense of self-confidence, not only in one’s self, but also in the justice of one’s cause!
Those first volunteers, whose numbers were swelled by others when they were carted off to jail, had no way of knowing that they had set in train a movement that was to sweep the world. From them sprang the millions who followed the Mahatma when he returned to India; the millions who followed Martin Luther King in the USA; the millions who year after year marched from Aldermaston to London until the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was adopted; the thousands who clog the streets in the present day during meetings of the G8 and the World Trade Organisation to protest the inequitable terms of trade imposed on the developing countries.
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Civil Disobedience is a proudly South African product and South Africa owes to its citizens of Indian descent! As Gandhi explained: “….the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent…”And it is important to underscore, that in virtually every struggle for freedom, apart from the structural violence of oppression, the main source of violence is invariably the oppressor, and not the oppressed!Programme Director, in preparation for the ANC’s national conference in 1997, I had occasion to pen the following lines:
“The attainment of Indian Independence was of great political, social, psychological and symbolic importance to all the peoples in the colonies. India was the world's largest colony. It was probably the richest British colony - fondly referred to as the "Jewel in the Crown" in the literature of imperial nostalgia. The independence of India in 1947 was the first decisive triumph of the liberation movements in the colonies and semi-colonies. Independent India was also the very first country to place the issue of racial oppression in South Africa on the agenda of the newly founded United Nations Organisation. As such it had a very direct bearing on the struggle of our own people. For the other colonies it represented the implicit guarantee of colonial freedom. It gave a very positive impetus to the irresistible drive towards colonial freedom that unfolded during the 1950s and 1960s.
Yet, the emancipation of India came in a form that was far less than the movement for independence had fought for. The country was partitioned along religious lines. The creation of Pakistan was a totally arbitrary act of colonial despotism because there was no precedent of such an entity - a Muslim state - in pre-colonial India. That act built into India's hard won independence a virtually permanent source of tension.” I went on to conclude: Virtually all the liberation movements that attained victory after 1947, including our own, have been forced to make compromises at the point of victory. National liberation has rarely come in the form that the movement sought. Consequently, the terrain on which the triumphant movement has to manoeuvre after victory is not necessarily all of its own choosing or making.
Anniversaries are important as marking a climax, the crucial nodal point in time - the people finally assuming power. But, while we might focus on a single day, a single event, or happenings - revolutions are not a moment, they are processes. Processes in which there are nodal moments - like 27 April 1994 - but they are a continuum. Our own national democratic revolution is no different. April 27 1994 will remain a very significant day in South African history, but in reality it merely marks a high point in a continuing process.In that ongoing process there will be moments of rapid advance, but there will also be the need, sometimes, to retreat. Retreating does not mean conceding defeat, it is most often a tactical manoeuvre undertaken to put off till a more opportune time, action one would have preferred to take in the present.
What I am suggesting therefore is that national liberation movements have, in many cases, been compelled to postpone aspects of their programme and policy in the light of an intractable tactical conjuncture. The retreat, in other words, is undertaken in order to prepare for a more coherent and better planned advance.
It is important that we boldly acknowledge and accept that the movement has had to seek compromises and make concessions to the old order so that we could attain the important beach-head of majority rule in 1994.” On this Human Rights Day I want to return to the theme of an unfinished revolution as it affects us here in South Africa.As a nation we are justly proud of the democratic Constitution we have. It has won plaudits throughout the world as one of the most far-reaching and progressive. Yet, casting our eyes around this country, indeed at our immediate surroundings, it is clear that the rights in our Constitution are aspirational and not yet the reality for the overwhelming majority of South Africans.
The challenge I want to pose on this Human Rights Day is: What do we have to do to translate our Constitutional Rights from aspiration to the lived reality of our people. We have identified the scourge of poverty, which degrades, humiliates and de-humanises far too many of our people, as the principal enemy of our people in the present. To confront and defeat this enemy will require the same measure of self-sacrifice, courage, endurance, determination and confidence that we demonstrated in the struggle to defeat apartheid.The enemy, even under apartheid, was not a group of people, defined either by race or skin colour. The enemy we always contended was a system – a system to be sure operated and manned by people, but a system rooted in dogmas of racial superiority and buttressed by military and economic power.
That is why we as a movement at no time sought to avenge ourselves for the wrongs and injustices inflicted upon us by either killing all the Whites or trying to drive them out of the country. Once the oppressive system was dismantled we have sought to live at peace with each other and to build a new non-racial, non-sexist South Africa in which we are all equal. Our commitment to those objectives will not be shaken, no matter what hare-brained racist notions may be flung about by others.
Tackling the scourge of poverty means hard-nosed reasoning and actions arrived at rationally through an appreciation of the immediate and inter-mediate capacities we can marshal as a country. As someone has said: “It’s the economy, stupid!” That is, it is only by growing the economy of our country that we will create the resource base that will enable us to fight poverty.
When he made his “State of the Nation” address this year, President Thabo Mbeki unveiled the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (ASGISA) whose aim is to stimulate the rapid growth of our economy through a number of interventions by the state. But as government we recognize that the state, acting on its own, cannot hope to produce the required impact if it is not met half way by the private sector.
The government is proceeding from the high level of macro-economic stability we have attained over the past twelve years of democracy to implement a number of micro-economic reforms. These in turn a premised on evolving a partnership among government, business, labour and civil society. The state’s principal interventions will be in the realm of infra-structure – its expansion, refurbishment and reconstruction where necessary. The Expanded Public Works Programme will also feature prominently among the government’s contributions to this national effort. My own department will be making massive new investments in our creative industries, libraries and our heritage institutions. The programme, Investing in Culture, our flagship in the fight against poverty, will see impressive new interventions utilizing the seven anniversaries we are marking this year as a platform. I want to use the opportunity afforded by today’s platform, to call upon you all to find and define a role for yourselves in this massive national thrust to eradicate poverty.
Programme Director, as we celebrate Satyagraha, we celebrate not only the legacy bequeathed to us and the world by Mahatma Gandhi, but also the struggle for freedom and human dignity in whose crucible this method of struggle was forged. Those who sacrificed in the struggle for freedom did so with no eye towards material rewards. It is that same spirit that must today imbue us all – whether we have chosen to serve in government or outside government. The greatest and must sustainable reward we can offer them all – the volunteers of 1906, those 1913, those of 1946 at Umbilo Road, those who took part in the Defiance Campaign, the martyrs slaughtered at Sharpeville and Langa, the young people killed in the streets of Soweto and other parts of the country in 1976 – is the quality of the democracy we build.
Poverty, racism and sexism demean and degrade all of humankind. Fighting these, side by side, I have no doubt that we shall win!