From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai
The President's Council was appointed in September 1980 with the task of recommending to the Government a constitutional blueprint. P. T. Poovalingam agreed to serve on the Council on the understanding that if there were no meaningful participation by Africans in the body's deliberation within twelve months, he would resign. He resigned after a year. His inaugural address of 6 February 1981 is reproduced here. Throughout, he insists that he is a South African and wishes to play his rightful role as a full citizen of the country. The second document is by Dr. G. Mohamed, who resigned as member of the President's Council after it had made its first recommendations to the Government. He felt that these proposals had been designed 'to protect the interest of whites only”¦.’ Sources: (a) President's Council, 1st session, 6 February 1981, columns 39-49; (b) Graphic, 16 July 1982 (originally printed in Deurbraak, official journal of the Progressive Federal Party).
(a) Mr. Chairman and honourable members, I have the honour to stand among you as a South African among fellow South Africans. You know, in the biography of Jan Hofmeyer, by Alan Paton, there is related an interesting and in many ways a significant incident. The time was during the controversy as to which language was preferable ”” Nederlands or the emergent Afrikaans. Hofmeyer was asked to make his election. He pondered a bit and then Hofmeyer said: ‘Ich is 'n Afrikaner.’ I say to you, my colleagues and friends, I am a South African. I am not an Indian. My father was an Indian who came to this country as an ordinary indentured Indian immigrant. The fact that his older brother was a magistrate in Madurai in India and the fact that my father was well educated through the Tamil medium, a language that shares with Mandarin Chinese the distinction of having been in constant usage for over 5 000 years, the fact that my father was educated in his native Tamil language gives credence to his own claim that he was a victim of a glib-talking British 'coolie-catcher', but that is family history. [Laughter] What is relevant to me, Mr. Chairman, is that I do stand here and proclaim proudly that ek is 'n Suid-Afrikaner van 'n Indiër-pappa. I am of Indian origin, but I am as much a South African as any one of the honourable members here”¦.
Mr. Chairman, for their own reasons certain sections of the South African press ... try to give an entirely false impression that members of the President's Council are highly paid; that all of them enjoy luxurious housing, and other perks. You yourself know this is not true. I think this section of the press has done this maliciously because this is part of their campaign of denigration of the President's Council. But in fairness to them I will also say that, if there was not deliberate distortion of the truth, then there has regrettably been reckless disregard for the facts. I fully understand that there has been considerable criticism of the creation and the structure and composition of this President's Council. It so happens, and I say this with all humility, that I share some of that criticism, but statement of principle and restatement of principle is one thing. But the kind of sanctimonious hypocrisy to which many of us have been subjected is hardly to the credit of those who pretend to be democrats....
It is such a tragedy that because of the still continuing English-Afrikaner rivalry in South Africa, and the fact that the English still largely have not forgiven the Afrikaners for having ousted them from power in 1948, and that many Afrikaners have not yet forgiven the oppression wrought upon them by the English prior to 1948, the inter-white political conflict (which does also have its own racial overtones) clouds the deeper, far more fundamental issues that confront us in South Africa. Add to this the luxury of the Westminster-type adversary politics that the white oligarchy in this country is able to afford. The white parliamentary politicians are, certainly in the eyes of many of us who are not white, busy playing political games with each other. There is no democracy in South Africa; and no one could claim that who does not subscribe to the ancient Athenian concept that only the patricians were the demos and that the others were slaves without any claim to any human rights. What the politicians of the white oligarchy fail to appreciate is that the indulgence by them in this luxury of adversary politics creates false illusions in the minds of many South Africans. The reason of course is immediately obvious: the fact that the majority of South Africans are excluded from this exercise. Yet this playing at democracy, this charade does more harm than good. Adversary politics inevitably results in slanging matches by whites, among other whites with whites, all of which is reported from highly partisan standpoints in the newspapers and other media. Because regrettably the very ethnocentricism of the Afrikaner people prevents full interaction by them with the black, coloured and Indian people; and the fact that the brown Afrikaners have been alienated from their own first cousins by reason of highly insulting provisions like the Mixed Marriages Act and its twin provision in another statute, is essentially the reason why one segment of the press mainly influences the thinking of large numbers of our black and brown peoples. As I have said, that press, like its Afrikaans counterpart, is angled or slanted, consciously or unconsciously, to foster a particular point of view.
