Presidential Address to the Sixth Annual Conference of the Natal Indian Congress

Durban, 21 February 1953

For the second time in succession Chief A. J. Lutuli has declared open our Annual Conference. When he opened the Conference in September 1951, I, in my Presidential address, declared that his presence was an indication of the desire of the African and Indian peoples to work in close cooperation. I fully realise that cooperation among leaders of different national organisations is in itself not sufficient for the historic task that lies ahead of us, the task of ending colour oppression in the Union. It is the task of progressive non-European leaders in South Africa to do everything in their power to unite the country's oppressed peoples for their liberation.

Unity of the oppressed people is not something reserved for academic discussion and debate; it is something living, vital and dynamic and is created in the process of united action in struggles against all the injustices that are perpetrated under the policy of segregation and apartheid.

Since our last Conference the country has witnessed the mighty united effort against unjust laws on the part of South Africa's non-white peoples. The Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws is the first major united attack on the citadel of oppression by the growing movement for liberation in South Africa. We are proud of the part played in this Campaign by the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress.

In particular we are proud of the role played by Chief A. J. Lutuli. Chief Lutuli opened our last Conference as the newly elected President of the Natal Branch of the African National Congress. He was at the time the Chief of the Amakolwa tribe in the Groutville Mission Reserve. Because of his courageous stand in the political life of this country, where courage is so often absent, Chief Lutuli has been dismissed by the Government from his Chieftainship. In reply, as it were, the African National Congress elected him to the highest post in their body. Today we welcome him as the President-General of the African National Congress.

Since our last Conference, much has happened in South Africa and abroad which must engage the attention of the delegates assembled here. I ask them to pay serious attention to the problems that face us and to discuss them objectively and dispassionately. We form an integral part of the liberation front in this country and we have to formulate our policy and act in unity with others so as to advance the cause of freedom in South Africa.

On the international plane, we form part of the great movement for peace. We are totally against all aggressive war preparations which are against the interests of the colonially oppressed and freedom-loving peoples of the world.

We welcome the world-wide support we have received from people who believe in freedom and we shall at all times extend our support, in whichever way possible, to all peoples fighting oppression. The struggle against racial oppression is gaining momentum the world over and we too must play our full part in it.

In South Africa we are on the eve of a general election, an election in which the white people will go to the polls to decide which white political party shall rule South Africa for the succeeding five years. It is usual that at election time there is an increased political activity on the part of of the parliamentary parties. The Nationalists and the so-called United Democratic Front are already in the field to woo the white voters seeped in colour prejudices. All the parliamentary parties, even within the United Democratic Front, are upholders of white domination; all of them accept segregation.

The non-white people, therefore, can have no faith in their policies or programmes.

The Nationalist Government has since its advent to power gone forward with its ruthless apartheid policy and today the Union is on the verge of the establishment of a full-fledged fascist police State. The non-European peoples have not been unduly surprised at the feeble and ineffective stand in parliament by the official Opposition, as there is no fundamental difference between them and the Government on the question of segregation. The United Party, in particular, has repeatedly done everything possible to impress upon the European electorate that it, too, believes in keeping the non-European people "in their place". Thus the Nationalists have found no difficulty in putting through Parliament, measure after measure attacking existing rights of the people. Since democracy is indivisible, South Africa today finds itself being threatened with the extinction of all civil liberties of the non-white, as well as the white, people.

There is hardly any concrete opposition from white South Africa against the so-called Public Safety Bill and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, despite the fact that these Bills seek to destroy all vestiges of democracy in the country and to place in the hands of a fascist clique dictatorial and arbitrary powers never before placed in the hands of any government of white South Africa. (1)

While the non-European people have been unanimous in their condemnation of these Bills, in Parliament only the Labour Party and the "Native Representatives" have expressed their opposition to the principle embodied in these measures. The United Party has demonstrated to the entire country how close it is to the Nationalists by accepting the fascist principles of these bills.

It is in these critical times, more than ever before, that the oppressed people of South Africa should realise the historic role they are destined to play in making South Africa a democratic country capable of taking its rightful place in the progressive world, and in freeing South Africa from the grip of fascism.

