Letter To The Prime Minister, Mr J.C. Strijdom


To The Prime Minister, Mr J.C. Strijdom
May 28, 1957

Chief Lutuli addressed this letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of the African
National Congress, suggesting a multiracial convention to seek a solution
to the country's pressing problems. Apart from a formal acknowledgement on
June 7, 1957, from the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, the letter
received no response from the Government.

The Honourable the Prime Minister,
Union of South Africa,
House of Assembly,
Honourable Sir,

At a time when in many respects our country is passing through some of the
most difficult times in its history, I consider it my duty as leader of the
African National Congress, a Union-wide premier political organization among
the African people in the Union of South Africa, to address this letter direct
to you as Head of the Government, to apprise you personally of the very grave
fears and concerns of my people, the Africans, at the situation now existing
in the Union, especially about matters affecting them.

I shall venture to place before you respectfully what I consider to be some
of the disturbing features of our situation and suggest steps that could
be taken by the Government to meet the position.

I have addressed this letter to you, Sir, and not to any Department for two

Firstly, because the gravity of our situation requires your direct personal
attention and, secondly, because what I shall say fundamentally affects
the welfare of the Union of South Africa as a whole, since both basically
and in practice, the so-called "Native
Affairs" are not only intricately interwoven with the true interests of other racial
groups, but are a key to a proper understanding and appraisal of South African
affairs and problems, for indeed, "all South African politics are native affairs".

One of the tragic aspects of the political situation in our country today is
the increasing deterioration in race relations, especially in Black-White
relations. There can be no two viewpoints on this question. Never has there
been such an extremely delicate relationship as now exists between the Government
of whites only, of which you are head, and the vast masses of non-European
people in general, and the African people in particular. This unfortunate
state of affairs has resulted from a number of factors, the basic one being
the policy of segregation, especially its more aggressive form, white baasskap
and apartheid.

It is in the economic sphere that this disastrous policy of discrimination
has affected Africans hardest and most cruelly. It has brought on them an
economic plight that has shown itself in the dire poverty of the people both
in the urban and in the rural areas. This fact has long been attested to
from time to time by economic experts and by findings of government commissions.
Recently, as a result of the Rand and Pretoria Bus Boycott, the extreme poverty
of Africans in urban areas, has been acknowledged by even commerce and industry.
It is not necessary for one to describe the generally admitted horrifying
state of degradation this poverty has brought upon the African people or
to refer in any detail to the tragic social consequences such as disease,
malnutrition, bad housing, broken families and delinquency among children
and youth.

The denial to the African people of the democratic channels of expression and
participation in the government of the country has accentuated the stresses
and strains to which they are subject. My people have come to view with alarm
every new session of Parliament because it has meant the passing of more
oppressive discriminatory legislation there. As a result of this annual influx
of new legislation, there are already in the statute books of the Union of
South Africa, a large number of laws which cause my people tremendous hardship
and suffering. The African people view these laws as further weapons of attack
on their very existence as a people. For the sake of brevity, I shall refer
to only a few of such laws in support of my charge. Here are the categories
of some of such laws:

1. The land laws which to all intents and purposes deny the African people
the right to own land in both the rural and the urban areas. In rural areas
Africans are tenants in State rural reserves or in privately-owned land.
In urban areas they are tenants in municipal lands.

The land allocated to Africans in rural areas is most inadequate. It will only
be 15 per cent of the entire land surface of the Union when all the land
promised them in the Natives' Land and Trust Act of 1936 shall have been
acquired. On account of this inadequacy of land, the African people live
under extremely congested conditions in rural areas and in the urban areas
and find it difficult to make a living above subsistence level from the land.
These land laws are in many respects reminiscent of the worst features of
the feudal laws of mediaeval days.

2. The pass laws, which not only deny the African people freedom of movement,
but are enforced in ways that cause people much unnecessary suffering and

They are definitely an affront to human personality and it is not surprising
that their extension to our womenfolk has resulted in Union-wide protests
and in the expression of deep indignation by the entire African population.
These protests and demonstrations are indicative of a state of unrest and
intense tension among the African people.

Section 10 of the Native (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act of 1945, as substituted
by Section 27 of Act 54 of 1952, places serious and far-reaching restrictions
on the right of my people to enter into and remain within an urban area in
order to compel them to seek employment on European farms where working conditions
are extremely shocking. Acting under this provision, local authorities and
members of the police force have forcibly removed from their homes and families
thousands upon thousands of my people in the interest of the European farming

3. The master and servant acts, which are designed effectively to limit to
unskilled categories the participation of the African people in industry
and commerce. This relegates the bulk of African workers to low uneconomic
wages. My people note with grave concern the efforts of your Government to
destroy the African trade union movement.

