"Make Accomplices of Apartheid account for their Conduct"

Oliver Tambo's statement at the meeting of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid

New York, 12 March 1964

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, Guinea, Haiti, Hungary, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines and Somalia.

We wish to thank you on behalf of the African National Congress and all the oppressed people of South Africa for giving us the opportunity once again to appear before you to furnish you with information which may assist the United Nations in taking a decision on the policies of the South African Government which are an increasing menace and threat to peace in Africa and the rest of the world.

With great interest we have read the reports compiled by your Committee, which have been distributed to different parts of the world. These reports, bearing the authority of the United Nations, have served to bring the facts of the South African situation to the immediate attention of the peoples of the world.

We know that this distinguished Committee, no less than ourselves and our people in South Africa, would wish to reduce the area of debate and discussion at the United Nations to the barest minimum, and to allow time for decisions and action aimed at the root of the evil of racialism which threatens to overflow its South African boundaries and engulf the rest of mankind. We shall therefore avoid inflicting you with a recitation of the sordid facts of apartheid rule in South Africa, and will rather address ourselves, by way of emphasis, to possible ways and means whereby the United Nations could interpose its authority in the interests of human life, of peace and of security. To this end we wish to recapitulate some of the observations made by our delegation when it appeared before your Committee in July 1963(1) and by myself in an address to the Special Political Committee during the eighteenth session of the United Nations General Assembly.General Assembly on October 8 and 29, 1963.

Claiming to act in the name of "Christian" civilisation and "Western" democracy, the South African Government has spared no energies in unleashing a most barbarous attack on the African people and other opponents of its policies. Documents circulated by this Committee abound in evidence of inhuman methods of torture perpetrated on a scale unprecedented in the history of South Africa. During the last year innocent people were arrested and cast into solitary prison cells, and there subjected to unrestrained savagery by these self-appointed representatives of so-called Christian civilisation and Western democracy.

We are grateful, Mr. Chairman, to note that in response to the appeals we made in the name of our people, when our delegation appeared before your Committee last year, both the Security Council and the General Assembly have adopted resolutions imposing an embargo on the supply of arms to South Africa and calling for the release of all persons detained or otherwise restricted because of their opposition to the policies of apartheid.General Assembly resolution 1881 (XVIII) of October 11, 1963. [ It is common knowledge, however, that the South African Government has completely, and openly, ignored these resolutions. The behaviour of this Member State of the United Nations in persistently flouting well-considered decisions of this world body calls for immediate investigation.]

Accomplices of Apartheid

In conformity with its disregard of world opinion, the South African Government has continued to press on with the enforcement of its apartheid policies which are invariably aimed at the black people of South Africa - I would include all who are not considered white - and pursued for the sole benefit of the white population. Giving added encouragement and strength to this sustained persecution of our people, foreign investments have continued to pour into South Africa in an unbroken stream.

Last year, we proposed that those countries which have economically involved themselves on the side of our oppressors "be called upon to withdraw forthwith from the arena of conflict in our country and that they should be specifically indicted in the forums of this Organisation". We went on:

"As a first step in the process of censuring those bodies and organisations which deliberately flout the decisions of this Organisation by giving support and aid to the white racists in South Africa, we propose that a blacklist of companies such as De Beers Limited, African Explosives and Chemical Industries and others which collaborate with the South African Government in the manufacture of ammunition in the country should be compiled. Members of this Organisation should be called upon to sever relations with these companies."(2)

We are pleased to note that at its recent meeting in Lagos, the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity has decided to establish a Committee charged with the task of compiling a comprehensive report on the nature and extent of trade conducted by certain countries and companies with South Africa on the one hand, and with Member States of the Organisation of African Unity on the other hand. This report, we learn, will be submitted to the Conference of African Heads of State for decision and necessary action. It is our hope that such a report will be made available to Member States of the United Nations sympathetic to the cause of the African people in South Africa and wishing to join the African States in taking measures against the South African Government and all its active supporters.

White immigrants, mainly from Great Britain, have recently been entering South Africa in large batches, no doubt to share in the all-white looting of African labour, to render numerical support to the South African Government and to give physical expression to the solidarity which the home countries of these immigrants have with white domination in South Africa. Member States of the United Nations who have joined in the condemnation of racial discrimination in South Africa and who have either connived at or encouraged emigration to South Africa are helping to extend the area of racialism and racial conflict in the world to their own countries. We would urge this Committee to take steps to bring this practice to the notice of the United Nations.

Repeated reports indicate that South Africa is enjoying an economic boom. This is no doubt encouraged by a sense of security induced by the belief that with arms supplied by its friends, the South African Government is able to ensure stability in South Africa. In explanation of this stability, gleeful fingers are pointed at the leaders of the liberation movement and other opponents of apartheid who are either languishing in jail, subject to various restrictions, being tortured, or facing trial on charges carrying penalties which range from long terms of imprisonment to death by hanging.

While we do not feel the need to argue with those who regard this form of stability as real, we consider it pertinent to ask who, as between the white supremacist in South Africa and the profit-seeking foreign investor, is the happier to see the Africans and other opponents of racial discrimination hounded, harassed and herded into jails, tortured, sentenced and hanged? Who is the greater racialist as between those who formulate and enforce theories and policies of racial superiority and those who furnish the capital, technical knowledge and manpower for the execution and maintenance of those policies?

