Opening address to the Sixth Annual Conference of the Natal Indian Congress,
Durban, February 21, 1953
A formidable comradeship-in-arms
I am happy to have again the privilege of opening your Annual Conference. I assure you, friends, that it gave me the greatest pleasure to respond affirmatively to your invitation; it would have pained me greatly if circumstances had ordered otherwise.
Much to the embarrassment and anger of those among the Europeans who are the arch protagonists of the white supremacy policy in the Union and who seem bent on establishing themselves as dictators over all other citizens, both black and white, the emergence in recent years, especially since 1949, of a non-European political front in the Union, has presented a formidable challenge to the realisation of their selfish and nefarious aim of gaining complete political ascendancy in the Union. On the basis of giving to all people in the Union equal opportunities for full unfettered development, our non-European political front seeks to reinforce and enlarge the meagre and weak democratic forces found in the Union.
I am happy to speak to you as a living symbol of our unity-in-arms, representing as I do the African wing of our comradeship-in-arms, since events in the African National Congress have placed me in a position of representing and speaking on behalf of all Africans who owe direct allegiance to or come under the sphere of influence of the African National Congress.
This assertion of solidarity and effectiveness of our alliance is no premature or extravagant claim.
The universal approbation accorded our political programme by all freedom-loving people here and in the rest of the world is encouraging evidence of our becoming an effective force; even the utterances and actions of the governing party in the Union prove it. Let me refer you to two recent instances: recently in the course of presenting and defending his notorious twin bills, the Public Safety Bill and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Swart, in rejecting the plea by the Opposition to consult non-Europeans on the general unhealthy situation obtaining in the country, was forced to admit that "there was no one to consult since moderate Natives had no following". This conversely means that only the group he cannot consult with, namely ourselves, has a following and stands as an unseriously challenged political group among the non-European people.
Incidentally, what an admission of his lack of confidence in such widely publicised but bogus political frauds as Mr. S. S. Bhengu`s Bantu National Congress and the Supreme Council of African Affairs, both of which we have reason to believe, enjoy the active support and guidance of the Government party! The Government`s admission and fearing concern of our growing influence among our respective communities is shown even by the most frantic manner in which, with the saddening acquiescence of the official Opposition the Government is rushing through in a most indecent haste to place on the Statute Book of the Union the two twin savage Bills to which reference has already been made. This is being done in an effort to stop the forward march of all the democratic forces in the land which present a serious challenge to undemocratic policies and laws in our country.
I am glad to note that the non-Europeans under the joint leadership of our Congresses have stood in the vanguard of the forces in the Union that have presented a determined opposition to those ferocious twin Bills so aptly described by many prominent and responsible leaders of white public opinion as "savage, brutal, barbarous, autocratic" and other synonymous epithets - a condemnation they so well deserve.
I would here like to assure the Minister of Justice that he must expect to witness continued opposition in action to these Bills even if sanity and justice in Parliament should be swallowed by reactionary mad forces which seek to plunge our beloved country into the abyss and atmosphere that characterised the unfortunate mediaeval Dark Ages.
In concluding this observation on our formidable alliance, I must state that ours is not a marriage of convenience but is a political alliance based on a common, genuine regard for true democracy, and is resulting in a growing spirit of friendship between our respective communities.
This comradeship-in-arms has withstood the onslaught of Government action and propaganda which sadly enough very often is carried out by or through members of our own communities who, through ignorance and fear but worse through selfishness, assist our oppressors directly or indirectly, and thus tend to sabotage, though ineffectively, our efforts to realise freedom in our lifetime.
As further concrete proof of the vitality and efficiency of our growing comradeship one is glad to note that, notwithstanding the deliberate incitement of Africans against the Indians by some in the Government party and its agents in an open invitation to Africans to join in the diabolic cry of reactionary selfish Europeans who vainly cry "Away with the Indian", except for a few insignificant voices of assenting response to this invitation, all shades of responsible African public opinion have replied that inasmuch as Africans were never responsible for the coming of the Indians to South Africa, so they shall never be a party to efforts to expatriate them; but rather on the contrary in our desire to see peace, goodwill and progress flourish in our country, we work for the creation of a partnership in the system of governing our country as shall give all people in the Union of South Africa, regardless of their colour, race, creed or land of origin, a voice in the Government of the country, and open unfettered opportunities for their full development, each according to his or her God-given talents.
