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

In 1966, the Government appointed a National Indian Council, a non-statutory advisory body consisting of twenty members. This was given statutory standing in 1968; it was then re-named the South African Indian Council and consisted of twenty-five members. The membership was increased to thirty in 1974, fifteen of whom were to be appointed and fifteen elected by Indians serving on local authorities. The council's function was to advise the Government, at the latter's request or on its own initiative, on all matter affecting Indians. Dr. M. B. Naidoo, who presented the following assessment to fellow council members, probably at the end of 1978, joined the S.A.I.C. in 1969 and remained a member until his death in February 1979. Source: Copy supplied by the lateDr. M. B. Naidoo.

It is recorded that the year 1860 saw the landing of the first batch of Indians at Port Natal under contract to serve their white masters in tending, nurturing and extending the cane-fields in Natal. This was the primary purpose of the labour contract and if the Indians were employed in other forms of servitude, it was because of the dearth of labour and the recognition of the Indian's wide range of adaptability.

It is not my purpose at this stage to examine the conditions of the labour contract but suffice to say that the indentured Indian had the right to exercise one of two options: either to return to India on a free passage after his contract had expired or to remain in Natal as a citizen enjoying the rights and privileges of white Natalians. But this solemn assurance was never at any stage carried out and the disillusionment was complete when measures were taken to repatriate the Indians and their descendants. The political struggles that ensued before and after the Act of Union do not require repetition as the story of the Indian people is contained in the annals of South African history. That story is one of struggles against the restrictions imposed on them, their rejection by the whites of Natal, their inferior social and political status and, above all, what the United Nations proclaims, the deprivation of fundamental human rights. It is the latter that has become a matter of the gravest contention and has awakened the conscience of the world to the evils of racial segregation.

Five decades of this century had witnessed persistent demands for the elimination of discrimination, for social equality, for the removal of irritating restrictions such as the provincial barriers and the hope for an egalitarian society. These decades have also witnessed a steadfast opposition to the social inequalities by the Natal Indian Congress, that supreme political body which rebelled against the effrontery and arrogance of white citizens and policy-makers. The outspokenness of the Congress, the dedication of the men who clamoured for social and political reforms, form heroic chapters in the history of the Indian people. Their struggles were highlighted abroad and they appealed for the intervention of India and Pakistan to redeem their bondage to a system which clearly encouraged repatriation as a solution to the Indian problem, as it was then known. In truth there would have been no such thing as an Indian problem, if only the whites did not set their minds to be obdurate, racialistic and irrational. The mid-forties were years when Indian political leaders were intransigent and rebelled against the expectations of obsequiousness by some extreme white racialists. The many acts of defiance based on Gandhian principles were summarily dealt with and a near-decade of martyrdom for a cause had an abrupt ending. The leaders dispersed, some into exile and others under banning orders, who ceased to be vocal. Such was the turmoil when the Nationalist Government came into power with a vengeance and asserted a regime that was stern, inviolable and imperious. Effective political opposition by the Indians was suppressed and except for sporadic efforts to vindicate their grievances, the general body of the opponents of' Government policy desisted from open confrontations.

From 1946 discrimination against Indians, voiced by the Indian and Pakistani Governments at the United Nations, became a hardy perennial and neither accusations nor recriminations altered the status of the South African Indians. The uncertainty of the political future of the Indian community was a de facto situation until 1961 when the late Dr. Verwoerd pronounced that henceforth the Indians should be a permanent part of the Republic's population. This dispensation was received with mixed feelings, as the new status was not sufficiently meaningful when it was bereft of the privileges enjoyed by white South Africans. But the assurance of citizenship had one significant overtone: it removed from the Indian mind the fear and the anxiety of repatriation and inaugurated a way of life in which the uncertainties and tensions of the past ceased to be disturbing.

The Verwoerdian pronouncement was followed by the creation of a department of Indian Affairs and the appointment of a Minister of Indian Affairs. The success of this venture required the co-operation of the Indian people. At an historic meeting held in Cape Town in March 1964 prominent Indians were invited to discuss the formation of Indian Advisory Council. Later in the same year at another meeting held at Laudium and presided over by the former Secretary for Indian Affairs, Mr. J. H. H. van der Merwe, one hundred Indians were present from whom the first Indian National Council as formed.

