Nelson Mandela – a celebration of an icon’s life

Zindzi Mandela reads her father’s rejection to PW Both in 1985

Friday 30 January 2015 15:28

Nina Oosthuizen

Zindzi read Mandela’s reply to this offer to a mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on 10 February, 1985

Zindzi read Mandela’s reply to this offer to a mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on 10 February, 1985

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested and convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government of the day. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial.

Mandela spent nearly 20 years of his life on Robben Island until 1982 when he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison.

He was released in 1990 but not many might know he could have walked free five years earlier. The reason he didn’t was that the offer made to him by then State President PW Botha was conditional and stipulated that Mandela must basically  retract from politics and exile to the then Transkei (Eastern Cape).

On January 31, 1985 - Botha, speaking in Parliament, offered Mandela his freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. This was the sixth such offer.

His daughter Zindzi read Mandela’s reply to this offer to a mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on 10 February, 1985.

Watch her read Nelson Mandela’s rejection to PW Botha below.
This was the text of his response as read publicly by Zindzi:

I am a member of the African National Congress. I have always been a member of the African National Congress and I will remain a member of the African National Congress until the day I die. Oliver Tambo is much more than a brother to me. He is my greatest friend and comrade for nearly fifty years. If there is any one amongst you who cherishes my freedom, Oliver Tambo cherishes it more, and I know that he would give his life to see me free. There is no difference between his views and mine.

I am surprised at the conditions that the government wants to impose on me. I am not a violent man. My colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to [Daniel François] Malan asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When [Johannes Gerhardus] Strijdom was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When [Hendrik] Verwoerd was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This, too, was in vain.

It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to armed struggle. Let Botha show that he is different to Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd. Let him renounce violence. Let him say that he will dismantle apartheid. Let him unban the people’s organisation, the African National Congress. Let him free all who have been imprisoned, banished or exiled for their opposition to apartheid. Let him guarantee free political activity so that people may decide who will govern them.

I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organisation, the African National Congress, which was banned.

What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Herman Toivo ja Toivo, when freed, never gave any undertaking, nor was he called upon to do so. I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.
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