"A Challenging Situation": Presidential Address to the Annual Conference of the African National Congress, Natal Branch, Ladysmith, October 31, 1953(1)

Mr. Chairman, Sons and Daughters of Afrika,

On account of the ban imposed on me and other political leaders and Trade Union leaders, I cannot be with you at this year’s Annual Conference of the Province of Natal. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to you in absentia through the channel of the Presidential Address.

I regret very much this forced absence but I assure the powers-that-be that nothing they can do will disunite us or damp our resolve to gain freedom during our lifetime. Our common cause, whose justice is acknowledged by progressive world opinion, will always arouse in us a spirit of comradeship-in–arms. This feeling of oneness and the unquenchable longing of the human spirit for freedom give me, and I trust all of you too, the courage and resolve to risk all for the emancipation of Africans in their land. Never forget that AFRICANS ARE PRISONERS IN THEIR OWN CASTLE. At this moment when you are assembled in Conference, hundreds of Africans in this Province are homeless; hundreds are without employment and practically all of those in employment receive uneconomic wages; all Africans are denied the freedom to seek work where they desire; hundreds of children who desire to be in school cannot be on account of the inadequacy of school facilities.

The chain of bondage forged around us by white South Africa has many more links one could point to. The links I have referred to above are sufficient to remind you in concrete way that you are not free men and women in your own country.

The Challenge of our Present Situation

Whilst a presidential address may not be limited in its scope and nature by one theme or aspect, yet each address should have a distinguishing feature: a characteristic of its own. In this address the thought uppermost in my mind is "The Challenge of our Present Situation."

Recent happenings in the political field are serious and present a sharp challenge to all freedom-loving people in our country. The Nationalist Government of Dr. Malan was returned to office with an overwhelming majority.

What is the significance of this? It means that a majority of white South Africans favour the oppressive policy and practice of the Nationalist Party. The demoralising wrangle within the United Party is further proof of this. In any case when it comes to the so-called "NATIVE POLICY" the two major parties think pretty much alike and merely use different words to express their common thoughts.

We, in the African National Congress, were never in doubt [of] the desire to oppress Africans found among a majority of the whites. We can only hope that the public utterances, declarations and actions of the Nationalist Government of Dr. Malan will convince and convert to our point of view those of our people who look upon whites as our benevolent benefactors. We recognise with regret the sound of cowardly voices within our community counselling and urging our people to acquiesce in the status quo.

What would this mean? It would mean:

  1. a betrayal of the endeavours and hopes of the immortal leaders of our race before and after the advent of the Whiteman to the present time. For these leaders in their own way and manner worked for the unification of African tribes in Southern Africa and resisted foreign conquest and domination;
  2. an acceptance by Africans of a position of inferiority in their land;
  3. assisting in our domination and eventual annihilation;
  4. an admission by the African that he is inferior and has no sense of values, values such as an unencumbered right to enjoy human rights including the right of self-determination.

The Nationalist Government of Dr. Malan has sharpened the challenge. One is either for freedom or oppression. We are challenged to take an unequivocal stand one way or the other.

Shall we follow those who counsel us to submit to domination or follow those who urge us to struggle and sacrifice to gain freedom? What is your reply at this Conference? What is your reply as an individual?

The African National Congress calls upon all Africans to reply by actions that will show the world that as a people we are determined never to submit to our enslavement by other human beings and that human dignity and honour compel us to struggle on until we make the Union of South Africa a true democracy for all.


Some Recent Actions of the Nationalist Government

In order to appreciate fully the nature of the challenge presented to us by the Malan Government it is necessary to mention some of their recent actions.

