Document 103 - Programme of the National Liberation League of S.A. as Revised and Adopted at First Congress, Cape Town, March 1937

From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew


Contrary to the generally accepted idea the Emancipation of Slaves in 1834 did not bring freedom to the non-European peoples of South Africa. It merely substitued the present day wage-slavery with its scientific methods of intensified exploitation for the chattel slavery of those by-gone days.'" 

Taking stock of the non-Europeans position in the body politic one hundred years after, it is obvious that "emancipation" had only made possible the imposition upon the non-European peoples of South Africa of a form of servitude a hundred times more subtle, deadly and dangerous than their ancestors of pre-emancipation days experienced. 

Formerly the slave owner had an interest in keeping his "property" in workable and consequently profitable condition. To-day the "free" labourer is paid a miserable pittance in exchange for his labour and whether this suffices for the maintenance of himself and his dependents in ordinary comfort and decency is no concern of anybody, much less the master. One hundred years after his "emancipation" the slave possesses only the "freedom" to starve. 

When in 1834 the shackles of chattel slavery were struck from his limbs, he stepped forward upon the path toward his rightful heritage -freedom in the land of his birth. To-day he faces only disillusionment; poverty and discrimination is his lot. The stifling atmosphere of the pre-emancipation days still pervades his environment. 

The modern slave finds that his oppressor does not intend to permit him to rise to equality with his white fellow-workers. Laws bar his access to the machine. Colour prejudice and poverty strangle his aspirations to culture. His women-folk are subjected to economic exploitation by day and sex exploitation by night; his children herded in slums, prematurely aged, a prey to the germs of disease. Pass Laws make it impossible to travel freely. Statutes give the right to the white land-owner to flog his black servant without recourse to the law courts. Taxed without representation in the governing and administrative bodies of the country; denied recognition of the right to organise into Trade Unions; systematically being deprived of the franchise and other rights previously held in the Cape; and a total denial of ordinary citizenship rights in the other Provinces; as well as an intolerable burden of oppression and exploitation which is daily being added to; is the lot of the non-European. Without land, bread and equality of opportunity, there can be no freedom. After a century, the non-Europeans must still fight for that freedom which should rightly have been his since 1834.


Neither did the fusion of Anglo-Boer imperialism typified in the Act of Union, 1910 bring freedom to the white people formerly oppressed by British Imperialism. 

British Imperialism holds down the white people of South Africa, denying them their national freedom and hampering their movement for liberation with the assistance of misleaders such as Smuts, Hertzog, and Malan. 

The white worker, natural ally of the non-European peoples in their struggle for freedom from imperialism is corrupted and mislead by certain Trade Union leaders who pledge the support of the white working class to the imperialist regime with the assistance of a system of bribes in the shape of occupations reserved for Europeans only. (Colour Bar in Industry. The Civilized Labour Policy.) 

Ample investigation into and ocular proof of the ever lowering standard of the white working class demonstrates the impossibility of more than a favoured few reaping any material advantage from the operation of this policy. The vast majority of the white workers have no prospect of national freedom or future, except the increasing burden of militarism and the horrible sacrifices of war on behalf of imperialism. 

Just as the fate of the non-European peoples is inextricably bound to that of the white working class, the white workers cannot strike off the fetters of wage slavery from their necks unless they assist in striking the shackles from the limbs of the non-Europeans. 

Neither the white workers nor the non-European masses can achieve real freedom unless they achieve complete solidarity in their fight against their common enemy, the white capitalist-imperialist. 

THE NATIONAL LIBERATION LEAGUE OF SOUTH AFRICA therefore calls upon the non-European peoples and especially the non-European workers to discard and overcome their prejudice against the white workers. To realise that even if some of them have been corrupted by the flesh pots of capitalism-imperialism and their own misleaders to uphold the supremacy over and persecution of the non-European peoples, they still remain as a class the inevitable ally of the non-European masses. 

At the same time THE NATIONAL LIBERATION LEAGUE OF SOUTH AFRICA calls upon the white workers to cut themselves loose decisively from the policy of their ruling class toward the non-European peoples, to disavow once and for all the attitude of white superiority which has proven to be only a chain which binds them to the imperialist regime. 

Unless white labour wishes to be dragged down to the oppressed and degraded position of the non-European toilers, unless it wishes to have heaped upon itself the thousand and one persecutions which plague labour with a black skin, unless it wishes to remain in perpetual wage bondage and misery, let white labour extend its arm of alliance and solidarity on every issue which faces it as well as the non-European peoples. 

