Speech at the Opening of the ANC Archives: University of Fort Hare – 1996/03/17

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare,
Distinguished participants:

First of all, I would like to extend the sincere apologies and regret of our President, Comrade Nelson Mandela, that he is unable to be with us today.

I am also honoured to convey to this gathering his best wishes and his confidence that, thanks to the work that has been done by the dedicated people who have been engaged in establishing this archive, these opening ceremonies will be most successful.

I believe that we also owe him our thanks because it is by virtue of the Agreement of Deposit which he signed in 1992 that the University of Fort Hare became the official repository of the ANC archive.

This is a place of learning and research which occupies a pre-eminent place in the history of the struggle of the peoples of Southern and East Africa for national emancipation and the birth of the new African civilisation.

During the 80 years of its existence, it has seen a significant part of the African intelligentsia from as far afield as Uganda pass through its portals.

Each brought to this eminently African place their particular experience, the especial aspirations of their people and their views as to what needed to be done at that particular moment and in the future to actualise the African dream.

And from Uganda to South Africa, many came here as members of liberation movements that shared one name that had originated from this country – the African National Congress.

Such indeed was the nature of the liberation organisations of the various peoples of Africa, national congresses of the African nation, parliaments of the African people.

Ultimately it was to fall on the shoulders of the peoples of Southern and East Africa themselves to extent their solidarity to us, as a critical and decisive contribution to the victory of the peoples of the world over the apartheid crime against humanity.

The record of that struggle, in which the South African section of the African National Congress has been engaged for 84 years, has come to stay at what is incontestably its natural home, the alma mater of many to whose leadership we owe the emancipation of many of the peoples of our continent.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome our distinguished guests from our sister African countries who have honoured us with their presence here today.

Your presence, dear friends and comrades, has given both weight and joy to this occasion and an opportunity for us, once again, to reaffirm our commitment to the strengthening of our ties of solidarity and friendship for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.

It is also a matter of great inspiration to see gathered in this hall, representatives of many generations of our own struggle for freedom, all of them makers of the glorious history of struggle recorded in the items that have been and will be collected in this important archive.

I am also pleased to extent our welcome to the other outstanding personalities drawn from all walks of life, who have sacrificed some of their time to be present here, among them leaders of our broad democratic movement, vice-chancellors of our universities, academics, students and members of the community of Alice.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extent our sincere thanks to the donors who so generously helped to make the establishment of this archive possible.

We are pleased that some of them are with us today to have sight of what we have done with their selfless contributions and to be exposed to all of us as we gather here to express our appreciation that our country has gained a resource as invaluable as this one.

We would also like to take this opportunity to appeal to all our people who might have personal papers relevant to this archive to consider donating them as their contribution to this important national initiative.

As work started to build this archive, the late President of our movement, Oliver Tambo, said it would reflect “authentic and real experiences of the past”.

Those authentic and real experiences of the past have to do with the struggle of the ANC has waged for eight-and-a-half decades to bury the demon of tribalism, but which, to this day, some seek to resurrect and nurture in pursuit of goals which have nothing to do with the unity of our nation, the genuine emancipation of our people and their liberation from the want and suffering imposed on them by centuries of colonialism and apartheid.

By the demon of tribalism I refer to the attempt to set any of our ethnic groups against another on the basis of a canard that any of these groups can be presented as a cohesive political entity, with political, economic and social aspirations which are unique to itself and which therefore set it apart from the rest of our people.

The authentic and real experience of the past which OR spoke about includes the struggle the movement for national liberation waged not only to secure the unity of the African people, but also to ensure the birth of one South African nation, made up of a people inspired by a common patriotism, despite their variety, which is as multiple as the colours of the rainbow.

The victory the past generations sought in this regard and the success we continue to sue for, are based, as a sine-qua-non, on the emancipation of those who were oppressed, the elimination of the socio-economic disparities based on race, colour and gender and therefore the realisation of the goals of equality among all our national groups and between the genders.

That experience also includes a sustained effort never to allow ourselves to fall prey to the destructive forces of blind bigotry and intolerant fanaticism.

It is a result of that determined struggle that, as the oppressed, we never succumbed to the temptation to respond to white racism with black racism, that we never sought to meet apartheid terrorism with our own campaign of terror or to glorify the use of force in the ordering of human relations, that we battled and continue to battle for national reconciliation rather than vengeance, that today, in a spirit of forgiveness, we sit together with those who only yesterday considered and treated us as less than human, determined to work jointly with them to fashion a future of justice and happiness for all our people.

Sometimes, when some of us witness the continued manifestation of arrogance and experience resistance to fundamental change, all deriving from the conscious and sub-conscious habits that come of half-a-millenium of white-racism, we wonder whether these, who considered themselves as destined to be our masters, understand and will ever comprehend the depth of the spiritual sacrifice that the millions made when they chose to forgive and to bury their pain in the poetic words – akwehlanga lungehlanga – let bygones be bygones!

The authentic and real experience which Oliver Tambo spoke about includes unwavering respect for the masses of the people as the true makers of history, the real motive force of all meaningful progressive change, whose sustained and all – round betterment must lie at the centre of the purpose and actions of all those who wish to describe themselves as fighters for the true liberation of the people.

That experience therefore tells a tale of how the masses of the people dared to offer their lives in the struggle to achieve their own emancipation, united in action to bring about peace, justice and reconciliation, and will sacrifice still, to bless our country with progress, prosperity and lasting stability.

Consequently it is both an experience of the particular contributions of great heroes and heroines, such as those who, when they left the confines of this university did, by their actions, leave an indelible imprint on the map of human progress, and an answer to the pregnant question which the German poet and playwright, Berthold Brecht, posed when he asked – Who built Thebes of the Seven Gates!

