Address by Former President Kgalema Motlanthe at the 30th Anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s Return.

11 February 2020 at the Presidential Assembly: Grand Parade Plaza, Cape Town


Programme Director,

President Cyril Ramaphosa

Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa

The Mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato

The Mandela Family,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen.


On behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Board of Trustees, I greet you and express our gratitude for your presence here today.  You will agree with me, I’m sure, that beyond the formalities of an event like this and the marking of such a significant moment in history, there is an enormous well of emotion that all peace loving people in South Africa and the world over will be drawing on today.  For when Madiba walked out of prison with Mama Winnie on that February afternoon thirty years ago we could see clearly, at last, the promised land.  We could reach out and believe that we would touch it in our lifetime.


For the Nelson Mandela Foundation, reckoning with our past is central to the mandate Madiba gave us as he stepped away from public life. We can only make liberated futures for our country by learning from the histories of our ancestors before colonialism touched our shores, by learning from the struggles against colonisation, the struggles against apartheid, and the histories of our transition to democracy.  So, on this day of memorialisation we retrace Madiba’s footsteps when he walked out of Victor Verster Prison, when he guided us through CODESA, the 1994 elections, the Presidency and his counsel, his vision and exemplary leadership.


He walked out with a mandate from the African National Congress to negotiate the end of apartheid, introduce democracy, transform our society fundamentally and build a new nation.  That mandate was endorsed by the international community and drew its ultimate moral authority from the broadest cross-section of South Africans.  What a mandate!  What a challenge!


Today, we still face many of the stubborn challenges that Madiba contemplated on this hallowed ground 30 years ago and we now face many new socio-economic problems that deserve our closest attention. The need to be guided by the highest moral values is as important now as it ever was. Our duty to cultivate and encourage a mindset of activism in all citizens is a continuous and expanding mandate – a call to action for all the people.


As we view our country through the lens of history, we can observe the great gains we have achieved with democracy and at the same time recognise those enduring failures that confront us. Through this lens we are asked to consider the ethical imperatives, dilemmas and implied politics of the legacy of apartheid and confess that the dividend of our democracy has not reached the vulnerable and marginalized people of our country.


There is a growing sense of impatience in South Africa that is fuelled by doubt and despair, and this leaves many people feeling like they have been left behind and that they do not belong. 


These deep-seated feelings, in my view, define our reality as we remember Madiba’s release from prison.  It is a challenge that confronts all South Africans. The underlying question for us all remains: how do we make the future of Madiba’s dreams?


We are thankful that we have President Ramaphosa to address this Anniversary, who, was in fact, present when Madiba made his first public address after 27 years of incarceration and who will share with us his reflections on the past and his vision for our country in this sacred space.


As I draw to a close, let me add that if the future of Madiba’s dreams is to be made, then it will take all of us to take responsibility for the work. 


We must embrace the power of dialogue because our democracy is, in the last instance, an outcome of Madiba’s ongoing dialogue and his strength and conviction to take action.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to walk the talk.  It is time to work.  And as Madiba told us when he reached 90 years of age and bowed out of public engagements: “It is in your hands now.”  Our Hands!


And to the many naysayers, who continue carping at Madiba’s choices, vision and actions, I invoke Bishop Trevor Huddleston’s words:


“There were hands stretched out to heal and to comfort men. Hands stretched out to clasp other hands in friendship. Hands stretched out in blessing and in prayer. But it did not stop men nailing those Hands to the wood of the Cross.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


I thank you.