What I mean is that white politicians, whether in Government or in Opposition, are, in fact, addressing or they are speaking to their own electors who are white. The English-language newspapers which carry the news and views of a segment of the white group is read largely by blacks and browns with consequences that must be obvious even to the most obtuse. And it is to address some or all of these problems that we are beset by, that His Excellency, the President, has directed our attention. The problems are of very considerable proportions. The root of it all is the systematised racial discrimination that has prevailed in our country for some 300 years. It is of course all too easy to make glib statements about this, especially when the makers of the statements are neither part of the problems nor of the solution thereof. Rhetoric is easy and although sometimes it is necessary and useful, it does not provide any substitute for calm appraisal, careful and sober analysis, and, even in considering situations that give rise to emotive responses, the vital need for reasoned reactions which ought to be as objective as it is humanly possible. It is for this, among other reasons, that I have the pleasure in supporting the motion of the Deputy Chairman. It is because I fully endorse the sentiments expressed by him that I initially accepted appointment to and am honoured to be a member of this Council.
I naturally express the hope that certain minimum changes will occur in the composition of this body which will make it possible for me to remain a member next year.
I remind honourable members that the man who is looking after my personal professional affairs in Durban happens to be a man who in South African parlance is a black man. I am completely satisfied that those who have been entrusted with the guiding of the destinies of our country have at long last awakened to the great and challenging necessity for major and substantial reforms to be effected in the body politic of South Africa. It is a matter for regret that the moves have been left unmade for so long. Too long. The hour is indeed late, but it is not too late; and I condemn those Cassandras among our white people who claim that it is too late. Theirs is an unhelpful, unconstructive approach, which in the present given circumstances is, in my respectful submission, actually wholly destructive. And yet one cannot help noticing somewhat wryly that those very, very white people who say that there is no hope, that calamity is inevitable, that these people, while obviously keeping a weather-eye for a quick dash to Australia or Canada or England, have neither hesitation nor shame in enjoying all the fruits of the white overlordship in this country and in amassing fortunes for themselves as quickly as they can. One finds it impossible to admire such people.
Nevertheless, one does not extend similar strictures to South Africans who are not white and who have had to continue to suffer from policies based on racism. I fully understand, Mr. Chairman, the anger and despair of millions of South Africans. And talking of my own in-group, which is the Indian community in South Africa, I share the anger of the 500 000 South Africans of Indian origin who have themselves suffered directly or whose families have suffered vicariously because of the effects of the Group Areas legislation. More than 330 000 South African Indians have been uprooted from their homes. Perfectly good brick and tile dwellings have been bulldozed and reduced to rubble. Long-established schools have been destroyed; churches, temples and mosques now stand stark in areas where previously there were thriving communities. In fact, Mr. Chairman, in large areas where previously there lived Indian South Africans for many generations these areas now have the bombed-out, destroyed appearance that District Six so grotesquely presents in this city of Cape Town today. Communities were wantonly destroyed, often in the most vicious and callous manner. And the tragedy is that a community with a community spirit, with a neighbourhood feeling ”” I would ask members here to recall their own childhood ”” they often did not worry about the law but they worried about what Oom Koos next door would say if they smoked behind the house. The neighbourhood's mutual respect, the community spirit, the mores that act as social controls and this community feeling takes decades, often generations, to weave into a tapestry. Where people are moved out of established areas they may be re-housed elsewhere, possibly even in better buildings, but the community, that very delicate social organism which, next to the family, is so vital for orderly societal development, that is very strong, yet simultaneously is a fragile thing, is destroyed, and when that happens juvenile delinquency increases, the crime-rate gallops ahead and families fall apart. And I say this with a very heavy heart because for a long time the Indian community in South Africa had the unique distinction of being the most law-abiding group in South Africa. Now that unique distinction is no more. In many new areas of resettlement crime is thriving, juvenile delinquency is terrible, the divorce-rate is climbing. My own in-group thus has and continues to suffer grievously; and salt is rubbed into the wounds when even as late as last week a family which was occupying its ancestral home over successive generations for more than eighty years was told by a state official in writing that that family is committing a criminal offence by remaining on its own property.
Add to this, Mr. Chairman, the racial discrimination in the pay-scales. People from my in-group, and also other groups in South Africa who are not white, are doing precisely the same work, sometimes even better work because they are better qualified or more experienced than their white fellow countryman, and what really hurts is that sometimes foreigners come here from England or elsewhere and they take the white job and they get white pay when the local South Africans have to put up with brown or black pay. It hurts them that they do not get any discount when they go to the stores; they get no cheaper transportation; they do not pay any less for their houses. And when, year after year after year the situation persists, they despair, and when they despair and when they give up hope they become ready listeners to those who, for their own purposes, claim that there is no hope. Add to this the problems and the difficulties faced by our coloured and black fellow South Africans and one realizes how great the problems confronting us are.