In the past we have stated, and we repeat now, that the oppressed people in South Africa must and will settle accounts with their oppressors by any methods and means open to them, the determining consideration being whether they want to achieve their freedom at all costs or to live in bondage forever. But insofar as the South African situation is the immediate concern of the United Nations, then those outside South Africa who are accomplices in the perpetration of an acknowledged vice must account for their conduct to world opinion.

We would strongly recommend that this Committee in its search for modes of action against apartheid should give a substantial share of its time and energies to a consideration of the means by which such accomplices can be made to reconcile their public protestations with their deeds. For, it would be dangerous, even if it were possible, to continue pretending that the joint condemnation of apartheid by its opponents and ardent supporters is sufficient to dislodge a system which draws strength from a combination of economic power, military strength and an unbridled zeal for the use of brute force.

For another reason it is important to be clear as to what makes apartheid possible and what guarantees its continuance. Reputed leaders of our people - men of unquestionable integrity and uncompromising enemies of any evil system practised by man on man - are today standing in danger of losing their lives, precisely because they are the men that they are. It is true that for many years the whole world has warned the South African Government of the unavoidable consequences of its conduct of affairs. But it is equally true that for many more years the South African Government has received all the financial and material encouragement it needed for continuing and persisting in its policies and practices. We cannot overemphasise the urgency of identifying all those forces and influences which should be held answerable for any past, present or future loss of life in South Africa.

Trials of Opponents of Apartheid

Mr. Chairman, following a long list of political trials in various parts of South Africa, nineteen political leaders, including a girl of seventeen years, have recently been sentenced in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, to terms of imprisonment of from 5 to 20 years. Twenty-five other leaders are on trial in Ladysmith, Natal, and in Cape Town the case against eleven political leaders and trade unionists - among them there are four women - has been proceeding now for five months, the charge against the accused being incitement to acts of sabotage. There are many other similar trials.

But mention must be made once again of the Pretoria case against Nelson Mandela and others, which is now approaching its closing stages, the State having led all its evidence against the leaders. This case will be resumed on April 7th, when evidence on behalf of the leaders will be tendered. This is the case which was the subject of a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in October last year. The fact that this trial has continued uninterrupted despite that resolution presents the United Nations with one of its most crucial tests. It is a case which is capable of giving rise to serious complications in South Africa and beyond its borders and one whose progress should be kept under the closest observation by this Committee.

We would urge the Committee, in its reports, to underline the importance of individual Member States of the United Nations, in their own spheres of influence, taking active steps to prevent the South African Government from embarking on acts and carrying on a policy so inescapably subversive of peace. In this connection, it is our feeling that not enough is being done at the international level to challenge the right of the South African Government to hold as criminals, to persecute and even kill men, women and young people, whose basic and sole offence is their opposition to inhuman practices.

Bantu Laws Amendment Bill

If there was any doubt in the minds of anyone that what the South African Government is asking for is trouble in South Africa, the Bantu Laws Amendment Bill, now before the all-white South African Parliament, should completely remove that doubt. In this new instalment of apartheid the South African Government goes out of its way to push the African population deeper into the dungeons of slavery. In one of its key clauses the Bill establishes a network of what are euphemistically termed "Aid Centres". These are in fact slave labour detention camps which are intended to entrap all Africans out of the bantustan area. It will be recalled that the bantustan scheme seeks to confine some four million Africans in poverty-stricken cheap labour reservoirs presently known as reserves. Africans forced by hunger and starvation out of these reserves or bantustans will be caught up in this network. Those at present living outside the reserves will similarly be regimented into the scheme. The Africans ensnared in these "Aid Centres" will be distributed as black labour to white masters and farmers throughout the country. The end result will be a homeless, migrant, slave population of eleven million Africans. Even the practice of catching Africans in the streets and selling them to white farmers, which was stamped out by the courts a few years ago, is now being reintroduced and legalised in the Bill.

Thus, straight from listening to years of condemnation of the ruthless system by which the whites maintain themselves in power over Africans, and after hearing warnings that such a system endangers peace and security as much in South Africa as everywhere else in the world, this arrogant collection of power-drunk race maniacs have now produced an apartheid measure which deals with the African on the basis that he is purely and simply a thing - a chattel in the control and service of the white man. He is a labour unit, not a living human being with personal and civil rights; not a man entitled to freedom and the right to plan and run his own life, and determine his own destiny. To these men who boast of the strongest bonds of friendship between them and the British and Americans, the African is at best a slave in all but name. They own and possess him, and have now evolved a scheme for selling him.

No one can doubt any longer now that life for the African in South Africa is not life. If it is, it is worth nothing. But we promise that in that event no other life in South Africa is worth anything - white or not white.

Let the United Nations and the world, therefore, save what it can. What it cannot will either be destroyed or destroy itself. This, to us, seems inevitable enough.

  1. The delegation appeared before the Special Committee on July 10, 1963.
  2. July 1963.

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