Presidential Address to the Twentieth Session of the South African Indian Congress Conference, Johannesburg, January 25, 1952(1)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We assemble at this 20th session of the South African Indian Congress Conference at the most vital hour in the history of our land - at a period of grave crisis - at a time when the Indian, African, Coloured and all democracy-loving peoples of our country face the most vicious onslaught on their rights, liberties and indeed, their very existence.

Meeting as we do, so soon after the momentous Conference of the African National Congress, which has given a direct and practical lead to the entire country, we are entrusted with the grave historical task of co-ordinating our efforts in the decisive struggle for the abolition of these evil laws which are aimed at destroying all human progress.

The Plan of Action for the Defiance of Unjust Laws adopted by the African National Congress Conference must therefore engage the serious and considered attention of Conference.

This plan arises out of the hard realities of the situation in South Africa, the rest of the continent of Africa and of the world. The plan cannot be divorced from the most serious question which faces the whole of humanity, the question of peace or war. If indeed it were so divorced - and it is not - the plan would be unreal and most certainly ineffective. We must therefore examine the developments that have taken place in the international field.

War clouds

Since our last Conference the danger of world war has not receded. Korean hostilities are not yet at an end: truce negotiations at Pan Mun Jon have been bogged down. The colony-owning Powers, with the aid of American arms and dollars, are conducting what is virtually a full-scale war against the gallant peoples of Malaya and Viet Nam who wage a heroic struggle for the freedom and independence of their countries.

In spite of all attempts to outlaw the atom bomb,atomic scientists in the Western world have been charged with the task of building better and more destructive atom bombs. Rearmament programmes involving huge percentages of the incomes of many countries, and having deleterious effects on the living standards, health and welfare of the people as a whole, are being speeded up at a terrific rate. The imperialist war-mongers, especially in the United States, are making feverish attempts to build up the war machine, pile up armaments and stockpile basic raw materials for use in a third world war which they are trying to foist on the world.

Humanity wants peace

Yet the common people of the world have no desire to be cannon fodder, to see their homes and all that has been built for the good of humanity through centuries of toil destroyed by the madness of war. They want peace above all. The horrible and terrifying experiences of the last war are still fresh in their minds. The people of Europe, having lived under the nightmare of Nazism, and having emerged from the rack and ruin of five long years of the most cruel war in history, want peace. The teeming millions of the people of Asia who for centuries have been crushed under the iron heel of imperialism and who have lived through the brutalities of Japanese militarism, want peace. They desire to establish their newly-won freedom on a firm foundation so as to bring progress and happiness to their countries.

The vast masses on the continent of Africa whose forefathers were sold as slaves by the advancing imperialists and who are bearing the heavy and costly burden of colonial exploitation, also want peace. They do not want the imperialists to turn this continent with its unlimited resources of raw material and human labour into a military and economic base. They want peace because war will be a severe setback to the great struggles for freedom and independence which are being waged by the African people throughout Africa, from North to South.

This intense desire for peace has found concrete shape in the campaign for a Five Power Peace Pact, which has already been supported by nearly half of the human race - by the peace-loving people of the Soviet Union, the People`s Democracies, the People`s Republic of China and the Western world, the Middle and Near East, America and Africa. It is indeed due to the vigilance and active fight for peace on the part of the common peoples everywhere that a third world war was averted in 1951.

Recognise China

It is our pleasant task to greet the new Republic of China as one of the most important factors in the fight for peace and in the struggle of colonial peoples for their liberation. It is indeed a tragic commentary on the foreign policy of the United States of America that it has so far prevented this great and mighty Republic from taking a rightful place in the United Nations Organisation as a power for peace. We must continue to demand in common with the rest of the people of the world that the new People`s Republic of China be accepted as a member of the United Nations and that the farce of the now defunct Chiang Kai-shek regime appearing at this World Assembly be ended once and for all.

Asia and Africa - the doom of colonialism

We welcome the struggles of the Persian and Egyptian people to bring to an end foreign exploitation and military intervention in the affairs of their countries.

We are following with deep interest the general elections which are now taking place in the young Republic of India in which nearly 200 million men and women who not so long ago were helots under imperialist rule, are for the first time casting their vote as free citizens. The people in the Republic of India and the Dominion of Pakistan are destined to play their full share in the fight for peace and the progress of humanity.

