Say It out Loud - A letter to the Coloured People of South Africa

From the book: Say It out Loud by Mohamed Adhikari

Albert Lodge,
Mount Street,
Cape Town, 31 May 1910

The inauguration of the Union of South Africa marks an important step in the political history of the country. The change that will be effected in the government of the four colonies from this day is momentous. It is one of those stages in the growth of a country that bids its citizens pause and ponder well the meaning of the personal as well as national issues it involves. What it means to the nation we partly know; it means that from and after today the four colonies, which have been governed by separate parliaments and separate law courts, whose administration of their nations' State Departments have been distinct and in some respects antagonistic, forfeit all their individuality of government, and become merged into one political entity. All the people and their interests will be subject to the supreme control. If the new administration were characterised by wide liberality and strict impartiality to all races and sections, then we may look forward to the growth of an enlarged and enlightened nationality. But if the Act of Union be interpreted according to the narrow and illiberal spirit which was read into it by some of the political leaders of the Transvaal immediately after the publication of the Draft Act of Union: if it be used as the foundation for an exclusive nationality, then the 31st of May 1910 will surely be remembered by white and Coloured with sorrow and regret.

Hence the results that will flow from Union will depend in great measure from the extent to which the liberal views of the public men of the Cape will permeate the hard and narrow prejudices of those in the northern colonies who it appears will command a majority in the Union Parliament.

The white races of South Africa intend commemorating the event by making the day one of thanksgiving. What attitude, it has been asked, should the Coloured citizens of South Africa adopt in the celebrations of that day? The recent annual Conference of the African Political Organisation decided that it could not recommend the Coloured people to rejoice or take part in the celebrations, and I was asked, as President, to issue a brief statement of what the day signified to us.

A brief survey of South African history will convince any reasonable man that the day is one for humiliation rather than exultation for the Coloured people. The following landmarks in our constitutional history stand out prominently: ””

(a) In the year 1852 the Constitution Ordinance was enacted in the Cape Colony, and confirmed and enacted by an Order in Council of Her Most Gracious Majesty the late Queen Victoria. In a despatch from the then Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Newcastle, to the Governor of the Cape, occur these memorable words: - "It is the earnest desire of Her Majesty's Government that all her subjects at the Cape, without distinction of class or colour, should be united by one bond of loyalty and a common interest, and we believe that the exercise of political rights enjoyed by all alike will prove one of the best methods of attaining this object".

(b) In 1872, Responsible Government was introduced into the Cape Colony and no distinction was made as regards colour.

(c) In 1892 the Franchise and Ballot Act was passed in the Cape Colony, which again drew no distinction whatsoever as regards colour between electors as members of Parliament.

  • (sic) In the year 1906, the Transvaal received the boon of Responsible Government, but, sad to say, a franchise based on colour was established by that Act.
  • In the year 1907, the Orange River Colony secured its charter of freedom for the whites, but the same condition of political helotry was incorporated in that Act as had found its way into the Transvaal Act.

The invidious colour distinction which appeared for the first time in the Constitutional history of South Africa, was introduced into these Acts referred to in (c) and (d), at the behest of those men who are the dominating influence in the First Union Ministry, and who have shown in their public lives that they do not recognise the virtue of the golden rule: " Do unto others as you would be done by ".

The Act of Union of South Africa, while not depriving the Cape Coloured races of their franchise rights, has deliberately curtailed their political privileges by inserting the phrase "of European descent" among the qualifications for membership of the Union Legislature, while it has absolutely slammed the door to political freedom in the faces of the Coloured races of the other colonies of South Africa. We had thought that the honourable and prudent manner, in which the Coloured people of the Cape Colony had always exercised their political rights, and the peace and contentment that were the natural concomitants of that political freedom, would have justified the adoption of the same policy in the other colonies. But our hopes in that direction have been rudely shattered, and a further scrutiny of recent political tendencies in the North induces the belief that the clauses in the Act of Union which are ostensibly framed to guard us against total deprivation of political rights may prove nothing more than open invitations to assail those rights.

In view of these considerations, no Coloured person could do otherwise than regard the day as one of humiliation and prayer.

But it also behooves us all to take a firm resolution to do all that lies in our power to recover the political rights we have been deprived of in this colony; and, further, to ensure the ultimate extension of full civil and political rights to our brethren in the adjacent states. In my last presidential address I ventured to make certain recommendations: the cultivation of sound moral habits, the observance of truth and sobriety, and the making it our constant endeavour to brighten our homes and regard them as the best training ground possible for our future citizens. I also referred to the weighty influence for good that women can exert in their homes.

I trust that the members of the A.P.O. will read again and reflect on the advice therein given, feeling confident that an hour spent in reflection on such advice, even though it all be not agreed to, will not be spent in vain. By the cultivation of the habits referred to in that address, and by a grim determination on the part of every individual, to prove by his life and conduct that he values his political rights and privileges, and both knows how to, and actually does, discharge his duties faithfully and fearlessly, we will convince our Union Parliament that a sad mistake has been committed in the insertion of a colour line into the Constitution Act, and that the best policy to adopt will be to cancel that invidious provision at the earliest date possible.

I am,

Yours faithfully,

A. ABDURAHMAN