A Stand Before the United Nations

Miriam Makeba, one of the greatest African entertainers to ever grace this earth, spoke before the Special Committee on the Policies of Apartheid of the Government of the Republic of South Africa of the United Nations at their 18th Meeting in 1963. You can find an audio recording of her speech here, and you can read along with the transcript below. 

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee, I would like to thank the committee from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity of addressing you on the question of South Africa, which has become a world problem and a burning question of the day. One which all people of goodwill the world over must participate in finding a solution.

Mr. Chairman and disguised members of the committee, recently I had the honor of being present at the Addis Baba Conference of the Heads of African states, an event which made a deep impression on me and which underlined the serious and determined manner in which the African people view the problem facing them. One of these problems is undoubtedly the question of the serious situation developing in my country, South Africa. Every member of this committee knows by now what apartheid means to the Africans.

I do not have to explain, in detail, what is going on there. The members of the committee also know that every time we try to better the situation, the [Hendrik] Verwoerd government went further to make South Africa a nightmare to the Africans through police brutality and government terrorism. The story of the shootings at Sharpeville is well known throughout the world. Indeed all men and women of goodwill all over the world raised their voices in anger on the occasion, but all these protests just fell on deaf ears. Since Sharpeville, many terrible things have occurred in my country. Our political parties were declared illegal and the leaders were forced to go underground or go into exile to continue the fight from outside and appeal for support from the world. 

However, since the South African freedom fighters started making representation to the United Nations for the removal of the Verwoerd government and the restoration of power to those to whom it belongs, we have received nothing more than lip service from most of the big powers of the world. We all know that if positive action were taken by these powers to assist in solving the South African problem, it could solve it with much less disaster and suffering. 

Mr. Chairman, I have already stated that you and the committee know that the political situation in my country is tense and is even growing more tense. This, therefore, does not leave us with any option but to ask the United Nations to take positive action against the South African government. By positive action, I mean, of course, that the United Nations should put into action the very good resolutions calling for a complete boycott on South Africa and especially the sending of arms by outside powers to South Africa. I have not the slightest doubt that these arms will be used against the African women and children. 

Mr. Chairman, I have also come to appear before you to appeal, with all the strength I can muster, that the United Nations and the entire world should do their utmost to compel the Verwoerd Government to open, at once, all the doors of the prisons and concentration camps in South Africa. As I speak here, thousands of our people, men and women and even children, are now in jail. Some of them have even been brutally assaulted. On the admission of the South African government, some 5000 people have in recent months been put behind prison bars. Among those who have been jailed and detained or restricted by the Verwoerd government are many of our prominent leaders, which include Chief AJ Lutuli, Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela, Mrs. Lillian Ngoyi, and only last week, Mister Walter Sisulu and others were arrested. These people must be released at once. I am certain nobody can liberate his people when he is in a prison cell or concentration camp. Indeed, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members, my country has been turned by the Verwoerd Government into a huge prison. 

I feel certain that the time has come for the whole of humanity to shout out and to act with firmness to stop these crazy rulers from dragging our country into a horrifying disaster.

Thank you. 

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“To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.”
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth