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

In 1977 the Government proposed a new constitutional dispensation, which envisaged the creation of three separate parliaments, one each for Indians, coloureds and whites. We have reproduced here the transcript of a speech by Advocate Hassen Mall, in which he reflected upon the envisaged constitutional change. This was given at a symposium held at the University of Durban-Westville on 7 August 1979. Source: Bhana Collection.

I may perhaps highlight one or two points, develop one or two, which I feel were perhaps not sufficiently developed. I haven't written out a speech. I've made some notes, and it occurs to me that I should begin where I intended to end.

In my notes I intended to end on the point that now for the first time we are being offered a choice. Now for the first time we are afforded an opportunity to consent or refuse our consent to the new constitutional proposals that are presented to the community.

This implies that one of the cardinal principles of what has been accepted as democracy, namely government of the governed by the consent of the governed, is for the first time being afforded to our people. Now it is being afforded to our people for the first time, and we have an opportunity of deciding whether we must legitimise this new constitution by giving it our consent and our approval.

Never before were we called upon to give legitimacy to any Act of Parliament, to any constitutional proposals or dispensations. And whether we give our consent and whether we legitimise this new constitution or not must surely depend upon our analysis and the background, the circumstances in which this constitution is now being presented to us.

Let us look at the problem in a perspective which I have outlined, and let us go back to what happened in this world roughly thirty years ago.

The end of the war, World War II, saw the beginnings of the process of decolonisation. This meant that large parts of the world which had been conquered and converted into colonial possessions by Western, European, imperial powers, were now beginning to be freed from their domination and granted independence. This process began almost immediately after the war.

It is significant as a side-light of history that this process involved people of colour. The man who had done the colonisation and who was now doing the decolonisation was invariably white, different shades of white, though I sometimes think that there is no such colour, but for the purposes of this debate let us call them white. Different shades of white people were busy setting into [being] this process of decolonisation, and almost invariably the people who were being decolonised were black, brown, or yellow.

It is significant that the relationship in South Africa between the whites and its black, brown, and yellow people is basically the same. It is the relationship of the colonial power, and it is the relationship of the subject people to the colonial power. The black, brown, and yellow people were colonised in a manner of speaking or were the subject people, and here South Africa is now embarking upon its own policy of decolonisation.

It is forced to do so by all kinds of pressures, because in the last thirty years when the rest of the world was busy decolonising, South Africa [took] the road which was moving in the opposite direction. In those thirty years, some of the most repressive laws devised by man were passed and enforced not for but against the subject races of South Africa; laws which were racialistic in content, laws which were harsh, laws which destroyed family units, laws which impinged upon the rights of individuals to own and acquire humble homes wherever they could afford to, and all kinds of legislation too numerous to detail, and it would serve no purpose in this august gathering to discuss the detail because the large majority of us here are the victims of those laws. And who knows better what is meant by discrimination than the person who is being discriminated against. The man who does the discriminating is often unaware of the pain that he is inflicting, however that may be.

In those thirty years in which South Africa moved in the opposite direction, external and internal pressure as might be expected grew immensely. And as we all know, such organisations of the African people, the Indian and the coloured people that were brought into being in South Africa proclaimed for the first time that they were now demanding full democratic rights.

Prior to that, the history of these political organisations showed that they were content not with making a claim or stating a claim for democratic rights, but they had . . . been content with . . . negotiations, petitions, demonstrations and sometimes passive resistance, all aimed at exerting some kind of moral pressure on those who were governing the country, to dissuade them from proceeding along the lines they had selected and chosen to do.

Sometimes the kind of resistance erupted into strikes, violence became inevitable, and we all know that the harsh battery of legislation was passed to put out of existence these organisations, to ban or proscribe their leaders, to create an atmosphere or a climate of fear which subdued the voice of protest, and thus afford the Government an opportunity to create its own kind of leadership amongst those it had oppressed. It afforded an opportunity to bring into being its own kind of organisation which it could manipulate, leaders which it could pay and manipulate to assist in administering its own policy.

[At the same time] pressure from overseas increased, pressure aimed at isolating South Africa from the world community, plus the realisation of its own economic self-interest, a realisation that here South Africa ”” an economic powerhouse at the southern end of a continent, having at its feet an entire continent which it could convert into a market for its powerful industries, a natural market for its products ”” could do nothing about it because it was being isolated....

And, of course, this and other internal and external forces led South Africa to scrap the notion of white supremacy, to proclaim to the world now, that they do no longer believe in supremacy, that they believe that people cannot be discriminated against purely on grounds of colour; and I can do no better than refer you to that very well known speech that was made byMr. R. F. Botha in 1974 in the Security Council when he said:

Our policy is not based on any concept of Superiority, but on a historical fact that different peoples differ in their loyalties, cultures and outlooks and modes of life, and that they wish to retain them. We do have discriminatory practices, and we do have discriminatory laws. These laws and practices are part of the historical evolution of our country. But I want to state here today very clearly and categorically: my Government does not condone discrimination purely on the grounds of racial colour.

Now, here is a proclamation to the world that we are now moving away from the notion of white supremacy, and that they do not wish to discriminate against people purely on the grounds of colour. And I believe that this is the honest exposition of the Government's policy because it was endorsed by the then Prime Minister in Parliament shortly after it was made.

