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Copyright ©2014 Parliament of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

Tribute to His Excellency, Former President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Architect of the Free and Democratic South Africa

Hits: 1999 | Published Date: 16 Jan, 2014
| Speech delivered at: 67th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon. Basil Williams, MP

Mr. B. Williams: If it pleases you, Mr. Speaker. It gives me great pleasure to be able to speak on this motion on behalf of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and to indicate our support for it.
There is no question that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was an icon class. He was a sage freedom fighter and revolutionary. It is said that persons of his ilk, surfaces once every hundred year. We are sure that he would have left an indelible mark on the landscape of this world.
A lot have been written about him and a lot more, I daresay, would emerge in time to come. We here in Guyana and of course the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), have had an intimate involvement with the liberation of Southern Africa, which culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela.
We are more than enamel of the struggle that had taken place and that part in history that we would have contributed to. But a lot of persons would not have known, if fact, Nelson Mandela himself had to say that he was no saint; that he in fact laid the foundation in that struggle for what eventuated. In his youth he was a freedom fighter. He did things in the struggle that showed it clearly that he was a leader.
Born in 1918, as was said, in Quno, in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape, being one of 13 children, he was from a family with close links to the royal house of the Thembu People.
I would like to focus on his life when he became a lawyer. He joined the ANC 1944 and in fact had set up a law firm with Oliver Tambo himself, the President General of the ANC. As so often is the case, emergent lawyers really have been in the vanguard of struggles against oppression and exploitation around this world. He was in that mould and perhaps we could draw some partners with our own country. He was the target of constant harassment by that oppressive Government.
Stories abound when he had to use a lot of disguises, he even dressed as a woman on many occasions and travelled around a lot as a taxi driver, with a taxi driver uniform - in his actives. He was always the watchful eyes of the State. He was subjected to many charges. In fact, he spent a long time having to battle charges fixed on him by the State.
It was said of him, those 27 years, when one reflects on them, that his was a sacrifice so unsparing and for an end so desirable. How many of us could have done that; how many of us could have rallied in those circumstances?
His first encounter with that oppressive State System was in 1956, on the 5th December. He was one of 156 leaders of the ANC and his allies, who were arrested and charged with high treason. The Governor’s case against them was that the ANC had plotted to overthrow the Government by violence so that they could set up a communist Government in South Africa.
The Preliminary Inquiry (PI) took most of 1957 and at the end of which the State announced that it was dropping charges against 61of the accused, including Chief Luthuli and Oliver Tambo. So we see the machinations even at that time. Then 13 months after the PI begun, the magistrate decided that there was a sufficient case against the remaining 95, including Madiba, to face trial for high treason. Six months later at the beginning of the trial, it was removed from Johannesburg to Pretoria, which meant that they had separated the accused from their supporters.
The lawyers for Mandela submitted that if the State wanted to prove high treason, it would have to prove that the defendants planned to use violence. The State dropped the charges in the middle of 1959 and one month later, issued new charges against 30 ANC members, including Mandela. So we see the oppression; we see the intention to keep Mandela before the courts and away from the struggle.
The trial against the 30 began on the 3rd August, 1959. 210 witnesses were called and what is remarkable about this is that they were mostly members of the special branch of the police. Reminds me of a case I did on the East Coast. The witnesses were not turning up. I think it was in the murder of this lady in Buxton, Donna Herald. Then when they eventually decided that; one day we went to court and the whole courtroom was packed with people, largely men and it turned out to be that it was more than a platoon from the Tactical Squad Unit (TSU).
On the 29th March...
Mr. Speaker: Maybe they came to admire your courtroom acumen.
Mr. B. Williams: They came to intimidate the lawyers in that case. On the 29th March, 1961, in the verdict of Justice Rumphff, he said that it was impossible to find and to believe that the ANC had tried to overthrow the State by violence and discharge their quest. They never ever had a case. Does it sound familiar? They were charging them with high treason but they kept them stretched out in the prison and on the trial for a long time.
If you thought that that was the end of Mandela’s trials, you would have been mistaken. The State kept up the pressure on Mandela and on the 5th August, 1962, he was arrested again and charged with inciting workers to strike and leaving the country without proper travel documents. So it was clear harassment. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Alright, we are debating Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Let us keep it in there.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, this trial begun on Monday, 15th October, 1962...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams, what is it about your presentation that is causing such agitation. I thought you were dealing with happenings in South Africa.
Mr. B. Williams: Because Sir, it must be raising parallels.