In the Fiat Lux of May 1966, it is reported as follows: 'At the Laudium conference when one hundred Indians were present, the Minister of Indian Affairs explained that for the present such a council would serve a dual purpose. In the first instance it was to be a body with which the Government through the Department of Indian Affairs could consult on matters affecting the Indian community. Secondly, the council was to assist the Department in paving the way for and developing an eventual democratically elected body which in time would control those affairs of the local Indian community which might be delegated to it by Parliament. It was also explained that such a council would constitute the recognised channel through which the Indian community could make representations to the Government.'

For the first time in the history of the Indian people a channel of communication was established. Previously, only with the approval of the Ministers were Indians permitted to interview them when a political crisis arose. They then went virtually hat in hand and suffered the humiliation of being tolerated. The first National Indian Council was a non-statutory body comprising nineteen men and a woman. The council volunteered to test the sincerity of Government. Several meetings were held and several resolutions submitted, aimed at the relaxation of the laws affecting the Indian people. Progress was far from being startling. This body was however dismantled and a new body with twenty-five members came into existence in 1968 with statutory status.

The statutory council created in 1968 functioned for three years and on expiry of its life-span, it was succeeded by the second statutory council again of nominated members. In all its deliberations during those years, the council urged the Minister of Indian Affairs to set up a fully elected council representing the entire Indian community. This request was acceded to in the formation of the third statutory council in 1974 but with a difference. The membership of the council was increased to thirty members, fifteen of whom were elected by local authorities and fifteen members nominated. All three provinces were involved, with provincial representation based as follows: Cape Province, four members of whom one was elected; Transvaal, eight members of whom four were elected; and Natal, eighteen members of whom ten were elected. This then is the composition of the present council of which four members elected by the council form the executive committee and one appointed by the Minister is the chairman of the executive. The council as a whole is under a chairman known as the chairman of the council as distinct from the chairman of the executive - the former elected by the members of the council.

The bone of contention in the Indian community is that the South African Indian Council is without legislative powers and is therefore useless as a body without the power to legislate. A wide section of the Indian people view the limitation as a reflection on its calibre and its inability to assume responsibilities despite the high degree of sophistication of its members and their intellectual standing. But last year two portfolios of education and social welfare previously held by the Minister of Indian Affairs were delegated to the executive committee (Exco) which took the decision to re-delegate education to the Director of Indian Education and retain the portfolio of social welfare. The former became a contentious issue and was argued by the full council in favour of a re-examination of the Exco's decision.


The present term of the council is due to expire in November this year but there are indications that it will continue to function until early next year when a new council of forty members of whom thirty will be elected will replace it. It is understood that a fully elected council which is the goal of the present council is unlikely at this stage, for reasons best known to the Government. The amended South African Indian Council Act promulgated last year makes provision for a voters' roll. Registration cards are in circulation throughout the Republic but the response of the Indian community to voluntary registration is disappointing. This is not surprising. The Indian community has behaved on this issue with reticence. They disclaim the South African Indian Council (S.A.I.C.) as the mouthpiece of the Indian people and insist on a council composed of fully elected members. Again there are others who will not accept anything else but direct representation in Parliament. This is understandable but there is still a vocal element which repudiates the council and accuses it of collaborating with the Government and in doing so is nullifying the aspirations of the black people.

The general mass of the Indians however appears confused. Their non-participation in the registration towards the compilation of a voters' roll can only lead to their embarrassment when a bill is introduced in Parliament making registration compulsory. It has been made perfectly clear that registration places no obligation on the voter to exercise his vote. He or she need not do so and no penalty can be imposed for the omission. It must be appreciated if a voters' roll helps in the delimitation of constituencies, a factor of inestimable advantage in the event of the enfranchisement of the Indian. Despite the apparent apathy to register, movements are afoot in the formation of political parties to contest the forthcoming S.A.I.C. elections. There is in evidence a surprising dichotomy in the attitude of the average Indian, more among those who belong to the sophisticated class. There is the overt rejection of the S.A.I.C. and all locally constituted statutory bodies on the one hand and on the other an eagerness to enjoy the benefits of apartheid. There are clandestine requests for favours from members of the S.A.I.C., whereas outwardly the opposition is vociferous and acrimonious. Opposition members would proclaim in their political manifestos that they are squarely behind the underprivileged and were with them and for them. And yet they will seek the most elite areas created by Group Areas proclamations for their own sumptuous residences. Only a few politicians so far have chosen to live in Chatsworth among a people whose cause they so emotionally advocate. Then there are many individuals and organisations that censure the S.A.I.C. for not being an elected body and yet they would not hesitate to accept employment and privileges from a Government they had not elected into office. Such then are the contradictions that loom conspicuously in this painful exposure of double and standards.