While we welcome the support and encouragement we have received from outside the borders of the Union, we must at all times clearly understand that our emancipation and freedom will come from our own efforts in South Africa. Every oppressed South African must be educated by his political leaders to have faith in himself and in the united efforts of the oppressed peoples to free himself, his people and his country. Our freedom cannot and will not come from the United Nations, India, Pakistan or any other outside source, however welcome and important their support.

Once we realise this cardinal fact, that we have to strive for our freedom in South Africa itself, then it is necessary for us to have a clear policy and programme for the achievement of our objective. The present leadership of the Natal Indian Congress, for almost fifteen years now, has consistently impressed on the Indian people that colour and racial oppression in this country will be ended only with the united struggle on the part of the non-European people supported by those Europeans who genuinely belong to the democratic camp.

In the past year, we have been able to see our policy in action in the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. While there is a growing awakening among the non-European people for united action to end all oppression in South Africa, it would be wrong for us not to take due cognisance of the efforts of the white ruling class to sow the seeds of dissension within the ranks of the oppressed peoples.

The harder we work for unity in the ranks of the non-white people, the quicker will we defeat those who are trying to antagonise us against each other. I want to appeal to all members of Congress to dedicate themselves anew to the great and noble cause of united action which has made such great headway during the period under review.

Members of Congress must at all times in all their actions demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they completely reject the idea of superior and inferior races. All their day-to-day activities must be such that no one can accuse them of being guilty, no matter in how small a measure, of accepting the herrenvolk ideology of the ruling class.

The Natal Indian Congress has embodied in its Constitution the demand for "the extension to Indians of the franchise on the common roll free from any special qualifications". This object is fundamental to all national organisations of the people. There can be no compromise on it and it becomes absolutely necessary for all Congress members in all their activities to stress the fact that only when our people have the vote without any restrictions on grounds of colour will we be able to solve the many burning problems which face us.

We can only call ourselves democrats and progressives when we believe in and fight for equal franchise rights, not only for ourselves, but for all South Africans irrespective of colour or creed.

With the development of the national liberation movement, a day must come when there will be no need for separate political organisations for the different sections of the oppressed peoples of the Union. Instead of having an Indian Congress and an African Congress, we will then have a South African Democratic Congress in which all democrats, no matter to which community they belong, will be able to play their part for a prosperous, free and democratic South Africa.

I have taken some pains to stress the question of the franchise because I feel this to be a very important test in determining the character of political groups. For instance we have heard a great deal about the so-called United Democratic Front and so-called friends of the non-European people among the whites of South Africa. Let me say most categorically that only those Europeans belong to the democratic camp who, without reservation, accept the inherent and fundamental right of all the oppressed peoples in South Africa to exercise equal franchise with those who enjoy it at present. Any person who denies the right of the non-Europeans to have equal franchise and speaks of a qualified franchise for them, by his very stand, places himself outside the democratic camp, whether such person happens to be white or non-white.

Once we are clear on the question of franchise then it follows that we totally reject an inferior status for ourselves or for any other section of the South African people. Because we stand for full democratic rights for all we cannot under any circumstance take part in any machinery set up for the oppression of our people. For this reason the Natal Indian Congress rejected the communal representation and the Board created under the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act. It is because we stand for equal municipal franchise rights that we reject the Advisory Board suggested by the Durban City Council.

As equal partners in the common struggle against oppression, we have a right to tell all our allies that they too should pursue this policy, fully and consistently, in the cause of unity and national liberation. We as an oppressed group must not only oppose new attacks made on us, but we must by political action strive to put an end to our present status and march forward to liberation.

Delegates to this Conference must seriously get down to the task of rallying our people in opposition to all the oppressive and unjust laws that operate in South Africa. For that task we require powerful and active Congress branches in all parts of the province. The strength of the branches will depend on the extent and nature of activities in which they engage themselves.

South Africa is at the crossroads. The only effective force against fascist tyranny is the combined strength of all those who believe in true democracy. When we leave this Conference, we must be satisfied that in this hour of our country's crisis, we were not found wanting to play our part fully and courageously in the cause of democracy and freedom.

(1) The two bills were passed in 1953.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1953, laid down severe penalties for defying a law by way of protest or a campaign, including imprisonment, fine and whipping.

The Public Safety Act, 1953, authorised the government, if it considered that public order was threatened, to declare a State of Emergency, during which persons can be summarily arrested and detained.


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