No Easy Road to Freedom speech by Nelson Mandela
September 21, 1953
No Easy Road to Freedom speech by Nelson Mandela
Since 1912 and year after year thereafter, in their homes and local areas, in provincial and national
gatherings, on trains and buses, in the factories and on the farms, in cities, villages, shanty towns, schools and
prisons, the African people have discussed the shameful misdeeds of those who rule the country. Year after year,
they have raised their voices in condemnation of the grinding poverty of the people, the low wages, the acute
shortage of land, the inhuman exploitation and the whole policy of white domination. But instead of more freedom
repression began to grow in volume and intensity and it seemed that all their sacrifices would end up in smoke and
dust. Today the entire country knows that their labours were not in vain for a new spirit and new ideas have
gripped our people. Today the people speak the language of action: there is a mighty awakening among the men and
women of our country and the year 1952 stands out as the year of this upsurge of national consciousness.
In June, 1952, the AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS and the SOUTH AFRICAN INDIAN CONGRESS, bearing in mind their
responsibility as the representatives of the downtrodden and oppressed people of South Africa, took the plunge and
launched the Campaign for the Defiance of the Unjust Laws. Starting off in Port Elizabeth in the early hours of
June 26 and with only thirty-three defiers in action and then in Johannesburg in the afternoon of the same day with
one hundred and six defiers, it spread throughout the country like wild fire. Factory and office workers, doctors,
lawyers, teachers, students and the clergy; Africans, Coloureds, Indians and Europeans, old and young, all rallied
to the national call and defied the pass laws and the curfew and the railway apartheid regulations. At the end of
the year, more than 8,000 people of all races had defied. The Campaign called for immediate and heavy sacrifices.
Workers lost their jobs, chiefs and teachers were expelled from the service, doctors, lawyers and businessmen gave
up their practices and businesses and elected to go to jail. Defiance was a step of great political significance.
It released strong social forces which affected thousands of our countrymen. It was an effective way of getting the
masses to function politically; a powerful method of voicing our indignation against the reactionary policies of
the Government. It was one of the best ways of exerting pressure on the Government and extremely dangerous to the
stability and security of the State. It inspired and aroused our people from a conquered and servile community of
yes-men to a militant and uncompromising band of comrades-in-arms. The entire country was transformed into battle
zones where the forces of liberation were locked up in immortal conflict against those of reaction and evil. Our
flag flew in every battlefield and thousands of our countrymen rallied around it. We held the initiative and the
forces of freedom were advancing on all fronts. It was against this background and at the height of this Campaign
that we held our last annual provincial Conference in Pretoria from the 10th to the 12th of October last year. In a
way, that Conference was a welcome reception for those who had returned from the battlefields and a farewell to
those who were still going to action. The spirit of defiance and action dominated the entire conference .
Today we meet under totally different conditions. By the end of July last year, the Campaign had reached a stage
where it had to be suppressed by the Government or it would impose its own policies on the country.
The government launched its reactionary offensive and struck at us. Between July last year and August this year
forty-seven leading members from both Congresses in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Kimberley were arrested, tried
and convicted for launching the Defiance Campaign and given suspended sentences ranging from three months to two
years on condition that they did not again participate in the defiance of the unjust laws. In November last year, a
proclamation was passed which prohibited meetings of more than ten Africans and made it an offence for any person
to call upon an African to defy. Contravention of this proclamation carried a penalty of three years or of a fine
of three hundred pounds. In March this year the Government passed the so-called Public Safety Act which empowered
it to declare a state of emergency and to create conditions which would permit of the most ruthless and pitiless
methods of suppressing our movement. Almost simultaneously, the Criminal Laws Amendment Act was passed which
provided heavy penalties for those convicted of Defiance offences.
