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Our Tribute to Nelson Mandela, Guest of Honour at the IYCW International Council in South Africa, 1995 PDF Print E-mail

“No matter how unequal the situation, if the people are committed and well organised, then not even the most vicious oppressor can hold them back forever”


altSunday 26th November 1995 was a big day for the South Africa YCW and the 130 delegates of the IYCW International Council. The South African YCW had decided to hold the opening ceremony in the small black township of Oukasie-Brits.

 

The apartheid regime had wanted to wipe Oukasie, a black shanty town, off the map and send its black population 30 km away from there because they were a black spot at the doorstep of a small white city, Brits. The township became a centre of opposition to the regime. The local YCW set up defence committees and a trade union, and thanks to the international campaign in which the International YCW took a very active part, the government was forced to give up its scheme.

 

Aware of the role played by the YCW in the struggle against the apartheid regime, President Nelson Mandela made it a point to take part in the opening ceremony. Nearly all Oukasie residents had gathered on the township soccer field to welcome the IYCW international delegates and President Mandela. Before addressing the audience, Mandela insisted on shaking hands with all participants who formed a long line, with their hearts beating fast, aware that they were living an outstanding moment. Here are some parts of the speech Mandela delivered.

 

Oukasie, a symbol of the power of community resistance assisted by international solidarity


alt“It is indeed a great privilege for me to be present at the opening ceremony of the YCW World Council. It is a special pleasure to associate myself with the Young Christian Workers' long record of standing up against injustice throughout the world, including in South Africa.

 

Your decision to hold your Council here in the small and poverty-stricken community of Oukasie speaks louder than mere words. Once more you are demonstrating in a practical way that a true commitment to justice demands more than good intentions and fine speeches. It calls for a full association with those who are struggling for justice.

 

Oukasie's long struggle for survival against some of the vicious onslaughts of the apartheid regime is renowned. After every attack the residents of Oukasie re-organised themselves and sustained their resistance to forced removals. As part of their struggle, they formed partnerships with anti-apartheid organisations throughout the world. Oukasie became a symbol of the power of community resistance assisted by international solidarity. Eventually the apartheid regime retreated and the people of Oukasie were victorious.”

 

The YCW situated itself within the social realities of people


alt“I recall this history because it speaks of everything that Young Christian Workers stand for. One of the YCW's most important characteristics is that it situated itself within the social realities of people, especially young workers, and places strong emphasis on effective organisation.

 

Our decades of struggle, outside and inside prison, taught us that the most important tool of resistance is proper organisation. No matter how unequal the situation, if the people are committed and well organised, then not even the most vicious oppressor can hold them back forever. The people of South Africa demonstrated that, and I want to thank YCW for your contribution to that wonderful victory.

 

YCW was founded with the specific aim that the Church should respond to the needs of workers, but not as charity where the workers are passive recipient of aid. Rather, the objective was the empowerment of young people from worker families to unlock their own capacity and to empower themselves through proper organisation.”

 

YCW has made a significant contribution to building the organs of civil society in South Africa


alt“YCW's emphasis on active participation of its members in developing plans to change their lives has proved to have great potential for capacity-building among our youth. It is common knowledge that YCW has made a significant contribution to building the organs of civil society in South Africa, in particular worker organisations. Many of the worker leaders it trained continue to occupy positions of leadership in the trade union movement, in government, in business and in wider civil society.

 

Religious organisations, especially those which concentrate on the youth, can help bring reconciliation to our country and help build the Rainbow Nation that most South Africans yearn for. Not so long ago our young people were looking at each other over the barrels of guns. But today they are reaching out to each other to build a common future. All the major religions teach the importance of peace and reconciliation. But they also insist that with reconciliation must come an end to injustice.

 

The YCW's approach has always been to acknowledge and challenge injustice, and then to build the capacity of the oppressed to act in a constructive way that will bring an end to injustice and create a better world for all of us.”

 

South Africa's greatest asset is not our mineral wealth, but our young people


“The youth of South Africa made a crucial contribution to the struggle for liberation, and I have no doubt in my mind that they have what it will take to put the injustices of the past behind them. I urge you to continue your work for the development and empowerment of the young people who are members of YCW, and the youth of South Africa in general.

 

alt

 

I have often said that South Africa's greatest asset is not our mineral wealth, but our young people. The future of this country depends on you - the young people sitting here. I have always had the greatest confidence that the gains we have made for democracy and justice are safe in your hands; and that you will build South Africa to fulfil its potential to become the great nation that it ought to be.

 

May God bless the Young Christian Workers in the important work you are doing!”

 
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