Presidential Address to the 46th Annual Conference of the African National Congress, Durban, December 12-14, 1958
Sons and Daughters of Afrika,
Nationalist Returned to Power
We meet for our 46th Annual Conference when the fury of the Nationalist Party Government in its implementation of apartheid shows no signs of abatement. We have no reason to expect it to be otherwise since the Nationalist Party was returned with an overwhelming majority in the General Election held early this year. Their return was not unexpected but not the near landslide that it was. This clear mandate is a full endorsement by white South Africa of the Nationalist Party policy of baaskap apartheid.
The Nationalist Party on their part responded to this honour and trust by elevating Dr. Verwoerd to the leadership of the Party and so to the Premiership of the country in succession to the late Mr. Strijdom. The results of the General Election are an ominous sign for all with political eyes to see: to see the rise to mighty power of the Nationalist Party with its apartheid policy and their full entrenchment, and to see how this forebodes further oppressive laws for non-whites and a consequent further interference and curtailment of the freedom of the whites.
The whites are already experiencing this in the application of the Influx Control Regulations, the policy regarding the siting of industry and the policy and regulations governing the holding of meetings by Africans in urban areas. The truth embodied in the saying "Freedom is indivisible" is dawning on some whites hitherto indifferent to restrictions under which non-whites, especially Africans, suffered.
The rise by Dr. Verwoerd to the Premiership of the country added to our concern but not to our surprise. Our experience of him in the Ministry of African Affairs made us most apprehensive of our future and that of the Union with Dr. Verwoerd controlling the reins of the State. Undoubtedly, he is the most ardent and relentless apostle or apartheid determined "to keep the native in his place." He is not the type to hesitate when he deems it necessary to forcefully disabuse "the Bantu" from any pretensions to graze in the green pastures of the Union he regards as the preserve of the whites only. His Bantu Education Act and Bantu Authorities Act, his amendments to existing laws such as the Urban Areas Act, the various measures governing Rural Reserves, reveal his ruthless mind and qualify him as an arch-oppressor of non-whites. It is such a man the Nationalist Party made Premier of the country. As would be expected from a power-hungry man like him, he skilfully made sure in his appointment of his Cabinet that he remained unchallenged within the Cabinet itself. He made the office of the Prime Minister a most vigilant nerve centre of the Government than, to our knowledge, had ever been done before. No doubt, this and other arrangements not here pertinent will give him strong control of the Government, his party and the country. Unfortunately, the large majority in white South Africa welcome a Prime Minister who will ensure their retention of the privileged position they hold in South Africa.
Do these whites forget that RESISTANCE is the natural reaction to DOMINATION AND FORCE? This could not be in the best interests of the country.
People’s Resistance Grows
To their credit, it can be truly said that the African National Congress and other member-organisations of the Congress Alliance, together with other democratic groups like the Liberal Party and progressive political freelancers, have continued to expose without fear and to oppose most vehemently the policy of apartheid. These groups and individuals have been the watchdogs of the nation.
On the whole the response from among the oppressed, having regard to the degree of their political education and awareness, has been encouraging and gives promise to the building of an effective MASS FREEDOM FRONT. Equally encouraging has been the manner in which many freedom lovers in the white community have come out openly and boldly to champion the cause of making the Union a true democracy for all, and not be what it is now: a democracy for whites and a police state for non-whites. There is encouraging evidence of a determined – not just sporadic – attack on apartheid from leaders of some sporting organisations, artist groups and religious leaders when hitherto it was practically all quiet in some of these sectors of the nation-community.
The growth of this spirit of opposition should make the Liberatory Movement redouble its efforts to build a Democratic United Front against the apartheid front. Something more will be said later in the address on this important freedom front.
The courage and determination of some of the freedom fighters has been marvellous and seems to have risen in proportion to the severity of the tyrannical application of any apartheid laws; indeed, their courage has been true to the hymn-words "Let Courage Rise with Danger." In this connection let us refer very briefly to some freedom struggle activities of the year that deserve special note and appreciation.
