Statement to the Indian People on the Eve of his Trial

30 January 1941

On the eve of my court trial under the Emergency Regulations, I deem it my duty, as the leader of the Nationalist Group of the Transvaal Indian Congress, to make the following statement to my Indian brethren.

You elected me as your leader at the mass meeting held at the Patidar Hall on the 7th May, 1939, under the chairmanship of our respected champion of Passive Resistance, Mr. E.I. Aswat, Transvaal, with Dr. Dadoo as Secretary, to lead a Passive Resistance campaign against what is now known as the Asiatic (Transvaal Land & Trading) Act of 1939. Mahatma Gandhi sent us this message: "You have to suffer, not I; therefore let God alone be your guide."

As you will no doubt recall, a definite decision to launch the Passive Resistance struggle on August 1st was taken at that historic gathering of 6,000 Indians held at the Indian Sports Ground on the 9th of July 1939. We had to postpone the struggle at the eleventh hour on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. His message stated:

"I have no hesitation in asking the Passive Resistance Committee to postpone for a time the proposed launching of the struggle on August 1st.

"I do so because I have some hope of an honourable settlement. I know that the Government of India as well as the British Government are trying to obtain relief. I have put myself in touch with Ministers.

"In the circumstances I think a brief postponement of the struggle is necessary. I am fully aware of the enthusiasm of the resisters. They have proved their mettle before. They will do so again if it becomes necessary. But it is the code of passive resisters to seize every opportunity of avoiding resistance if it can be done honourably.

"Every cessation in search of peace adds to the strength of the real fighters. Let them remember that the settlement of 1914 was the outcome of the cessation of the struggle for the sake of peace.

"I hope that the proposed cessation will lead to a similar result. Should it unfortunately prove to be otherwise, and should the struggle begin, let Dr. Dadoo and his fellow-resisters know that the whole of India will be at their back."

In subsequent correspondence Mahatmaji revealed that there was not much hope of a satisfactory outcome from his efforts and that we should be the best judges of the course we may have to adopt.

As far as the operation of the provisions of the Interim Act of 1939 is concerned, our worst fears have been realized. The Act has proved disastrous. Our suffering has been made acute and unemployment has increased considerably, despite the assurance of the opponents of Passive Resistance.

The Act is due to expire in May and the Government proposes to bring before the present session another such to take its place. It is designed to maintain the existing restrictive measures affecting our rights of trade and movement. It has been reported that the Government supporters maintain that an extension of the Act is necessary as there has been no time to prepare new legislation incorporating the findings of the Penetration Commission.

Any extension of the existing Act would spell utter ruination. It is the duty of our community to resist it effectively. Besides, passive resisters are bound by their sacred pledge to their people to fulfill their duty by suffering sacrifice.

The time for action has come. There is only one alternative before us, that of Passive Resistance. In view of the fact that due to an enforced absence from your midst, I may not be able to participate in the struggle that lies ahead of us and therefore, I make this earnest appeal to you to actively cooperate and help the Passive Resistance Council to carry on our struggle. In my place I nominate Ismail Ahmed Cachalia to lead the movement. I hope that you will repose your trust and confidence in him and render him every assistance in the same loyal manner as you rendered me in the past. And, in that way demonstrate your solidarity.

I wish to outline a scheme in the hope that it may act as a guiding line in the programme of action that you will be called upon to formulate in the prosecution of the Passive Resistance struggle.

A communication must be addressed to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior stating the injustice that is meted out and showing plainly the intention and determination of the people to resist the proposed measure by means of Passive Resistance as the only course left open to us to safeguard our national honour and existence.

If, in its wisdom, the Government ignores the justice of our cause then we should tighten our belts and prepare ourselves for suffering as true and faithful Passive Resisters.

The Passive Resistance Council should undertake the task of enrolling and organizing volunteers. The people must be kept informed of the day-to-day happenings by means of regular Bulletins. A fresh mandate must be obtained from the public and then the struggle launched at the zero hour with all the dignity and calm resignation demanded from all true passive resisters.

The path before passive resisters is one of suffering. They must be armed with the weapon of truth and so steeled in the school of self-discipline that they will be able to endure the trials of the struggle with calm dignity, unflagging determination, uncomplaining stoicism, ungrudging sacrifice and unswerving loyalty to the cause. Such an attitude of mind and such a behaviour will disarm all opposition and open the road to the vindication of justice.

Signed by me this day the 30th of January 1941 at 47 End Street, Johannesburg in the presence of the following witnesses.

(Signed) Y.M. Dadoo

(Signed) S.M. Desai; M.L. Patel; M.D. Bharoachi; E.S. Dangor; S.V. Patel; I.A. Cachalia.

