I am an African.
I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the
mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the
flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of
our native land.
My body has frozen in our frosts and in our
latter-day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted
in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer
thunders, lashed by startling lightning, have been a cause both of
trembling and of hope.
The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to
us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg,
waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi,
have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out
the foolish deeds of the theatre of the day.
At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I
should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the
lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the
A human presence among all of these, a feature on
the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare
challenge me when I say -- I am an African!
I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose
desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape -- they who
fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever
seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to
defend our freedom and independence and they who, as a people, perished
in the result.
Today, as a country, we keep an inaudible and
audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live,
fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from
our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach
us not and never to be inhuman again.
I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find
a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain
still part of me.
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves
who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their
culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from
the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness
of what should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women
that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu
took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to
dishonor the cause of freedom.
My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the
victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we
earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as Ashanti of
Ghana, as Berbers of the desert.
I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the
Boer graves at St Helena, [unclear], and the Vrouemonument, who sees in
the mind's eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk,
death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins.
I am the child of Nongqawuse. I am he who made it
possible to trade in the world markets in diamonds, in gold, in the same
food for which our stomachs yearn.
I come of those who were transported from India and
China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to
provide physical labor, who taught me that we could both be at home and
be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that
freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.
Being part of all of these people, and in the
knowledge that none dares contest that assertion, I shall claim that -- I
am an African.
I have seen our country torn asunder as these, all
of whom are my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one
to redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other,
to defend the indefensible.
I have seen what happens when one person has
superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to
themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created
all men and women in His image.
I know what it signifies when race and
used to determine who is human and who, sub-human.
I have seen the destruction of all sense of
self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to
acquire some of the benefits which those who had imposed themselves as
masters had ensured that they enjoy.
I have experience of the situation in which race
and color is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.
I have seen the corruption of minds and souls as a
result of the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable
crime against humanity.
I have seen concrete expression of the denial of
the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and
systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.
There the victims parade with no mask to hide the
brutish reality -- the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children,
those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to
assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane
is to invite pain.
Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people,
are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of
death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.
And so, like pawns in the service of demented
souls, they kill in furtherance of the political violence in
KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the innocent in the taxi wars.
They kill slowly or quickly in order to make
profits from the illegal trade in narcotics. They are available for hire
when husband wants to murder wife and wife, husband.
Among us prowl the products of our immoral and
amoral past -- killers who have no sense of the worth of human life,
rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals
who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the
disabled, and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their
quest for self-enrichment.
All this I know and know to be true because I am an
Because of that, I am also able to state this
fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and
I am born of a people who would not tolerate
I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of
death, of torture, of imprisonment, of exile or persecution should
result in the perpetuation of injustice.
The great masses who are our mother and father will
not permit that the behavior of the few results in the description of
our country and people as barbaric.
Patient because history is on their side, these
masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn
triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines.
Whatever the circumstances they have lived through
and because of that experience, they are determined to define for
themselves who they are and who they should be.
We are assembled here today to mark their victory
in acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own
definition of what it means to be African.
The Constitution whose adoption we celebrate
constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our
African-ness shall be defined by our race, our color, our gender or our
It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South
Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White.
It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we
share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall
It recognizes the fact that the dignity of the
individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal
which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that
It seeks to create the situation in which all our
people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of
one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one
social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny
anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny.
It aims to open the doors so that those who were
disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals with their
fellow human beings without regards to color, to race, to gender, to
age or to geographic dispersal.
It provides the opportunity to enable each one and
all to state their views, to promote them, to strive for their
implementation in the process of governance without fear that a contrary
view will be met with repression.
It creates a law-governed society which shall be
inimical to arbitrary rule.
It enables the resolution of conflicts by peaceful
means rather than resort to force.
It rejoices in the diversity of our people and
creates the space for all of us voluntarily to define ourselves as one
As an African, this is an achievement of which I am
proud, proud without reservation and proud without any feeling of
Our sense of elevation at this moment also derives
from the fact that this magnificent product is the unique creation of
African hands and African minds.
But it also constitutes a tribute to our loss of
vanity that we could, despite the temptation to treat ourselves as an
exceptional fragment of humanity, draw on the accumulated experience and
wisdom of all humankind, to define for ourselves what we want to be.
Together with the best in the world, we too are
prone to pettiness, to petulance, selfishness and short-sightedness.
But it seems to have happened that we looked at
ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort
to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a
glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est
consequenda -- Glory must be sought after.
Today it feels good to be an African.
It feels good that I can stand here as a South
African and as a foot soldier of a titanic African army, the African
National Congress, to say to all the parties represented here, to the
millions who made an input into the processes we are concluding, to our
outstanding compatriots who have presided over the birth of our founding
document, to the negotiators who pitted their wits one against the
other, to the unseen stars who shone unseen as the management and
administration of the Constitutional Assembly, the advisers, the experts
and the publicists, to the mass communication media, to our friends
across the globe -- congratulations and well done!
I am an African.
I am born of the peoples of the continent of
The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples
of Liberia, and of Somalia, of the Sudan, of Burundi and Algeria is a
pain I also bear.
The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human
degradation of my continent is a blight that we share.
The blight on our happiness that derives from this
and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs
leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair.
This is a savage road to which nobody should be
condemned. The evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she
is continuing her rise from the ashes.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can
stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace!
Thank you very much.