The Treason Case: The Treason Trialists have shown admirable fortitude in their crucial testing time as front-line volunteers in the freedom struggle; and so have their families and dependants.
Let me here thank warmly all those, here and overseas, who have spared no effort to raise funds to provide the accused with the most capable defence team and helped to a most appreciable measure to relieve the accused and dependants of much physical suffering and mental anxiety. The treason case has dominated the political scene in South Africa and has provided an effective political rallying point. It has helped, not only to make the African National Congress more widely known and recognised as a political force in the country, but has directly and indirectly helped to spread the Congress spirit of opposition to apartheid. The Treason Trial has provided another instance of "good out of evil."
We regret its tortuous progress which has been punctuated intermittently by many adjournments. The African National Congress joins the voices that have urged the Government, as an act of manliness and honour, to abandon this case.
The Opposition to the Issue of Reference Books to African Women
Magnificent effective mass demonstrations were staged in different parts of the country. As a result of these protests and demonstrations some women have been victims of police arrest and quite unnecessarily police brutality. We say BRAVO! to those African women who in any way showed their courageous opposition to the pass system which is responsible for so much suffering among Africans. During any one year thousands of African people are arrested and introduced to jail life through the operation of pass laws. To many, this introduction has proved to be the beginning of a most destructive life of crime.
The Congress and the General Election
The voteless non-whites, as an important third political force in the country, made an effort to intervene in the General Election held early this year. Protest week activities, despite the setback suffered by the Stay-at-Home efforts of non-white workers, were a successful gate-crashing for the first time into a white general election hitherto erroneously regarded by the non-whites as not of their concern but of whites only. By this attitude the non-whites showed a lack of appreciation of the truth in the words: "South African Affairs are African Affairs." It must be so since Africans, by their labours and services, impinge on all sectors and aspects of South African life.
The combined frantic efforts to smash the demonstration were made by the government, the white employers’ agencies and the non-white ill- assortment of despicable collaborators. This unholy alliance showed up as nothing could, the importance of this form of demonstration. That some thing was done in the face of such terrific opposition, no matter how feebly, should be a source of gratification to the leaders of the non-white workers.
On the positive side the demonstration-protest helped to highlight the pecuniary plight of non-white workers whose wages, it is admitted, are on starvation level. Some employers are forestalling workers’ demands by making puny shameful increases out of tune with the realities of the facts of the situation. This is undermining the workers’ demands for a minimum wage of
L1 a day for unskilled African workers. I fear that the workers, since protest week, have been losing the initiative. The Congresses should endeavour to their utmost to give effective lead to workers in their demand for a living wage in this matter.
Further Increases in Taxation for Africans
Parliament met in June shortly after the General Election. True to its now regular feature and practice Parliament produced and placed on the Statute Book more oppressive apartheid measures; the main measure was an Act providing for an increased taxation of 15/- on the 20/- general tax for African men over the age of 18. The same Act makes provision for some form of apartheid Income Tax on an ascending scale for African men and women beginning with those in receipt of a minimum income of
£180 per year. There are other taxes Africans have to meet such as Bantu Authorities Levies, levies by School Boards for educational purposes, etc.
I commend to this Conference and the African public in general an excellent pamphlet by the African National Congress on the subject of increased taxation for Africans.
We look forward with much apprehension to the first Verwoerd session of Parliament. We can expect from it more and more oppressive measures: more controls, more permits and what not. Indeed, the operative words in apartheid are "Control" and "Permission." One would think that Africans got to inhabit the continent of Africa by the "permission" and under the "control" of some ancient white prototype of Dr. Malan, Mr. Strijdom or Dr. Verwoerd. It galls and humiliates one to be so treated in one’s fatherland.
The challenge of all this to the African National Congress and its allies and other freedom-lovers is that there is no force in the white community in any foreseeable future that will defeat the Nationalist Party. It seems it is only the combined struggle efforts of the oppressed non-whites, working with white freedom lovers on the basis of equality, mutual respect and friendship, that will form a new force to defeat apartheid. Fortunately, there is a growing number of white freedom lovers who, with no ulterior motives, genuinely wish to see the full liberation of non-whites.