This Act also made provision for the whipping of defiers including women. It was under this Act that Mr. Arthur
Matlala who was the local [leader] of the Central Branch during the Defiance Campaign, was convicted and sentenced
to twelve months with hard labour plus eight strokes by the Magistrate of Villa Nora. The Government also made
extensive use of the Suppression of Communism Act. You will remember that in May last year the Government ordered
Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, J. B. Marks, David Bopape and Johnson Ngwevela to resign from the Congresses and many
other organisations and were also prohibited from attending political gatherings. In consequence of these bans,
Moses Kotane, J. B. Marks, and David Bopape did not attend our last provincial Conference. In December last year,
the Secretary General, Mr. W. M. Sisulu, and I were banned from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg
for six months. Early this year, the President-General, Chief Luthuli, whilst in the midst of a national tour which
he was prosecuting with remarkable energy and devotion, was prohibited for a period of twelve months from attending
public gatherings and from visiting Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and many other centres. A few
days before the President-General was banned, the President of the SAIC, Dr. G. M. Naicker, had been served with a
similar notice. Many other active workers both from the African and Indian Congresses and from trade union
organisations were also banned.
The Congresses realised that these measures created a new situation which did not prevail when the Campaign was
launched in June 1952. The tide of defiance was bound to recede and we were forced to pause and to take stock of
the new situation. We had to analyse the dangers that faced us, formulate plans to overcome them and evolve new
plans of political struggle. A political movement must keep in touch with reality and the prevailing conditions.
Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the
objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the
struggle we serve. The masses had to be prepared and made ready for new forms of political struggle.
We had to recuperate our strength and muster our forces for another and more powerful offensive against the
enemy. To have gone ahead blindly as if nothing had happened would have been suicidal and stupid. The conditions
under which we meet today are, therefore, vastly different. The Defiance Campaign together with its thrills and
adventures has receded. The old methods of bringing about mass action through public mass meetings, press
statements and leaflets calling upon the people to go to action have become extremely dangerous and difficult to
use effectively. The authorities will not easily permit a meeting called under the auspices of the ANC, few
newspapers will publish statements openly criticising the policies of the Government and there is hardly a single
printing press which will agree to print leaflets calling upon workers to embark on industrial action for fear of
prosecution under the Suppression of Communism Act and similar measures.
These developments require the evolution of new forms of political struggle which will make it reasonable for us
to strive for action on a higher level than the Defiance Campaign. The Government, alarmed at the indomitable
upsurge of national consciousness, is doing everything in its power to crush our movement by removing the genuine
representatives of the people from the organisations. According to a statement made by Swart in Parliament on the 1
8th September, 1953, there are thirty-three trade union officials and eighty-nine other people who have been served
with notices in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act. This does not include that formidable array of freedom
fighters who have been named and blacklisted under the Suppression of Communism Act and those who have been banned
under the Riotous Assemblies Act.
Meanwhile the living conditions of the people, already extremely difficult, are steadily worsening and becoming
unbearable. The purchasing power of the masses is progressively declining and the cost of living is rocketing.
Bread is now dearer than it was two months ago. The cost of milk, meat and vegetables is beyond the pockets of the
average family and many of our people cannot afford them. The people are too poor to have enough food to feed their
families and children. They cannot afford sufficient clothing, housing and medical care. They are denied the right
to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, old age and where these exist, they are of an
extremely inferior and useless nature. Because of lack of proper medical amenities our people are ravaged by such
dreaded diseases as tuberculosis, venereal disease, leprosy, pellagra, and infantile mortality is very high.
The recent state budget made provision for the increase of the cost-of-living allowances for Europeans and not a
word was said about the poorest and most hard-hit section of the population - the African people. The insane
policies of the Government which have brought about an explosive situation in the country have definitely scared
away foreign capital from South Africa and the financial crisis through which the country is now passing is forcing
many industrial and business concerns to close down, to retrench their staffs and unemployment is growing every
day. The farm labourers are in a particularly dire plight. You will perhaps recall the investigations and exposures
of the semi-slave conditions on the Bethal farms made in 1948 by the Reverend Michael Scott and a Guardian
Correspondent; by the Drum last year and the Advance in April this year. You will recall how human beings, wearing
only sacks with holes for their heads and arms, never given enough food to eat, slept on cement floors on cold
nights with only their sacks to cover their shivering bodies.