But as the pressure grew, the process of decolonisation moved further south on the African continent and, as I said, South Africa is now in the throes of decolonisation. On our doorsteps in Namibia-S.W.A., in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, the process of decolonisation has reached a much further stage than it has here in South Africa. And we all know that right now, when a law was passed in S.W.A. abolishing the colour-bar in all its manifestations, that reactionary Afrikaner thinking, reactionary S.W.A. white thinking . . . [a few sentences missing].

Young South Africans are on the borders of S.W.A. now engaged in what they believe to be the preservation of South Africa. One can't help thinking a non-white or as a black person, that they are there not so much to preserve South Africa but to preserve the maintenance of the white status quo South Africa.

Now then, because of the increase in this pressure, a constitutional proposal is put forward, and what are the fundamental flaws? There are, in my opinion, two fundamental flaws, because the rest of the criticism that has been made on matters of detail flows out of these two.

The first fundamental flaw is that here is a parliament that is being created for people without a country, without a territorial jurisdiction. For the first time in the history of the world ... you are having a parliament for a people without a country.

And the second fundamental flaw is that they haven't made known what fiscal arrangements there are going to be. Without a territorial jurisdiction how is taxation going to be levied? Who is going to pay taxes where? Who is going to collect the taxes and who is going to decide how much of what money is going to be utilised? So if the Indian Parliament (if I may call it, for the time being, the Indian Parliament) is fully sovereign in being able to determine how it is going to use its revenue, where is its revenue going to be derived from? Are we going to have a conflict of laws, because there'll be a conflict of jurisdictions since we are going to have three parliaments?

We are in a sorry state of affairs, because in addition to these parliaments, in the course of time, if the homeland policy is fully implemented, South Africa will be the only country which is in a position to field a team of eleven prime ministers. Each homeland will have a prime minister, and we'll have an Indian, coloured, and white prime minister.

Now a great deal has been said about our homelands, around the homelands policy. Once upon a time it was possible for a schoolboy with a standard six education to be able to draw a map of South Africa and without difficulty fill in the boundaries of the various provinces. Today I defy a professor in geography to come forth and draw a map of South Africa minus all the homelands.

But apart from all that, the fact of the matter is that the white man in South Africa is not prepared to share power. He is prepared to divide power. This is what he is doing. And we who have been at the receiving end all these years, and who have developed a kind of immunity to further harshness inflicted on us, why do we not just fold our arms and bide the time and let him play his game as he wants to? Why must we give moral sanction to his schemes? That is the question that we are confronted with now.

There is not a hint or a suggestion that the policy of the Government has reached the stage beyond separate development; because they don't even say it is separate but equal development. They say that it is separate development. Now even if they did say that it was separate but equal ”” Professor Ranchod will tell you of a series of cases in the USA in recent years, which have now said that there can't be equal if they have to be separate ”” the notion of separate but equal development is no longer acceptable to the world. And how can it be acceptable to us?

We see in all this an attempt on the part of the Government to streamline their policy of apartheid rather than abandon their policy of apartheid. We see this as an attempt on their part now not only to streamline it, but also to receive the actual co-operation and support of the various racial groups, all in the hope that it will give them a little more time.

I'm sure that those who are in power know that the demographers will tell them that the way the population of the various racial groups is increasing, there are, I'm told, likely to be 40 million African people in South Africa by the turn of the century. At present we have a white population of a little more than 4 million. At the turn of the century, if you have 40 million African people, to me it seems that by sheer weight of numbers, apartheid will be smothered out of existence. Apartheid institutions will just not be capable of being worked unless every single white man becomes a civil servant, because it is going to become impossible to administer a country with 4 million or 6 million whites over 40 million Africans.

Now when we look to the future, which is not far off, when we know that the whole world is rejecting the notion of separate but equal development, how can we extend our hand in co-operation and say, this constitution is the one that we've been dearly aching for and waiting for. Surely there can be no merit in it from any point of view. On the contrary, this process of change is an irreversible process of change. We should take heart in the knowledge that the white man himself has set in motion a process which he cannot stop. He cannot move back from the concessions that he has made, which have been accepted.

In other words, all we do is bide our time because the concessions that he has made are not acceptable, and he has no choice. He cannot move back but to make greater concessions. Until perhaps in the course of time, if we are to solve this problem peacefully, purely in this way it will dawn on him that he has one of two alternatives. His only alternatives are either to look upon man as man, to look upon human beings as human beings first and foremost ”” not as Indians, coloureds or Africans ”” and agree or learn to live in one country, in one society as best as all can, or his other alternative is to agree on a complete territorial partition of this country.

This can no longer be done in the way it was done or was hoped to be done. Territorial partition is not something that can be done if it is going to last as a solution. It has lasted as a solution in certain parts of the world. It has lasted with a great deal of agony and pain in Pakistan and India. It is meeting tremendous challenges in Palestine. It has divided Northern Ireland from Southern Ireland.

But it leaves the possibility that if [it is the] only solution, if the white man is not prepared to share on the basis of complete equality, it is for him to withdraw into his homeland. And from his point of view, the tragedy is that he is not going to be the one to decide where his homeland is to be.

If he is to live in peace, the elected representatives of all sections of South Africa can only decide his homeland in joint consultation. Ladies and gentlemen, the picture is gloomy.