Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Apartheid, Birthday, Guest Blogger, Human Rights, Lesotho, Poetry, Racism, South Africa

Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela!

NB: The following is only part of what Nelson Mandela said in his defense in 1964, when he was being tried for treason in South-Africa, and going to be, as everyone had thought, sentenced to death. It is only the last bit of that speech. Read all of it at this site. The rest is history (I couldn’t help saying that).

“The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as the African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with the white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or laborer can ever hope to do this?

Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.

Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labor Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on color, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
~Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964

Post-note: On June 11, 1964, at the conclusion of the trial, Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He began his sentence in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island off the coast near Cape Town. A worldwide campaign to free Mandela began in the 1980s and resulted in his release on February 11, 1990, at age 71, after 27 years in prison. In 1993, Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk for their peaceful efforts to bring a non-racial democracy to South Africa. Black South Africans voted for the first time in the 1994 election that brought Mandela the presidency of South Africa.


“If needs be, it is an ideal
for which I am prepared to die.”
~ ntate Mandela

Before the naming rites,
even before we were free to be free
from terror in our ranks,
before prison and death
became our constitutional rights,
a cry echoed among the elements
to shake the tenements
inside heaven and inside hell;
flesh came into my shell,
resided in me, heavy and light
according to the moment–
god, and politics, entered me,
possessed my heart; and so
I say to you, destroy me
because there’s a part of me
that belongs, and will not
acquiesce; for your benefit
and that of your progeny,
slay, before it’s too late,
the part in me that is hers
and will not succumb. Or
come to me after the night
where light finds its day.
I will wait for you.


  1. laformiotodidac

    Piano score

    White stave,
    For two
    Quater notes,
    Eighth notes,
    In syncopated tears,
    On the piano keys
    Our fingers

    Anick Roschi 05.07.10

  2. Janice de Souza

    Happy Birthday Madiba.
    Love you.

  3. Sokari

    RETHABILE Thanks for posting this – I confess I knew you would do Madiba justice.

  4. Retjoun

    People like ntate Mandela are more than heroes.
    Cheers and thanks…