You will remember how they are woken up as early as 4 a. m. and taken to work on the fields with the indunas
sjambokking those who tried to straighten their backs, who felt weak and dropped down because of hunger and sheer
exhaustion. You will also recall the story of human beings toiling pathetically from the early hours of the morning
till sunset, fed only on mealie meal served on filthy sacks spread on the ground and eating with their dirty hands.
People falling ill and never once being given medical attention. You will also recall the revolting story of a
farmer who was convicted for tying a labourer by his feet from a tree and had him flogged to death, pouring boiling
water into his mouth whenever he cried for water. These things which have long vanished from many parts of the
world still flourish in SA today. None will deny that they constitute a serious challenge to Congress and we are in
duty bound to find an effective remedy for these obnoxious practices.
The Government has introduced in Parliament the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Bill and the Bantu Education
Bill. Speaking on the Labour Bill, the Minister of Labour, Ben Schoeman, openly stated that the aim of this wicked
measure is to bleed African trade unions to death. By forbidding strikes and lockouts it deprives Africans of the
one weapon the workers have to improve their position. The aim of the measure is to destroy the present African
trade unions which are controlled by the workers themselves and which fight for the improvement of their working
conditions in return for a Central Native Labour Board controlled by the Government and which will be used to
frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the African worker. The Minister of Native Affairs, Verwoerd, has also been
brutally clear in explaining the objects of the Bantu Education Bill. According to him the aim of this law is to
teach our children that Africans are inferior to Europeans. African education would be taken out of the hands of
people who taught equality between black and white. When this Bill becomes law, it will not be the parents but the
Department of Native Affairs which will decide whether an African child should receive higher or other education.
It might well be that the children of those who criticise the Government and who fight its policies will almost
certainly be taught how to drill rocks in the mines and how to plough potatoes on the farms of Bethal. High
education might well be the privilege of those children whose families have a tradition of collaboration with the
The attitude of the Congress on these bills is very clear and unequivocal. Congress totally rejects both bills
without reservation. The last provincial Conference strongly condemned the then proposed Labour Bill as a measure
designed to rob the African workers of the universal right of free trade unionism and to undermine and destroy the
existing African trade unions. Conference further called upon the African workers to boycott and defy the
application of this sinister scheme which was calculated to further the exploitation of the African worker. To
accept a measure of this nature even in a qualified manner would be a betrayal of the toiling masses. At a time
when every genuine Congressite should fight unreservedly for the recognition of African trade unions and the
realisation of the principle that everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his
interests, we declare our firm belief in the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
that everyone has the right to education; that education shall be directed to the full development of human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote
understanding, tolerance and friendship among the nations, racial or religious groups and shall further the
activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. That parents have the right to choose the kind of
education that shall be given to their children.
The cumulative effect of all these measures is to prop up and perpetuate the artificial and decaying policy of the
supremacy of the white men. The attitude of the government to us is that: "Let's beat them down with guns and
batons and trample them under our feet. We must be ready to drown the whole country in blood if only there is the
slightest chance of preserving white supremacy."
But there is nothing inherently superior about the herrenvolk idea of the supremacy of the whites. In China, India,
Indonesia and Korea, American, British, Dutch and French Imperialism, based on the concept of the supremacy of
Europeans over Asians, has been completely and perfectly exploded. In Malaya and Indo-China British and French
imperialisms are being shaken to their foundations by powerful and revolutionary national liberation movements. In
Africa, there are approximately 190,000,000 Africans as against 4,000,000 Europeans. The entire continent is
seething with discontent and already there are powerful revolutionary eruptions in the Gold Coast, Nigeria,
Tunisia, Kenya, the Rhodesias and South Africa. The oppressed people and the oppressors are at loggerheads. The day
of reckoning between the forces of freedom and those of reaction is not very far off. I have not the slightest
doubt that when that day comes truth and justice will prevail.
