Address at a public meeting in Johannesburg in January 1948, to welcome Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee, delegate of the Joint Passive Resistance Council to the United Nations
Whilst conducting an historic struggle, the eyes of the Indian people were focussed on the General Assembly of the United Nations, particularly during the debate on the Indian question. The Indian people in common with the other oppressed peoples had expected the United Nations to take stern measures in order to uphold and implement the great and noble principles of human equality and opportunity consecrated in the Charter of the United Nations.
The delegation of the Indian Government, ably assisted by the Pakistan delegation, put up a great fight on behalf of the Indian people of South Africa and indeed for a vital principle which affects the lives and future of millions of oppressed non-white peoples all over the globe, a principle on which depends the peace of the world.
Our hearts and affection go out to Shrimati Vijay-alakshmi Pandit - may she live long to serve the noblest cause in the world, the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden people. We would be failing in our duty if we did not pay our tribute to the whole of the Indian delegation, and Sir Mohammed Zafrullah Khan and the Pakistan delegation, for their yeoman and unforgettable services to the struggle for freedom and national emancipation of all peoples irrespective of race colour or creed.
We would also like to express our profound appreciation to those champions of true democracy, the Soviet Union and the democracies of Eastern Europe; to the countries of Asia and Africa who in the common struggle for freedom from imperialism and racialism stood four square behind us; and to all the 31 countries, big and small, who condemned the racialist policies of South Africa and supported the Indian resolution. It is well to remember that they constituted at a conservative estimate over 80 per cent of the total world population.
But in spite of this overwhelming support, a procedural technicality deprived India from obtaining the two-thirds majority of the General Assembly to make the Indian resolution a binding resolution. This resolution merely sought to implement the Assembly resolution of 1946, by calling upon South Africa, India, and Pakistan to meet at a Round Table Conference.
Outrageous fascist policy of South Africa
Although the Assembly failed to pass the resolution by the required two-thirds vote to make it binding, the fact remains that the Indian resolution obtained a very large majority. Moreover, not a single country could be found to defend the outrageous racialist and fascist policy of the South African Government.
If the background and circumstances of this year`s General Assembly are taken into consideration, then the majority of 31 votes against 19 for the Indian resolution assumes an important significance.
An understanding of the background of the Assembly's discussions is necessary in order to obtain a clear picture and perspective of the whole international situation through which the world is passing at the present moments and it is more necessary in order to understand the outcome of the United Nations debate on the Indian and South West African issues so that we may be enabled to plan properly for the future in the hard, difficult struggle for basic democratic rights which lies ahead of us and the Non-European peoples of South Africa.
By the continued efforts and sacrifices of the common man, both white and non-white, the evil hordes of the fascists were defeated on the battlefields of Asia and Africa; and the imperialist Powers who had held in subjection vast territories and millions of people for two centuries and more emerged weaker and faced the determined onslaught of oppressed peoples demanding and fighting for the inviolable right to determine their own destiny in their own way.
Spirit of resurgence
It was in this spirit of resurgence and freedom that the first Assembly of the United Nations met in 1946 and it demonstrated its will to secure freedom for all and maintain world peace by removing all those causes which led to war.
But the imperialists, faced with the disintegration of their stranglehold over the vast colonial empire and faced with growing economic crisis at home, have regrouped themselves into the notorious Anglo-American bloc.
This reactionary bloc has embarked on a world-wide war-mongering campaign and, by means of dollar diplomacy and political methods of coercion and intimidation, is attempting to intervene in the affairs of other countries and by its world expansionist policy is trying to stop the forward march of the world towards greater democracy and progress.
It was this bloc which spared no efforts to turn the United Nations into an instrument of its policy, and South Africa has openly and unashamedly associated herself with this bloc.
It is significant to note that this bloc played no unimportant part in getting various delegations to vote against the Indian resolution. It is an open secret that the British Commonwealth members of the United Nations, minus the Dominions of India and Pakistan, decided as a bloc to canvass among the delegations to vote against the Indian resolution.
But despite the machinations and intrigues of the Anglo-American bloc, 31 nations stood firmly against racial discrimination and in favour of the Indian resolution.
In the words of Mrs. Pandit:
"My delegation had hoped once again that the nations of the world would give a clear verdict against racial discrimination, but the fact that the Indian resolution failed to get the two-thirds majority must not be regarded as a failure."