Statement in Court at Trial for Speech at Benoni

January 31, 1941

From: The Guardian, Cape Town, February 6, 1941.

(Dr. Dadoo, then Secretary of the Non-European United Front, was sentenced to four months` imprisonment with hard labour on a charge of making statements at the Benoni Location calculated to incite the public to oppose the Government. He had been arrested under Emergency Regulations for making an anti-war speech.)

This is the second occasion on which I have been dictated by a sense of duty to submit a statement to Court.

The Non-European United Front, in duty bound to its principle of working for the emancipation of the Non-European people, and in honour bound to the confidence reposed in it by the masses of the people, must carry on the struggle against pass laws, poll tax, pick-ups, anti-Asiatic legislation, segregation, colour bar in industries, low wages, sweated labour, poverty, unemployment, and all the other laws that oppress our people, and must fight for the recognition of African trade unions and full rights of citizenship. In other words, a relentless struggle for the democratic rights of the Non-European people must be carried on.

In pursuance of this sacred task, we have no other alternative but to explain to our people the true nature of the war that is raging in Europe, Africa and other parts of the world, and to give them a proper guidance as to the attitude they should adopt.

The rulers of the British Empire have time and again proclaimed that they are fighting the war for democracy and yet, when the hungry and starving millions of India, South Africa and other parts of the vast colonial empire ask that these democratic rights be extended to them first before they be asked to fight for what the imperialists call "the independence of small nations of Europe", they are beaten up, flung into prisons and concentration camps and subjected to all sorts of brutalities.

As D. N. Pritt, K.C., M.P., one of the outstanding leaders of the progressive section of British public opinion, points out:

"They wage war to preserve the system of exploitation at home and in the colonial Empire."

We maintain that it is our legitimate right to criticize a policy of the Government which affects the people adversely. Even the Cabinet Ministers are saying that the people have the freedom of criticism. To quote one example, may I be allowed to mention that Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr, the Minister of Finance, said in a broadcast speech on Tuesday, 21st January:

"Voltaire said: 'I don`t agree with a word you say, but I shall fight to the death for your right to say it.` How utterly incongruous these words would sound in a dictator country today? How utterly in conflict they are with the spirit of Nazism, Fascism, or any other form of authoritarianism?

"The first assault of dictatorship is on freedom of criticism. For the normal functioning of democracy, freedom of criticism is indispensable."

I wonder what Mr. Hofmeyr thinks of the Government of which he is a responsible member? The Government has not allowed the Non-Europeans the freedom of criticism which according to Mr. Hofmeyr, is the indispensable function of democracy; otherwise, I should not be standing here in the dock this morning.

Instead the Government has resorted to the weapons of oppression to suppress the right of the freedom of speech.

Anti-fascists who have all long stood and fought for the principles of democracy have been put into concentration camps whilst Nazis and Fascists are allowed to overrun the country to preach the dangerous and abhorrent doctrines of fascism.

Under the democracy of the Union Government there is a very big difference in the allowances given to the families of European soldiers compared with the Non-European soldiers.

The struggle of the Non-European people for liberation is not an isolated struggle; it is merely a continuation of the struggle of the oppressed masses carried on in many lands. Four hundred million Indian people are at this very moment carrying on the struggle. The President of the Indian National Congress, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, is languishing in jail. That great-hearted and world respected leader, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, is undergoing four years` hard labour in the jail of British imperialism. Thousands of others are suffering the same fate. The people of South Africa are playing their part. The Government may imprison me, it can fling hundreds and thousands into jail and concentration camps, but it cannot and it shall not suppress the demand for freedom which arises from the crying hearts of the Non-Europeans and other oppressed people.

The struggle goes on.

In conclusion, I make this appeal to the Non-Europeans of South Africa. African, Coloured, Indian, Malay, all Non-Europeans unite! Create a fighting unity! Have confidence in your own mass strength, and carry on the struggle with unflagging determination until we have a People`s Government which will end the persecution of Non-Europeans and recognise our rights to live as human beings, institute real machinery of democracy and work for a just peace which will put an end to the devastation of war.

Open Letter to General Smuts(1)

January 1942


We hear that you will speak to the Non-European people of South Africa when you address the Conference of the Institute of Race Relations on the 21st of this month at Cape Town.

We desire to draw your attention to the fact that the Non-European people will judge you by your deeds and not by your words. They have not forgotten your past actions; the Bulhoek Massacre and the Rand Strike of 1922 cannot be easily forgotten. Besides, you and your Government`s present actions are not such as to inspire confidence in the minds of the Non-European people.

