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

Some 297 040 Indians out of a total of 350 000 eligible voters registered in order to vote in the elections of 4 November 1981. Forty candidates in Natal, Transvaal and the Cape entered the field in the hope of serving on the 45-member South African Indian Council. Only 10,5 percent of the registered voters, however, cast their votes. The lowest percentage poll was 1,75 percent for Fordsburg (Johannesburg); the highest 40,2 percent for North-east Natal. Two opposing arguments are represented in the next couple of documents: the one was written by Mr. A. Rajbansi, chairman of the executive committee of the S.A.I.C., who declared his intention to vote; the other by Dr. Essop Jassat, chairman of the Transvaal Anti-S.A.I.C. Committee, who argued against voting. Source: Sunday Tribune, 1 November 1981.

(a) 'An alternative to violence was for blacks to take whatever powers, duties and authority they could to use them to influence Government policy the right way,' Chief Gatsha Buthelezi said in Vereeniging recently.

At one of the conferences of the Natal Indian Congress held at the Orient Hall, Mr. M. J. Naidoo stated that while the Congress was opposed to the then S.A.I.C., the people should use it as a platform to air their grievances when it became an elected body.

This sums up why many people are participating in the S.A.I.C. elections. Much has been said about the S.A.I.C.; and the conditioning of certain minds against it was because it was said the Government would nominate people who would be reluctant to challenge authority. Very few would come from the long-suffering working class. This changed in 1974 when the S.A.I.C. was partly elected via the electoral college. This still did not satisfy the critics, including members of the Congress, who demanded that the people elect the Indian Council. This significant criticism is being answered on November 4th and I want to remind the people that our community has suffered enough because of boycotts.

The political context of the struggle in South Africa being completely different from the struggles in other countries, aggravated by the draconian bannings of the early fifties, necessitates that every platform, whether within the system or not, should be used.

Some people have deliberately misinterpreted the Indian Council from a conceptual point of view. It is not an end but a means to an end. It has proven on numerous occasions to be a very useful channel of communication with the authorities, and, privately, people who are opposed to it, including some vociferous members of the N.I.C., realise this significance and have made use of it.

Some people say that the Indian Council has not achieved anything worthwhile. This is the view of a warped mind. The Indian Council is continuously occupied representing the community in practically every aspect of our life in this country. We have failed and we have succeeded and much can also be written about our successes where no other organisation, such as the N.I.C., bothered to assist the people.

The only argument the Anti-S.A.I.C. Committee can advance is ideological. Likewise, we can state that our ideology is to use the system. Why should we be subjected to abuse? We should have the right to do things our own way. If there is a difference of approach, then, like the struggle in India, let us agree to disagree.

The system was used in many countries and because of the complexities of our problem we can advance better arguments as to why we should fight apartheid from within.

The Anti-S.A.l.C. Committee is basing most of its arguments on the activities of Mahatma Gandhi and India, not realising that the All-India Congress participated in elections, and the Indian masses voted after realising the folly of boycotting. We can be guided by the experiences of the great leaders of India.

The days of slogan shouting should be over. Some people believe that shouting the usual clichés, jargon and 'stock phrases' will bring political salvation, as if it will fall from the Christmas tree.

What is amazing and to the detriment of the Anti-S.A.l.C. Committee are the many lies contained in their first newsletter. They have falsely stated:

That the S.A.I.C. elections are postponed to 1995.

That the members of the Indian Council have not addressed public meetings; and they published a picture with the caption, 'Where was the S.A.I.C.', when the truth of the matter was that the chairman of the S.A.I.C. addressed that meeting and received a thunderous applause.

On the sub-economic house-price issue, the S.A.I.C. did the work while the members of the Anti-S.A.l.C. Committee did the band-waggoning. They promised the people 20 lawyers and Supreme Court action if they did not buy their homes. Now, when the people need their assistance, they have vanished.

If the Anti-S.A.l.C. Committee can use lies in their very first newsletter, then it clearly indicates how bankrupt they are for arguments against the S.A.I.C.

Democracy requires that each side respect the other's point of view and methods of approach.

To use lies and attack personalities shows how weak the Anti-S.A.l.C. forces are, in trying to convince the public against us.

The Indian people have a very distressing record of boycotts. I regard a person as a sell-out when he tells you to boycott Asherville and privately does not do so; when he asked the people of a housing-scheme to boycott rents and then pays his electricity bill; when he encourages boycotts of schools and then sends his child to white private-schools or to schools in London or Bombay.

We are also capable of asking questions.

Where was the N.I.C. or the members of the Anti-S.A.l.C. Committee when there was a crisis in Zululand; at the National Transport Commission when the Chatsworth buses were to be taken off; at Wentworth when 800 families received 30-days' notice to quit; at the Wyebank crisis; waiting in the wings to do band-waggoning on the successes of the S.A.I.C., which is always representing the cause of the people, rich as well as the poor.

In our use of the Indian Council, we are determined not to achieve the objectives of the Government but to serve the interests of the people, because shouting for mere ideals is insufficient. Bread and butter politics is equally important. The members of the Anti-S.A.l.C. are engaging in airy-fairy political theorising.

Chief Gatsha Buthelezi once stated: 'I sincerely believe that if we participate in Government-created bodies such as the community councils with a well-considered political strategy, we can outwit the whites.'

Sastri, Sir Kurma Reddi, Nehru, Jinnah and others used the system and outwitted the authorities.In the United States the blacks adopted a policy of all or nothing and then changed tactics to fight from within. History records the tremendous strides they have made.

