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2014-07-03

"One of Our Greatest Friends": Mandela’s Cellmate Thanks Sweden for Helping Anti-Apartheid Struggle

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While the United States considered the African National Congress a terrorist organization, the Swedish government openly funded the group for decades. According to many accounts, Sweden was the largest single source of financial aid to the ANC. Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister, was assassinated in 1986 just a week after he gave a keynote speech at the Swedish People’s Parliament Against Apartheid in Stockholm. Rumors have swirled for years about the South African government’s involvement in his killing. Shortly after he was released in 1990, Nelson Mandela came to Sweden on one of his first foreign stops after being released from prison. During an address to the Swedish Parliament, Mandela thanked Sweden for standing in the "front ranks of the international forces that have fought against the apartheid system." On Wednesday night, one of Mandela’s closest associates, Ahmed Kathrada, spoke at an event organized by MIAGI (Music Is A Great Investment) in the Swedish town of Visby, which is hosting the week-long political festival Almedalen Week. Kathrada spent 26 years in prison, including 18 years on Robben Island.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from the very windy Swedish city of Visby on Sweden’s largest island, Gotland, located about 60 miles off the southeastern coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea. We’re in the middle of an event called Almedalen Week, a week-long political festival perhaps unlike any other in the world. Over 25,000 people are gathering on the island to hear political speeches and take part in seminars. Every Swedish political party is represented here, from the Social Democrats to the Greens to the new Feminist Initiative party.

The name Almedalen comes from a park here in Visby where, in 1968, Sweden’s education minister at the time, Olof Palme, stood on the back of a flatbed truck and gave one of the rousing political speeches for which he was renowned. Palme went on to become one of Sweden’s most transformative prime ministers, up until his assassination on the streets of Stockholm in 1986. He was shot dead just a week after he gave a keynote speech at the Swedish People’s Parliament Against Apartheid in Stockholm. Rumors have swirled for years about the South African government’s involvement in his killing.

While the United States considered the African National Congress a terrorist organization, the Swedish government openly funded the group for decades, even though it was banned by the South African government. According to many accounts, Sweden was the largest single source of financial aid to the ANC. Shortly after he was released in 1990, Nelson Mandela came to Sweden on one of his first foreign stops after being released from prison. During an address to the Swedish Parliament, Mandela thanked Sweden for standing in the, quote, "front ranks of the international forces that have fought against the apartheid system."

NELSON MANDELA: We would like to take this opportunity to salute this outstanding democratic institution, the Swedish Parliament, which has stood in the front ranks of the international forces that have fought against the apartheid system. From here has issued legislation which has made an important contribution to the process of securing the international isolation of apartheid South Africa. For many years, you have approved budgets which have enabled this country to extend invaluable humanitarian assistance to the ANC, the democratic movement and the sovereign people of our country. From here, you have provided moral and political leadership, which has inspired many others throughout the world and sustained us in those dark days in prison, when it was impossible even to guess when the terrible night of racial tyranny would give way to a new dawn.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nelson Mandela about a month after he was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years in the apartheid prisons of South Africa. The Swedish Parliament was the first parliament he came to address.

Well, last night here in Visby, Sweden, one of Mandela’s closest associates jailed with him, Ahmed Kathrada, spoke here. Kathrada, who goes by the nickname Kathy, spent 26 years in prison, including 18 on Robben Island. He began by talking about Nelson Mandela’s famous statement during his trial in 1961.

AHMED KATHRADA: I remember his words during our trial—sorry. He ended with the words, "I have struggled all my life for a nonracial, nonsexist South Africa. It is an ideal which I hope to achieve. But if need be, it’s an ideal for which I’m prepared to die." That was his—in a part of his address to the court. And throughout the trial, the expectation was a death sentence. But in the face of the death sentence, this is how the trial was conducted under the leadership of Mr. Mandela—an ideal for which he was prepared to die.

Our whole struggle was for a nonracial, nonsexist, democratic South Africa. In pursuance of our goals, people of all communities paid the supreme sacrifice. It may not be known, but just to mention a couple of names, we had a person by the name of Ruth Slovo. She went into exile and assumed the position of a professor at the University of Maputo. She received a package from the United Nations. Unknown to her, the passage—the package, rather, went through the South African police. And the South African police planted something in that package. And when Ruth opened that package, it was a bomb. And as she opened it, the bomb exploded, and she died. Now, that was one of many who paid the supreme sacrifice in the struggle for our democracy—people of all communities. I can talk of Dulcie Hartwell—I mean, Dulcie September, rather, who was an ANC representative in Paris. She was assassinated in Paris. There’s Saloojee, there’s Timol, who were thrown off the buildings of police headquarters and killed.

Ours was historically a struggle for a nonracial, nonsexist, democratic South Africa. That is what sent many people to prison, and that is, for many, many of our colleagues lost their lives and were not alive to see the birth of democracy in our country. So we are 20 years old as a nonracial, nonsexist, democratic South Africa, but we have made quite important strides. Every university in our country is mixed now. Almost every university director is black. And one can go on and on to talk of the progress that has been made towards a nonracial society.

But coming here tonight, it’s a great honor to be here because, throughout our struggle, one of our greatest friends were the people of Sweden. They supported us throughout our struggle, whereas other Western countries, many of them, connived with apartheid, connived with the apartheid government. But Sweden, in particular, and other Scandinavian countries stood by us. When our president at that time, Oliver Tambo, got a stroke, it was in Sweden that he was hospitalized. It was in Sweden that he regained his health and was in a position to return to a free South Africa. So I want to once again take the opportunity to thank the people of Sweden for being such close friends of our struggle. We are seeing the fruits of that every day of our lives.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ahmed Kathrada. He is speaking here in Visby, Sweden, just last night. He was one of Nelson Mandela’s closest associates. He spent 26 years in prison, including 18 on Robben Island.

When we come back, we’ll be speaking with the head of the Left Party here in Sweden. We’ll also be speaking with the head of the Feminist Initiative, a radical feminist group that already has a position in the European Parliament. Will they take a seat in the Swedish Parliament? And we’ll speak with Congressmember—the former congressmember—Dennis Kucinich, who’s here at Almedalen in Gotland in Sweden. Stay with us.

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