UNVEILING OF THE DESIGN FOR
KLIPTOWN: JUNE 26, 2002
I am honoured to stand here today on behalf of a great son of Africa and my comrade for so many years, former President Nelson Mandela. On an occasion such as this, it would be fitting that former President Mandela attends and speaks to us about what happened on June 26 of 1955 and what has happened since, because of that day. His presence would have bestowed the dignity and solemnity appropriate to our meeting. Regrettably, he has found himself unable to be here. When he called me from Greece last Sunday, President Mandela expressed his disappointment in being unable to attend and asked that I come here today on his behalf and address all those gathered. I do so with great humility, knowing that such an occasion marks a milestone in South Africa’s history.
The soil beneath our feet today is fertile soil. From this soil has grown the democratic transformation of our country, a change we came here to demand in 1955 and a future we came here to write. The Freedom Charter adopted in Kliptown on June 26, 1955 was the seed from which South Africa’s first democratic Constitution would evolve. The Congress of the People, representative of every South African who recognised that our country was destined for something more and something better, gathered in Kliptown for two days and brought together the vision of a people into one of South Africa’s most historic documents. I am proud to stand here today where the Freedom Charter was forged and finished, to remember those who, like former President Mandela, dedicated their lives to the struggle for liberation.
It is an honour to gather now, 47 years later, with those who not only remember the Kliptown Congress of the People, but many of those who were themselves present, and those who are the product of a generation who found the courage to come from across South Africa for the purpose of freedom. Today, as we unveil the design of a monument dedicated to the unceasing work of Dr Walter Sisulu, we are able to stand tall in the knowledge that this is a monument paying tribute to our victory, to our love of country and to liberation. It is a privilege for me to participate in honouring Dr Sisulu in this way. Dr Sisulu was the first leader of the ANC outside KwaZulu Natal whom I met and our meeting left an indelible impression on me. From my childhood I of course knew my uncle, Dr Pixley Seme, the founder of the ANC, Dr John Langalibalele Dube, the first President-General of the ANC, Mr Alson Wesley Champion and others in KwaZulu Natal.
Walter Sisulu’s legacy of leadership has enriched our country in countless ways. I feel that my own political formation achieved a turning point as I begun my dialogue with him. It was at the instance of ANC leaders such as Walter Sisulu, who was then the Secretary-General of the ANC, Inkosi Albert Lutuli, the late Oliver R. Tambo and former President Nelson R. Mandela, that I abandoned my plans to do legal articles in 1952 under the great patriot Rowley Arenstein, taking up my hereditary position as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan and later Head of the KwaZulu Territorial Authority. I promoted our struggle for
liberation in close co-ordination with these leaders, until the issues of international sanctions and the armed struggle divided our paths. Even then, my Party went to great lengths to engage the ANC in debate over differing strategies to achieve liberation.
I remember also other stalwarts of the liberation struggle who played leading roles on the 26th of June 1955 when the Freedom Charter was proclaimed by thousands of our people who gathered here on that day. Amongst these I remember Dr Wilson Zamindlela Conco, who chaired that historic gathering. He was not only a dear friend but a close comrade to me until the end of his days. Dr Conco was the one who on a number of occasions brought the President-General of the ANC, Inkosi Albert Mvumbi Lutuli and Mrs Lutuli, to my home, KwaPhindangene, in his car. They were accompanied by his beautiful wife, Shimi. Dr Conco would park his car in my garage, and my car would be parked in front of my home. Inkosi Lutuli would rest during the day in the house, and during the night we would then sit up and talk. I would also arrange appointments for Inkosi Lutuli to meet with my late first cousin, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon, the father of our present King, in my capacity as his Traditional Prime Minister.
On this occasion, I remember Professor Zacchariah Keddireleng Matthews, who was not only my Professor at Fort Hare University, but he played a leading role in the drafting of the Freedom Charter. It is also significant that it was in his house at Fort Hare in the late 40's that I met Xhamela, then Secretary-General of the ANC, and believe me at the time Xhamela's hair was as black as coal with not one single white hair! In fact, it was Xhamela who introduced me to the former President of the ANC, and of this country, President Mandela in the early 50's. We often met with Dr Sisulu in Madiba's house in Orlando whenever I was in Johannesburg as President Mandela always invited me for dinner whenever I visited Gauteng. On one occasion we were with Xhamela in Madiba's house when the important guests that evening were King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon ka Dinuzulu and King Sabata Dalindyebo of the Thembus. I apologise for digressing from my address to include these anecdotes but they are part of our history which may be lost. And it is just as well to tell them in front of Dr Sisulu, on a day like this for he can tell you when I finish speaking that I am telling lies, if these were lies.
Throughout this time I continued to call for the liberation of all political prisoners and I mentioned some by name in my public addresses, such as President Nelson Mandela, Dr Walter Sisulu, Mr Ahmed Kathadra and Dr Govan Mbeki. The younger generation did not know them after their long incarceration in Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. I also continued to call for the recognition of the role of the ANC as the key component of our liberation struggle. The campaign of vilification waged against me brought me great anguish. I can never forget or fully express my gratitude that throughout this vicious campaign, Dr Walter Sisulu never uttered a bad word against me. To me, his actions have given immutable evidence of his uncompromising integrity and superior measure of leadership. I am deeply aware of the dignity, measure and integrity which Dr Walter Sisulu has entrenched in the political discourse of our liberation movement first, and then that of our new South Africa.
