The Indian People In South Africa: Facts: About The Ghetto Act

The great majority of the South African Indians are descendants of the Indian labourers, who were indentured by the Governmentof Natal from 1860 onwards to work in the sugar fields.

We should note that these workers were invited to make South Africa their home. They came here under an agreement with the Government of India.

In terms of this agreement the Natal Government promised to help them settle as permanent residents of the country, and guaranteed them citizenship rights after their period of indenture was over.

Through their industry and efforts, the Indians have greatly contributed to the wealth and progress of Natal, and indeed of the country as a whole. But they have not reaped the benefit. What is the position of South African Indians today?

There are roughly 250,000 Indians in the Union of South Africa. Of these, 210,000 are in Natal, 31,000 in the Transvaal, 13,000 in the Cape and none in the Orange Free State.

The vast bulk of Natal Indians are workers engaged in the secondary and sugar industries. There are some farmers and professional people, and a few wealthy merchants.

Most Transvaal Indians are small traders or hawkers.

The average Indian worker receives wretchedly low wages, amounting to about £ 1. 10. 0. per week. Rural workers in Natal get as little as £ 3 per month.

Only 15.4 per cent of South African Indian children receive education for which the annual subsidy per head is £ 16. 7. 6. for a European child and only £ 5. 5. 0. for an Indian child.

Despite the outcry about "penetration", in Durban the huge population of Indians own only 4 per cent of the land. There, the City Council spends £ 7. 3. 4 per head on housing schemes for Europeans, only 17/6 for Indians.

In 1940 the average property per head owned by Europeans was £ 477. 19. 9; by Indians £ 43. 4. 11.

The Fight against Oppression

It must not be forgotten that the Indian people are sons and daughters of a country with a proud and cultured heritage. Their ancient motherland is the bearer of a tradition of civilisation as old as any in the world.

Never, either in India or South Africa, have Indians willingly submitted to laws and practices which brand them as inferior, or curtail their liberties.

On innumerable occasions, measures have been taken which discriminated against Indians in South Africa; beginning with a humiliating law to segregate Indians passed by the Transvaal Republic in 1885, and the Natal law of 1896 which deprived Indian citizens of the Parliamentary franchise.

Always the Indian people of our country have resisted these measures. It was indeed in South Africa that the method of Passive Resistance was born - a means of struggle since adopted by the people of India itself.

Passive Resistance

Passive resistance takes the form of defying unjust and discriminatory laws and paying the penalty therefor by suffering imprisonment.

Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the first Passive Resistance struggle was launched in South Africa in 1906. It lasted for eight years and ended in a victory.

The Indian people cherish the memory of the heroes and martyrs, the many noble deeds of sacrifice and bravery, of that struggle.

Whilst serving imprisonment, a young girl of only 16 contracted a fatal fever. She died within a few days of her release. Her name was Valliamma R. Munuswami Mudaliar.

In the coal mines and up and down the South and North Coast of Natal, Indian workers struck work. The police opened fire on some of them, and many died.

In 1913, the struggle came to a head over the question of the £ 3 annual tax which ex-indentured Indian labourers had to pay. Mahatma Gandhi led a gallant band of over 2,000 men, women and children in a great march from Newcastle to Charlestown, and thence - in order to defy the provincial barriers - across the border into the Transvaal.

During the march, the pilgrims had to suffer untold hardships. There were cases of babies being drowned whilst crossing spruits. The marchers were arrested.

But the struggle continued undaunted, and at last the Government had to give in. The £ 3 tax was repealed, and a settlement was arrived at, known as the Smuts-Gandhi Agreement.

During this great campaign, many supporters of liberty appeared amongst the European community. A committee of sympathisers was formed.

Men and women like Mr. Polak, Mr. Kallenbach, Rev. Doke, Mr. Ritch, Mr. Hosken, Mr. West, Miss Schlesin, Miss West and many others played an active part in the campaign. Some of them suffered imprisonment with their Indian brothers.

This great struggle will always live on in the minds not only of the Indian people, but all who care for freedom. Names of martyrs like Valliamma and Nagappan will live in South African history as an inspiration to all fighters in the cause of liberty.

We remember them now in 1946, when again the Indian people are being forced to take the path of struggle and sacrifice.

Disabilities of the Indian People

Despite this gallant and self-sacrificing record of struggle, however, and despite their success in defeating certain more obnoxious racial laws, Indians are discriminated against in many ways today in South Africa.

Apart from the Ghetto Act, there are 65 different laws restricting the rights of Indians in one way or another. These are some of them:

The Immigration Act of 1913 prohibits any further immigration from India.

