“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
The quote above is from late South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. After spending 27 years of his life behind jail, Mandela led South Africa from apartheid to democracy and, through his peaceful advocacy for peace, democracy and human rights, he remains an inspirational figure for all media workers and press freedom fighters.
In 1994, he delivered a key note address during IPI World Congress in South Africa. 20 years later, let us look back at his reflection on the importance of a free press and the role of journalists not only in South African society but worldwide.
14 February 1994, Cape Town
“Mr. Chairperson, Your Excellency, State President de Klerk, Distinguished Publishers and Editors, Ladies and Gentlemen.
First let me express my profound and heartfelt thanks for this invitation to address this august gathering. Secondly, I want to express our deep appreciation that the International Press Institute has chosen South Africa as the venue for its congress. Your presence in our country at this time lends strength to the overwhelming national consensus that only through the inauguration of democracy can South Africa realise its undoubted potential.
In welcoming you to the shores of our country I wish also to express our collective thanks, as South Africans, for the support our struggle for democracy has received from the international media. During the darkest days of apartheid and political repression, when thousands of South African patriots faced imprisonment, bannings, house arrest, detention without trial,torture and even death, it was the international media, not least its oldest component, the press, that laid bare the atrocious conditions in our country and kept the international community alive to the issue of apartheid.
You also lent your voices to those of thousands of our compatriots demanding freedom of expression. South African writers, artists and journalists, who incurred the wrath of the South African government for daring to use their skills against tyranny, have invariably won your support. The South African media, journalists and publishers alike, will remain in your debt for that sustenance.
You have chosen to visit our country at a time when we are witnessing a process of daunting proportions. South Africa is convulsed with the pangs of a democracy struggling to be born. Those who want to delay this birth assume an awesome responsibility and should be aware of the terrible risks their actions entail. We are confident that your presence will, as in the past, assist in the birth of the democratic new order.
Continue to read the full address on http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3651