It is appropriate that he should be honoured as we remember the Congress of the People and celebrate the regeneration of Kliptown. Dr Sisulu has become an integral part of South Africa’s history. His contribution, and that of many other courageous men and women, forged the country we share today. The monument to be raised on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication will recall not so much the pain which was poured into our liberation struggle, as the joy of achieving what we set our lives to pursue. For the generations to come, this monument will speak of the possibility that history may be changed, destiny may be influenced and the future may be shaped by ordinary hands.
Those who gathered in Kliptown in 1955 were ordinary people suffering under a common burden of oppression and racial discrimination. The Congress of the People constituted men and women from every cultural, ethnic and religious group. What unified us was the anguish of suffering and the passion to see it end. In what may today be described as one of our country’s first democratic processes, communities and individuals throughout South Africa were given the opportunity to express their needs and aspirations, and their vision for South Africa. Through their representatives at the Congress, the people spoke and their voice was united in seeking equality, democracy and freedom.
We may take heed of the enormous difficulty many people were prepared to experience to make their voices heard. On the day the people of South Africa adopted the Freedom Charter, they were surrounded by police and the military who were taking down the names and addresses of everyone present, even as we forged our vision for the collapse of apartheid and the dawn of democracy. Bus-loads had been prevented from coming to Kliptown. Many had not reached their destination in time. Countless individuals had been intimidated. Many faced persecution from their employers. But our people were prepared to endure it, only to make the people's voices heard as they mapped out the face of the future.
That is the price the oppressed millions of our people were willing to pay to see democracy birthed. I believe we are still willing to pay a price to see democracy thrive. Indeed, I believe that today that same passion and zeal for freedom is waiting to be ignited in our people. Just as South Africans came together in Kliptown in 1955, irreversibly influencing the course of history, so we may again come together in this new millennium to ensure that the future history of South Africa unfolds with purpose, towards a destiny we will welcome. History has been written. We achieved political liberation. Yet we have not achieved the full measure of what we set out in the Freedom Charter and what remains in our hearts for all of South Africa.
Among many sad realities, we must face the fact that Kliptown has been neglected. For years, just like most of our residential areas, the heart of Soweto and the birthplace of our evolved democracy, remained one of the worst places to be. Here, poverty has been evident in everything. In the lack of housing, in inadequate sanitation, in poor infrastructure, in insufficient access to clean running water, in the absence of properly functioning or funded educational facilities, health care facilities and safe houses, the burden of poverty has been evident. When plans for the rejuvenation of Kliptown were first announced, hope was rekindled that the righteous status of a national heritage site could be secured.
The project of regeneration has received interest from many quarters and welcomed the assistance of the private sector. As involvement and assistance increased over the years, the vision for a developed and thriving Kliptown emerged as a possibility. The Gauteng Provincial Government must be praised for its efforts to upgrade the quality of life in Kliptown. Indeed, I am honoured to congratulate Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, on behalf of President Mandela, on the convergence of many efforts, ideas and contributions which will finally see Kliptown restored to dignity.
The cleaning up of Klip River is only the beginning of raising awareness on environmental issues within the community and, by itself, it will give an example of how different Kliptown could be without the present pervasive pollution. Community awareness projects are essential to any effort to bring change. Information and education is a key element in improving the quality of life. I am pleased to say that research into economic opportunities in Kliptown is opening the way for the final alleviation of poverty, building self-sufficiency on the foundation of self-help and self-reliance. These are the fundamental tools of entrepreneurship. The housing project and the construction of roads equally deserve our approval and support.
The plans for the regeneration of Kliptown must be seen as a blueprint of the future. In 1955 our people came here to write down a vision and we have seen many of our aspirations become reality. Today, a vision has once again been written down. It is a vision for a preferable future for Kliptown. As we view the plans for Kliptown’s regeneration, it is right that we should celebrate. The time is long overdue that development comes here. It is nothing short of a tragedy that there are places in South Africa, even today, even after we fought so hard, where liberation from the yoke of poverty seems unachievable. Liberation from disease, from HIV/AIDS, from ignorance for lack of education, from fear and want and desperate need, still call us to the fight.
I am honoured to stand here today on behalf of former President Nelson Mandela to declare that the struggle continues. We are achieving victories, but the final battle has not yet been won. I believe the regeneration of Kliptown will offer us a tangible motivation to keep working towards the fulfilment of every aspiration we have for South Africa. The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication will surely remind us all of the commitment our struggle demands, but also of the fact that our commitment has brought us victory in the past, and it will bring us victories again.
In asking me to speak on his behalf today, President Mandela has afforded me the opportunity to declare to South Africa that our destiny awaits us. What lies ahead is infinitely better than anything behind us. We must accept the challenge to forge our own future. When South Africa achieves prosperity for all her children, we must be able to say we achieved it on purpose. When South Africa is finally free from disease, poverty and ignorance, again we must be able to say we achieved it on purpose. In South Africa, our lives must be lived with the purpose of securing freedom. With the spirit of the Freedom Charter and the Congress of the People still echoing from Kliptown across our nation, I believe we can achieve it.