All Indians are denied Parliamentary, Provincial and Municipal votes on the common roll, except the Indians in the Cape who enjoy the same restricted franchise rights as the Coloured people. With the "communal franchise" introduced by the new Act, I shall deal later.

Hitherto, Natal Indians had the right to acquire and occupy fixed properties and land anywhere in the Province. But in the Gold-proclaimed areas of the Transvaal they were denied the rights both of ownership and occupation, except in certain areas exempted by Parliament. Elsewhere in the Transvaal, they could not own land or property in their own names.

Provincial barriers prohibit the entry of Indians from one Province to another. The Orange Free State has since 1891 debarred Indians from residing within its boundaries.

The white labour policy of the Government precludes Indians from employment as skilled workers.

These are but a few of the types of racial discrimination practised against Indians in South Africa, who in addition suffer from the characteristic legal, economic, political and customary disabilities suffered by all Non-Europeans and dark-skinned races in the Union of South Africa.

Position of Indians under the Ghetto Act

The Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act of 1946 is called and regarded universally by Indian people as the "Ghetto Act".

This Act condemns the Indian community to economic and social ruin. It takes away their fundamental and elementary right of land ownership and occupation.

It strikes at the heart of Indian commercial and economic life. Not only will it cripple Indian trade and bar progress in the acquisition of fixed property, it will also reduce the opportunities of the masses of the Indian people to earn a decent livelihood, and ultimately condemn them to existence in increasingly over-crowded slums and locations. It has been suggested that the Act affects adversely only a wealthy minority among the Indians. But this is not so. On the contrary, it will lead to the introduction of a whole string of new regulations and prohibitions, allowing perhaps the enrichment of a few Indian property-owners, but with the community as such being reduced to the level of paupers.

Social degradation would follow. The Act will confine Indians and other Asiatics into segregated areas. Limited as these areas will be, the Indian people will be faced with ever-increasing over-crowding and congestion. This must lead to poverty and disease.

Among the Indian youth, the degenerating and evil environment of segregated life will lead to crime and anti-social conduct. it will brand the Indian community with the stamp of inferiority. It casts a slur on India's national pride.

These inferences are not the figment of my imagination. They are facts. The life and conditions in African (Native) locations and Asiatic bazaars in the Witwatersrand and elsewhere are a living example of the poisonous fruits of segregation. Criminally neglected by the authorities, these cesspools of humanity are an indictment of the whole policy of the herrenvolk rulers; they are erupting volcanoes of epidemics and deadly diseases which may drown South Africans, white, brown and black, all alike, in a catastrophe of the greatest magnitude.

Communal Representation

It is claimed that the Act gives a quid pro quo by providing for the representation of Indians, in the Senate by two European senators, in the House of Assembly by three European M.P.s, and by two members in the Natal Provincial Council.

There is to be a separate Voters' Roll for Indians, based upon educational and property qualifications which, it should be noted, are higher than those demanded of any other group of South African voters.

In practice, all this means is that there will be three out of 156 members of Parliament who will be elected by the Indians. They may make most excellent speeches. But, when it comes to voting, their effect will be negligible.

The voting on this very Act, when it was before Parliament, is a conclusive demonstration of how negligible their effect will be. With the honourable exception of the three Native Representatives and one Labour man (Mr. Wanless), the whole House was in favour of the principle of compulsory segregation of the Indian minority. The differences of opinion amongst the others related only to the degree of segregation, and to the question of representation. The Nationalists, the Dominionites and even some so-called Labour M.P.'s were against any Indian representation whatever.

If there had been three Indian representatives in the House, they would have been powerless to prevent the passing of the Ghetto Bill into law, or even to modify it.

This form of representation follows closely the pattern set for the African people in Gen. Hertzog's notorious and disgraceful Native Representation Act of 1936.

Communal representation for Africans has proved, after ten years, to be a dismal failure and a fiasco.

The three Europeans elected to the Assembly by the Africans have, it is true, spoken against one repressive measure after another. They have, for the most part, gallantly and faithfully defended the interests of their constituents.

But their voices have been drowned in a Parliament dependent upon European voters, which has become a circus ring for the display and practice of despicable colour prejudice and racial bias.

These shameful characteristics were never more evident than in the debate upon this Ghetto Bill.

Parliament Speaks with Hitler's Voice

Seldom have our legislators descended to such a low level. The real interests of the country, the noble principles of democracy and liberty, for which the war was fought - these things were forgotten and ignored. Weeks were spent in nauseating discussion between the United Party and its even more race-crazed opponents, as to whether the hard-working, honest, and already oppressed minority of South Africans who are of Asiatic descent, should be cast quickly or slowly into ghettos and economic ruination.

