Nelson Mandela’s address Bongolethu Primary School

Nelson Mandela’s Address on 9 May 1996 at the Bongolethu Primary School

Recorded by John Coates and transcribed by Noy Pullen

In the early 1990’s people in search of employment and a better life for themselves and their children left their rural regions for the cities. Crowded squatter camps mushroomed overnight with no infrastructure and no provision for the education of their children. Concerned parents took the initiative and started informal schools run by untrained teachersin whatever kind of accommodation was at hand. John Coates, member of the Anthroposophical Society and known for his therapeutic work with puppets in the communities, together with other colleagues of Novalis Institute Community School Outreach programme, assisted teachers of these community schools with practical classroom activities flowing from Waldorf Education. One of these schools, Bongolethu Community School, was chosen as part of President Nelson Mandela’s project to renovate schools in need of urgent attention. Woolworths provided the funding for this renovation and President Nelson Mandela was invited to visit and address the school and the community on 9 May 1996.

When Mr Mandela had taken his seat on the stage, and while he was being introduced, he was approached by one of his aides and immediately rose and left the stage. On returning to the stage after about 30 minutes, visibly angry and upset, he went straight to the podium and addressed the audience in Xhosa. Having greeted the dignitaries he spoke off the cuff. Then after some time he addressed the audience in English:

I have just been called by Mr de Klerk, the second deputy president of the African National Congress, and he has announced that the National Party is going to pull out of the Government of National Unity as from 30th June this year. I thanked him for his contribution. But the ANC is supremely confident that we are going to carry the government of this country. We were generous because we wanted this transformation to be smooth and peaceful. We wanted to build national unity and to promote the spirit of reconciliation. We have done that. We wanted to continue with that until 1999, not after. But the National Party has decided to step out. But what I was saying was that in the election of 1994 the Inkatha Freedom Party polled at 10% of the total votes cast in the election and in terms of the interim constitution of the election they were entitled to 3 members of cabinet. The National Party polled 20% and they became entitled to 6 members in the cabinet.

(Although Mr Mandela spoke the entire time of the African National Congress, Inkatha Freedom Party and the National Party the acronyms IFP NP and ANC is used in this text)

The ANC polled 62% and they were entitled to 18 members of cabinet – one eight. In the local government in action on the 1st November the IFP outside KZN got 1%. The NP which had got 20% in the elections got 16%. They dropped by 4. The ANC which had just polled 62% during the national elections shot up to 66%. The confidence that we have is not just the portion of the target, it’s what the people of this country are saying. They are showing even greater confidence in the ANC. We are confident we got this liberation not as the result of the consent of any other persons but through our own struggles, through our own sweat and blood. And now that our people have tasted freedom and political power, they are going to goon up to build this country to spread the message of national unity and to expose those who want to drive this country back to past policies, who wanted to keep us divided on the basis of colour. Whatever they say, we have a traditionally white party who have not yet accepted the change in this country. We as the ANC are going to force them to accept the necessity of change in this country.

But I am here to address the community of Bongolethu, not discuss politics. MrMlindazwe(Headmaster) and staff of Bongolethu Primary, the mayor of Ikapa,Mr Sid Murray, manager and the staff of Woolworths, pupils and staff of Bongolethu Primary, people of Phillipi, Tony Yengeni, member of parliament, ladies and gentlemen, earlier this morning I attended a function similar to this one at Beacon Hill High School in Mitchells Plain. It is encouraging to see our nation taking steps to improve the welfare of our children and encourage the culture of learning. One of the worst things that apartheid did was to deny the majority of South Africans the right to decent education. Even the inadequate education they gave to the majority was provided under unbearable conditions to both teachers and pupils. The government has placed education and the revival of the culture of learning at the top of its agenda. Without properly trained people our goal of a better life for all will remain a dream.

To get our children back to school means improving their learning conditions, motivating their teachers and involving parents in the education system. This is why we introduced the primary school feeding scheme and the idea ofparent/teachers/students associations. And what has happened with this school is part of that process. What is most encouraging about this project is the manner in which you all combined efforts for its success. School authorities negotiated for the land from Maraya Province, and Woolworths provided the financial assistance to get the project going. The entire community rallied behind the project. We are here today to reap the fruits of your joint effort. It is heartening to see the role played by the management and workers of Woolworths in their endeavour. Looking at the tender age of these children your contribution is a true investment. I hope that what you did here will spur other companies to join communities in similar joint ventures. Now our young ones will attend school under better conditions than we are accustomed to. This is a school of the new South Africa, a school of the Rainbow Children. Bongolethu is setting the standard for the future.