  1. Our leaders, political leaders and Trade Union leaders, are being ruthlessly muzzled. Their only sin is that they are awakening us to our rightful human heritage, namely freedom. Let me here, for myself and on your behalf, express deep sympathy with all men and women who, in any way, are victims of the actions of the Government in persecuting those who, by words and deeds, are devoting themselves unreservedly to the cause of making freedom a common possession for all people in South Africa.
  2. One thing that is clear is that the Nationalists are working to a definite plan not only to keep non-whites in subjection, but to have the Afrikaner dominate all sections. Since being returned to power with a very large majority, they are showing a greater determination to crush and enslave us. The recent session of Parliament has seen an intensification of their apartheid programme. In this regard we note:
  1. The Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act.
  2. The attempt to place Coloured Voters on a Separate Roll.
  3. The Separate Reservation of Amenities Act.

One significant point about this act is that it glaringly shows the underlying purpose of all apartheid legislation and practice in the Union, namely, "SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL" AND NOT "SEPARATE BUT EQUAL" as some fondly believed.

  1. The Bantu Education Act.

This is the most poisonous of the segregation Laws in that it seeks to indoctrinate future generations of Africans with the apartheid philosophy which as we have shown means "separate and unequal" and therefore means a permanent domination of whites over blacks.

Nationalist Propaganda among Africans

Whereas former Union Governments relied almost wholly on Native Commissioners to make known to Africans their wishes, the Nationalist Government has established a separate specialised PROPAGANDA BRANCH of the Native Affairs Department, more respectably known as the "Information Service." This propaganda agency works intensively in rural reserves and in labour compounds and also among the so-called privileged Africans. Apartheid palliatives are winning to the apartheid band-wagon some men you would think could never be deceived and fooled by these Apartheid palliatives such as:

  1. an appeal to tribal prejudices.
  2. promise of exclusive trading rights and employment in the civil service in the African Reserves.
  3. Management of our own affairs through Bantu Authorities which are in no way a democratic road to Parliament.

Judged against the bigger needs of the African people and against the needs of the majority of the people it should be clear that the acceptance of those apartheid crumbs is a betrayal of the best interest of the people.

These rights could and should be extended to all people in an integrated society for each to use voluntarily according to his inclination and capabilities. Apartheid in the Reserves will not give the people more land and yet scarcity of land is one of our paramount needs.

Apartheid in industry means low wages for Africans. Do not be deceived. Apartheid is no panacea for ills in African development. On the contrary, it is a hindrance to the full development of the African. It is by no means a sine qua non to his progress and development. On the contrary the African would fair better given free and full opportunities in a free South Africa.

To fall victims to the Nationalist propaganda is tantamount to Africans signing their own death warrant. We may not have the money to enable us to set up a counter information service among our people, but we can each one in our areas act as Congress propagandist or information agents. All in Congress should have the spirit of saying that so long as Congress principles are enshrined in our hearts we shall work hard in all legitimate ways to bring to nought and dismal failure all efforts of the Nationalist to sell apartheid among Africans.

Some Specific Means of Meeting the Problem of the Domination of Whites over Non-Whites

I have already indicated in a general way what may be done to work for freedom. I want to point out further some specific way in which we may meet the challenge of white supremacy. We should form a strong democratic front. I see two ways of forming this front.

  1. I see it in continuing the objective of the founders of the African National Congress. I refer to the strengthening of the African front by a unification of African tribes under the banner of African NATIONALISM. Our Nationalism should be progressive and liberal and thus embrace a co-operation with other communities on the basis of equality and an intense desire for the universal enjoyment of democratic rights by all people in the country.

The Nationalists are fostering tribalism in order to continue to divide us and so easily dominate us. We can only counter tribalism by a positive policy of African Nationalism.

  1. Creation of Multi-racial Democratic Front.

Our second weapon in meeting the challenge of white domination is to create a strong front of all freedom loving people in our country.

The African National Congress is pledged to this policy. We are pledged to work and co-operate with those who respecting us as a people, share our democratic aspirations and relentlessly oppose domination.

