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

The system of management committees, or local affairs committees, was introduced in 1963. These bodies were to be given increasing powers over the years in the running of local affairs. In the following document, Yunus Moolla, president of the Natal Association of Local Affairs Committees, assesses the effectiveness of the system. Mr. Moolla is a South African Indian Council member, who was voted into office in November 1981. Source: Sunday Tribune, 31 August 1980.

After 1923 the Indian community was denied its basic municipal franchise. Various laws were promulgated to discriminate against the voteless community. The community, until the mid-1960s, was in a state of political limbo.

All lines of communication between the authorities and the Indian community were severed. At this stage the Government conceived the idea of the local affairs committee system at local government level.

Public opinion was generally divided on the usefulness of such a system. It was labelled a puppet body, a useful stop-gap system, a pressure group, an extension of the Government's policy of divide and rule, and so on.

Radical thinking demanded a total rejection of the system. Reason and perhaps enlightened thinking asked ”” what is the immediate practical alternative? In the latter group were independent thinkers. If nothing else, this group saw in the L.A.C. system the appearance for the first time of a change in the Nationalist Government thinking. It was also the beginning of interaction between peoples at local government level. The feeling was that this platform be used as a catalyst for change. It was generally felt that the community must be made sufficiently civic-conscious.

The feeling was that no national policy can succeed unless and until the stability between the people at local government level ”” grassroots level ”” is established.

Support that members participating in the L.A.C. system enjoy today varies from area to area. It depends not so much on the acceptance or rejection of the system but rather on the measure of success attained by the effective use of the system in some areas, in spite of the restrictive powers vested in its members.

In many areas even the most vehement critics of the system readily acknowledge the catalogue of achievement. However, this must not be seen as the ultimate in the aspiration of a disenfranchised people. The members in the L.A.C. system are unanimous in their belief that the only permanent solution at local government level lies in direct representation or participation.

In the last 16 years of the existence of theL.A.C. system, members have been able to bring about greater awareness in highlighting the injustices and disabilities suffered by the voteless people, at local government level

At first, the L.A.C. played no small role in this sphere. They soon changed from their watchdog role to become dogs that could bare their teeth.

They were well placed to do more than just ratepayer organisations. They had access to vital information which they used to expose many unjust practices ”” such as disproportionate allocation of funds, disproportionate provision of services, unequal amenities, lack of housing, and lack of employment opportunities.

While L.A.C.s were able to make the exposures they were never deluded into believing that the L.A.C. system was a substitute for direct representation. It remains an available instrument to serve as a springboard to mark new and bolder initiatives, hopefully to culminate in the realisation of its final goal.

The participation in the L.A.C. system is a very short-term objective. Members feel that by serving on the system they will be able to alleviate the many civic problems which confront the community. Members come from a wide cross-section of people - artisans, professional men, businessmen, pensioners, etc. Ironically, the system helped create leaders in the community and made them more dedicated and astute students of local and provincial government.

Participation in the system has led to an understanding for instance of town planning, of municipal financing, and regional services. There are today members who can hold their own in these fields and can debate knowledgeably various subjects.

The pragmatic approach adopted by L.A.C.s constantly comes under fire from both the white right wing and the black left-wing. To those who are on right the following is posed:

The present political structure in South Africa excludes people of colour from playing a significant role in decision-making. Demand for change can no longer be subdued.

The establishment will have to realistically reassess the total political situation in South Africa. We see the emergence of new leadership with new loyalties and affiliations. There is a regrouping and a new kind of exclusiveness excluding people of colour from privileges and power is also excluding them from friendship and sympathy.

Those who desire to remain aloof will find themselves in line to be checkmated. The white minority that is so vehemently opposed to change will end up as agents for the complete polarisation of blacks and whites. Polarisation in South Africa can only lead to chaos and various forms of unrest, [resulting] in the destruction of the infrastructure of this country. The general appeal by enlightened South Africans to such people is not to stick their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

Those who regard all participants in Government-created bodies as stooges and sell-outs should reconsider their attitude. To them the following questions are put:

Would it be correct to brand people teaching in Indian schools as perpetuators of separate development? We believe this would not be a fair assessment. Would it be correct to brand all those legal men who are sworn in as attorneys and advocates to operate within the perimeters of the laws made and enacted by an all-white Parliament as collaborators? We do not believe that they are collaborators.

Would it be correct to brand those businessmen who of necessity trade in the Indian group areas as perpetuators of Government policy? Obviously not.

Surely, then, those members of the community who make the sacrifice by serving on the L.A.C.s in an endeavour to realise the civic aspirations of the people cannot be branded as stooges if they differ from the non-participants on question of strategy only.

Would it not be in the interests of the communities if the efforts of those outside the system complement each other?

Would it not be in the interest of the communities if peaceful and negotiated change were reached?

While the members of the L.A.C.s were able to bring minor relief and attend the day-to-day problems, they did not, however, lose sight of their ultimate objectives for direct and integrated councils. In order to achieve the objectives in a peaceful manner, dialogue and negotiations have to be established with provincial and central governments.

For this reason the Natal Association of L.A.C.s was formed. This association succeeded in forging closer links within the coloured and Indian communities.

I gave evidence to the Essery and Slatter Committees, arguing against the excision of Phoenix and Chatsworth as separate, ethnic local authorities. It highlighted, on many occasions with sound objective arguments, that the concept of separate development of ethnic local authorities is not workable.

The continued pressure from the association led to the Natal indaba. Those who participated in the Natal exercise reached an agreement which would have made possible the establishment of multiracial local authorities. The agreement in itself was not the ultimate solution; it was however a fundamental change in the thinking of the Natal provincial authorities. The ordinance which was amended by the provincial authorities in terms of the agreement was blocked by the then State President on the advice of the Cabinet.

In view of the fact that the State President refused to assent to the amendment to the Natal local government ordinance, the issue became a national one.

The various associations ofL.A.C.s from throughout South Africa formed a national body so that the struggle could be taken up on a national basis with the Cabinet.