Robert Kennedy's 1966 visit to South Africa should be understood within the context of American-South African relations in the mid-1960's and the similarities in the histories of the two countries. To this end, research on this period in history has led to a number of important American policy speeches about South Africa -or of relevance to South Africa- and important South African speeches.
So as not to roam too far afield, the focus is (with one exception) only on l960's speeches and mostly speeches that preceded Senator Kennedy's visit to South Africa. These speeches will help readers understand America's relationship with South Africa in the 1960's and the setting of repression and resistance within which Robert Kennedy's visit to South Africa occurred.
In chronological order
This was President John F. Kennedy's first major speech on Civil Rights. It was made as a radio and TV speech from the White House on the evening of June 11th, 1963, the day that the President sent the Alabama National Guard to help enforce integration laws at the University of Alabama.
It is the speech that Senator and Mrs. Kennedy listened to on a record player with Chief Albert Luthuli in his house on the morning of June 8th, 1966.
Recordings of Dr. King’s famous speech, were smuggled into South Africa and passed around among white and black anti-apartheid circles. It was also reported in the South African English language press. Although its references were American, the universal application of its basic principles were felt in Apartheid South Africa.
This speech was delivered en route to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr. King was the first American leader to speak publicly on American policy towards South Africa. This speech took place less than six months before Senator Kennedy's visit to South Africa. Senator Kennedy was aware of the fact that Dr. King had been invited by NUSAS the previous year (1965) but had been denied a visa by the South African Government. Senator Kennedy's staff carried a letter to Chief Luthuli from Dr. King.
This was President Lyndon Johnson's first major speech on United States African policy. Although a policy speech on Africa from President Johnson was due anyway, the timing of this speech seems to have been effected by Senator Kennedy's imminent visit to South Africa. There was some nervousness in the State Department that Senator Kennedy would get out ahead of official US policy towards South Africa and create a new set of problems for the administration.
To complete the historical record, this eloquent eulogy by Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the memorial service for his brother after his assassination should be included. In the eulogy Edward Kennedy quoted quite extensively from Robert Kennedy's Cape Town, NUSAS Day of Affirmation speech.
South African Speeches
This is the speech that Chief Lutuli gave when he became the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960. At the time of the ceremony, Chief Lutuli was banned by the South African Government under the Suppression of Communism Act, and banished into internal exile to his modest home in Groutville, Natal. He was given special permission to leave the country to attend the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, but as a banned person, the speech could not be printed in South Africa.
This speech is probably Nelson Mandela's most famous speech. At the time of the Rivonia Trial, there was a real possibility that Mandela and his colleagues would be hung. (See the New Republic article in the Magazines Section.) This speech by Mandela, the Rivonia Trial in general, and Mandela and his ANC colleagues' imprisonment on Robben Island, were well known to Senator Kennedy and his aides.
Although this speech was made in 1998, I have decided to include it. Tragically Mandela's imprisonment on Robben Island in 1963 and Luthuli's banning to Groutville, prevented these two great leaders of their generations from ever seeing each other again let alone working together politically. Chief Luthuli was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1967. Because Luthuli was the last Zulu President of the ANC, Mandela's speech in Groutville, Kwazulu/Natal in 1998 after the low level Zulu Civil War in the 1980's and early 1990's between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party, was particularly poignant.