On the continent of Africa, despite obstacles of colonial oppression, the people of Gold Coast have made far-reaching advances towards self-government. The people of Nigeria are also making steady progress towards their objective of national liberation. We also note with deep gratification the great advances of the trade union and national liberation movements in the Rhodesias, Kenya, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Uganda, French Equatorial Africa and other territories in North Africa.

The people of Africa are astir and the colonial Powers will do well to recognise their legitimate demands for freedom in good time, lest they have to bear the same bitterness and conflicts they experienced on the continent of Asia. The era of colonialism is fast coming to an end. This has also been underlined by the Trusteeship Committee of the United Nations` call to colonial Powers to set down a date for the declaration of independence of the mandated territories. The year 1952 must set a new high water mark in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism and against discrimination of all kinds.

It is in this vista of international developments that we must review the situation in our own country and adopt that course of action which will assure the end of all the evil forces which are making life an unbearable misery for vast sections of the South African people.

300 years of white rule

This year 1952 marks the tercentenary of the first Europeans to settle in South Africa. The European settlement changed the course of South African history. It was no mere accident: it was the birth of imperialism which carried the men of Portugal, Holland, France and Britain to far-flung parts of the world and brought the teeming millions of Asia, Africa and America under colonial subjugation.

During the 300 years of European domination and imperialist exploitation of South Africa a whole caste structure has been built up, designed at keeping the Non-white population in a perpetual state of helotry so that they must remain the hewers of wood and drawers of water. As the demand for cheap labour for the gold-mining industry and the European-owned farms grew, the Land Act was introduced in order to confine four-fifths of the South African population to one-thirteenth of the land surface; the Urban Areas Act and the pass and permit regulations were promulgated to control rigidly the freedom of movement of the African people so that they could be forced to find work in the mines and on the farms. The system of colour bars and racial discrimination, which ignore the principles of justice and equality in human relationships, became the order of the day. Thus it is that, robbed of opportunities for economic, cultural and educational advancement and deprived of any political rights, vast sections of the Non-European people today are living in abject poverty and misery.

This tercentenary of Van Riebeeck therefore has nothing in it to make the Non-European feel proud or to make him raise his head high and look upon the history of the last 300 years with any sense of glory.

In opening the Van Riebeeck Festival at Ohrigstad, the Prime Minister, Dr. Malan, said that the Festival had come as a clarion call to all population groups in the Union to assume, by word and deed, their partnership in South African nationhood, and to contribute, each on its own behalf, its share towards the upholding of the nationhood.

This call of Dr. Malan can have no real meaning or value in the present set-up and conditions in our country. Partnership implies equality of responsibility as well as obligations and is impracticable in the absence of full democratic rights for all.

It is self-evident that the declared policy of apartheid which the Government has ruthlessly pursued during its three and a half years of office has brought our country to the brink of national disaster. The legislation already placed on the Statute Book by the Nationalists, if fully implemented, would undoubtedly turn our country into a fully-fledged fascist State.

Apartheid means fascism

A careful analysis of the legislation so far enacted by the Nationalist Government makes the whole trend of Nationalist policy perfectly clear. The Nationalists want to maintain white "baaskapism" at all costs, and that can only be done by the adoption of fascist techniques and methods.. The Government is attempting therefore not only to halt further advances towards democracy but even to curb and destroy whatever little democratic rights and privileges exist at the moment. The Government is endeavouring to divide the multi-national population of the country into separate racial groups. It wants to reverse the progress of the African people by sending them back into the days of tribalism, it wants to split the organized might of the workers by dividing the trade union movement on a racial basis, thereby weakening the power of the workers to bring about better conditions for themselves. This fundamental trend runs through all the laws so far placed on the Statute Book.

The GROUP AREAS ACT is designed to force the various national groups of the non-European people into ghettoes and locations, strangling their economic progress, making them serfs, and thus annihilating any political force they may possess as a people.

The BANTU AUTHORITIES ACT is aimed at breaking up the political growth and national unity of the African people, splitting them into tribes which will come under rigid State control through the offices of the chiefs, and making it impossible for the people to fulfil their inalienable right to a full and legitimate role in the affairs of the country. "Back to the days of tribalism", is the objective of this Act.

The purpose of the SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM ACT is to suppress the fundamental rights of the South African people to organize, to criticize and to express by written and spoken word, their opposition to any aspect of Government policy which they may consider repugnant and anti-democratic. In terms of this Act, the Minister of Justice has arrogated to himself arbitrary powers to victimize and terrorize any person whose conscience may compel him to protest against Government policy which he considers to be against the interests of the people.

