Your Excellencies Heads of State,
Esteemed leaders from all sectors,
Let me begin by thanking you all for being here this afternoon to join us in commemorating the 100 years since the formation of the African National Congress on the 8th of January 1912.
This great organization was established not only for the people of South Africa, but as a Pan-African, anti-colonial movement for the entire continent of Africa.
Its centenary has been recognized by both the SADC and the African Union as an important milestone in Africa’s history that has to be celebrated.
This High Level Symposium is a tribute to the role that the UN played in supporting our struggle against apartheid to making our country what it is today.
The formation of the ANC was an attempt by Africans to take their destiny into their own hands for their right to self-determination.
In doing so, they affirmed the principles at the heart of the Charter that gave birth to the United Nations – the principles of peace, equality and justice.
It was not an accident of history that in December 1973 the UN General Assembly, with Resolution 3151, declared that the apartheid government had "no right to represent the people of South Africa" and that the ANC and other liberation movements that were recognised by the OAU were what were called the "the authentic representatives of the overwhelming majority of the South African people".
This year marks 48 years since the passing of the General Assembly Resolution 1761 of November 1962 which denounced the apartheid system as a violation by South Africa of its obligations under the UN Charter and a threat to international peace and security.
The struggle against apartheid was one cause that united the international community throughout the world.
The UN was one pillar that held this movement against apartheid together. It was one center of gravity through which the world could speak in one voice to say “No to Apartheid”!
Since that day when India led the international community in speaking out against the system of racial oppression and discrimination in South Africa, we have never looked back.
No matter how hard the apartheid regime knocked on the door of the UN, it was never accepted as a full member of the international community. It was isolated, boycotted, and left out in the cold because the UN dared say “No to Apartheid”!
Many ANC leaders spent countless years coming here at the headquarters of the UN because they believed that this body, in as much as it had helped humanity avert a third world war, also gave a voice to all of us.
One of the early presidents of the ANC, Dr Alfred Xuma, came here in 1946 as an unofficial delegate to persuade the UN against the wishes of those who wanted to incorporate Namibia into apartheid South Africa.
Long before the ANC was banned in April 1960 and forced into a 30-year life of exile, the UN was already on our side, having passed resolution after resolution against the policies of racial oppression in our country.
When the apartheid regime arrested our leaders in the Rivonia trial of the 1960s, the UN stood up and called for their release.
When innocent people were gunned down by the apartheid police in Sharpeville in March 1960, the UN took a stance on the right side of history, defending the ideals enshrined in its Charter. To this day, the 21st of March is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
When the youth of our country took to the streets in June 1976, the UN listened and adopted a comprehensive programme of action against apartheid.
Excellencies, in short, the ANC is neither a visitor nor a stranger to the United Nations. The ANC was accepted as a member of the UN family.
When it was unbanned in 1990, it had more diplomatic representation in the world than the apartheid government.
The ANC’s long association with the UN is immortalized in documents that were generated by the Special Committee Against Apartheid which the UN established more than 50 years ago.
The UN Center Against Apartheid was a resource that very few could match in its analysis of apartheid and our struggle.
We are, therefore, delighted that President Goodluck Jonathan could join us today because it was under the leadership of that great African country, Nigeria, that the Special Committee Against Apartheid discharged its historic mission.
The Non Aligned Movement is present on our panel at this Symposium because throughout its existence, it was consistent in its solidarity and support of our struggle and that of the Palestinians.
We must also recognize the presence of Rev Jesse Jackson who was for many years an important voice against the system of apartheid and other forms of injustice.
The international solidarity struggle against apartheid was not just in the meeting rooms of the UN.
It was in the streets of places such as Harlem, London, Stockholm and Paris; the lecture rooms at universities; sports fields; the music industry; and everywhere!
It was a mass movement with tentacles in every sector of our communities, in every part of the world. It demonstrated that humanity can unite for a common cause.
When President Nelson Mandela, another stalwart of the ANC, addressed the Special Committee Against Apartheid in June 1990, he reminded us that (I quote) "the spur to the establishment of this Organization [the United Nations] was the determination of all humanity never again to permit racist theory and practice to dragoon the world into the deathly clutches of war and genocide” (close quote).
When we took our seat behind our flag in 1994, we saw this as a continuation of the long history of our role as a member of this big international family that had received Dr Xuma in the 1940s, opened its arms to Oliver Tambo, and welcomed Madiba when he was released from prison.
The very principles and values that informed our struggle in the past continue as our guide today.
We thanked you when you declared the 18th of July the Nelson Mandela International Day because we knew that this was not just about Madiba, but what the struggle that he had led represented for the whole of humanity.
Today has another historical significance: 150 years ago, on the 22nd of September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which cleared the way for the freedom of millions of African Americans who hitherto had not been regarded as citizens but slaves to toil and sweat.
President Lincoln abhorred slavery because to him it was, as he put it “an unqualified evil to the negro, the white man, and the State” .
Similarly, on its 25th anniversary, in October 1970, the UN General Assembly condemned apartheid as “a crime against the conscience and dignity of mankind" through Resolution 2627.
The UN’s International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973 defined the crime of apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them" .
Humanity has been unanimous in its condemnation of socio-economic and political systems that are based on racial discrimination, oppression and exploitation. In walking together in the fight for justice, the ANC and the UN enriched each other.
The ANC would not be what it is today had it not been for the experience it gained at the United Nations, including our unwavering commitment to multilateralism.
Similarly, the many campaigns that the UN undertook against apartheid helped mold this organization into what it is today.
History has since answered the challenge presented by former ANC President Oliver Tambo in his historic address to the General Assembly in October 1976, when he said that,:
Today the attention of our people is focused on this august body.
In their view, since the nations gathered here have denounced the apartheid regime as one that constitutes a crime against humanity and a threat to peace, they cannot at the same time give it the material and moral wherewithal to continue its crimes.
“The victory of our cause is assured.
As no force was able to deny the peoples of Vietnam, Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau their right to national self-determination, equally no force will be able to deny us our liberation. The peoples of Zimbabwe and Namibia will be free sooner rather than later, and so will the people of South Africa’’.
Ahead of the centenary, we thank the United Nations and the international community for the solidarity and for supporting freedom, democracy and human dignity.
I thank you.