Why the African National Congress Utterly Rejects Apartheid and with Thunderous Voices Says: Away with Apartheid
We say: AWAY WITH APARTHEID because:
The strained relations impair the establishment of an effective co-operative effort between black and white on a voluntary basis in the interests of the country. No country can truly become great and prosperous under such inimical conditions.
Deservingly its policy of apartheid becomes the target of world condemnation. Progressive forces in the country should not be deterred from encouraging this outside non-violent pressure because of the fear to be attacked as disloyal to South Africa. The alternative attitude is disloyalty to Truth and it is terrible thing to be disloyal to Truth. This makes one receive the condemnation of the world and the disdain of posterity.
When camouflage seems to fail intimidator tactics, up to coercion at its worst, are used. Victimisation is extensively used to put fear into others. Such methods make the officers using them or ordering their use to be guilty of subordinating moral principle to oppressive expediency.
What benefit is it to Africans:
- to have had African voters in the Cape removed from the Common Roll to a separate roll and giving them a mere token representation in Parliament?
- to have allocated them, being 8 million, only 13% of the land in South Africa when whites, who are only 3 million, hold practically the rest of the land, i.e., 87%?
- to have instituted a colour-bar in industry which bars them from skilled work and Trade Union rights and thus subjecting them to starvation wages that place 70% of the workers in industry and commerce below the bread-line?
- to apply to them the principle of "Do-It-Yourselves" in the matter of Public Services when for whites, more affluently placed, the State assumes full responsibility?
In all civilised countries the poorest section of the community is taken as the responsibility of the State and given generous assistance commensurate with the financial strength of the country.
- to displace them by removals from their long established homes – some held in freehold – and thus impoverishing them and placing them in agonising insecurity?
The same can be said about the workings of apartheid among other sections of the non-whites. We could here validly ask, what benefit the Group Areas Act, Job Reservation, to mention only a few, are to non-whites? Dr. Donges, then Minister responsible for the Group Areas Act said that the Act would be applied with justice and fairness. So far in its implementation "justice and fairplay" are conspicuous by their absence.
In this regard, no doubt, Mr. W. Maree, now Minister of Bantu Education, was more correct than Dr. Donges when he indicated that the intention of the Group Areas Act was to force the Indian to return voluntarily to India, or engage in diversified forms of manual labour instead of being exclusively traders. Could there be greater injustice than this of robbing a people of their wealth in order to get rid of them or reduce greatly their pecuniary status?
The Bantu Education Act and the Bantu Authorities Act, two cardinal apartheid Acts, are glaring and typical examples that refute another unfounded claim of apartheid, namely, PROGRESSIVENESS. These Acts, like many other apartheid measures, so bound in injustices and unfair play that to describe them as progressive is to suggest the impossible: the possibility of "going forward by going back."
The Challenge of Apartheid to White South Africa
White South Africans are historically and culturally inheritors of what is called Western Civilisation. They rightly pride themselves of a connection with a civilisation which, at its best, stands for high value – standards in all aspects of life. The pillars of its political morality are: LIBERTY, EQUALITY and FRATERNITY regardless of colour, race or creed. This implies a respect for human dignity, the brotherhood of man and man’s individual worth.
Their forebears heroically sacrificed life itself in the task of propagating, upholding and defending these values. Why should white South Africa, being heirs to so rich a heritage, be guilty under apartheid of not living up to the tenets of the political creed of their forefathers in the multi-racial setting and atmosphere of South Africa? It would be an act of honour for which their contemporaries and generations to come would thank them if they passed these values on to posterity, not only unimpaired, but enriched by the diversity of cultural assets found in our multi-racial South Africa.