Similarly, the SEPARATE REPRESENTATION OF VOTERS ACT is aimed at depriving the Coloured people of whatever limited democratic rights they possessed in the election of members to Parliament.

The regulations for the culling of cattle and so-called Rehabilitation Scheme for the African Reserves will have the net result of further impoverishing the already impoverished African peasantry.

The recommendations of the Industrial Legislation Commission, many of which the Minister of Labour, Mr. Ben Schoeman, in spite of the strongest opposition by the entire trade union movement, is proposing to incorporate into a bill to be presented at the current session of Parliament, are just as sinister and fascist in their intentions. The trade union movement is to be divided into racial groups and the trade unions will be at the mercy of the Minister of Labour. In short it will mean the creation of State-controlled trade unions on the lines of the Nazi Arbeidsfront.

The threat to the future

Back to the days of the "Dark Ages", to maintain white "baaskapism" is the sole concern of the Nationalist Party and the Government of Dr. Malan, so as to ensure an unlimited supply of cheap Non-European labour for the mines and the farms. This is the grave threat that all sections of Non-European people face today. It is a threat to the progress which the Non-European people have made in the economic field despite the multitude of legislative and administrative obstacles placed in their way. The needs of industrial development together with the ability of the Non-European workers to acquire skill in industry is causing a breakdown in industrial colour bars. It is a threat to the growing advances which are being made by Non-European business and professional men who are breaking through the European monopoly of commerce, trade and certain professions, like medicine and law; it is a threat to the developing force of the Non-European people to assume a rightful place in the affairs of the country. Indeed, it is a threat to the whole future of the Non-white people.

We are confronted with the alternative of destruction or survival - destruction of our hopes, our aspirations and of our future for a very long time to come. Destruction we will never accept.

Path of Survival

The path of survival is the only path before us. It is but natural, it is but right and it is inevitable that we as a people must survive and make progress towards our freedom. It was with this choice before it that the Conference of the African National Congress decided to adopt a practical plan of action for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. It is a grave and historic decision which if implemented can and must change the course of South African history. It throws down the gauntlet to the Government`s policy of "back to the Dark Ages". It breathes a new hope to the oppressed peoples of our land.

There are critics who say we must hasten slowly. But to sit quietly and do nothing now would be to allow free play to those evil forces which are bent upon destroying us. It is also being said that to launch out on a struggle now is to put ourselves in danger, but the triumph of truth can never be attained without risking danger.

On the other hand, there are critics who say that the demand for the repeal of certain specified laws does not go far enough, that our demand must be for full and equal democratic rights. The African National Congress, however, has been wise in limiting its demands - for the laws named for repeal are the laws which constitute the greatest threat to our very existence. Moreover, who could deny that if we can succeed in obtaining the repeal of these laws by our struggle, we would not have taken a long step towards the realization of our objective of full citizenship rights?

The 1952 session of Parliament has already started its work and we urge the Government and Parliament to take steps to answer the call of the African National Congress by repealing by the end of February the unjust laws specified by its resolution. It is fitting that the Government should be reminded of the fact that a government by a minority of the people of a country cannot continue for long to impose its will with impunity on the majority of the people. The sovereign rights of Parliament are derived from the people as a whole and not only from a section. For the Union Parliament to be sovereign it must derive its power from all sections of the South African population, both white and non-white. A Parliament can only sustain itself when it respects the natural rights of man and conducts itself on the broad principles of democracy. Parliament as it is presently constituted in South Africa violates every principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As long as these principles are not recognized it will be the primary duty of the people to fight for their recognition.

The Nationalist Government would do well to make a serious and objective study of the laws of development of history. It is an illusion to think that white "baaskapism" can be maintained under current historical conditions. The death-knell of feudalism has been sounded, and it is now impossible to revert back to feudal conditions. History cannot be put into reverse gear.

It is this historical fact which has made South Africa the target of the opprobrium of the world. It is futile for some of the Cabinet Ministers of the Union Government to put blame for adverse criticism of the Union Government`s policy at the United Nations Assembly and in the outside world, on the Communist and Coloured countries.