As a preliminary to the successful struggle for national liberation of the oppressed peoples of South Africa, it is imperative that the understanding be firmly established that no one section can be free while the other section -the vast majority -namely the non-Europeans remain enslaved. 

The struggle for national liberation therefore prescribes a unity of all elements opposed to imperialism, having in mind always that the interests and aspirations of the great majority, the non-Europeans take precedence. 

Both white and black anti-imperialists stand therefore squarely before the alternative, either a determined fight for freedom, or submission to further enslavement, degradation and poverty. 

Resolutely facing the issue, THE NATIONAL LIBERATION LEAGUE OF SOUTH AFRICA comes forward with a programme for the liberation of the oppressed peoples. 


The National Liberation League of South Africa identifies itself with the convictions and aspirations of the South African peoples, more especially the non-Europeans, and determines to develop and realise those convictions and aspirations. 

It declares in direct opposition to all assertions concerning an alleged "civilizing" mission of the imperialist nations. 

In opposition to all assertions concerning the alleged superiority of certain races and peoples.

It declares that no natural or social superiority of subordination exists within the human race and that any such superiority or subordination is inadmissible. 

AND WHEREAS THE NATIONAL LIBERATION LEAGUE OF SOUTH AF- RICA is of opinion that the continued domination of the South African peoples, especially the non-Europeans is no longer tolerable, it is no longer desirable to limit themselves to passive acquiescence under the increasing burden of discriminating and oppressive laws. A determined struggle must be carried on against such, along with the awakening forces of the oppressed peoples of the world. 


We appeal to all those who do not profit from the oppression of other peoples, to all those who hate modern slavery and are longing for their own freedom and the freedom of their fellow-men and women, to affiliate or co-operate with our organisation and support it as far as it lies in their power. 

We are confident above all that we will receive the support of the advanced working class in all countries who, like ourselves, have "nothing to lose but their chains". 

We maintain that the national liberation of the peoples of South Africa, providing as it will for the development and upliftment of the non-European masses, will not diminish the achievements of civilization nor limit the possibilities of material and cultural developments, as is frequently asserted by reactionary demagogues. On the contrary, with this freedom cultural development will experience a revival on a scale never before witnessed. In this sense the struggle of the oppressed peoples for their freedom is like the struggle of the advanced worker, a struggle for a freer and fuller life for toiling humanity. Everyone attached to the movement for national liberation shall adopt the watch- words and fight 



And we are sure that in waging a common and militant struggle for equal rights and against persecution of the non-European peoples, our united strength shall grow from day to day until it welds us into a force, powerful enough, conscious enough, determined enough to bring to full fruition the ultimate aims expressed in this programme. 





a) Equal adult suffrage for non-Europeans on the same basis and qualifications as Europeans 

b) Direct representation in Parliament by such candidates as shall be freely elected on the aforementioned basis without discrimination as regards colour, having in mind that under existing conditions such Parliamentary candidates only shall be approved and supported who are members of the League and have demonstrated by past activities to be in agreement with the objects set forth in this Programme. 

c) For the right of non-Europeans to hold office in any or all governmental, administrative, juridical and educational institutions of the country. d) For the abolition of all existing taxation which discriminates between European and non-European (Poll Tax. Hut Tax.) 

e) For the complete abolition of all Pass Laws affecting the non-European peoples of South Africa. 

f) Against the whole social system of segregation in which the non-European, especially the Bantu are set apart from the rest of the population as a despised and outlawed people. 

g) For the right of non-Europeans to purchase or hire landed property or reside in any or all parts, districts or municipal wards throughout the Union of South Africa. 

h) For the repeal of all laws prohibiting intermarriage which legalise the fiction of race inferiority.

i) For the right of non-Europeans to bear arms on an equal his with Europeans.

j) For the right of non-European athletes to take part in all national and international sporting events on an equal footing with Europeans. 

k) For the boycott of and mass protests against educational, theatrical, business concerns, publications, etc, that in any way whatever degrades or discriminate against the non-European. 

l) Against all ideas of superiority of one race over another whether by European, Bantu, Coloured or Asiatic.

m) For the abolition of the ''tot" system. 

n) For free compulsory education of non-European children and abolition of all forms of discrimination in schools.

o) Adequate facilities for education in industrial, agricultural and technical pursuits for non-Europeans.

p) For the legal enforcement of pro rata employment of non-Europeans to Europeans in industry, skilled trades and other occupations with equal pay for equal work. 

q) For the legal recognition of Trade Union organisation of the Bantu. 

r) For national unemployment insurance and no discrimination on the grounds of colour in unemployment, old age or other forms of relief

s) For the right of free speech, Press and assembly.

t) To establish Branches of the League throughout South Africa.

u) To establish a Press to propagate the aims and objects of the League.

v) To establish unity with all other oppressed peoples throughout the world with a view to conducting a joint struggle against imperialist oppression. 

w) For complete independence of South Africa from imperialist domination. 