Blinded by race and colour prejudice, permeated with an evil passion for the maintenance of white supremacy and influenced in all its acts by the economic interest of powerful gold-mining capitalism and the wealthy farmers, the Union Parliament has shown itself oblivious of the tremendous revolution through which the world is passing.

In Europe and in Asia, the masses of humanity are on the march; their watch-words are democracy, liberty, socialism, and the abolition of racial and national discrimination.

But General Smuts talks of "the menace of Asiatic culture", presented to South Africa by 250,000 voteless Indians. Dr. Malan demands total segregation of all Non-Europeans. Mr. Madeley, the Dominionites and highly irresponsible members of all parties utter in Parliament the identical racialistic rubbish that is echoed outside Parliament by such unpleasant gentry as Pirow, van Rensburg and Weichardt. These rantings in our Parliament are not unfamiliar. The ghost of Hitler is haunting South Africa.

The Principles of Segregation

At present, a small minority among the Europeans own over 70 per cent of the land in South Africa.

Africans, who constitute the great majority of the total population, are deprived of the right of land tenure outside segregated reserves, which amount to less than 13 per cent of the land area.

This is the essence and the kernel of the policy of segregation. Established by the Native Land Act of 1913, its purpose was and remains the impoverishment of the African people and their reduction to an economic level which compels them to work in the gold mines, the farms and the industries of South Africa for wages which barely suffice to ward off starvation.

The talk of "white civilisation", the spreading of the herrenvolk ideology and the inflaming of bestial racial and colour prejudices - all these things are done by the ruling class to win the support of the European population, and to conceal the true motive for colour oppression, the capitalists' greed and lust for profits.

Segregation means the cheap labour policy pursued by the great capitalists of the mining and farming industries. It is a policy which has already dragged down the African people to depths of poverty and disease, misery and starvation, which threaten to engulf all races in catastrophe and disaster.

This policy does not benefit the European worker, but on the contrary is a great menace to his living standards. It does not benefit the European commercial and professional classes, for low wages means limited markets and a poverty-stricken South Africa.

The essence of the new Indian Act is that it aims to drag down yet another section of the people to the economic level of the Africans. It is, therefore, a move to create another depressed group which will reduce the living standards of all. It is another nail in the coffin of South African economic development and prosperity.

The Doctrine of White Supremacy

Hitler, Rosenberg and Goebbels tried to justify their plans for world conquest, their barbarous treatment of non-Germans, by propagating the gruesome doctrine of "Aryan superiority" and "the master race". The totally unscientific and reactionary nature of these doctrines was equalled only by their terrifying and horrible results -- not least for the Germans themselves.

Basically identical is the doctrine openly propounded by the Prime Minister and supported in practice by members of all parties in Parliament, the doctrine of "white supremacy".

After the most terrible war in the history of the human race, in which millions have died, to combat victoriously the odious lie of the Nazis, it should be unnecessary to explain the essential falsity and injustice of this doctrine. No race or nationality is inherently "superior" or "inferior" to any other. Individuals of any nationality are capable of achieving distinction and usefulness to the community, in any walk of life, provided they are granted equal opportunities. It is barbarous, undemocratic and unjust to deprive any citizen of such opportunities, or of any political or economic right, because of the circumstances of his birth, his nationality or his colour.

Moreover, the propagation of such a doctrine in a country like South Africa, based upon a multi-national population of many languages, creeds and colours, holds within it the dreadful menace of a future of hatred and strife, terror and bloodshed.

The retribution that has come upon the German people for accepting the fatal Hitlerite ideology, should be a warning to our South African advocates of white supremacy.

The road to a happy and united South Africa lies not through the segregation and oppression of the Non-European people. It lies through freedom, democratic rights and higher living standards for all sections of the population.

The Ghetto Act is a milestone along the way, not to happiness and progress, but to further suffering and backwardness for South Africa.

Sowing the Seeds of War

The Smuts Government, by introducing this law, has violated the basic principles of the great United Nations Charter. This policy not only creates racial strife within the borders of South Africa, but has created friction between the Union and the great country of India.

Already, the Government of India, though not a free Government representative of the people, has been impelled by the patriotic feeling of the masses upon this matter to take active steps against the Union Government. The High Commissioner, the Indian representative in South Africa, has been recalled. Economic and other sanctions are being imposed by India against South Africa and South Africans. The Government of India has placed the question of South African Indians before the United Nations Organisation, to be considered by the General Assembly of that body in September.

It is idle to maintain that this is purely an internal affair of the South African Government, or that South African Indians have no right to appeal to India, or to world opinion, to support their cause.