An international issue
General Smuts and his Government can find little or no consolation in the outcome of the United Nations decision. The world condemns the Union Government's policy; Asia and the non-white population of Africa are no longer willing to tolerate it. The Indian question in South Africa has now become an international issue of the first magnitude and Mrs. Pandit said in her press statement: "The cause we represent is far-reaching in its implications and the question of the Indians in South Africa is merely a symbol of a much bigger issue which will sooner or later challenge the attention of the world in a manner which will then brook no denial."
The importance of this fact, however distasteful it may be for them, has dawned on General Smuts and Mr. H. G. Lawrence, the leader of the South African Government's delegation at the United Nations. For all the Smuts horses and all the Smuts men couldn't prop up racialism again.
The whole policy of racial discrimination pursued by the Smuts Government has also raised an issue of far-reaching importance as far as the future of the British Commonwealth is concerned.
Can the two Dominions of India and Pakistan remain in the British Commonwealth whilst their kith and kin in South Africa are subjected to humiliation and injustice? The responsibility clearly rests on the shoulders of South Africa.
In the international field a great struggle has unloosened itself between the forces of democracy and progress on the one hand and the evil forces of reaction and imperialism on the other. It is this struggle, carried on by the masses within each individual country for progress and democracy, which will to a large extent determine the future of the United Nations as an organisation for the maintenance of democratic world peace.
East Africa an arsenal
In the imperialist strategy for world domination, the continent of Africa assumes an important position. This continent is being prepared as a strong military base. East Africa has already become an arsenal for the withdrawing of British forces from the Middle East and Asia. The recent visit of Field Marshal Montgomery is also not without significance in this respect.
This sinister plan of imperialism places a great responsibility on the masses of the exploited and oppressed peoples and on their national movements on the continent of Africa. Will they rise to the occasion? Now is the time...
We have had a clear call from the leaders of India and Pakistan to stretch out a helping hand to our fellow African citizens and work in unison with them in our mutual task of bringing freedom to the oppressed non-white peoples of this continent.
The stubborn and intransigent attitude of General Smuts, in attempting to put into operation the Ghetto Act (the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, 1946) and in refusing to abide by the decision of the United Nations, is doing untold harm to South Africa and to South Africans of all races and colours.
By taking upon himself to pilot the Act through Parliament, he invited the Indian Government to recall the High Commissioner and impose trade sanctions. There is no use denying the fact that the shortage of grain bags due to the trade sanctions is having a very serious effect on the economic life of South Africa. In spite of
all the efforts of the Union Government to substitute other materials, the transport of food and grain from the farm to the town remains a serious problem. The only sensible thing for General Smuts to do is to make every effort compatible with the dignity of both South Africa and India, and in terms of the United Nations decision of last year, to settle the dispute.
Whilst General Smuts is fiddling with this grave issue, the farmers and the people of South Africa are suffering. It is an outrage on the people, both white and non-white.
Difficulties of farmers
We can get the gunny bags--we can have trade with India and Pakistan. We can remove the serious difficulties confronting the farmers, provided General Smuts and his Government act in earnest and with promptitude by agreeing to a Round Table Conference on a basis satisfactory to and compatible with the dignity of the three governments concerned.
In the interest of the farmers and the consumers, I make this public plea to General Smuts to have a Round Table Conference arranged before the next harvest sets in. We say to General Smuts: "Save the farmers in time: otherwise you and your Government will be responsible for their plight."
India has time and again shown her willingness to meet at a Round Table Conference provided the basis of such a Conference is just and honourable. The responsibility is now of the Smuts Government.
Much has been said of the forthcoming General Elections and it has been used as a pretext by the Smuts Government to do nothing before the elections are held. These delaying tactics can do nobody any good. They can only aggravate the economic difficulty and prolong the dispute with India and Pakistan.
Ours is a struggle for justice and freedom, ours is a struggle for human rights, ours is a struggle not directed against a section of a community and, therefore, we are desirous as far as it is possible to solve this question in a peaceful and amicable manner.
But this spirit of conciliation on our pert must not be taken as a sign of weakness - it is merely an earnest of our determination to remove all forms of discrimination which threaten racial goodwill and understanding and deny fundamental human rights to non-white sections of the population.
We therefore welcome the recent statement made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly in which he assured the House: "We shall not falter in our resolve to secure justice for Indians in South Africa, neither in our desire to achieve this object by methods which are consistent with the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter."
We are profoundly thankful to India and Pakistan for maintaining the trade sanctions for as long as it is necessary in order to bring the South African Government to its senses. This policy of sanctions imposed by India at such great sacrifice to herself, is welcomed by the South African Indian community.
