From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai

The year 1960 was indeed a turning-point. This was the year of Sharpeville; the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress were banned; a state of emergency was declared and thousands were arrested in pre-dawn police raids. As a result the Congress alliance was shattered. Furthermore, white South Africa chose a republic in a referendum. A political cross-road had now been reached. Below we have given part of the N.I.C. secretarial report for the year. Source: N.I.C. Agenda Book, Conference 3-5 March 1961, S. S. Singh Collection.


Ever since 1946 the question of the treatment of Indians has been raised annually in the United Nations. Year after year the General Assembly has adopted resolutions condemning the Government of South Africa. At the same time the role of the Union as the administrating authority for the mandated territory of South West Africa has come under the scrutiny of the United Nations. Repeatedly South Africa has been called upon to submit reports of its administration to the United Nations, which regards itself as the successor to the League of Nations.

As from 1952 the application of apartheid and the practice of racial discrimination was raised in the United Nations as constituting a threat to world peace.

The reply of the South African Government to the strictures of United Nations has been:

1.That the treatment of Indians in South Africa and the policy of apartheid and the practice of racial discrimination are matters within the domestic jurisdiction of South Africa.

2. That the United Nations is not the legal successor of the League of Nations and that therefore the Union Government is under no legal obligations to account to the UN for its administration of South West Africa.

3. The intensification of its policy of apartheid and racial discrimination; the increased persecution of people of Indian origin; the virtual incorporation into the Union of South West Africa, and the extension to that territory of the whole policy of apartheid and baasskap.

Thus it can be seen that the South African Government has not merely defied the United Nations but has challenged it by its own intensification of the policies to which the United Nations has taken exception.

In an effort, we hope a final effort, to induce the Government of South Africa to be persuaded to change its policy, the last session of the United Nations adopted a resolution and sent its Secretary-General to South Africa to consult with the Union Government.

The Secretary General, who was due to arrive in South Africa in July 1960, was obliged to postpone his visit repeatedly as a result of developments in the Congo and elsewhere and finally reached South Africa in January 1961. He was here for 10 days having had to cut his visit short. He saw various members of the Government, he was taken on a conducted tour of certain parts of the Union, and he was introduced to certain chiefs and members of Bantu Tribal Authorities in the Transkei including Pondoland, which he appears to have visited at his own request. He also met certain African 'leaders' opposed to the Government policy, selected and introduced to him by the Government.

Mr. Hammarskjoeld's visit to South Africa is a matter of historic importance. Three years ago a United Nations Commission on South Africa was refused entry into the country and was obliged to perform its tasks without the co-operation of the South African Government. It is significant that in 1961 Mr. Hammarskjoeld is not only allowed to enter South Africa but also had consultations with the Union Cabinet. Truly it is the sign of the times that the 'granite' Nationalist Party Government is compelled to recognise the increasing authority, power and role of the United Nations.

At the same time we must place on record our very keen disappointment that the United Nations Secretary-General, apart from fulfilling his mandate, should fail to meet any of the acknowledged representatives of the people who are in opposition to the Verwoerd regime.


On the 29th March 1960 and on succeeding days a state of emergency was proclaimed throughout the main centres of South Africa.

The proclamation followed the observance throughout the country by millions of people who responded magnificently to the call by Chief A. J. Luthuli, the former president-general of the now banned African National Congress, to observe a day of mourning on the 28th March 1960 for the dead who had been massacred at Sharpeville in the struggle against the vicious pass laws. It also followed the reign of terror that had been unleashed at Langa and Nyanga and the burning of passes by Chief Luthuli and thousands of others.

Although the now banned Pan Africanist Congress had initiated a campaign to surrender passes and invite arrests, to begin on the 21st March 1960, yet it was the now banned African National Congress which had resolved at its 1959 conference to make the year 1960 the greatest anti-pass year.

The peaceful crowds who gathered when the P.A.C. volunteers arrived at the Sharpeville police station were mercilessly shot down. A wave of indignation and shock swept the country and the world. A spokesman of the United States State Department publicly criticised the South African Government. The press of the Western world reported these events under banner headlines. Protest demonstrations were held in the main capitals of East and West, including India and Egypt. Many countries flew their national flags at half-mast. A flood of protests poured into South Africa.

At the same time the enforcement of Bantu Authorities and betterment schemes had inflamed the people of the Transkei and aroused the Pondos into active opposition. A serious situation had arisen in Eastern Pondoland with Paramount Chief Sigcau and other lesser chiefs fleeing into hiding.

The Government felt shaky. It proclaimed a state of emergency. In dramatic pre-dawn swoops some 2,000 political leaders were arrested and detained under hastily proclaimed emergency regulations without trial. And about 20,000 others were similarly arrested and detained under the notorious section 4 bis of the emergency regulations. Some of the detainees who were held at Modder B died during their detention in circumstances which call for a public inquiry. The fate of these 4 bis detainees remains unknown to this day.

However we must salute the thousands of people who demonstrated through marches and stay-aways against the detentions in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban where the political tempo reached a high level. We must also pay tribute to the wives and children of detainees who fearlessly gathered, marched and demanded the unconditional release of their husbands and parents.

For some years prior to this it was known that the Government was seeking an opportunity to ban the A.N.C. Taking advantage of the situation following the massacre at Sharpeville the Government introduced the Unlawful Organisations Bill in Parliament to ban the A.N.C. and the newly emerged P.A.C. Before this Bill became law the emergency was declared and the country-wide arrests took place. At the same time a proclamation was issued banning the publication of New Age and Torch. Delegates will know the attitude of the Government to New Age, which is the fearless exponent of the demands and aspirations of the people of South Africa for democratic rights.

