Presidential Address by SM Makgatho, South African Native National Congress, 6 May 1919

Chiefs, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am glad to welcome you to this first Annual Conference of our Congress ever held in the dear old Cape Colony. As Mr. Pelem will remember, this is not the very first occasion on which our Congress was held on Cape soil, for, in 1914, I met him at the Kimberley Congress in Griqualand West; but this is really the first time that the South African Native National Congress ever assembled in what is known as the Colony proper; and we are looking forward to that far-famed hospitality for which the Komani River is noted.

Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, many changes have taken place since we last met at Bethlehem. The Native Lands Act still operates as mercilessly in different parts of the Union, and as a result many native families are still working for white farmers only for their food. It will be remembered that, after the representations of this Congress and the pleadings of our Missionary and other friends, the Government has consented to postpone for a year enacting the Native Affairs Administration Bill, which was nothing but the confirmation and perpetuation of the harsh provisions of the Native Lands Act and all its sorrows. Another Bill has likewise been postponed: that is

The Native Urban Areas Bill

That it had any good points was a matter of opinion. For instance, it says: No white man, under pain of ?100 fine or six months` imprisonment, shall rent or sell a house to a Native in any town or village in the Union, unless that Native be a registered voter. This means that only a few Natives will retain the right to acquire town property in the Cape Province; and none at all in the other three provinces. How such a provision can be acceptable to us, only the Government knows. It adds that men and women should not get work unless they carry passes, and pay I/- a month for them. Such a provision will introduce, into the Cape, new difficulties hitherto unknown outside the Free State, and it is a proposition our people can NEVER accept. When the Bill came out, I was assured in the Transvaal that our people there would forestall it by organising a movement against the present male pass laws before their extension to our women. The passive resistance against male passes, which began in Johannesburg on March 30th, and which I shall refer to presently, is now history in the Transvaal. There have been serious strikes and

Labour Troubles Among Europeans

in South Africa. in every instance where well paid white men, getting as much as ?1 a day or more, struck for higher pay, they got it; but our first strike for 6d. a day over 2/- and 216 was met on the part of the Government by violence, arrests, heavy fines and imprisonment.

In response to a long telegram from our Secretary and other representations to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of justice, some of the sentences were vetoed by the Government.

We asked for a reason of

This Striking Difference Of Treatment

between white and black strikers; we were told that colour had nothing to do with it; that the only difference is this: while the Native holds a service pass, contracting him to his employer for several months, his strike amounts to a criminal offence. The white man, on the other hand, can strike at any time because he has no pass, but a Native worker going on strike commits a breach of contract - his service pass.

Thereupon, at Bloemfontein, last July, the Johannesburg branch of the Transvaal Native Congress brought to the Executive Committee a resolution demanding

The Abolition of the Pass Law,

so that Natives must work unshackled by contract passes. The resolution was duly sent to the Government, and the matter was discussed at various interviews between the Transvaal Congress leaders and the Government officers, and also with the Prime Minister and other Ministers at different times; the reply in each instance being that the matter will be attended to. Eventually, in March of this year, the Johannesburg Branch, followed by the Benoni and other Witwatersrand Branches, decided to throw away their passes and secure the Government`s attention to our grievances by courting arrest. Thousands of men and women have been arrested and sentenced to fines and various terms of imprisonment with hard labour, and, refusing to pay fines, they nearly all elected to go to gaol. They were driven like cattle, trampled by mounted policemen under their horses` hoofs, shot at by white volunteers, and some men and women are in their graves as a result of their refusal to buy any more passes.

The principle involved has wide ramifications from both points of view. The authorities insist that they cannot abolish the passes, which are

A Great Help to the Natives,

as they serve to identify dead ones, and stop living ones from committing crimes. But, Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, you will understand how illogical is this allegation when I say there were no passes in Johannesburg before 1893, and there was less crime proportionately in those days; but since the multiplication of passes Johannesburg has been known as the University of Crime. Again, like the Cape Natives, who carry no passes, white men also die in Johannesburg, and it has never been suggested that they, too, should carry identification passes.

What is so difficult for us Natives to understand is that a form of help should be forced upon us against our wish, that we should be fined, imprisoned, and ridden to death by mounted policemen, with our women also under the horses` hoofs, and shot at simply because we say we are not in need of the help that is offered. What kind of protection is so compulsory? While our people were shot at and clubbed by civilian whites, and our women-folk ridden down by the mounted police of Johannesburg, there was, at the same time, a strike of well paid white men in the same city, agitating for

More Pay and Less Work.

Not content with doing that, they forcibly seized the local Government property, and practically ejected the constituted authority. Nobody shot at them. Their wives were not riden down or beaten with sticks. The real reason for this insistent enforcement of the pass law is kept in the background. No mention is made of the amount of revenue raised by the Government from our people by means of this badge of slavery. The Government retains a share of the spoil. The Transvaal Provincial Council alone gets ?340,000 annually, from the scant earnings of our poorly-paid people, to build and maintain schools for white children while our educational needs remain unattended. Thousands of Natives are suffering imprisonment at the present time, and, in spite of the law, many thousands since last month are courting arrest by working without any passes. And it is for you to call on the Government to

Abolish the Transvaal and Free State Passes,

and let us live peacefully as our kinsmen in the Cape Province and elsewhere. That will dispose of the Native Affairs and Urban Bills postponed till 12 months after peace.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am told that there is a difference Of opinion as to the wisdom of sending

A Deputation to England.