The S.A.I.C. is a statutory body involved in Group Areas, land and housing, religion and culture, education and local government administration. At no stage was it understood that the S.A.I.C. had legislative powers or that it could pressurise the Government to repeal discriminatory laws. It did not imply that in approaching the Government on issues affecting the Indian people the Exco did so with hat in hand. It is to the enduring credit of the Exco that they discussed their problems with tact, resoluteness and propriety, in recognition of limitations to which they are inextricably bound. In an atmosphere of cordiality many concessions were offered while many more were subject to a reappraisal or totally rejected.


Much controversy has centred on the Exco participating in the Inter-Cabinet Council proposed by the Prime Minister. The demand for non-participation by an articulate and incensed section of the Indian community places the Exco in a dilemma. Parliamentary representation for the Indians is a distant goal, the achievement of which is dependent on a number of variables. There is a case for Indian participation in the Inter-Cabinet Council which provides a 'face-to-face' approach on the many issues confronting the Indian people. The advantages of such dialogue will far outweigh anything that rhetoric or exhortations could achieve. This is reminiscent of a remark made to me in India by a respected politician. 'We have the vote in this country,' he said, 'but millions of our people are hungry.'

The Inter-Cabinet Council at this stage is the next step in the evolution of the S.A.I.C., and non-acceptance of this reality is inconsistent with participation in the council. Indian politics just now calls for pragmatism, for involvement in new deals and an eagerness to accept every concession aimed at upgrading the Indian community by raising their standards of living and advancing and fulfilling their educational aspirations. When the time arrives for a common society in South Africa, the Indian will have equipped himself for his rightful role. It is important that we do not put the clock back for ideological reasons. In the framework of the present political limitations, it becomes imperative to pay heed to the advice, 'stoop to conquer'. In the history of mankind races have survived not by confronting superior forces, which could have led to annihilation, but by wise and patient compromise that assured their survival. The Parsees of India and the Jewish people are examples of the tolerance, hope and determination in the will to live.


The forthcoming elections for the contest of seats in the S.A.I.C. are already showing signs of tough dealings with the Government. The emerging political parties are endeavouring to win the support of a credulous electorate. Assurances will be given for the elimination of apartheid, the removal of irksome restrictions and a host of other pledges intended to erase from the South African scene the stigma of colour and the restoration of human dignity. But in all these exercises, despite the sincerity and convictions of the spokesmen, there is the undaunted overlordship of the Government.

The Government is committed to a policy. It stands for the preservation of the white group and let there be no mistake about this. It is in no mood to be intimidated by outsiders whether they are blacks or whites. It is pledged to uphold the South African way of life come what may and its stupendous arsenal is an assurance of the survival of the white man in South Africa. It is obvious that the Government realizes that some concessions must be granted to the non-whites and that petty apartheid must disappear to demonstrate the Government's benevolent intentions. In this climate of incipient political and social changes, and [in view of] the rigid policy of an inscrutable Government, what can the Indian politician do? He may urge the Government through the political party of which he is the spokesman to repeal all discriminatory laws. He may endeavour to convince the electorate that moderate political approaches must be cast to the winds and that aggressiveness coupled with forceful language would have the desired effect on an inflexible and uncompromising Government. He may appeal to the outside world for the ostracism of the Republic and a denunciation by the world community of the country's undemocratic laws. He may demand the abolition of the S.A.I.C. and impeach its members for their ineptitude. All these he may do and in the process heighten the expectations of a frustrated community. The extremist politician may gain the confidence of the public and may experience a feeling of euphoria in the pursuit of his crusade. But in all his efforts to bring about social and political reforms there will be but one pathetic outcome: the mesmerisation of his people. Whether nominated or elected one cannot go beyond that which is prescribed in the policy of separate development. To pretend that an aggressive approach would bring results is to deceive oneself and awaken deception in the electorate.


In this brief assessment of the South African Indian Council I have endeavoured to portray its image, its limitations, its accomplishments and its failings. It can be argued that the absence of the S.A.I.C. would have strengthened political bodies to hasten change in this country and that the S.A.I.C. has only served to legitimise apartheid. Perhaps there is some merit in this argument, but seen in the context of the many benefits the S.A.I.C. has brought to the Indian community through peaceful negotiations, the efforts of previous political bodies, inspired by idealism and a burning sense of righteousness, had nothing material to offer to the community.... [Concluding section missing]