Can I just say that the dimensions of education have radically changed.I remember in 1932 I went to my country village, to my little town. And as I was coming down the main street I found people standing and there was a man crossing the street, the main road, and everybody was looking at this man. I asked an old man, “Grandpa what is peculiar about that man?” and the old man said, “You see that man – he has studied and studied and studied and passed this bookcalled matriculation!” Now I did not know what matriculation meant, but this fellow, as he was crossing the road, was walking like someone who has got past matriculation. I’m glad to be part of those days but today not even a first degree is important. Many of our people have passed honours degree and a master’s and a doctorate and others have as much as 2 and 3 doctorates.

Our children must appreciate that now they do not have to compete with their white counterparts in this country who had the advantage for decades. The world has become very small. What happens inChittagong,in India is immediately of relevance to this country. What happens in Iceland affects us in Cape Town. Our children are going to represent us in internationalgoals. They are going to compete with people in countries which have a tradition of learning, a culture of learning and therefore it should be their duty to ensure that they equip themselves with the highest qualifications. It is in this regard that teachers and other people who belong to a group that has been advantaged, that has had the advantage of going to school, to tertiary institutions, that has acquired knowledge, skills, expertise, we want them to remain in this country and help us to ensure that our children also get the opportunity to get properly qualified.

The whites in this country may be a minority, but they occupy a critical role and in many years to come if they want to support the present transformation, in many years to come, they are going to continue occupying positions of leadership. And those who are in a position of leadership like the mayor hereand others must appreciate the role which the whites in this country can play. It is an illusion to think that this transformation means that we have defeated the whites and that they are now lying on the ground, helpless, begging for mercy. That is not the position. The whites in this country are very strong, deeply entrenched, and what we should do is not to antagonisethem but to bring them closer so they can share their abundance that they possess with us. That is the spirit in which you must do your work. Of course we are committed to bring about fundamental change in the political, social reconstruction of this country. Failure by us to do so will be a betrayal of the trust and confidence other people have in us.

But we are here not only to address those needs but at the same time to get the cooperation of the minorities of this country, to remove their fears that majority rule is now going to mean domination of the whites by blacks. We have fought against that and in this constitution our principle has been that when we adopt it there must be no winners and no losers.
And therefore we have made fundamental compromises in order to take on boardall the political parties. That is why even the NP did not have the courage to oppose this constitution because of the way in which we took them on board. Although they are a minority we took them on board to make sure that they realise that they not just a rubber stamp of the National Congress. They are part and parcel of the Government of our country but we cannot prevent people from leaving the Government of National Unity.

MrMlindazwe, the selection of your school for this project showed the confidence we all have in you. As pioneers your performance will determine the attitude of private business towards such projects in future. We expect you to send the right signals. The results you produce must be the envy of other schools, for MrMlindazwe and staffto establishthe mission we are assigning them today they will rely on the support of the school controlling bodyand parents to nurture the culture of learning. Parents also have a role. If they follow with interest the progress made by their children and interact with teachers regularly, and attend parent meetings, they will encourage their children.Just as we joined forces to renovate this school so must we work together to educate our children.Finally let me congratulate the pupils of Bongolethufor their new school. This the community gives to you. Look after it. Don’t allow delinquents to do stupid things like stealing school property. Report such behaviour to teachers; work harder to achieve better results. The future of the nation is in your hands and good luck!