Your Government shares equal responsibility with the Imperial Government for the brutal manner in which the National Organisation of the people of Basutoland, Lagotla la Bafu, has been banned and its national leader Lefele interned.

Your Government ordered the starving African peasants of the Northern Transvaal not to plough the land.

Your Government attacked the primary means of livelihood of the Transvaal Indians by placing on the Statute-Book the obnoxious legislation known as the Asiatic (Transvaal) Land and Trading Act.

Whilst you and your Government were engaged in suppressing the rights of the Non-European people, you were allowing full freedom to the European fifth-columnists to carry on unabated their Fascist activities.

Sir, your noble-sounding phrases will not move a single Non-European soul. Only by actions can you convince him. If the Government has sincerely set itself to defend democracy, then the Non-European masses constitute a formidable force in that struggle.

Sir, you have appealed to the people of South Africa to go all-out to win this all-in war. But how can the Non-European people go all-out when they are chained down under the burden of oppression: low wages, pass laws, Poll Tax, segregation, inadequate land, no democratic rights.

Sir, your Government should bear in mind the bitter lessons of Malaya. The bulk of the Malayan population, which could have been a formidable bulwark against Japanese aggression, could not do much since it was subjected under British rule to the life of a ruthlessly exploited working class; the Malayan Communist Party which was leading the struggle against Fascism was banned, and when it was allowed to resume its activities it was too late.

Sir, it might well be too late here in South Africa. We hope you will utilise the present parliamentary session to give practical shape to the just democratic demands of the Non-European people.

Yours faithfully,

Y. M. Dadoo

1. From The Guardian, Cape Town, January 22,1942. Only extracts from the letter were published. ] 

Speech at Anti-Pass Conference, Johannesburg, December 4, 1943

From: South African Communists Speak, 1915-1980

An Anti-Pass Conference called by the Communist Party was held in Johannesburg on November 21, 1943. One hundred and fifty-three delegates and an audience of over 200 visitors were present. Speaking from a platform decorated with banners - Mayibuye i Afrika! - and a portrait of Johannes Nkosi, the Communist leader who was killed by the police during the great anti-pass demonstration in Durban on Dingaan Day, 1930, the Chairman, Dr. Y. M. Dadoo, opened the Conference.

"This Conference", he said, "is one of the most important of recent times for the Non-European people. Today we realise that the basis of the brutal oppression of the African people is the pass laws. We have seen that during this war the war effort against Fascism has been hampered and hindered by the Government. There was only one way for a full war effort against Fascism, and that is by mobilising the entire population of the country. This can only be done properly and effectively if the oppression and exploitation of the Non-European people is removed. This is the only way of galvanising the Non-European people to rise in defence of their own country and in defence of freedom against the Axis. The Government has failed in this great task."

"As the danger of Fascism retreats from the shores of Africa, new dangers arise before the Non-European people. The time has come for the Non-European people to raise their voices, to carry on a campaign against the pass laws, the badge of slavery which humiliates them. You have come here determined to win the support of your organisations for a great anti-pass campaign as a step toward the liberation of our people. We who are here will not be alone. If we campaign properly we will win the support of the Indian and Coloured people; if we campaign properly we will win the support of the progressive Europeans. You are charged this morning with the responsibility of giving a lead to your people in the greatest of all fights, the fight for national liberation."

After discussion the following were elected to the committee: Messrs. Mofutsanyana, Bopape, Marks, Radebe, Moema, Pillay, Mafethe, Mabuse, Ramohanoe, Dadoo, Fish, Xaba, Mokoena, Monongoaha and Josie Palmer. The committee has been charged with the responsibility of setting up regional committees in all areas throughout South Africa as a preliminary to the convening of a national anti-pass conference in Easter 1944 in cooperation with the African National Congress. The following resolution has been sent to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Native Affairs:

"The conference of African organisations on the Reef and Pretoria condemns the pass laws which are contrary to the promises of freedom contained in the Atlantic Charter, and calls for the immediate abolition of these laws which oppress and humiliate the African people."

The resolution was also sent to members of the Native Representative Council with the request that they take the matter up strongly with the Government. A further resolution requested the Native Representatives in Parliament and the Senate to introduce a Bill for the abolition of pass laws at the next session of Parliament.

In closing the conference Dr. Y. M. Dadoo, the Chairman, said: "This has been an historic conference which will deliver a tremendous blow and will shiver the chains that hold the African people. Our task will not be easy. But like the generals of an army, we must plan our campaign to remedy the weaknesses of past struggles and avoid past mistakes. The stage is set for the great offensive, the offensive of the African people for their rights. We will not rest until we have reached our objective."


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