The current session of Parliament affords the country no respite from apartheid
legislation. It has before it a large number of measures of far-reaching
consequences for the country in general, and the African people in particular.
There is the Native Laws Amendment Bill, which is seen by the African people
as another measure attacking the civil and religious liberties of the people
and aimed at preventing contact on a basis of human dignity and equality
between the African people and the rest of our multiracial population.

The African people are similarly disturbed by other measures now before Parliament,
such as the bill of Apartheid in University Education, the Apartheid Nursing
Bill, the measure to increase indirect taxation of the African people despite
their poverty, and a bill intended to prevent the operation of alternative
bus services where the boycott weapon has been effectively used by a people
who have no other means of seeking redress against an economic injustice.

We are greatly concerned at the policy of apartheid and the administrative
action flowing from it because we honestly believe that these are against
the true interest of democracy and freedom. I would like to point out here
that the enforcement of the discriminatory apartheid laws brings the African
people into unnecessary contact with the police. Unfortunately, the impatient
and domineering manner in which the police often do their work among Africans
results in unfortunate clashes between the people and the police. The net
result is that Africans tend to lose respect for the law and come to look
upon the Union of South Africa as a Police State.

...What does my Congress stand for?

My Congress is deeply wedded to the ideals of democracy and has at all times
emphasised its firm and unshakeable belief in the need for the creation of
a society in South Africa based on the upholding of democratic values, values
which are today cherished the world over by all civilized peoples.

We believe in a society in which the white and the non-white peoples of
the Union will work and live in harmony for the common good of our
fatherland and share equally in the good things of life which our country
offers in abundance. We believe in the brotherhood of man and in the
upholding of human respect and dignity. Never has my Congress preached
hatred against any racial group in the Union. On the contrary, it has
stretched out its hand of friendship to all South Africans of all races,
emphasising that there is sufficient room for all in this beautiful
country of ours in which we can and must live in peace and friendship.
Unfortunately, there are people, among them Ministers of the Crown
- Mr Louw, Mr Schoeman, Dr Verwoerd, to mention some - who, according
to Press reports, believe that the aims and objects of the African
National Congress are to drive the white man out of Southern Africa
and to set up a "Native
State". These people charge that the African National Congress is
highly subversive and fosters a communistic-tainted African nationalism
or a rabid tyrannical and narrow African nationalism and intends, in either
case, to deprive the white minority in South Africa of their share in the
Government of the country.

This is not - and never has been - the policy of my Congress. On the contrary,
Congress believes in a common society and holds that citizens of a country,
regardless of their race or colour, have the right to full participation
in the government and in the control of their future. Anyone who has taken
the slightest trouble to study the policy of my Congress and followed its
activities should know how baseless and unfounded these fears about Congress

Why do we believe in a common society?

Firstly, we believe in a common society because we honestly hold that anything
to the contrary unduly works against normal human behaviour, for the gregarious
nature of man enables him to flourish to his best in association with others
who cherish lofty ideals. "Not
for good or for worse", but for "good and better things" the African has accepted the higher moral and spiritual values inherent in the
fundamental concepts of what, for lack of better terminology, is called "Western Civilization".
Apartheid, so far, has revealed itself as an attempt by White South Africa
to shunt the African off the tried, civilized road by getting him to glorify
unduly his tribal past.

Secondly, we believe that the close spiritual and moral contact facilitated
by a common society structure in one nation makes it easier to develop friendship
and mutual respect and understanding among various groups in a nation; this
is especially valuable in a multi-racial nation like ours and these qualities
- friendship, mutual respect and understanding, and a common loyalty - are
a sine qua non to the building of a truly united nation from a heterogeneous
society. In our view, it will not be easy to develop a common loyalty to
South Africa when its people by law are kept strictly apart spiritually and
socially. Such a state of affairs is likely to give rise to unjustified fears
and suspicions which often lead to deadly hatreds among the people and, more
often than not, end in disastrous antagonism within the nation.

Lastly, we hold the view that the concept of a common society conforms more
than does apartheid to the early traditional closer Black-White contact.
This, undoubtedly, accounts for the relatively rapid way in which Africans,
from the days of these early contacts, to their advantage and that of South
Africa as a whole, took to and absorbed fairly rapidly Christian teachings
and the education that accompanied it.

Strongly holding as we do the views I have just stated, you will appreciate,
Sir, with what heartfelt concern, alarm and disappointment we learnt recently
from Press reports that the Government intends banning the African National
Congress and arresting 2,000 more of its members. I humbly submit that
such an action would serve to increase the dangerous gulf that exists between
the Government and the African people and, in particular, those African
who have knowledge of social and economic forces at work in the modern
South Africa of today and the world in general. No loyal South African,
white or
non-white, should view with equanimity such a situation. It is this loyalty
and deep concern for the welfare of the Union that makes me say most emphatically
that your Government has no justification whatsoever in banning the African
National Congress and making further arrests of its members. I would support
my plea by emphasizing with all the strength at my command that such actions
would be against the true
interests of South Africa.

I make no undue claim when I say that my Congress represents the true and fundamental
aspirations and views of practically all the African people in the Union
and these aspirations and views are not alien to the best interests of our
common country. Rather, it will be found that they conform to the United
Nations Charter and the international Declaration of Human Rights.

If it should appear that my Congress pleads strongly and uncompromisingly for
the advancement of the African people only, it would not be because it is
actuated by a partisan spirit, but rather because the African people are
at the lowest rung of the ladder. I am sure that with the same meal, vigour
and devotion it would espouse - and in fact does espouse - the uplift of
other under-privileged peoples regardless of their colour or race.

My people crave for an opportunity to work for a great United South Africa
in which they can develop their personalities and capabilities to the fullest
with the rest of the country's population in the interest of the country
as a whole. No country can prosper when antagonisms divide its people and
when, as we Africans see it, Government policy is directly opposed to the
legitimate wishes and interests of a qreat maiority of the population.

I might here point out that the African National Congress has always sought
to achieve its objectives by using non-violent methods. In its most militant
activities it has never used nor attempted to use physical force. It has
used non-violent means and ways recognized as legitimate in the civilized
world, especially in the case of a people, such as we are, who find themselves
denied all effective constitutional means of voicing themselves in the sovereign
forum of the country.

I would, for emphasis, reiterate that it is our ardent desire in Congress
to see human conduct and relations motivated by an overriding passion for peace
and friendship in South Africa and in the world in general and so we would
as strongly be opposed to Black domination, or any other kind of domination
from whatever source, as we are uncompromisingly opposed to White domination.
We regard domination, exploitation and racialism as arch enemies of mankind.

What should be the Government's reply to the views and aspirations of my organization
which I have tried faithfully to present?

In my opinion, the only real answer the Government could give to the stand
of my Congress and its inevitable agitation, is for it to make an earnest
effort to meet the progressive aspirations of the African people and not
to attempt to silence Congress and its leadership by bannings and arrests,
for it is the African National Congress and its leadership that is the authentic
and responsible voice of the people.

Rather than outlaw the African National Congress or persecute its members
and supporters, the Government, in a statesmanlike manner, should reconsider
its "Native
Policy" with a view to bringing it in conformity with democratic and
moral values inherent in any way of life meriting to be described as civilized.

It is the considered view of my Congress that the lack of effective contact
and responsible consultation between the Government and the non-European
people is at the root of the growing deterioration in race relations and
in the relation between the African people and the Government.

Unless healthy contact and purposeful consultation take place at the highest
level between the Government and the accredited leaders of the people, misunderstanding
and strained relations must grow.

Persistently to ignore the legitimate wishes and interests of the African people
and permanently to close the door to consultation with representative organizations
enjoying the loyalty of the people, is not the path of statesmanship and
can lead only to even more dangerous and chaos in the country.

The Government should earnestly address itself to seeking ways and means of
establishing some permanent democratic machinery to enable all citizens to
participate intelligently and effectively in the government of the country
as is done in all truly democratic states. The existing forms of consultation,
such as do exist, are, in my opinion, not only inadequate, but undemocratic:
the quarterly meetings of African chiefs, the Bantu Authorities (where these
exist) and the Advisory Boards in urban areas; even the so-called Native
Representatives in the Senate and in the House of Assembly can be no substitute
for truly democratic representation and consultation.

My Congress is convinced that it is today urgently necessary for the Government
to devise new ways to meet the challenging problems before South Africa.
It is eminently in the interest of the country as a whole that this present
impasse be broken and the danger to future tensions recognized and averted
before it is too late.

It should not be beyond the capacity of statesmen in South Africa - and I would
not like to believe that South Africa is bankrupt of statesmanship - to take
in faith steps which could inaugurate a new era in inter-racial co-operation
and harmony in our country.

As I have stressed directly and indirectly throughout this letter, no time
should be lost in making contact with the leadership of organizations and
bodies, among them the African National Congress, representative of organized
African opinion, with a view not only to discuss the problems and issues
such as I have drawn attention to in this letter, but to consider the advisability
and possibility of calling a multi-racial convention to seek a solution to
our pressing national problems.

In the name of the African National Congress, I am happy to make this
approach to you in the hope that our country's future and happiness will triumph
over established conventions, procedures and party considerations.

I need hardly mention that in the event of your Government not acceding to
this request, my organization must continue to fight for the rights of my

I am, Honourable Sir,

Yours respectfully,
African National Congress




Last updated : 31-Mar-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011