Let me just say in conclusion that long before I was elected president of this country I took steps to ensure that those who are in a better position to do so should hand deliver services to our people. I went round all the big corporations in this country and I said to them, “We are going to have elections. I am not sure who is going to win, but assuming that we win it is going to take us as long as even two years to plan to deliver services to our people. I want you to get involved and I am approaching you not as the president of the ANC but as a simple citizen who is worried about questions of poverty, illiteracy and disease and so on”.I want you to deliver services and the response from big business has been tremendous. It has exceeded my wildest expectations. I went to a giant mining group and I said to them, “I want you, out of your own resources, to build 3 schools and 3 clinics; a school and a clinic in Venda; a school and a clinic in Lebowa; a school and a clinic in Gazankulu.” Can you imagine?Can you guess what they said? Just tell me, just guess… (responses) Any other guesses?… (further responses)… No, that is only half an answer. They said, “We will not only build 3 schools and 3 clinics but we will build3 clinics and 6 schools.” As I am here now and was in Beacon Hill High School earlier on- I am now wanted to go to other provinces to open the project there.Now I am involved a wide variety of buildings. They have built hospitals, schools in the Transkei, in the Northern Cape, in the Free State, in North West, in the Northern Transvaal and in Kwa Zulu Natal. That is what big business is doing.

Of course they are being criticised because people feel that they should do more. But to change attitudes is not something that can be achieved overnight. It is a process and that process has started where business is using their private resources in order to ensure that services are rendered to those who have been disadvantaged by many years of apartheid.I appeal to all of you to come forward and to share your skills with the people who are disadvantaged and one of the things that makes me happy here is to see so many whites amongst us;it’s a sign of your interest in the conditions of the people in this area and possibly elsewhere. And I must thank you from the bottom of my heart for that spirit which you are showing.

We have fought our fights and I believe we have fought good fights;that is over. Now the issue is one of reconstruction and development. We, as the ANC, must take the initiative. It is no use blaming what has happened in the past. We are now in government and people are looking up to us. It is necessary for the leaders of the ANC to be responsible because the response of masses ofthe people and of any section of the community depends on what you say, what you do. Those people who do not measure their words, who find it easy to criticise, who still believe that whites must be driven into the sea, those people are not the king-makersthat we want today, the leaders that we want today. Those people who say we are bending backwards to accommodate the interests of the whites do not understand what is happening in their own country.

We have to remove the concerns which any minority in any country where there’s a transformation… It is our task to make them realise that this is their country, that they must use their skills to develop this country now for every South African. What is wanted now is men and women who can rise above the ethnic mould in which they have been involved so deeply, to think in terms of South Africa as a whole. Such men and women no matter what the colour of their skin is will always take the position of leadership.

Let me tell you of an incident for people who are being told that now that this government is an African Government your positions are going to be threatened. They don’t know what has happened in history and those who know do not want to tell you the truth. In 1946 many of you here were not born. There was a Reverend Scott. At that time the acute shortage of housing was so deep that there was a proliferation of squatter camps. One of the biggest squatter camps was in Orlando. Then he decided to go and help those people. Now this is a white man, to go and help those people.And the first thing was to see how the moneys of the squatter camp were being spent. And he found that there were no records.

The leaders of thepoor people were now driving Mercedes Benzes and he wanted them to account for every penny that they received from welfare. That of course made him an enemyof the leaders of the squatter camp because they were using the disabilities of the people in order to enrich themselves. So when he insisted on this they actually attacked him physically and then ran away. I then took him to my house and went back to the squatter camp and said to them. “Here is a man who wants to help you. Now we want you to vote to decide on the leader of the squatter camp. (He was a returned soldier and a very popular chap).. We want you to decide who should be the leader of this camp. There is this man who will establish this camp; that is Michael Scott. We arranged a date for voting, pure Africans, not a single white man, except Rev Scott. Can you again guess what happened? Who was elected the leader of the camp? It was Reverend Scott.

Now thepeople respond in terms of what you are able to do for them irrespective of their colour. And I want to encourage you to be involved in upgrading the conditions of the people here, because whatever your colour, that will be deeply appreciated. There are, of course, organisations in this country which are driving away white teachersfrom African areas. We understand they are angry, but they are totally misguided and they have no following whatsoever, and we appeal to you to remain in your post and to serve the people whatever the colour of their skin is. I can see the Rainbow Nation in this country emerging and becoming stronger every day and you have now people who have been indoctrinated with all the infamous policies of the past who are now breaking looseand serving the community whatever the colour of their skin.

It has been said a person who does what all others can do is an ordinary person. that is not what we are wanting. A person who does what only a few others can do is an exceptional person. We want such persons. But a person who does what no other person has ever done, that is a genius. That is a national asset. And that is what we want all of you to strive for, to be national assets, to be geniuses. If you can do that, our country will be more than a miracle,and it will become a Mecca for the entire world. I thank you.

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