"TODAY IT FEELS GOOD TO BE AN AFRICAN"
I Am an African
Go here for more about
Go here for more about
Mbeki's I Am an African speech.
Nelson Mandela, former President, and President Thabo Mbeki
at Mandela's 90th birthday celebrations in Qunu, July 2008.
- Copyright Elmond Jiyane, GCIS.
It follows the full text transcript of
Thabo Mbeki's I Am an African speech, delivered at
Cape Town, South Africa - May 8, 1996.
Esteemed President of the democratic Republic,
Honorable Members of the Constitutional
Our distinguished domestic and foreign guests,
On an occasion
such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the
So, let me begin.
I am an African.
I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the
mountains and the glades, the rivers, the
deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and
the ever-changing seasons that define the face
of our native land.
My body has frozen in our frosts and in our
latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of
our sunshine and melted in the heat of the
midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the
summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening,
have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.
The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant
to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the
citizens of the veld.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the
soil-colored waters of the Lekoa, iGqili
noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have
all been panels of the set on the natural stage
on which we act out the foolish deeds of the
theatre of our day.
At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I
should concede equal citizenship of our country
to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and
the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and
the pestilential mosquito.
A human presence among all these, a feature on
the face of our native land thus defined, I know
that none dare challenge me when I say - I am an
I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose
desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the
beautiful Cape - they who fell victim to the
most merciless genocide our native land has ever
seen, they who were the first to lose their
lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and
independence and they who, as a people, perished
in the result.
Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence
about these ancestors of the generations that
live, fearful to admit the horror of a former
deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a
cruel occurrence which, in its remembering,
should teach us not and never to be inhuman
I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to
find a new home on our native land. Whatever
their own actions, they remain still, part of
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay
slaves who came from the East. Their proud
dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part
of my essence. The stripes they bore on their
bodies from the lash of the slave master are a
reminder embossed on my consciousness of what
should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women
that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots
that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the
soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never
to dishonor the cause of freedom.
My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by
the victories that are the jewels in our African
crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana
to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of
Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.
I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on
the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas,
who sees in the mind's eye and suffers the
suffering of a simple peasant folk, death,
concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a
dream in ruins.
I am the child of Nongqause. I am he who made it
possible to trade in the world markets in
diamonds, in gold, in the same food for which my
I come of those who were transported from India
and China, whose being resided in the fact,
solely, that they were able to provide physical
labor, who taught me that we could both be at
home and be foreign, who taught me that human
existence itself demanded that freedom was a
necessary condition for that human existence.
Being part of all these people, and in the
knowledge that none dare contest that assertion,
I shall claim that - I am an African.
I have seen our country torn asunder as these,
all of whom are my people, engaged one another
in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong
that had been caused by one to another and the
other, to defend the indefensible.
I have seen what happens when one person has
superiority of force over another, when the
stronger appropriate to themselves the
prerogative even to annul the injunction that
God created all men and women in His image.
I know what if signifies when race and color are
used to determine who is human and who,
I have seen the destruction of all sense of
self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what
one is not, simply to acquire some of the
benefits which those who had improved themselves
as masters had ensured that they enjoy.
I have experience of the situation in which race
and color is used to enrich some and impoverish
I have seen the corruption of minds and souls as
(word not readable) of the pursuit of an ignoble
effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against
I have seen concrete expression of the denial of
the dignity of a human being emanating from the
conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive
and repressive activities of other human beings.
There the victims parade with no mask to hide
the brutish reality - the beggars, the
prostitutes, the street children, those who seek
solace in substance abuse, those who have to
steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose
their sanity because to be sane is to invite
Perhaps the worst among these, who are my
people, are those who have learnt to kill for a
wage. To these the extent of death is directly
proportional to their personal welfare.
And so, like pawns in the service of demented
souls, they kill in furtherance of the political
violence in KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the
innocent in the taxi wars.
They kill slowly or quickly in order to make
profits from the illegal trade in narcotics.