South Africa censured

At this session of the United Nations Assembly South Africa`s racialist policies have once again been condemned by an even bigger majority than in previous years. For the second time the Union Government has been called upon to suspend the operation of the Group Areas Act pending the settlement of India`s complaint on the treatment of South Africans of Indian and Pakistani origin by a three-man Commission. It will be neither wise nor possible for the Union Government to continue to ignore this decision. However, although a majority of the member States of the United Nations have unequivocally censured the practices of racialism in the Union as a serious threat to the peace of the world, they have significantly failed in their duty to take effective action against South Africa for its blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This indicates a serious limitation in the proper functioning of the United Nations Organization and so long as it is not rectified it will prevent the United Nations from fulfilling its main and primary task, that of establishing and maintaining world peace.

The Union Government cannot hope to continue to remain a member of this World Assembly and yet continue to commit flagrant breaches of its constitution. On the question of South West Africa too, South Africa has received well-deserved admonition. We welcome the decision of the Trusteeship Committee to hear the case of the Herero people from the Herero chiefs in person as well as from the Reverend Michael Scott, who has proved himself to be the outstanding champion of the cause of the oppressed Non-white peoples of South West Africa.

We offer our heartfelt gratitude to this great Christian democrat for his selfless and devoted service to the cause of truth and justice. We condemn in unequivocal terms the action of the South African Government in declaring this great statesman a prohibited immigrant. We shall continue to fight for the right of the Reverend Michael Scott to enter South Africa as a legitimate and distinguished citizen of our country.

On the question of the Union Government`s intention to incorporate the Protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland into the Union, the Nationalists should realize that this is outside the bounds of possibility as long as racialism, herrenvolkism and fascism are practised in South Africa. The people of the Protectorates have no desire to submit to these tyrannies.

Repugnant policies

We say to the herrenvolk-minded Nationalists in power that their policies are out of date and out of step with the course of history; they cannot hope to halt the onward march of the people towards greater democracy. The decision to embark upon the struggle for the Defiance of Unjust Laws is a direct outcome of the Nationalist Government`s illogical and repugnant policies. The Government and only the Government will have to bear the full responsibility for the consequences that will ensue. Even at this eleventh hour we urge upon the Government to return to the path of sanity and abandon apartheid as a policy and recognize that "baaskapism" is absolutely untenable.

Democracy is indivisible

We urge upon the Europeans who are responsible for the election of Government and Parliament, to view the whole matter in its logical perspective and with an objective frame of mind and not be blinded by the passions and fury of colour and race prejudices. The destruction of the rights and liberties of one section of the people must have its direct effect on the other sections as well. The European people cannot expect to enjoy democratic rights if the Non-European people are deprived of these rights: the law of cause and effect must come into play. Democracy like peace is indivisible.

Racialism and the deprivation of fundamental human rights are the breeding grounds of fascism. It is little wonder then that the Nationalist Government is not only oppressing the Non-white population but is also encroaching upon the rights and liberties of the European people. Interference with the freedom of individuals to travel abroad, with the right of parents regarding their children`s education, with the freedom of the press, with the freedom of trade unions to conduct their own affairs, with the freedom of criticism in opposition to the Government, are but some of the glaring instances of the way in which the rights of Europeans are affected.

The time has come when the alternative before the European people is either a genuine democracy for all or fascist tyranny from which no section will be immune. White "baaskapism" cannot save the old order of things for it cannot survive. Nothing can prevent the Non-European people from realizing their aspiration to live as free citizens. Therefore, the European who hopes for the old order to continue bangs his head against a stone wall.

The Non-European people bear no malice or hatred towards the European; they are only fighting for what is their right. We want all South Africans irrespective of their race, colour, creed or sex to live on a basis of equality and to contribute their rightful share in building a free, prosperous, progressive and peaceful South Africa for all its people.

It is in this spirit that we invite all those Europeans who believe in genuine democracy and in the principle of humanity to participate with us in the coming struggle to rid our country of the evil which will only spell disaster for all of us. The responsibility of the Europeans is as great as that of the Government.

For the benefit of all

In view of the fact that the Government deliberately brands every struggle of the Non-European people as an incitement to create racial hostility between white and non-white, we make it plain to the authorities that this is an unjust and malicious accusation, without any foundation and intended as an excuse for suppression. Our intention in launching the struggle for the Defiance of Unjust Laws is to benefit the whole of South Africa.

This, then, is the situation, both international and national, in which Conference has to review the position of the Indian community.