We make all allowance for human frailty which makes man fail to live up to the best he knows. But he must show evidence of his efforts to reach the pinnacle of morality in his dealings with his brother-man, regardless of the newness of a situation. Jungle morality can never be justified under any circumstances. Upholding apartheid, in our view, is utterly inconsistent with upholding these ancient and eternal values which, in our day, find unqualified endorsement in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and in the creeds of all worthy religions. These values, rights and obligations, are inherent in any way of life claiming to be described as civilised.
Let me in this connection say this: It does dishonour to the Union of South Africa to find our Minister of External Affairs and his Delegation walking out of UNO because of UNO’s attempts to insist on member-nations, including the Union, making an effort to respect and uphold these human rights in their respective countries.
It is no valid excuse for white South Africa to say that these value-standards were developed in the setting and atmosphere of racially and culturally homogeneous communities. The challenge to our age is to nurture these eternal values in racially and seemingly culturally heterogeneous communities. Our noble calling is to create spiritually homogeneous multi-racial communities resting on a broad cultural base enriched by the cultural variations making up our multi-racial society: a kind of Unity in Diversity.
Some Aspects of our Policy
Democratic, and not racial considerations, should motivate the exercise of franchise rights. We, in the African National Congress, are opposed to the outlook that the colour of one’s skin, i.e., one’s race, should determine one’s politics.
Subject to and subordinate to the wider interests of our common country, South Africa, one’s politics should be influenced and determined by the ideals and interests one holds supreme.
The African National Congress stands or falls by Free Democracy. It is as opposed to a racial majority masquerading as a democratic majority, as it is opposed to a minority of any kind, racial or otherwise, dominating over others because, for some reason, it seized the full control of the State. We say that in a truly multi-racial country democracy should, by the nature of things, be colour-blind.
They should not over-worry about losing their identity to a coloured race. Fortunately, racial pride – not racial dominance – seems to be a common desire among our main racial groups. This is the strongest guarantee against wholesale miscegenation which is often used as a bogy by white supremacists to retain political power. We feel that individual freedom in this matter must, with a few exceptions, be respected. By exerting its influence society should attempt to condition individuals and groups to the common outlook of a racial pride which abhors miscegenation in any form. Apart from doubting the efficacy of law as a curbing moral force in this matter, we dislike its interference with individual freedom in so personal a matter.
In any case, we submit that no one has a right, not even Parliament, to persecute and deny anyone or group of people human rights on the grounds of seeking to preserve his group’s identity. For one thing it is not given to any people to know the likes or dislikes of its posterity. We must credit posterity with some intelligence to know what is best for it in the circumstances of its age. We should not over-concern ourselves with posterity to the point of making fully legalised plans for it. What we regard as wisdom may be looked upon with disdain and contempt by posterity in whose name unforgivable indignities and atrocities are often perpetrated on man by man.
Co-operation in the Days of Freedom-Struggle and after
The African National Congress accepts the important fact of our situation – multi-racialism. This recognition, to be meaningful and honest, must find expression in a co-operation in the struggle that embraces all progressive liberation forces. The Congress Alliance already forms an important nucleus and vanguard of this co-ordinated co-operative effort. We desire to see it grow. The member-groups in this co-operation may retain their independence and not sacrifice cherished principles save voluntarily.
If Africans are true potential democrats and realists, as we think they would prove to be so in the test, they should wholeheartedly support the African National Congress in its objective and stand aimed at making this co-operation a vital force in the freedom fight: a force to outmatch the apartheid front. This apartheid front is supported by the might of government forces which receive substantial support from an ill-assortment of non-white collaborators consisting of people with misguided selfish motives and others with inadequate knowledge of the issues involved.
These non-whites collaborators would have us be content with pickings from the apartheid Garbage Tin and with mere Ambulance Services; directly or indirectly they counsel a striving for a mere mess of pottage to the abandonment of our noble pursuit for man’s worthiest heritage, FREEDOM, and at that, "FREEDOM IN OUR LIFE TIME." This is the goal the African National Congress has unequivocally set before the people and not a wallowing in the apartheid mud as others would have them do.