Mr. Speaker: All of a sudden there is extreme agitation.
Mr. B. Williams: Exactly Sir. I do not see Mr. Benschop in here; I do not know what the problem is.
The Government know why they are uneasy.
Mr. Speaker: Alright, well let us continue this debate. Let us maintain the dignity in the debate because we are debating a great icon, as Mr. B. Williams said and I would like us to maintain the dignity of this debate and not in any way denude or diminish what it is that we are trying to achieve here tonight. Please proceed Mr. Williams. That goes for everyone.
Mr. B. Williams: Thank you Mr. Speaker. The trial begun on these charges of inciting workers to strike and leaving the country without proper travel documents on Monday, 15th October, 1962.
In this one Sir, he was sentence to jail; he was convicted and sentenced to jail for three years and for leaving the country without a passport.
This was when he was taken to Robben Island. In Robben Island, he faced further charges. There was this plan by the regime that it was clear that they did not intend for him to be released again. They meant to hold on to him. As it was said, he was only captured by the authorities upon a leak from an intelligence organisation so they were not prepared to lose him so were going to hold him on all kinds of charges.    [Mr. Nandlall: He was not captured. He was arrested.]     It had to be ‘captured’. He is a revolutionary. He was moving around the world spreading the news of what was going on in South Africa. In 1964 another charge was hoisted on Mandela. Mandela was charged with sabotage on this occasion and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Of course he gave the famous speech that the Prime Minister read.
That was an important stage in the life of Nelson Mandela because he was involved in the struggle. He was an integral part of the struggle. He, in fact, had recognised that the struggle had to take another direction when he formed that arm wing, the arm wing of ANC, which he called Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was heavily targeted. They locked onto him and had him down on Robben Island. Of course that is where his sacrifice impacted Guyana and impacted the Founding Leader of the People’s National Congress, Linden Forbes Samson Burnham.
Guyana’s human and material assistance must be placed in the context of the situation of post-colonial Africa. The British Government had left Zambia, the former colony of Northern Rhodesia without any major resources. Forbes Burnham did not hesitate to send more than 100 Guyanese public servants to various departments in the Zambian Government. Many doctors, engineers, lawyers, secretaries worked in Southern African states throughout the 1970s – a practical example of Guyana’s liberation diplomacy. Forbes Burnham, even as he ordered material assistance to the liberation movements sought to intensify diplomatic relations with the frontline states.
The liberation of Angola seemed in jeopardy when it appeared that apartheid Southern African Defence Forces, troops and other reactionary forces seem poised the win the day Forbes Burnham made the bold and decisive decision to allow Cuban troops to transit Guyana to oppose South African troops and those reactionary forces. The result was a decisive victory for the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the forces of freedom in Angola.
He did not stop there. “Guyana as a young nation, a small nation, a relatively poor nation...” Burnham said, “proposes to make a contribution to freedom fighters and this is going to be an annual feature in so far as the Government of Guyana is concerned.’ President Julius Nyerere observed in accepting the first instalment of $50,000 GYD on behalf of the African Liberation Fund that Guyana had set a wonderful example for other nations to follow. The sum was increased over the years at a time when Guyana was traversing probably the most testing economic crisis in its post independence history. It is said that the Government of Guyana, however, was undaunted in its mission to fight for the freedom of Southern Africa. Mr. Speaker, you would recall that it was Mr. Burnham who banned any cricketer who played cricket in South Africa and he was very principled in that position. In 198, the President General of the ANC, himself, Oliver Tambo visited Guyana and it was said that he received the most tumultuous welcome of all welcomes on his trip within the Region.
We here in Guyana had taken the leadership in the struggle of the frontline states of Southern Africa for the liberation from that insipid system of apartheid. We believe that the struggle and sacrifice of Mr. Nelson Mandela should be something that we should emulate, something that we must accept, something that we must endorse and something that we should feel proud of that we were able to effect revolutionary change, transformative change in Africa and we will continue to identify with the struggles of the people of Africa and in particular the people in southern Africa.
We are very pleased to support this motion and, in particular, as we recognise the Whereas Clause which acknowledges that the Government of Guyana, despite the international challenges it faced, was steadfast in it commitment and support for the liberation of South Africa and the southern Africa in general. This was demonstrated significantly through Guyana’s contribution of USD$50,000 annually for the African liberation struggle as well as its agreement for the landing and refuelling of Cuban aircrafts en route to support the southern African liberation movement. Support for internal boycott of South African goods and sport and Guyana severing of sport and contacts with apartheid South Africa. This Whereas Clause encapsulates the activities of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the foresight of its founding leader for the liberation of the people of southern Africa from the system of apartheid and so the APNU supports this motion honouring this great man of history and of the world. [Applause]

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