Indians face disaster

The plight of the Indian people is more serious today than it has ever been since their arrival in this country in the early 60`s of the last century. In daily life we are confronted with many problems of a grave nature - our Congress through its provincial bodies is constantly dealing with urgent questions of unemployment, particularly among Indian workers in Natal, with immigration difficulties arising out of the harsh and inhuman administrative actions of the Immigration Department, with the need for schooling for the thousands of our children of school-going age who are without schools, with the dire need of housing and the deplorable lack of civic amenities due to the gross negligence on the part of local authorities in so far as Indian and Non-European welfare is concerned, and with a host of other matters of similar urgency and gravity.

But the all-dominant question of life and death which the Indian people face today is the operation of the Group Areas Act. Even in this opening phase of the enforcement of this Act, untold damage has been done to the interests of our people. Not only has the material progress of the Indians been brought to a halt but a great blow has also been struck against the property interests built up through decades of toil and sweat. Properties and homes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been deemed to be illegally held in terms of the Group Areas Act and the Minister of the Interior has given notice to many companies to sell their properties within a specified time, failure to comply with which order would make their properties liable to forcible sale by the State, the revenue accruing therefrom to be added to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Not only are privately-owned properties affected in this way, but properties like temples, mosques, churches and other public institutions communally acquired for the welfare of the community are also severely threatened.

Serious as this is, it will be nothing compared to the dire misery and abject poverty that will come to the Indian people when they are cast into group areas, plans for the creation of which are already under contemplation by many local authorities in conjunction with, or at the behest of, the Land Tenure Board.

Life without hope

Group areas will mean an end to all progress in every sphere of life. It will mean economic retrogression and impoverishment with all its concomitant evils of crime and degradation. In short it will mean a life without hope and purpose, a life cut off from the moorings of civilization and a life at the mercy of the powers that be.

From this morass of degeneracy and frustration, the Government hopes to make it possible to expatriate us, or, to borrow a phrase from Mr. R. K. Nehru, to accomplish the "bodily removal of Indians from the Union of South Africa".

Many peoples - One struggle

In this respect it is significant to recall that the present leadership of Congress assumed office on the principle that the Indian community is not only an integral part of the people of South Africa but that its destiny is also unalterably linked with the struggle of the oppressed peoples of the land. On this fundamental basis it sought the closest cooperation of all the people in the common struggle against racialism and for democratic rights for all.

The correctness of this policy has been completely borne out by recent events. The rabid racialists in the camp of the ruling class have been defeated in their attempts to promote racial conflicts among the Non-European people, of which the race riots in Durban in 1949 were a tragic example. Instead, the awakening among the Non-Europeans as a whole has forged strong bonds of understanding and cooperation, aptly demonstrated on the 1st May 1950 in the Transvaal and on the 26th June 1950 throughout the country, indicating in no uncertain manner the urge to unity in the common struggle for freedom.

It is in this light that Conference should view the Joint Meeting of the National Executives of the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress together with the representatives of the Franchise Action Council (convened by the African National Congress in July of last year). The outcome of this meeting was the setting up of a Joint Planning Council of the two Congresses to draw up a plan of action to obtain the repeal of unjust laws. In terms of this plan the Conference of the African National Congress resolved to launch out on a struggle of Defiance of Unjust Laws.

Plan of action

Here then is the practical plan of action, the lead for which the oppressed people of our land have been waiting for so long to end the nightmare of tyranny.

Our Conference must examine this plan carefully and decide upon its course of action. If it decides to adopt this plan, then it will be the business of Conference to work out a detailed programme of how the South African Indian Congress through its constituent provincial bodies, will be able to participate fully, without hesitation, and with courage and determination, in this vital and historic struggle.

Act now - or be destroyed

There is no other practical course open to us. Those among our people who with folded arms are still hoping for some recession of the crisis, for some relief from the operation of the Group Areas Act, are indulging in wishful thinking, waiting for a miracle to happen. Crises are not overcome in this way - freedom does not drop from heaven like manna! If we do not act now we shall be destroyed. If we are not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices now, we are doomed to extinction.

Deriving our inspiration from the heroic struggle of our fathers under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi from 1907 to 1914 and from the great passive resistance movement against the Ghetto Act from 1946 to 1948 in which many of us had the signal honour of serving, we look to the future with confidence.

We say to the Government: "You cannot expatriate us, you cannot doom us to extinction." We are sons of the soil and together with all the other sons of the soil we shall vindicate the cause of truth, justice and equality.



1 From: Onward to Freedom, pamphlet issued by the South African Indian Congress, Johannesburg, 1952


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