Yet, in spite of the past I still have hope for the future. We should not indulge in recriminations for what is past, but where it persists and where it impinges upon the present we would be foolish to ignore those facts. For so long as the pebble remains in the shoe, so long will it continue to chafe and to hurt the foot. I mention these things for we must keep these problems in mind if we are to try and find solutions to the problems, as the Deputy Chairman has exhorted us. For how long can we as a nation dare to try and put asunder those whom God hath put together? For how long can we continue to make a mockery of that vital phrase in the solemn service that is so essential for the institution ordained by God and which is known as marriage? We have to face the fact that in our own country there are many things that are considered legal which are quite immoral; and there are many things which are entirely moral but are illegal. Let me say at once that this is not peculiar to our own country for we are fond of saying that our problems are unique. Yet we must remember that the country of my ancestors, my father's homeland ”” not my homeland, my homeland is the whole of South Africa ”” my father's homeland, perfected the art of racial discrimination long, long before even Jan van Riebeeck was born. The caste system of India with its numerous barriers against human relations, with its own group areas, its segregationary practices, its equivalent of the Mixed Marriages and Immorality Act laws, existed for centuries. Indeed the Indian counterpart of Justinian codified these in a work called the Manusmriti, the Hindu legal codex, even before the birth of Christ and that, Mr Chairman, is what led India to utter and complete degradation. That is what made it possible for India to be conquered by successive waves of Parthians and by Turks, by Mongols, by the Arabs of Tuglaq, by Alexander the Macedonian, and by the French and the Portuguese and the British. That is what reduced to penury that once great land which was once so rich and so legendary that the world was discovered by Europeans in their quest for India. That land was reduced to its present very sad, sad state because they started with racial discrimination, which corrupted. Caste discrimination, like racial discrimination, corrodes the soul of the doer as well as of the victim; and it is self-destructive. We learn from the mistakes of the past, our own, as well as that of other people; and we must apply ourselves here - as we must - in hope and in expectation, in consultation and in concert with one another, and not only with those who are here, but with our black countrymen as well, for without their participation in this council there is in my submission no hope of acceptability and there is only the risk of alienation and of greater racial polarisation. We must, all of us, go forward by working together. We must once again pay heed to our own national motto, 'Ex unitate vires'. We must recall that truism which has become a cliché, that a house divided falls easy victim. And, Mr. Chairman, there is an enemy almost at our doors. The enemy is neither white, nor black, nor brown; the real enemy is red. The agents of Russian Imperialism have with great skill latched on to the troubles and the problems in our country, and the anguish of so many of our peoples, and the deep discontent that we must acknowledge does exist.
”¦ Russian Imperialism will stop at nothing to gain its own ends; but yet the most effective way and in the long run the cheapest and the most lasting way to combat that threat is to heed the lessons taught us by Gen. Magnus Malan and by Gen. Lloyd, drawn from their own personal experiences in South West Africa.
. . . Unless one can win the hearts and the minds of the people, say our soldiers who know best, there is no hope of victory. They can but, they say, accomplish 20 per cent. The rest is up to the civil authorities. And no constitution for any country can possibly work, even if written by the best brains in the world, unless and until it is first written in the hearts and in the minds of the people. In our deliberations we will draw assistance from the works of distinguished writers and from many experts. We will look at the advice given to the Buddhist Emperor Chandragupta Maurya ... by his Hindu adviser, Kautilya. We will draw ideas from the advice given to the Pandyan kings of Madurai ”¦ by Thiruvalluvar. And, Mr. Chairman, we must not neglect Machiavelli either. But above all, indeed as a very first priority, we will consider the reasonable needs, the just aspirations, the fears, as well as the hopes of all the people of our fair land, in hope and in expectation, and with prayer; and it is in that spirit that I have the honour to support the motion of the Deputy Chairman. For if the current tentative moves being made for reform fail, or if the minimum hopes that have been raised are not realised, then there will be only one victor, that known as Russian Imperialism.