World reaction to this situation may be gauged by the fact that the stock exchange suffered losses amounting to more than twelve hundred million rand. Overseas confidence in South Africa was being dissipated so rapidly that by the end of July the Government was compelled to announce the lifting of the emergency. In fact the emergency was lifted on the 31st August 1961. But the ban on the A.N.C. must be viewed as a major blow against the Congress Alliance with intent by the authorities to weaken and cripple the alliance. It is a denial of the freedom of association and expression. We must strive for the lifting of the ban and the repeal of the Unlawful Organisations Act.


Before the end of the emergency the Government announced that a referendum would be held on the question of the Republic. It appears certain that the leaders of the Nationalist Party were of the opinion that the conditions flowing from the state of emergency had rendered favourable their chances of obtaining a victory in such a referendum. Finally the date for polling was fixed for the 5th of October 1960. And the expected majority was obtained for a Republic.


Immediately after the announcement of the referendum results Dr. Jan Steytler, leader of the Progressive Party whose programme provides for the convening of a national convention as one of the first acts following a Progressive Party election victory, now called for a national convention to determine the constitutional principles of the proposed Republic.

In similar fashion the Liberal Party called for a convention though it is even now not quite clear whether a national convention or provincial convention is visualised. At the present time we are not certain that the Progressive Party still adheres to its demand for a national convention. In the Republican referendum only whites of 18 years of age and upwards voted. The non-white peoples do not enjoy the parliamentary franchise. Consequently they had no say in the making of the decision as to whether South Africa should or should not be a Republic. What is even more important is they are not represented in Parliament and therefore will play no part there in the framing of the Republican constitution.

In this situation the Interdenominational African Ministers' Federation issued a public call for a national convention which would formulate the principles upon which a Republican constitution should be based, with the participation of the representatives of all the peoples of South Africa. At about the same time, our president publicly made a similar plea and Chief A. J. Luthuli called for a conference of the African people to consider this question.

At the beginning of December a joint meeting of the executives of the Congresses resolved that a national convention was a matter of pressing urgency, as it was of the view that there could be no enduring constitution unless all the people participated in its drafting. A meeting of African leaders was held in Johannesburg and a preparatory committee was formed, entrusted with the task of convening a national conference of the African people to consider this question. This conference will be held in this city three weeks hence and I take this opportunity to extend to it the warm greetings of the Indian people of Natal and our sincere wishes that the deliberations of that conference will mark a further forward step in the democratic evolution of our country.

I also take this opportunity of extending our warm greetings to the Coloured leaders of the Cape for their enthusiastic initiation of a conference of Coloured people on the issue of a national convention.

We on our part are faced with the duty of crystallising the opinions of the Indian people on this matter. I am of the opinion that it is urgent for the South African Indian Congress to mobilise all sections of the Indian people of South Africa behind a national convention which will devise a non-racial democratic constitution for the South African Republic.

There are numerous apartheid laws on the statute-book, for instance the Group Areas Act, Bantu Authorities Act, the Co-ordination of Documents and Abolition of Passes Act, the Extension of University Education Act, Job Reservation Act, the Population Registration Act and a whole host of other laws whose purpose is to divide, regiment and compartmentalise the people of South Africa. Bantu Authorities, Coloured Authorities and Asian Authorities are all products of a policy to restrict, confine and hamper the natural development of the non-white people and to prevent them from achieving their natural aspirations. The incidents and mass arrests in Pondoland and the emergency situation which continues there emphasise the painful episode of the application of laws unacceptable to the people. Racist policies denying human rights can produce dangerous, unwelcome and anarchic situations which can gravely affect the peace of the country. The mobile troops and Saracens in Pondoland cannot compel people into submission to Bantu Authorities and Bantustans if the people are genuinely aggrieved against these measures.

We must guard against the temptation to make apartheid plans and projects work. Hence our Congress has condemned the separate tribal college at Salisbury Island, which we categorically state is designed to indoctrinate the minds of our students and we reject it in toto just as we reject Dr. Verwoerd's plan to set up an Asian Affairs Department. We do not see benefits in these, just as the African people do not see benefits in the application of Bantu Authorities, Bantustans, so-called betterment schemes, the Pass Laws and Bantu Education.

We cannot feel indifferent to the Treason Trial, which commenced after the dawn arrests of leaders on December 5th 1956. It still continues, but we are advised that it may end at the Synagogue in Pretoria sometime during this year. A victory for the leaders on trial will be a great blow to the Nationalists, and let us hope and pray that the policy of non-violence which we have fearlessly upheld throughout our struggle for full democratic rights and which is in issue in this trial will be vindicated.

In concluding this section of the report I wish to invite delegates to [recollect] the visit of Mr. Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, to South Africa in January of last year and his now famous 'winds of change' speech to a joint session of both Houses of Parliament. Dag Hammarskjoeld almost a year later, referring to the apartheid policy of South Africa, suggested that it was 'provocative'. Both these gentlemen with their fingers on the pulse of development in the world and especially in Africa acknowledged the increasing tempo of political change. We too, in spite of the arrogation to itself of coercive powers by the South African Government, must recognise how rapidly the situation in South Africa has changed especially since the proclamation of the state of emergency in March last year. We must study the situation carefully. History is unfolding before us a situation pregnant with opportunities. We are at a turning-point in the history of our country. I am confident that our Congress representing the Indian people in Natal and the South African Indian Congress, together with our fraternal Congresses and other representatives of the people of South Africa, will accept the challenge of this situation and prove equal to the task of realising a non-racial democracy in our country and shouldering the responsibilities of reconstruction on democratic foundations.