The intensification of repressions and the extensive use of the bans is designed to immobilise every active worker
and to check the national liberation movement. But gone forever are the days when harsh and wicked laws provided
the oppressors with years of peace and quiet. The racial policies of the Government have pricked the conscience of
all men of good will and have aroused their deepest indignation. The feelings of the oppressed people have never
been more bitter. If the ruling circles seek to maintain their position by such inhuman methods then a clash
between the forces of freedom and those of reaction is certain. The grave plight of the people compels them to
resist to the death the stinking policies of the gangsters that rule our country.
But in spite of all the difficulties outlined above, we have won important victories. The general political level
of the people has been considerably raised and they are now more conscious of their strength. Action has become the
language of the day. The ties between the working people and the Congress have been greatly strengthened. This is a
development of the highest importance because in a country such as ours a political organisation that does not
receive the support of the workers is in fact paralysed on the very ground on which it has chosen to wage battle.
Leaders of trade union organisations are at the same time important officials of the provincial and local branches
of the ANC In the past we talked of the African, Indian and Coloured struggles. Though certain individuals raised
the question of a united front of all the oppressed groups, the various non-European organisations stood miles
apart from one another and the efforts of those for co-ordination and unity were like a voice crying in the
wilderness and it seemed that the day would never dawn when the oppressed people would stand and fight together
shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy. Today we talk of the struggle of the oppressed people which, though it
is waged through their respective autonomous organisations, is gravitating towards one central command.
Our immediate task is to consolidate these victories, to preserve our organisations and to muster our forces for
the resumption of the offensive. To achieve this important task the National Executive of the ANC in consultation
with the National Action Committee of the ANC and the SAIC formulated a plan of action popularly known as the "M"
Plan and the highest importance is [given] to it by the National Executives. Instructions were given to all
provinces to implement the "M" Plan without delay.
The underlying principle of this plan is the understanding that it is no longer possible to wage our struggle
mainly on the old methods of public meetings and printed circulars. The aim is:
to consolidate the Congress machinery;
to enable the transmission of important decisions taken on a national level to every member of the organisation
without calling public meetings, issuing press statements and printing circulars;
to build up in the local branches themselves local Congresses which will effectively represent the strength and
will of the people;
to extend and strengthen the ties between Congress and the people and to consolidate Congress leadership.
This plan is being implemented in many branches not only in the Transvaal but also in the other provinces and is
producing excellent results. The Regional Conferences held in Sophiatown, Germiston, Kliptown and Benoni on the
28th June, 23rd and 30th August and on the 6th September, 1953, which were attended by large crowds, are a striking
demonstration of the effectiveness of this plan, and the National Executives must be complimented for it. I appeal
to all members of the Congress to redouble their efforts and play their part truly and well in its implementation.
The hard, dirty and strenuous task of recruiting members and strengthening our organisation through a house to
house campaign in every locality must be done by you all. From now on the activity of Congressites must not be
confined to speeches and resolutions. Their activities must find expression in wide scale work among the masses,
work which will enable them to make the greatest possible contact with the working people. You must protect and
defend your trade unions. If you are not allowed to have your meetings publicly, then you must hold them over your
machines in the factories, on the trains and buses as you travel home. You must have them in your villages and
shantytowns. You must make every home, every shack and every mud structure where our people live, a branch of the
trade union movement and never surrender.
You must defend the right of African parents to decide the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Teach the children that Africans are not one iota inferior to Europeans. Establish your own community schools where
the right kind of education will be given to our children. If it becomes dangerous or impossible to have these
alternative schools, then again you must make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning for
our children. Never surrender to the inhuman and barbaric theories of Verwoerd.
The decision to defy the unjust laws enabled Congress to develop considerably wider contacts between itself and the
masses and the urge to join Congress grew day by day. But due to the fact that the local branches did not exercise
proper control and supervision, the admission of new members was not carried out satisfactorily. No careful
examination was made of their past history and political characteristics. As a result of this, there were many
shady characters ranging from political clowns, place-seekers, splitters, saboteurs, agents-provocateurs to
informers and even policemen, who infiltrated into the ranks of Congress. One need only refer to the Johannesburg
trial of Dr. Moroka and nineteen others, where a member of Congress who actually worked at the National
Headquarters, turned out to be a detective-sergeant on special duty. Remember the case of Leballo of Brakpan who
wormed himself into that Branch by producing faked naming letters from the Liquidator, De Villiers Louw, who had
instructions to spy on us.