The authentic and real experiences to which Oliver Tambo contributed so much, include also a profound understanding of the meaning of the concepts of national liberation and equality among the nations, the place of these struggles in the effort to create a new world order, as well as what needs to be done to achieve these objectives.

Strangely, these matters seem to have become forgotten elements in the vocabulary of our own agenda. Is it perhaps because universally, they have become too controversial to be palatable!

Or is it because when we speak only of the all-important issue of human rights, we gain for ourselves the sense of warmth and universal acceptance that is born of being ensconced within a well-drilled chorus line!

Or is it because we too, who have never known fear before, are, because of our search for the universal approval of the powerful, today afraid to speak of the genuine liberation of the peoples, lest we should be misread as meaning that we are ready to spurn the hand of support and assistance that those, who have better means than we, have extended to us!

Our authentic and real experience speaks of our own contribution to the effort both to achieve solidarity among and to evolve a common agenda by the peoples of our continent, so that the nations of Africa, who ineluctably share a common destiny, can unite around a common programme of action to extricate the millions of our people across the continent from the life condition which describes them as the wretched of the earth.

That same experience contains within it and as an element essential to its integrity, the vision and episodes of a struggle of all humanity united for freedom, human dignity, peace and prosperity for all.

It tells of how, in the end, not anyone anywhere in the world stood still and watched, because they felt this that the perpetuation of the system of apartheid in our country represented not only and merely the suffering of the people of South Africa.

They could see that, as long as the apartheid system was allowed to exist, as a result of their own inactivity, so long would their own humanity be denied and their dignity violated.

The concrete actions that all humanity took to help us destroy the system of apartheid, addressed also the question of what would replace that system of white minority domination.

The peoples of the world entertained the hope that out of the terrible human disaster that was the apartheid system, would born a South Africa of non-racialism, the equality of all national groups, democracy, respect for human rights, peace and human upliftment.

And as they harboured that hope, they knew that if we succeeded to realise these objectives, we, who had set a negative example, might make an historic contribution to the renewal not only of our own society, but also of the world as a whole.

Those who are interested will find all we have said, and much else besides, about the authentic and real experiences of our own people and their organisations ,recorded in the ANC archive for whose opening we have gathered at Fort Hare, four days before we mark March 21st, – Sharpeville Day – our national Human Rights Day and the day the United Nations dedicated to the elimination of racism and racial discrimination.

The Bible says – abo banendlebe zokuva mabeve – those who have ears to hear let them hear!

This is a part of our country which is accustomed to issuing clarion calls, both bad and good.

On its frontiers was set an agenda which defined South African history for 150 years.

Across this, the Tyume Valley and opposite each other, are two educational institutions which made a great impact on the wider Southern and East African renaissance, Lovedale and Fort Hare, the one established in 1841, before the battle of Isandlhwana, and the other, in1916, after the formation of the ANC.

In that sense, the one foresaw the defeat of the anti-colonial wars of resistance and the other emerged as an expression of the practical experience of that defeat.

Within the bosom of this little corner of the great territory of our country, the conditions were created within which the African people, stretching far beyond our borders, had to decided how to respond to the explosive mixture defined by the reality of defeat by the colonial forces on the one hand and the refusal to surrender on the part of the vanquished, on the other.

Some of the most outstanding of our own sons and daughters who provided an answer to what would result from this riddle came from further to the north and included John Langalibalele Dube and Pixley Isaka ka Seme.

Each of these events and many in between have a story to tell and a message to convey, all of which belong to a continuum whose discovery and authentication will continue to be an exciting intellectual journey leading to the expansion of the frontiers of knowledge.

This archive speaks to all who are interested in these important processes.

But it also speaks in another language.This is the language of the reinforcement of the pride and identity of the formerly oppressed and despised, because in it will be found much which says that, after all, indeed, we were never conquered.

Within itself the archive contains another message which urges all South Africans to struggle and change.

As we move around, enveloped by the must and the silence, the archive says to all who have ears to hear that they should not hear a still past, but must respond to the living reality that the archive is.

What was continues to be.

What is past is the heritage not only of those who seek to reflect, but also those who are moved to act.

The archive is a school both for the philosophers and the historians as well as the agitators and the activists, all of whom are linked one to the other by virtue of their common commitment to the full emancipation of all human beings.

Without all that is recorded in this archive, South Africa could not be what it is today and would never achieve the glory in future that is its due.

A people denied, a history suppressed, an experience spurned have at last occupied their space. From now onwards, many things can never be the same again.

From 1916 onwards, when this institution was established, many things could never be the same again when such South Africans as DDT Jabavu, Z.K. Matthews, Govan Mbeki, Victor Mbobo, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Kisosonkole of Uganda, Chipembere of Malawi, could be part of its making and development.

We are pleased and moved that the ANC archive has come home to the University of Fort Hare because this institution which must participate and is participating in the struggle in which all Africa is engaged to give birth to the new African civilisation, understands well that our task is not only to comprehend.

Having understood, we have a responsibility to act and to comprehend again, and even critically assess the value and correctness of our own actions.
The ANC archive, like the ANC itself, will be such a living reality, not dead but living, trusting that those who have ears to hear its humane message will listen and act.

I am honoured speaking in the name of all who have brought us freedom, to proclaim the ANC Archive at the university of Fort Hare open access by all our people to whom those who have acted in the past to define a better future for our country have bequeathed the authentic and real experiences contained in the archive.

The struggle continues and victory is certain!

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