The Indian people stand in a much stronger position today than they did when the Ghetto Bill was introduced in Parliament during the early part of 1946. In the intervening period of 18 months the Indian people of South Africa have written a glorious chapter in the history of the struggle of mankind for freedom. Our people gave their all - the community stood united - 2,000 gallant men and women suffered imprisonment.
A new spirit
We have by our determined Passive Resistance struggle infused a new spirit into the minds of the Non-European people. The struggle called a halt to the disastrous policy of cap-in-hand compromise followed by a handful of reactionaries in our midst after the departure of Mahatma Gandhi from the shores of this country. For the first time in the past 32 years, the Government of the day finds that despite an act of Parliament it is unable to carry out its policy of segregation. The determined opposition of the Indian people made the Ghetto Act inoperable in a large and effective manner.
The struggle strengthened the hands of India in her great efforts to fight for the status and honour of her countrymen abroad particularly in South Africa.
The struggle has lifted the whole of the Indian question and the policy of racial discrimination of the Union Government from the domain of domestic affairs into the arena of international concern and judgment with the eyes of oppressed humanity focussed on what has become a symbol of their own struggle for freedom and national emancipation.
The struggle has brought the possibility of a Round Table Conference nearer realisation. In this respect we recall the attitude of General Smuts when a large and representative delegation of the South African Indian Congress, assembled in Conference, interviewed him in February of last year. He rejected outright the plea for a Round Table Conference on the pretext that it would constitute an interference in the domestic affairs of South Africa.
Since then South Africa has been condemned by the United Nations and if South Africa today thinks in terms of a Round Table Conference it is primarily due to the united resistance struggle of the Indian people.
The Government left no stone unturned to break the back of the struggle by attempting to divide the Indian people. Many methods were employed, but they did not avail the Smuts Government. The Natal Indian Organisation, although boosted up by the press, failed to make any headway. In the Transvaal the handful of reactionaries could not even form a mushroom organisation.
Danger on the horizon
But today the danger is beginning to loom on the horizon. Only recently a few discredited individuals, not more than 25 in number, got together in a private house and formed the Transvaal Indian Organization. We are not concerned with such puny organizations, but it is our duty to warn the Indian people against their reactionary and suicidal policy. The best commentary on their policy is the fact that none other than the very Mr. H. G. Lawrence who defended South Africa`s repugnant racialist policy at the United Nations, will open their "conference on January 11, 1948, in Durban. These reactionaries are attempting to subserve the policy of the Government by asking the Indian people to accept townships and locations, in other words to accept segregated areas. Any such move on the part of the Indian people will lead them to disaster.It will constitute a betrayal of the stand of India and Pakistan for our cause. It will be a gross betrayal of the support given by 31 nations of the world. Acceptance of the Ghetto Act or its implications would drive the Indian traders out of business and the workers from their fields of livelihood and concentrate them to segregated areas to rot in poverty and slums. We warn the Indian people against these dangers. We must ignore these ignoble attempts and rally behind the Natal and Transvaal Congresses and the Passive Resistance movement.
The crucial question before us is whether we should give up the struggle and follow the path of ruin - or to continue the struggle and make use of the strong position in which we find ourselves today.
The Joint Passive Resistance Council after prolonged discussions and weighty considerations has come to the decision that the vital interests of the community dictate that the struggle should be not only continued but intensified. Plans are being prepared for the extension and intensification of the Passive Resistance struggle.
We call upon the Indian people to stand united. We call upon them to exert every ounce of energy to help the struggle in every possible way. With confidence in our united stand and implicit faith in our determination to win through, we should reject all moves to enter into dishonourable compromises.
Resistance or death. There is no other alternative. Submission to the policy of the Government will only strengthen the hands of the extreme racialists and fascist forces within South Africa to make further inroads into the already meagre rights of the Non-White people, with the ultimate aim of destroying all vestiges of democracy.
The danger could be averted only by the extension of the full franchise to all sections of the South African population. The demand for the franchise becomes the order of the day. We must fight for it - we must attain it - or else allow South Africa to slip back to the dark days of serfdom.
We have India and Pakistan behind us. We have the moral support of the democracy-loving peoples of the world behind us. We have 8,000,000 allies in South Africa to fight with us in the common struggle. We have European democrats, although few in number, but determined in spirit, to stand with us in order to save South Africa from a catastrophic end.
We shall resist! Long live Resistance!
1 From: Passive Resister, Johannesburg, January 8, 1948