Campus event commentary, Seech by Dr. Gerry Denny”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Can you imagine having to write a speech that, depending on the words you use, could either save hundreds of people, or make you feel that it led to their death? That is exactly the challenge Dr. Gerry Denny, one of the two ghostwriters of Nelson Mandela’s first venture throughout South Africa with the goal to combat the Apartheid was, when he was writing Mandela’s first speech after his liberation. This speech, delivered on February 25th, 1990, needed to be a call for peace, with the goal to end the violence between the protestors and the government forces. Moreover, it was necessary that a single sentence would contain the whole meaning of the speech, for it to be repeated over and over again, be spread everywhere and make the headlines of the international press. However, finding the right words was extremely hard, because of the number of parameters that Dr. Denny and his colleague had to think about. In this respect, they needed a phrasing that did not seem to shift towards giving up. Phrases such as, “lower your weapons” or “hide your knives” could not be used, as, describing passive actions, they would make the movement against Apartheid seem intimidated by the government’s violence. On the other hand, the message needed to not be an aggressive one. It should be stark that what Nelson Mandela was calling for was peace, and not continuation of the violence. Moreover, it needed to sound impressive, and have to do with the everyday life of the people of South Africa, so it would be clear to even to the most uninformed resident of the country, what the message was all about. And as Dr. Denny narrated, after a lot of effort, thinking and re-thinking, they came up with the perfect phrase: “Get your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea”. So simple, and yet so effective. And soon, it was repeated over and over again in every major street, square and park, made headlines in all domestic and international newspapers, and ignited the dialogue between the two sides, so that common ground could be found. And I find it unbelievable that the phrasing of a single sentence may have altered how the world today is.

Leave a Reply