I have deliberately referred to the need for a multi-racial democratic front because there is much confusion on this subject in Natal, especially as regards our co-operation with Indians. Some in Natal are being misled by the Indian bogey. This is being fanned by Nationalist Party propaganda.

All people in their struggles seek allies. It is for that reason that Dr. Malan seems to favour a REPUBLIC WITHIN THE COMMONWEALTH.

Africans must get it into their heads that the stumbling block to their progress are the many discriminatory laws made by a white Parliament and not by Indians. What privileges Indians enjoy which Africans do not enjoy were given them by a white Parliament. Why hate the recipient and not blame the giver for not giving Africans those rights and privileges?

Even numerically the Indian can never be a danger to South Africa. It is only white propaganda that makes the Indian appear a mortal danger to South Africa. Study the following figures.

In the Union we have 8 million Africans,

2 1/2 million Whites,

1 1/4 million Coloureds,

1/2 million Asiatics.

It is the 2 1/2 million whites who hold both political and material power, and are numerically five times the number of Asiatics in the country:

1 Asiatic to every 5 Whites,

1 Asiatic to every 16 Africans,

1 Asiatic to every 3 Coloureds.

To divert attention from them some whites try to frighten us with this Indian bogey.

Let us co-operate without fear with all people who share our objectives.

Congress is pledged to the creation of a partnership in the Government of our country.

The Path of Duty: Natal and the Non-violent Passive Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign

Numerically, we fell short of the goal set us and we did not succeed to bring the struggle into small towns. I thank most sincerely in the name of the Province those men and women – young and old – who in one way or another took part in the struggle and thus helped to maintain the honour of Natal. We thank also those who for one reason or another could not openly support us but, nevertheless, gave us invaluable moral support and in some cases financial support.

As leader in the Province I must frankly own up to certain weaknesses in our Province revealed by the campaign. Such as these:

  1. Our thinking and action are still unduly dominated by tribal influences. This plays into the hands of the Government who, in order to rule and dominate us effectively, are indulging in the glorification of the tribal unit instead of fostering the growth of the spirit of unity and co-operation among us as a people.
  2. Many are not clear what freedom is or implies. They make freedom synonymous with mere happiness and the possession of material wealth. So often you read this shameful advice given:

"Uma ningena uMzabalzo nilwa noHulumeni nolambisa izingane zenu". (If you take part in the Passive Resistance Campaign and fight the Government, your children will starve.) This revealed a cowardly state of mind most unbecoming descendants of the brave Zulus of old who, in defence of their country, willingly paid the supreme sacrifice and joyously faced death in the battlefields exclaiming: UYADELA WENA OSUPHAMBILI (Happy are you who are already in the front line).

  1. Some naively believe that one day the rulers will become so saturated with a spirit of benevolence and magnanimity that, without any pressure and struggle on our part, he will voluntarily give us a share as equal partners in the Government of our country.

I mention these weaknesses in order to brace up Natal so that in the next call that Congress might make she may play her part more nobly than she has ever done. We must intensify our organisational work. This work requires faithful and devoted local workers.

Keep on the Struggle until Victory is won

The whiteman is where he is – a position of dominance over you - because he voluntarily submitted himself to untold sacrifice in order to get possession of AFRIKA. He had to forgo immediate comforts in order to secure and maintain his hold on AFRIKA. We have to follow the same path of devotion and sacrifice if we are ever to share with the whiteman in the government of our country. Think not of yourself, but of the future of Afrika and your progeny.

It is your privilege and responsibility and honour to design and build the kind of Afrika you would like to see in existence within the next fifty years. MEET SQUARELY AND BOLDLY THE CHALLENGES OF OUR SITUATION. THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS PROVIDES YOU WITH A COMRADESHIP THAT WILL STRUGGLE ON WITH YOU THROUGH THICK AND THIN UNTIL VICTORY IS WON.





28th October, 1953.

[1] The address was read to the Conference as Chief Lutuli was restricted under banning orders.


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