(b) In its present wrappings, the President's Council's proposals present the Government with a commodity that is unsaleable to the majority of South Africans of all colours, but more particularly, coloureds, Asians, and blacks. It would be wrong to argue that the proposals in their present form are not improvement on the political logjam that has so far stifled reformist thinking within the Government. Against the background of the selfishness of white politicians who jealously cling to their political privileges in order to ensure the perpetuity of the last bastion of the last white tribe on the African continent, the President's Council's proposals represent progress, but only within those narrow confines. In the broader sense, the proposals could only be acceptable to those for whom it buys time (a certain category of whites) and, on the other hand, those for whom it holds personal attraction in the form of financial and opportunistic expediency.
The masses have already signalled their total rejection of the proposals because of its calamitous deficiency, its failure to recognise that white politics have already alienated the true coloured and Asian leaders to such an extent that coloureds and Asians will not agree to an elevation of themselves to decision-taking with the whites, while blacks are not included. The Government will not dare put the proposals to the test through a referendum participated in by coloureds, Asians and whites.
If coloureds and Asians do participate in such a referendum (without blacks) one needs no crystal ball to predict that the masses will reject power-sharing without black participation.
One fears that what this means is that the President's Council may yet become the epitaph of evolutionary change in South Africa because one cannot visualise this last opportunity presenting itself ever again to rescue South Africa from the anger of pent-up black political frustration.
If brave words and semantic rhetoric were the abracadabra that would save South Africa from Mr. Botha's well-based fears of a 'total onslaught', then South Africans need not have sleepless nights.
It was at Springbok in the north-west Cape that Mr. Botha bravely admitted: 'Coloureds had made great economic and social progress but still have no political rights.' People could not be expected to give their lives for their country if they did not have a say in how it was run. 'Two-thirds of the workers in the country's vital arms industry were non-white,' he declared, by implication including blacks.
The above admission is significant, if only to illustrate the awful truth that people of colour have been deprived of their basic human rights in this country by successive Nationalist regimes since 1948.
The tragedy of this realisation is that the Prime Minister was talking in terms of only the whites, Asians and coloureds. He seems to imply that we can paper over the cracks by giving a section of the elitist class of coloureds and Asians a limited say in decision-making at executive level and everything will be rosy.
He forgets the tide of black political aspiration charging down on the dyke that holds whites trapped in the laager of siege politics. He wants a few coloureds and Asians to act as sandbags against the impending flood, buying off time, knowing the inevitability of the dyke succumbing to the pressure.
Mr. Pik Botha, Minister of Foreign Affairs, boldly admitted recently that the Government had made mistakes in the past. The dream to stem the flow of blacks into urban areas lies in pieces and so the dream that there would have remained not a single black within the geographical perimeters of white South Africa by 1978. Those mistakes have disrupted the lives of countless of tens of thousands of people who have suffered under the jackboot policies spawned by a crazy ideology of Afrikaner-style Herrenvolkism on a par with Hitler's Aryanism.
The proposals of the President's Council have no more value than oxygen administered to a corpse in today's climate of racial polarisation aggravated by the exclusion of blacks from the consociational concept of a future political dispensation for South Africa.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, who hand-picked the coloureds and Asians serving on the President's Council, has said in a statement relating to the President's Council's proposals, that the Government would be led by certain guidelines, including political and constitutional adaptations, which must not have a destabilising effect on the South African society and must, therefore, take place by evolution.
He said, 'Steps that must be taken must be acceptable as possible to all populations groups involved and a feeling of security and permanency must be given to the whites and a prospect that things would be in the common interest.'
Stripped of all its flowery decorations and pious and platitudinous semantics, Mr. Heunis has summed up the President's Council's proposals. They have been designed to protect the interest of whites only, which is clear from the proposed composition of the executive and the legislature, and everybody else who helped in the formulation of them or will in future help with the implementation of them will merely be puppets used and abused to ensure perpetual white domination in South Africa.
Because I had been able to see this great confidence trick for the hoax it really is from the inside of the President's Council, I decided I would not soil my soul any further with it.
It is no use ignoring the warnings of the Tutus, Motlanas, Buthelezis, the Boesaks and even the Hassan Howas.
The President's Council’s proposals, while they exclude blacks, is a sure-fire recipe for racial conflagration in South Africa, and if there is a lesson for South Africa to learn from the Falkland Islands, it should look at Britain which is licking its wounds at this moment.
Let South Africa not make more mistakes in its haughty and arrogant pursuit of whitism on a black continent. Let South Africa not travel the way of Britain and underestimate the ostensibly less-sophisticated majority sections of the South African society.
Then, truly, the President's Council's proposals would have contributed nothing more than an epitaph on the tombstone in the cemetery of the last white tribe of Africa.