A tribute to the heroes of our liberatory movement
I desire here, on behalf of all those here and elsewhere who desire freedom for all, to pay glowing and deserving tribute to all those men and women - old and young - in our respective communities who responded so magnificently last year to our call to struggle for freedom through our non-violent, Passive Resistance campaign.
History will undoubtedly accord them a place of honour in the annals of the progress of mankind. My remarks of appreciation and praise are directed to all and sundry who in any way contributed to the successful launching of our struggle: the eight thousand volunteers who courted imprisonment; members of families who willingly allowed their dear ones to make the sacrifice; the hundreds of what I call our ground staff who in a humble or in an exalted position made possible an organisation which resulted in a successful launching of our non-violent Passive Resistance campaign.
My last word to all these various participants is: KEEP MARCHING ON TO FREEDOM WHATEVER THE COST AND SACRIFICE.
Open invitation to all true South Africans to join the army of freedom
When I chose the subject "Let us march together to Freedom", I intended to say words of encouragement to those who are actively striving for "freedom for all in our country", especially along the political front, for our respective Congresses are primarily and foremost political organisations and not social or cultural bodies. But I also desired to appeal deliberately and strongly to those who, while like us love and cherish freedom, either through fear or ignorance or a false sense of security or an honest doubt of our method of striving for freedom, are sitting on the fence or passively acquiescing in the status quo. I warn them of the great danger to their own personality of this state of indecision.
I invite them to an honest consideration and appraisal of our aims, policies and actions in the light of our situation in our country and see whether or not our policies are not the best in the interest of all in South Africa. I submit that the logic of facts in the situation as obtaining at present in the Union should cause them to see the unwisdom and the unreasonableness of their attitude of indifference or even hostility to our Congresses, an attitude which makes them in the final analysis disloyal to the best in them.
We are criticised by some as being too hasty and militant. To this accusation we plead that our experience is that since the Union our representations and protestations through the so-called regular channels have been either treated with contempt by the Authorities or conveniently ignored in their efforts to ensure the supremacy of the white man.
The so-called democratic institutions given us, such as Advisory Boards, Local Councils, the Bantu Authorities, communal representation in Parliament, etc., are a gross insult to and mockery of democracy in that, whilst they were diplomatically presented as elementary steps to the attainment of democracy, they have proved in practice to be blind alleys serving mainly as a delaying tactic to ensure the prolongation of the period of white domination over blacks.
We further plead that the history of the liberation of people from man`s inhumanity to man has always been through a terrific struggle involving much sacrifice and suffering on the part of the oppressed and that, therefore, the oppressed in the Union can have no cause to believe that they can attain freedom otherwise.
All over the world and through all ages, liberation has come that way. The coming into being of the great democracy of the United States of America came that way; the birth or re-birth of great and noble ideas and ideals of Europe such as the cry of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", etc., which formed the basis of our modern conception of civic rights, were won for mankind by the sacrifice and suffering of those who intensely and devoutly believed in these concepts of human rights. These men and women responded actively to the spirit of Divine Discontent in them.
Since Union we have witnessed a decided deterioration in making available to non-Whites opportunities for full development. Must we fold our hands in despair when we see our people drift to ultimate impotence and perpetual slavery? God forbid that we should be so untrue to Africa and the cause of Freedom!
Let us set our spirit and conscience attune with the spirit of Divine Discontent that is within us, and together with freedom-loving people elsewhere serve faithfully the cause of Freedom in the world in general, and in South Africa in particular, and so help our beloved South Africa to march honourably with the rest of the democratic world to the final liberation of all mankind.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude my address by performing my real task which was to open your Conference and not to subject you to a long address as I have done.
I have great pleasure in declaring this sixth Annual Conference of the Natal Indian Congress open.