The San Francisco Charter of the United Nations pledges member nations not only to maintain peace, but also to uphold certain social and economic principles of a democratic character. If these are more than pious words, then United Nations must be able to insist that its constituent nations implement those pledges. Furthermore, as an undeniable and bitter insult to the national pride and honour of India, as well as other Asiatic members of the United Nations, the Ghetto Act indeed constitutes a matter which "may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security."

These are stirring times.

Hitlerism lies in ruins. The common people of the world are on the march towards progress. In Eastern Europe, for the first time in history, real democracy has been established, and throughout the European continent, Communist and other progressive parties are advancing to the fore, sharing in the Government, building friendship with the mighty Socialist Soviet Union, the vanguard of liberty.

Throughout Asia, the tide of patriotism is rising fast, compelling Mr. Attlee and the British Government into granting Indian independence, advancing Indonesia and all the countries of the East along the road to national freedom and the ending of imperialism.

It is at this juncture that the Smuts Government has raised in the Ghetto Act a fundamental issue which affronts and challenges all Asiatic, African and Coloured races throughout the world.

The Union Government is sowing the seeds of another war.

Is Liberalism Alive in South Africa?

Until a few decades ago, there existed amongst South African Europeans a virile and courageous liberalism which stood up and fought for the rights of man and against tyranny, or the oppression of individuals and groups.

This spirit did not manifest itself in Parliament in the debates on the ghetto law, except for the contribution of the Native Representatives.

The modern "liberals", of whom we may take Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr, the Minister of Finance, as a characteristic example, have neither the conviction nor the courage to put up an uncompromising fight for the ideals they claim to hold dear. It seems that their denunciations of injustice and the herrenvolk mentality are used merely as a shibboleth to salve their burning consciences.

Despite all Mr. Hofmeyr's moral misgivings, his practical support of this law has placed him on a par with the anti-democratic and reactionary forces of the Ossewa-Brandwag and the Nationalists.

As for the attitude and policy of the Labour Party, it has forfeited all claims to be a progressive party, and, as the statement of the Central Committee of the Communist Party says, "these leaders have not only betrayed the principles of socialism and the causes of the working-class movement, they have also associated themselves in the most intimate relationship with the anti-democratic and reactionary section of the capitalist parties."

In spite of all this, the spirit of liberalism is not dead in South Africa. The heritage of the great fighters for freedom of the past, men and women like Thomas Pringle, Read and van der Kemp, the Schreiners, and Harriet Colenso, lives on. Above all, their struggle for justice and freedom finds a higher, better organised and more militant expression in the courageous work and challenging outlook of the men and women of the Communist Party of South Africa.

Communist Policy

The Indian people of South Africa have totally rejected the provisions of the Ghetto Act. They have determined to fight against it with all their might.

The Communist Party of South Africa upholds their decision, and pledges itself to give all support to them in the hard battles ahead.

We call upon all South Africans who believe in freedom and democracy, to render every aid to the Indian people in their struggle.

In view of the position of South African Indians, who are deprived of democratic citizenship rights in this, their own dear country, we fully endorse their right to take the action they have in appealing to the Government of India which has obligations towards Indians in South Africa, and through the Indian Government, to the United Nations Organisation.

But we would point out to the Indian people, as well as to all other South Africans of every race, that their battle for democracy is a common one. It is a battle which affects our countrymen of all races. And it is a battle which must be won in South Africa itself.

The Communist Party has a message for all in this vital and momentous year, 1946. To all South Africans, African, Coloured and Indian, of Afrikaner, English or Jewish descent, we say there is only one road to a free, prosperous and happy future for our country. That is the road of equal rights for all and of domination by none; the road of friendship, peace and cooperation among all nationalities; the road of the Communist Party.

Every adult in our land must have the right to elect and to be elected to our Parliament, our Provincial Councils and our Municipalities. All must enjoy the right to freedom of movement without Pass Laws or Provincial barriers. Every child born in our land must have the right to education, to good nutrition, a happy environment and the opportunity to enter into any skilled trade, occupation or profession.

There must be no restriction directed against anybody on racial or colour grounds, to the free occupation and ownership of land or property, or the right to engage in trade or commerce.

All workers must have their living standards defended and their wages improved by the assistance of free trade unions, recognised equally for all irrespective of race.

And to all races must be given their rights as citizens to a good education, decent housing and sufficient food.

Only upon these great sound foundations may we build the better socialist South Africa of the future.

This is the road, the true road of South Africa; the road to Food, Jobs and Homes for all, the road to a great and proud future for our beloved country.

Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo South Africa's Freedom Struggle: Statements, Speeches and Articles including Correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi