In 1946 the Government passed the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (referred to as the 'Ghetto' Act in the next document). The Natal Indian Congress rejected it and launched a passive resistance campaign. Dr. G. M. (Monty) Naicker's presidential address to the Congress embodied a defiant spirit. He declared: ‘That with 8 000 000 out of 10 000 000 organised in a determined struggle, supported by India and Asia, and the rest of the peace-loving peoples of the world, we must win. . .' Source: N.I.C. Agenda Book, 31 May-1 June 1947.
It gives me a sense of very deep pleasure to be back among you again, back in time for this conference, the first to be held under our new democratic constitution.
I know that most of you would wish me to give you a full account of my experiences in India, but I cannot do that tonight. I must leave such a talk to a later date. However, I wish to give you the main political conclusions that Dr. Dadoo and I have drawn from our tour. India approves of our struggle, and is against any form of surrender or talk of surrender. Every political party in India pledges us its full support. We were inspired not only by India's great leaders and national organisations to continue unswervingly along our path, but also by the fighting spirit of the masses of India, who everywhere greeted us with spontaneous enthusiasm and encouraged us to fight with increased vigour. Whatever internal differences may exist in India we found that the people and leaders were unanimous about their compatriots in South Africa.
Gandhiji told us that the satyagrahis of South Africa should know that they have India behind them in their struggle for preserving the self respect of Indians in South Africa.'
Jinnah, after he had been given an outline of the position, said: 'I believe and wholeheartedly sympathise in their struggle for a righteous cause. We have done all we could to help the Indians in South Africa and we wish we could do more to help them.'
We were also fortunate enough to be able to have discussions with representatives from almost every country in Asia, and one and all assured us of their keen interest and active support.
Both India and the Asian leaders recognised that we in South Africa were not only fighting for our just rights but also to preserve the national honour and dignity of all Indians and Asians and Dr. Dadoo and I know that we spoke in your name when we made it clear to all that we would not flinch whatever the trials that fate may have in store for us.
When South Africa first insulted Asians and accorded them a lower status here, the Asian countries were weak, divided and oppressed by imperialism.
We were quick to notice a fundamental change in Asia. Despite temporary difficulties the old Asia is dead for all time and a mighty India and resurgent Asia is arising which will allow no country to trifle with her sons and daughters in other countries. Little does puny South Africa realise the rapidly growing strength of the mighty forces whose anger she is provoking. The whole Asian world is aglow with the determination never to submit meekly to race domination or imperialist exploitation.
WHAT DO WE INDIANS ASK IN SOUTH AFRICA?
We are not here to make extravagant demands or to seek any privileges that are not our due. We are citizens of this country. We are taxed in the usual way. All we ask is to be given in return those rights which belong to all citizens in a democratic state. We are not foreigners. We are South Africans of Indian descent, in the same way as others are South Africans of English, European or African decent. Nearly all of us were born in this country. Our fathers came here in the 1860s and after at the express desire of the then Government of Natal on the promise of rights 'not a whit inferior' to those of the white man. We do not accept the theory that just because our skin is darker than that of Europeans we should get inferior treatment, and should be relegated to the position of 'drawers of water and hewers of wood'. The world has just emerged from the greatest crisis of humanity in its fight against Nazism and Fascism, the supreme embodiments of the 'herrenvolk ideology'. Recognising that such ideas are bound to lead to further wars the nations of the world, assembled at San Francisco, in framing the Charter of the United Nations resolved categorically to ban racialism from the world, and all the members of the UN subscribed to the Charter, prohibiting discrimination based on colour, race or creed.
South Africa in signing the Charter accepted the proviso and thus in effect agreed to the abolition of its colour-bar policies. Notwithstanding her solemn world obligations, notwithstanding her repeated agreements with India, not only did she refuse to frame a programme for the gradual elimination of all such legislation but, on the contrary, introduced the 'Ghetto' Act, thereby depriving the Indian community of fundamental human rights and imposing a policy of segregation.
The UN, after a careful and full examination of South Africa's conduct, decided by a two-thirds majority that S.A. and India should meet so as to bring the treatment of Indians in this country in accord with the UN Charter and in consonance with agreements between the two countries. In other words the UN implicitly ruled that S.A. had violated the Charter, but that she be given an opportunity to remedy the situation.
We, the Indian people, stand by the UN's decision as the judgment of the highest tribunal in the world. We realise that the world is not only concerned about our treatment but that it recognised that in S. A. ’s treatment of its non Europeans generally were hidden the seeds of vast international conflicts. Just as the peoples of the world had refused to tolerate the racialist ideas of Hitler, so the UN had agreed not to allow S.A. to menace world peace.
Can South Africa defy UNO? We think not.
It would be wrong, of course, to give the impression that we demand our liberty by the sweep of the pen. That is not so. What we ask is first the unconditional repeal of the Ghetto Act. Secondly, a programme of progressive removal of all the laws that place Indians in an inferior position.
WHY SHOULD SOUTH AFRICA REFUSE TO GRANT US OUR RIGHTS?
South Africa is a member of the World Parliament where she works with delegates of all nations including Indians, Asians, and other non-Europeans. She has never objected to this arrangement and has not demanded that in the interests of 'white civilisation' non-white countries should be debarred from membership because their overwhelming number will swamp UN and finally force the world to follow an 'Eastern policy'. Then why should she not apply the same principles in this country and allow non-Europeans free and equal representation? If South African soldiers did not object to fighting side by side with Indians and other Asians to overthrow Nazism, why should S.A. citizens object to working together with all the inhabitants of this country to defeat the real enemy — poverty, hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, underproduction and underdevelopment, lack of housing, disease, crime and so on.
We reject all arguments based on the inability of Indians to have the same culture, understanding and standard of living as the Europeans. Such arguments are specious, untruthful, and unscientific, and are based completely on the refuted Nazi ideology. We can thus come to only one conclusion — that the Government is not anxious to deal fairly in the matter but for its own purposes, namely those of protecting European vested interests, it is prepared to allow S.A. to degenerate into the undesirable position that Germany finds herself in today.
There is no justifiable reason at all for one community to try to live on the exploitation of other communities. South Africa is a large country with a small population and vast resources. There is plenty of room for all, wealth for all and work for all, provided we do away with artificial barriers and give every person the opportunities of full self-development and the right of equal participation in the building up of South Africa's vast potential.
Once the standard of living of all South Africa's populations is raised, and with the removal of the fears of unemployment, together with the supplying of adequate food and housing, racialism will disappear. But if the process is reversed and if our common problems and dangers are forgotten, to be replaced by an orgy of race-baiting and race-hatred, then this country will be dragged towards an abyss; and not the least to suffer will be the Europeans themselves as they can never hope to enjoy the fruits of democracy by allowing non-Europeans to live in poverty and disease.
The colour-bar is recognised by thinking men and women in South Africa of all colours to be the greatest barrier to industrial and agricultural development, in the same way as slavery was to America in the middle of the last century. Our policy, therefore, far from being impractical, is the only real and lasting solution if South Africa is to avoid a devastating economic and political crisis in the near future.
Nor is our policy in any way anti-European. We know that the fundamental interests of both Europeans and Indians (and other peoples) of this country are the same. We stand for friendship with the European community, but such friendship can only be won on the basis of equal status for all – not on basis of race inequalities.
THE SMUTS GOVERNMENT AND THE UNO DECISION
After the UN decision the Passive Resistance Council decided to continue passive resistance in token form in order to give the Government an opportunity of translating it into reality.
We regret to note that the Government has failed to observe a proper sense of responsibility following the last Assembly of the UN and has encouraged the belief among the electorate that its decisions may be ignored with impunity. The reactionaries immediately went ahead with attempts to terrorize the Indian community and the Government itself connived at the boycott of Indian traders, hoping thus to force the merchant class into panic. But it to only succeeded in driving the leaders of appeasement out of their hiding places. It must also be admitted that due entirely to the Government's refusal to reveal the true implications of the UN resolution to the Europeans, there has been a deterioration in relations between the two communities.
There can be no doubt, however, that the Prime Minister is greatly troubled by the thought of the next meeting of the UN General Assembly and is not as comforted as he was by his 'powerful friends'.
It is clear that the S.A. Government desires a round-table conference with India, but only in the hope that some compromise agreement can be arrived at.
Realising that your Congress would not collaborate in destroying the rations of the Indian people, the Government has inspired the formation a 'Natal Indian Organisation' in the time-honoured imperialist tradition of divide and rule. The indecent haste with which General Smuts has recognised this' organisation reveals the ineptitude of his tactics. Aptly has Sir Syed Raza Ali castigated it as an 'unholy alliance' between a small section of 'big Indian money in the Union and General Smuts'.
The representative voice of the Indian people of Natal, however, is to found in no other place than in this, the largest assembly of accredited delegates of the province's Indian community. It is always available to the Prime Minister, and in his need he should seek it if he sincerely desires an understanding with our people. He must be warned that the substitutes sought elsewhere are valueless.
To summarize. We stand for a round-table conference to be held within the framework of the UN's resolution. We are not anti-European. We are the friends of all the peoples of this country.
We expect that the Ghetto Act will be unconditionally withdrawn, and that steps will be taken to remove the other disabilities against us.
We stand also for the removal of disabilities imposed on the Africans and all other races amongst us, and at all times we shall assist them in their struggle.
We stand for non-European co-operation as the best means of waging a struggle for the full implementation of the rights of all peoples of S.A. We regard the signing of our agreement with Dr. Xuma as a historic development in co-operation of our two peoples.
All of India is perhaps more pleased with this achievement than with all other steps to date. Just as we shall never rest till we are freed so shall we work till all the non-Europeans get equal treatment.
To all who think that we are not strong enough to continue the struggle we say: That with 8,000,000 out of 10,000,000 organised in a determined struggle, supported by India and Asia, and the rest of the peace-loving peoples of the world, we must win, just as all the countries of Europe and Asia raising aloft the proud banner of freedom and revealing an unconquerable spirit are winning through to independence.