Mandela: Speeches in Japan (1)

Thanks in great part to its “honorary white” status in apartheid South Africa, Japan in 1990 was one of the largest trading partners of South Africa, following the sanctions that other western countries had implemented in cutting their economic ties with the isolated apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela had been out of prison eight months when he was invited by the Japanese government to Japan on a six-day visit as a state guest. A month or so before Mandela’s arrival a high-ranking Japanese government minister happened to make disparaging public comments about Black people that ignited a firestorm of criticism within and outside Japan. It was against this backdrop that Mandela visited Japan for his first-ever visit to the wealthiest country in Asia.

Following is the complete text of Mandela’s speech before an estimated 20,000 people in the Japanese city of Osaka at the “Nelson Mandela Welcoming Rally of Western Japan” on Sunday, October 28, 1990, his second day in Japan. It was held at the municipal Osaka Pool in the downtown Ogimachi Park, a traditional staging ground for political rallies and demonstrations in western Japan.

It was a very special event in many ways, most notably because Amandla, the cultural ensemble-in-exile of Mandela’s political party the African National Congress (ANC), was then on tour in Japan, playing sold-out shows everywhere it performed. Now Amandla would play for Mandela himself — the first time for many of the South Africans in the troupe to see their leader face to face. Mandela himself seemed pleasantly surprised that day by the warm South African welcome he received in the heart of a foreign country, Japan.

This event in Osaka was by far the largest and most impressive public gathering for Mandela during his six days in Japan in October 1990. In this public speech, Mandela is essentially letting Japanese government officials know what he will be expecting in his meetings with them in the coming days in regard to financial support — that is, putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to condemning apartheid.

The old Osaka Pool stadium was torn down a few years after Nelson Mandela’s visit and no longer exists today, but the spirit of that day will forever remain alive and well in that downtown park where Mandela once stood. (See the PHOTOS and ESSAYS pages of this website for more in pictures and words about Mandela’s appearance that day in Osaka.)

• Nelson Mandela, deputy president, African National Congress:

“Thank you.

“After listening to Amandla, I find it difficult to start my speech. I have been so overcome by emotion that my vocabulary has dried up completely. I never imagined that this morning, I would be back in South Africa and in Soweto. We are very grateful to the choir — and also to you, for turning up to give them support and inspiration.

“We are in this country at the invitation of the Japanese government. We welcomed the invitation because it would give us the opportunity of discussing with the government matters of common interest. In particular, we welcomed this visit because it will enable us to discuss the relationship between the ANC and the government of the country. This invitation will also enable us to tell the government about the latest political developments in our country, and to make specific proposals on how the government of Japan could play a positive role in regard to those developments.

“The invitation will also help us to thank those many non-governmental organizations which help us in our struggle. Not only have the non-governmental organizations of this country condemned apartheid, but they are giving us the means which we can use effectively in destroying apartheid. They help to maintain our offices here and have constant discussions with our representative [Jerry Matsila] as to how to help to promote the struggle against racialism in South Africa.

“Since the beginning of March this year, we have visited many countries in Africa, Europe, Canada and the United States of America. We met many governments and organizations who reject apartheid and who have condemned it without qualification. Some of these countries and organizations were satisfied merely to condemn apartheid but did nothing concrete to help us destroy apartheid. In particular, they did not give us the resources, the money, which would help us to conduct an effective struggle for a new South Africa.

“But our visit to these countries and our discussions with the governments and other organizations changed that world picture to a great extent. What is more is that we asked these countries to give us the assistance in our hands, to give us monies, which we ourselves as the African National Congress can control. We asked them specifically not to tell us that their own laws prevent them from giving monies to a political organization, and we said to them that we would like to take these monies away with us. I am happy to tell you that many of these countries did exactly that: They understood our difficulties, they sympathized with us, and they gave us assistance on the spot.

“We are now in Asia in order to raise funds for the struggle. The first three countries that we have visited in this region have been absolutely magnificent in their response. I am going to give you details because these three countries themselves have published to the world what they did for the African National Congress during our visit.

“We started in India and asked for a sum of 10 million U.S. dollars. They gave us, first, 20 million rupees. In addition to that, they gave us 6,800,000 U.S. dollars. And we took away that amount with us. The next country we visited was Indonesia, and we also asked for 10 million U.S. dollars. We got exactly that amount. Australia has given us 50 million dollars. And I’m mentioning these figures because all these three countries have published these donations to us.

“We are now in the richest country in Asia, and we are going to ask the government and business people in this country to give us these funds. And we have the confidence that the government and people of Japan will respond in the same way in which the three countries we have visited have responded.

“The Japanese government has clearly condemned apartheid and also assured us that they would like to cooperate in the establishment of a new South Africa. And we believe that this is exactly what they are going to do.

“We are aware of the good work which the government and people of Japan are doing in order to better the living conditions of the people in the countries that are our neighbors. We are confident that they will not only give us the support which we require but that after apartheid has been dismantled, they will also involve themselves in the development of our economic system.

“The government of this country has assured us that they welcome the negotiations between the African National Congress and the government [of South Africa]. We believe that the Japanese government is in a position to help, to facilitate, this process. It is with this expectation and hope that I will see the prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs and other leading figures in Tokyo from Monday. I will brief the prime minister, within the time at my disposal, to the fullest extent about what is going on and precisely how we would expect the Japanese government to play a positive role.

“I would have preferred, I would have liked, to brief you in full about the political developments that are taking place in our country and about the issues, the problems, which may lead to the derailment of the peace process. But unfortunately, there is not enough time for me to do this.

“But your presence here in such large numbers shows that we have hundreds of thousands of people in this country who are our true friends and allies. Your population is more than 100 million, and [you are] a country which has such a big population — which has far exceeded even some of the old industrial countries in the West in its economic development and prosperity. A cause which is supported by such a country can never fail.

“I will report to the African National Congress and to the people of South Africa that the warm welcome that you gave us yesterday and your presence here, representing so many people in this country, is a guarantee that our cause will never fail.

“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your commitment and for the support that you have given us. Thank you.”

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