The struggle for national liberation shall be carried on by means of:-

a) Meetings, Resolutions, Petitions, 

b) Public mass demonstrations and or boycott. 

c) Testing the legality wherever necessary of discriminating Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations.

d) Election of approved candidates to the governmental and other public institutions of the country. 

e) Enquiries and investigations into the grievances of the people and the exposure of such by lecture, publication and distribution of literature dealing with the same. 

f) Demonstrative candidature to Parliament.

g) The strike weapon whenever expedient or necessary.

h) Passive resistance movements of the peoples.

i) All such further methods as may be deemed necessary. 


THE NATIONAL LIBERATION LEAGUE OF SOUTHAFRICA shall consist of and be constituted as follows:- 

a) Branches of its local and district members.

b) Organisations or bodies affiliated to it. 

c) All social, political, educational, cultural, economic, sport, or Church bodies, etc; formed for such purposes as are allied to the Objects of the League, subscribe to its Programme or are not in conflict therewith; and are prepared to co-operate in carrying out its Programme. 


The Government of the League shall be vested in the Annual Congress composed of:-Members of the General Council 

a) The accredited delegates of Branches of the League.

b) The accredited delegates of Organisations and Trade Unions affiliated to the 


c) The representatives of Churches supporting the League.

d) The representatives of tribes, clans, territories, protectorates, etc, supporting the League. 

e) The hereditary Kings, Chiefs, Princes, etc, of the Bantu peoples who subscribe to 

the Programme and support the League.



a) There shall be an Annual Congress of the League held at such time and place as the General Council shall decide.

b) Each Branch delegation shall not exceed four members including its Chairman and Secretary. 

c) The delegations shall be elected for their knowledge of the situation affecting the non-European peoples particularly and be conversant with the provisions of the Programme of the League. 


The representation for affiliated organisations shall be two delegates for any number of members up to (500) five hundred. No delegation shall exceed four members. 


Affiliated Organisations shall pay an affiliation fee of (£1.1.0.) one guinea per annum for any number of members up to (500) five hundred, and (1016) ten shillings and sixpence for every additional three hundred and fifty members. 

Delegates of affiliated organisations shall possess the same rights and privileges of voting and discussion as delegates of Branches of the League. 


The General Council shall be elected by and be the decisive governing body between the Annual Congresses. 

The General Council1 shall be representative of all such bodies as are affiliated to the League including the Branch representatives of its own Organisation. Officers of the League shall be ex-office members of the General Council. 


a) To make decisions upon and to carry out, manage or conduct all movements or affairs of the League including the full control of its Branches and members

 b) To appoint, suspend, expel, prosecute or take legal action against any officer of the League and its Branches.

 c) To give or withhold approval of any Rule already existing or hereafter passed by any Branch should it be deemed necessary. 

d) To demand or cause to be made an audit of the books and account of the League or any of its Branches and for the purpose to demand delivery of and take possession of all books, accounts, documents or other writings from any officer of the League or Branch thereof. 

e) To revoke, set aside, approve or rescind and Resolution, act, matter or anything carried out or executed by any-Branch of the League if necessary. 

f) The General Council shall have power to appoint or dissolve subcommittee's to deal with matters affecting the League and its activities. Such subcommittees shall make

recommendations to the General Council but shall not have legislative or binding authority. 

g) The decisions of the General Council shall be binding upon all Officers, members and Branches of the League during the periods between Congress of the League at which such decisions shall be subject to review and rescind. 

h) The General Council shall meet prior to each Congress and at such other times as the political situation or matters affecting the League shall demand. i) The quorum at meetings of the General Council shall be seven members including either or both the President and General Secretary. 


a) The Officers of the League shall consist of a President, senior Vice-President, Junior Vice-president, Treasurer, General Secretary and three Trustees’. 

b) No person shall be eligible to hold office or position unless he or she is a bona-fide member of the League. 

c) All officers shall be eligible for re-election providing no charge of misconduct can be proved against them during the period intervening Congresses.

d) It shall be the duty of all Officers to make themselves conversant with the Programme of the League and to further the provisions of same. 



The President shall be elected at each Congress and shall hold office for one year. He or she shall deliver a Presidential dress at each Congress subsequent to it having been approved by the General Council. 


The Senior or Junior Vice-Presidents shall act in the absence of the President in order of seniority. 


