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Were these words about apartheid and the ANC uttered by Mandela?

This article is more than 6 years old

“If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”.

The internet is littered with memes attributing these words to former South African president Nelson Mandela.

But did he really say these words? A reader asked us to verify.

The quote is often attributed to the speech that Mandela made at the 5th national gathering of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

A reading of the speech, dated September 1994, however, shows no mention of this often-cited phrase.

We searched the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s digital archive database for the phrase, but returned no results. The database houses a collection of searchable speeches made by the former president.

'We've asked for a recording of the speech'

We spoke to the foundation, which works to provide an “integrated, dynamic and trusted resource on the legacy of Nelson Mandela”, for confirmation.

Senior archivist Razia Saleh told Africa Check that they had come across the quote attributed to the Cosatu congress. However, they have no supporting documentation to validate it.

“We’ve asked Cosatu for a recording of the speech,” Saleh told Africa Check, but to date, the foundation hasn’t found one.

“Until we find a recording of the speech we can’t say he said it or not,” Saleh said. - Gopolang Makou (28/09/2017)


Via Twitter and an email, two readers pointed us to a 1993 edition of the journal of the South African Communist Party, The African Communist.

The publication quotes Mandela as saying "you must support the African National Congress only so far as it delivers the goods, if the ANC does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime”.

However, a recording that verified Mandela was quoted correctly could not be found, despite our best efforts. Here is a rundown of our attempts.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)

Photo: Gopolang Makou

The quote is often attributed to Cosatu’s fifth national congress held from 7 to 10 September 1994.

But Donald Ratau, who is responsible for Cosatu’s archives, told Africa Check that Mandela spoke at the special congress held from 10 to 12 September 1993 at the then Vista University in Soweto.

“The ordinary congress [is held] every three years,” Ratau told Africa Check by phone. “If there are urgent issues that can’t wait for the ordinary national congress then there’s a special congress.”

But when asked for footage or recordings of the event Ratau couldn’t help. “I’m afraid we do not have any footage of that congress,” he said.

University of Witwatersrand

Ratau recommended we visit the University of Witwatersrand’s historical papers research archive. It contains a wealth of Cosatu information, including final resolutions from the 1993 special congress - but no footage or recordings.

South African Broadcasting Corporation

A visit to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) nearly ended the search.

Duma Mboni, who is with the corporation's sales department, let us watch raw footage from the event. The former president’s speech was preserved on the VHS tapes, but his off the cuff remarks afterwards were cut short.

Mandela was recorded saying the African National Congress had become strong because of its partnership with workers.

“But the workers, if they are going to drive the campaign to improve the living conditions of people, you must be independent. The fact that we have a tripartite alliance does not mean that you should follow the African National Congress sheepishly.”

To the applause of the crowd, the former president can be heard saying: “Power corrupts. Anybody is corrupted by power, can be corrupted by power. And a society should have means of ensuring that power will not corrupt those you have put in power. And one of the ways of ensuring that does not happen is for you to be critical, to be alert, to be vigilant.”

Mandela encouraged delegates to criticise both him and the ANC. He said he “used those criticisms as a mirror to correct my own mistakes. And I sincerely hope today that you are going to feel free to criticise us for the mistakes, for what you conceive to be mistakes, that we have committed.”

The recording cuts short at this point.

“The speech was supposed to continue on another tape, but such a tape is not accounted for,” Mboni told Africa Check.

Other attempts

Mboni suggested we try our luck with media organisations like the Independent Television News (ITN), Associated Press (AP) and Agence France Presse (AFP).

“I regret this subject isn’t listed on the database and so assume ITN did not cover the congress,” the British media house’s archive department said.

AP’s YouTube channel provides brief footage of Mandela addressing the crowd. But Louise Parkhurst, account manager for AP’s archive division, told Africa Check: “I’m afraid all we have of that speech is what you see on the AP archive website.”

And AFP’s South African news editor, Ben Sheppard, told Africa Check there was “nothing from AFP back then”. - 10/07/2018

Do you have a recording of Mandela speaking at the congress? Please share it with us to help build a national memory: [email protected]


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