There are many other similar instances that emerged during the Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Kimberley
trials. Whilst some of these men were discovered there are many who have not been found out. In Congress there are
still many shady characters, political clowns, place-seekers, saboteurs, provocateurs, informers and policemen who
masquerade as progressives but who are in fact the bitterest enemies of our organisation. Outside appearances are
highly deceptive and we cannot classify these men by looking at their faces or by listening to their sweet tongues
or their vehement speeches demanding immediate action. The friends of the people are distinguishable by the ready
and disciplined manner in which they rally behind their organisation and their readiness to sacrifice when the
preservation of the organisation has become a matter of life and death. Similarly, enemies and shady characters are
detected by the extent to which they consistently attempt to wreck the organisation by creating fratricidal strife,
disseminating confusion and undermining and even opposing important plans of action to vitalise the organisation.
In this respect it is interesting to note that almost all the people who oppose the ''M" Plan are people who have
consistently refused to respond when sacrifices were called for, and whose political background leaves much to be
These shady characters by means of flattery, bribes and corruption, win the support of the weak-willed and
politically backward individuals, detach them from Congress and use them in their own interests. The presence of
such elements in Congress constitutes a serious threat to the struggle, for the capacity for political action of an
organisation which is ravaged by such disruptive and splitting elements is considerably undermined. Here in South
Africa, as in many parts of the world, a revolution is maturing: it is the profound desire, the determination and
the urge of the overwhelming majority of the country to destroy for ever the shackles of oppression that condemn
them to servitude and slavery. To overthrow oppression has been sanctioned by humanity and is the highest
aspiration of every free man. If elements in our organisation seek to impede the realisation of this lofty purpose
then these people have placed themselves outside the organisation and must be put out of action before they do more
harm. To do otherwise would be a crime and a serious neglect of duty. We must rid ourselves of such elements and
give our organisation the striking power of a real militant mass organisation.
Kotane, Marks, Bopape, Tloome and I have been banned from attending gatherings and we cannot join and counsel with
you on the serious problems that are facing our country. We have been banned because we champion the freedom of the
oppressed people of our country and because we have consistently fought against the policy of racial discrimination
in favour of a policy which accords fundamental human rights to all, irrespective of race, colour, sex or language.
We are exiled from our own people for we have uncompromisingly resisted the efforts of imperialist America and her
satellites to drag the world into the rule of violence and brutal force, into the rule of the napalm, hydrogen and
the cobalt bombs where millions of people will be wiped out to satisfy the criminal and greedy appetites of the
imperial powers. We have been gagged because we have emphatically and openly condemned the criminal attacks by the
imperialists against the people of Malaya, Vietnam, Indonesia, Tunisia and Tanganyika and called upon our people to
identify themselves unreservedly with the cause of world peace and to fight against the war policies of America and
her satellites. We are being shadowed, hounded and trailed because we fearlessly voiced our horror and indignation
at the slaughter of the people of Korea and Kenya.
The massacre of the Kenya people by Britain has aroused world-wide indignation and protest. Children are being
burnt alive, women are raped, tortured, whipped and boiling water poured on their breasts to force confessions from
them that Jomo Kenyatta had administered the Mau Mau oath to them. Men are being castrated and shot dead. In the
Kikuyu country there are some villages in which the population has been completely wiped out. We are prisoners in
our own country because we dared to raise our voices against these horrible atrocities and because we expressed our
solidarity with the cause of the Kenya people.
You can see that "there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of
the shadow (of death) again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.
"Dangers and difficulties have not deterred us in the past, they will not frighten us now. But we must be prepared
for them like men in business who do not waste energy in vain talk and idle action. The way of preparation (for
action) lies in our rooting out all impurity and indiscipline from our organisation and making it the bright and
shining instrument that will cleave its way to freedom."