I cannot understand how anyone could call it a crime to send a delegation to the headquarters of the Empire. What sort of a King have we that we should never go to see him. Have we got the Republic already that we should not go to the seat of the Empire? Our Vice-President, Mr. Sol Plaatje, returned from England two years ago with an illuminated framed address presented to him by certain Englishmen. One of the Englishmen who signed this address was Sir Richard Winfrey, Secretary for Agriculture in Mr. Lloyd George`s Ministry, and it contained the following passage:

"At the close of the war we shall do all in our power to help you to regain that justice and freedom to which, as loyal British subjects, your people are justly entitled."

Only commonsense should guide us to send him back, now that the war is over, to ask these gentlemen to redeem their promise. Since the cessation of the Great War our Vice-President has received letters and one cable urging him to come, and it seems to me a pity we did not arrange a little earlier for this deputation. At the December Special Congress he was elected with myself and seven others to carry our grievances to the British public. Two of the delegates have already left, and as funds are forthcoming others will follow shortly; and I ask everyone, on returning home, to urge his friends to contribute liberally towards the deputation fund so that their families may not starve.

To-day we are informed that we are represented at the Peace Conference by

Generals Smuts and Botha.

Did any of the two Generals ever inform any Native that they were going to represent him? I read that General Botha on leaving Cape Town in a Japanese ship told some Europeans that he was going to represent the two great races. So, where do we come in?

President Wilson before leaving America for the Peace Conference duly consulted the American Negroes. He took with him a Negro adviser, and the Negroes also sent their own representatives. The Indian Government came over with their Indian advisers; and what do our two Generals know about the abomination of the Pass Laws or the atrocities of the Native Lands Act, enacted by them? What do they know about our starving widows and dependants whose bread-winners fell during the Great War in German West and East Africa, on the Ocean, in France, and other battle fronts?

Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, if we send no representatives to the scat of the Empire now our families will only have ourselves to thank; so let us do our best at this moment, so that when the hard time comes and the threatened class laws are enacted, posterity may not charge us with inattention.

Our people in the Free State have also had their chapter of misfortunes. Like us in the Transvaal, their troubles are two-fold-the need for a living wage and the infernal "pass." All this on top of the mischief of the Natives Land Act, which, in the Free State, allows the buying of land from Natives by Europeans, while it strictly prohibits any purchase or lease of land by a Native. Even sales between Native and Native are strictly forbidden.

I must apologize to the Free State delegates for my inability to visit them during this time of trouble. I hope they will understand when I say that in recent months these manifold troubles have increased my work in Pretoria. I have been in constant attendance at Union Buildings and other offices, where I have had numerous conferences with Heads of Departments, and at various times with General Botha, before he left, and with other Ministers, such as Mr. Malan, Mr. De Wet and Mr. Burton on various questions more or less serious.

Chiefs, ladies and gentlemen, when we met

At Bethlehem Last Year

the Free State Natives were very restless because of the easy manner in which Natives were shot by farmers, without any protection from the Courts, as the juries could always be relied upon to discharge every white man who shot one Native or a Native couple.

When the Bethlehem Congress rose, four fresh shooting outrages were again reported in rapid succession. It was difficult for me to return to the Free State at the time, but I sent Mr. Sol Plaatje, and, with the able help of Mr. Fenyang, our good President of the O.F.S. Native Congress, he managed to get at the Boers in his own way each time the Courts failed us. The result is that there is apparently a stoppage of these outrages in the Free State-no shooting has been reported in the Free State since eight months ago, when he settled with the last Boer.

It is to be regretted that there is at this moment

A Split in The Natal Congress,

where the heads don`t seem to pull together. Perhaps you can advise them on how to heal their harmful differences. At a time like this, when we are face to face with some of the worst upheavals that ever overtook our people, it is imperative that we should stand together.

It would seem that the easy life under the the more sympathetic administration of the Cape has had the effect of sending some of our Colonial people to sleep. It seems to me that, moving about as they do, like white men, without any passes, they fad to appreciate the difficulties under which the Natives are groaning in the Transvaal, in Orange Free State and in Natal, so that we have received more help from Europeans than from the Natives of the Cape who enjoy the franchise. This is not as it should be, and

The Cape Natives

ought to understand that the dictates of humanity should impel them to show a bit of fellow feeling for their own kith and kin. We are their flesh and blood, and if they show no concern for our suffering their day of reckoning will follow as a matter of course. We ask for no special favours from the Government. This is the land of our fathers, and, in it, we wish to be treated at least as well as foreigners and with the same consideration extended to foreigners, including foreigners of enemy origin.

it is my pleasant duty to express the thanks of our people to the small band of Englishmen in and out of Parliament, together with our friends and sympathisers of the Missionary Associations who have stood by us throughout the dark days under the pitiless yoke of the

Natives Land Act,

and also during the present "no-pass" agitation. It is for us to see that their confidence in us is not misplaced.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you welcome to this Eighth Annual Conference of the South African Native National Congress, and I hope that the session will be a useful one.