The Treasurer shall check all accounts at Head Office in accordance with the system of administration and the requirements of the General Council. 

d) Three Trustee's shall be elected by each Annual Congress. All properties of the league shall be held by them in trust for the League. 


The duties of the General Secretary shall be to propagate the Programme and policy of the Organisation. To convene and address meetings with a view to protect and further the interests, aims and objects of the League. He or she shall supervise the administration of the Head Office of the League and its existing Branches, and shall be empowered to act in questions of enforcing discipline upon members of the League. His decisions shall be submitted for approval or otherwise by the General Council of the League. 

f) The General Secretary shall deliver a Report to each Congress of the league. 

g) The salary of the General Secretary shall be determined by the General Council. 

h) In the event of the General Secretary desiring to relinquish his position he shall give three months notice to the General Council of his intention to do so, and a like period of notice shall be given by the General Council to the General Secretary should they desire to dispense with his services. 

i) Notwithstanding the foregoing provision, in case of gross misconduct or violation of the Programme or policy of the League by the General Secretary a specially summoned meeting of the General Council shall decide the issue in the best interests of the. League. [....] 


Any Agreement, political or otherwise made between the League and any other body, institution, or authority shall be valid only after it has been approved of by a majority vote of the General Council. Such approval shall be further subject to the Annual Congress of the League. [....I 


a) To control the affairs of a Branch of the League, eleven persons shall be elected by the members of such Branch. Prom these further election hall determine the Offices of Chairman, Vice-chairman, Treasurer, Secretary and Trustee's of the Branch. 

b) Only bona-fide members of the League shall be eligible for these and shall hold office for a period of twelve months, after which a fresh election should be held.

c) All Branch officials shall be eligible for re-election providing no charge of misconduct can be proved against them during the intervening period. 

d) A Branch Executive Committee may make rules for the efficient management of their Branches, but such rules shall not be inconsistent with the rules herein laid down, and shall be subject to the approval of the General Council of the League. 

e) Any Branch Executive Committee may remove one of their number at a Special meeting called for that purpose and may appoint another in his or her place with the approval of the majority of the members of such Branch. A report of such substitution shall be sent to the Head Office of the League. 

f) Branch Secretaries shall keep a correct record of all financial transactions and other proceedings of their respective Branches and shall carry out as part of their duties such other reasonable demands their respective Committees shall impose. 

g) All monies of the Branch shall be banked within forty-eight hours after receipt of 


h) A quarterly financial statement of each Branch shall be forwarded to the Head Office of the League, such statements to be signed by the Chairman. Secretary an Treasurer certifying same to be a true and correct statement or pointing out any discrepancy and explaining such as may appear therein. 

i) Office requisities, books, stationary, etc for the administration of a Branch must be obtained from the Head Office of the hue on a Requisition signed by the Chairman Secretary of the Branch. Such requisites shall remain the property of the League and books and accounts shall be ata11times open to inspection of a member of the Branch Executive, only credentialed member of the General Council or any Officer of the League. 

j) Branches shall remit monthly to the Head Office of the League a Capitation Fee of one penny per member of the Branch. 

k) The Chairman, Secretary and Trustees and Treasurer shall be held jointly responsible for all properties of the Leagues Branches controlled by them. 

I) Decisions of a Branch regarding a matter or issue of public or national import shall first be submitted to the General Council of the League for approval before being acted upon. 

m) All business ventures shall be transacted in the name of the National Liberation League of South Africa and a report of such transaction be submitted to the General Council of the League. 

n) The relations of the Branches and the League toward other bodies of a progressive nature shall be of a fraternal character. 


a) Examination of Credentials. 

b) Business to be proceeded with according to Agenda. 

c) Speakers shall stand up when addressing the Chair. 

d) No speaker shall be allowed to speak more than once on any subject, nor longer than ten minutes unless with the consent of the Congress.

e) The period of time for debate shall be at the discretion of the Congress. 

f) In question of voting, the Chairman shall have had deliberative vote only. In the event of a tie in votes the question shall lapse. 

g) Voting for election of officials shall be by ballot. In other questions it shall be left to the discretion of the Congress. 

h) A motion once carried shall not be debated again unless a motion to that effect be carried by a two-thirds majority of those present.

i) No absent member shall be nominated for office unless his or her consent in writing has been previously obtained and produced at Congress. 

j) A delegate shall be allowed to withdraw any motion or amendment by consent of the Congress only. 

k) Any delegate refusing to obey the Chairman’s ruling shall upon a vote being 

taken, withdraw from the Congress and the Congress shall have the right to 

suspend such delegate for any period it may deem fit. 

I) The election of Officers of the League shall be the last item on the Agenda. 


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