They are available for hire when husband wants
to murder wife and wife, husband.
Among us prowl the products of our immoral and
amoral past - killers who have no sense of the
worth of human life, rapists who have absolute
disdain for the women of our country, animals
who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability
of the children, the disabled and the old, the
rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest
All this I know and know to be true because I am
Because of that, I am also able to state this
fundamental truth that I am born of a people who
are heroes and heroines.
I am born of a people who would not tolerate
I am of a nation that would not allow that fear
of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or
persecution should result in the perpetuation of
The great masses who are our mother and father
will not permit that the behavior of the few
results in the description of our country and
people as barbaric.
Patient because history is on their side, these
masses do not despair because today the weather
is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when,
tomorrow, the sun shines.
Whatever the circumstances they have lived
through and because of that experience, they are
determined to define for themselves who they are
and who they should be.
We are assembled here today to mark their
victory in acquiring and exercising their right
to formulate their own definition of what it
means to be African.
The Constitution whose adoption we celebrate
constitutes and unequivocal statement that we
refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be
defined by our race, color, gender or historical
It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that
South Africa belongs to all who live in it,
Black and White.
It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we
share as Africans, and will defend to the death,
that the people shall govern.
It recognizes the fact that the dignity of the
individual is both an objective which society
must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be
separated from the material well-being of that
It seeks to create the situation in which all
our people shall be free from fear, including
the fear of the oppression of one national group
by another, the fear of the disempowerment of
one social echelon by another, the fear of the
use of state power to deny anybody their
fundamental human rights and the fear of
It aims to open the doors so that those who were
disadvantaged can assume their place in society
as equals with their fellow human beings without
regard to color, race, gender, age or geographic
It provides the opportunity to enable each one
and all to state their views, promote them,
strive for their implementation in the process
of governance without fear that a contrary view
will be met with repression.
It creates a law-governed society which shall be
inimical to arbitrary rule.
It enables the resolution of conflicts by
peaceful means rather than resort to force.
It rejoices in the diversity of our people and
creates the space for all of us voluntarily to
define ourselves as one people.
As an African, this is an achievement of which I
am proud, proud without reservation and proud
without any feeling of conceit.
Our sense of elevation at this moment also
derives from the fact that this magnificent
product is the unique creation of African hands
and African minds.
But it also constitutes a tribute to our loss of
vanity that we could, despite the temptation to
treat ourselves as an exceptional fragment of
humanity, draw on the accumulated experience and
wisdom of all humankind, to define for ourselves
what we want to be.
Together with the best in the world, we too are
prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and
But it seems to have happened that we looked at
ourselves and said the time had come that we
make a super-human effort to be other than
human, to respond to the call to create for
ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves
of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda -
Glory must be sought after!
Today it feels good to be an African.
It feels good that I can stand here as a South
African and as a foot soldier of a titanic
African army, the African National Congress, to
say to all the parties represented here, to the
millions who made an input into the processes we
are concluding, to our outstanding compatriots
who have presided over the birth of our founding
document, to the negotiators who pitted their
wits one against the other, to the unseen stars
who shone unseen as the management and
administration of the Constitutional Assembly,
the advisers, experts and publicists, to the
mass communication media, to our friends across
the globe - congratulations and well done!
I am an African.
I am born of the peoples of the continent of
The pain of the violent conflict that the
peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi
and Algeria is a pain I also bear.
The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human
degradation of my continent is a blight that we
The blight on our happiness that derives from
this and from our drift to the periphery of the
ordering of human affairs leaves us in a
persistent shadow of despair.
This is a savage road to which nobody should be
This thing that we have done today, in this
small corner of a great continent that has
contributed so decisively to the evolution of
humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is
continuing her rise from the ashes.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can
stop us now!
Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at
However improbable it may sound to the skeptics,
Africa will prosper!
Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate
interest, however much we carry baggage from our
past, however much we have been caught by the
fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the
capacity of the people, let us err today and say
- nothing can stop us now!