We believe that even with the potential at our command to go it alone in the struggle for freedom, respect for other freedom lovers in other racial groups in our country would demand that we invite them to be our comrades-in-arms in the fight for freedom, if we are to co-operate with them as equals and with a deeper appreciation and trust of one another in the truly free democratic South Africa we are working for. Such a co-operation, born of comradeship in the struggle would be the surest guarantee against the arrogance, now and after victory, of would-be political exclusivists-dictators. There is no other way by which we can show our earnest and concern for the creation of a democratic multi-racial South Africa if we are to ensure a progressive and peaceful future for our beloved fatherland, South Africa.
Method of Struggle
So long as white South Africa denies the non-whites full democratic freedom we shall have no option but to advise and continue to lead the voteless non-whites to use extra-parliamentary non-violent methods of struggle. To abandon the fight would be to surrender to the status quo; a surrender to enslavement with all the paraphernalia used in its maintenance such as the obnoxious control permits, reference books and apartheid measures in general.
The African National Congress can never be a party to the counselling of non-whites to themselves be instruments of their own spiritual and moral, if not physical, destruction.
Some of our Urgent Needs
Do we see the resistance at Zeerust, in the Transvaal, Pedie in the Cape, Imbumbulu in Natal, the attitude to identity cards by those affected by them, as part of one gigantic struggle? There is need for a more co-ordinated plan with specific objectives for each stage.
I am not advocating the dulling and subduing of the dynamic local struggle, interest and leadership, but I do wish to stress the need for a co-ordinated freedom struggle by the High Command.
Let me here, somewhat irrelevantly, reiterate my call for the enlisting of a Volunteer Corps for the carrying out of our many errands and duties in the struggle. I make a special appeal to our youth.
Freedom Forces on the March in the World
Only yesterday London, Washington, Moscow and Paris dominated the world. Other independent countries practically danced to the tune of either one or more of these capitals.
Now, significantly enough, even the big and older nations of the world eagerly listen with concern and sometimes anxiety to utterances and reactions in Delhi, Bandung, Cairo, Peking and now Accra.
On the threshold of full freedom, to mention a few, are Nigeria, the Caribbean Federation and some Trust Territories. Things are astir in the French colonial empire with frantic efforts by General de Gaulle to save it by intimidatory tactics which border on economic blackmailing.
Bravo! to French Guinea for preferring full independence to qualified independence that would still leave a country that accepts it subservient to Metropolitan France. The freedom struggle is in earnest in Kenya, Uganda, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, now to some extent in Basutoland and Southern Rhodesia.
The Middle East, the emergent African States and some Asian countries are being besieged by rival suitors among the big nations.
We would advise these emergent nations, some of them victims of colonialism or of the intrigue of great powers, to jealously guard their hard-won independence by :
After the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, Africa, this year, has been the scene of Conference, respectively, at Cairo and Accra. These Conferences have had as their objective the strengthening of ties among independent states of Africa and Asia or, as the one now sitting in Accra, seeking plans of helping to further the cause of freedom in countries still under colonial rule. Whether any one likes it or not, the voice of Africa, claiming a place of honour for her children, will be heard with growing insistence and force in the coming days.
We deeply appreciate the concern for our freedom by the independent Afro-Asian nations. These countries, themselves beset with their own urgent and serious problems, on the main a legacy of colonial rule, have spared no effort in the United Nations forums and elsewhere, to champion the cause of helping to free the still oppressed peoples of Asia and Africa.
In conclusion let me confront you all with the main challenge of what I have tried to breathe out through this Presidential Address:
Are you prepared to follow with intelligent loyalty the African National Congress lead in its opposition to Nationalist Party rule?
- The oppressed non-whites ;
- The white freedom lovers in South Africa.
South Africa cannot grow to greatness when three quarters of her people are still in bondage. Only a Free Multi-Racial South Africa can solve the problems affecting multi-racial South Africa and not an apartheid Government of "Europeans Only."
We have reason to hope for freedom in our lifetime but you, and you alone, can turn this hope into a glorious reality.
Freedom in Our Lifetime!