I request the public to learn from what has happened to us because of boycotts. The chairman of the President's Council, Mr. Alwyn Schlebusch, stated on the 30th September this year that the constitutional proposals would not be superfluous. This gives the Indian Council elections more significance because it will be consulted on the proposals and its views will influence Government thinking.

I therefore urge the people not to be misled. We have suffered enough because of boycotts...

We have made it very clear that we regard the Indian Council only as a channel of communication, as an interim measure, and that the future of South Africa should be determined at a meeting where representatives of all sections of the South African community are allowed to take part.

The Anti-S.A.I.C. Committee appears to be a multi-racial body. So I find it rather strange that they are concentrating on the Indian community only. Why have they not interfered with the community-council elections six weeks ago and also the KwaZulu elections?

They have also prepared a blacklist only of Indians and sent them to India. Isn't this ethnicity, on which they base their entire argument? Aren’t this and the fact that the Congress still keeps its 'Indian' tag double standards at its height?

Have they the courage to use funny names against all people in South Africa and in India who are, and have used, the system?

I wish to remind lawyers such as the chairman of the Anti-S.A.I.C. Committee, Mr. M. J. Naidoo, that he has taken an oath of allegiance to South Africa which is binding on his conscience. Gandhi resigned because of this. Some people are likely to fall on the banana peels they themselves are throwing.

(b) The movement to boycott the elections of theS.A.I.C. on Wednesday is more than a repudiation of an ineffectual political instrument; it is a statement that only full participation in a democratic government will satisfy our aspirations. While our reasons for rejecting theS.A.I.C. may include the body's inferior constitutional status and its dismal history of non-achievement, this rationale only scratches the surface.

More fundamentally, we refuse to give the S.A.I.C. our mandate because we see separate political institutions as fundamental to the apartheid system. And we refuse to submit to the indignity of approving the instrument of our own oppression.

Third, we have an alternative vision of how this country could be governed, and of how we should express ourselves politically, until the right to choose our government is secured.

This vision draws on a political past which includes mass non-violent resistance and participation in the Congress alliance. It is sustained by an understanding that majority rule is our inevitable future, and by an immediate awareness that group solidarity may wring concessions from even the most intransigent of rulers.

Our first proposition is that the S.A.I.C. is constitutionally inferior and has a dismal track record.

It is an advisory body whose recommendations may be summarily rejected by an all-white Cabinet. Therefore, it matters not whether its members are nominated or elected. Their political persuasion is also unimportant since their views must ultimately be filtered through the white Nationalist net.

The history of theS.A.I.C. over 17 years reflects this impotence. Members have consistently protested their commitment to the community's welfare, and have projected an image of involvement in crucial affairs in the media.

But they have stood by powerless as 3 700 families among their constituents alone have been uprooted by the Group Areas Act. They have been powerless, too, as relocated traders have faced economic ruin. They have not even been able to control a white civil servant ”” the Director of Education ”” who has deprived about 300 of our children of six months' education.

In reality the S.A.I.C. has achieved nothing of importance for our community and its constitutional position prohibits it from promising to do so in the future. These features alone are sufficient rebuttal of the argument that theS.A.I.C. can be used to fight the apartheid institution from within.

The protagonists of participation use spurious arguments such as the participation of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah on the Viceroy's Council in India, forgetting that this participation took place with the specific purpose of replacing British colonial rule with India's independence, not with propping up a discredited racist government such as exists in South Africa.

The announcement by the Minister of Community Development that the Government had turned down the President's Council's proposal to return Pageview and the major part of District Six to its original inhabitants proves beyond any doubt that those in authority are not prepared to listen to any suggestions - they make a mockery even of the institutions they have created.

More fundamentally, the Anti-S.A.I.C. movement claims that nobody who rejects apartheid and its inhumane practices can sanction the system of segregated and inferior political structures. Such structures, coupled with geographic segregations, form the core of apartheid.

Our third reason for rejecting the S.A.I.C. lies in the fact that we have a political tradition which preceded this limited forum which was foisted upon us.

The Natal Indian Congress is the oldest black political organisation in this country, preceding the Union of South Africa and dating back to the Gandhian era.

The satyagrahamovement of Asian people in the Transvaal before World War One is widely regarded as the first systematic attempt to apply the principles of non-violent resistance to large numbers of men.

We proudly recall this antecedent to the Indian independence movement and later phases of the black people's struggle in this land. Through the South African Indian Congress, our community was actively involved in the resistance movements of the '50s and '60s.

The black communities were simply not disorganised and leaderless prior to the establishment of the Government-created institutions.

Black organisations were thrown into disarray and communities made leaderless by the Nationalists, who banned organisations and arrested the leaders or drove them into exile. It was in this artificial political vacuum that the Government-created organisations were promoted.

Despite repressive action, black community groups throughout South Africa gradually began to mobilise in relation to specific community-welfare issues. The Government has systematically rejected representations from such groups, insisting that the statutory bodies are the only channels through which black communities can make their representation.

Despite resistance by the authorities there is evidence that concerted community action influences official decision and sometimes extracts tangible concessions.

The move towards parity in teachers' salaries came less than a year after the determined school boycotts by coloured and Indian scholars. The permanence of the Crossroads people was won after a long and bitter struggle waged mainly in the battleground of the media and not through official channels.

Action outside of the Government-created institutions has produced tangible results but it has its price. Many participants whose concern has been the issue at hand have been detained, banned or forced into exile.

The boycott of the S.A.I.C. elections is a simple symbolic action. Each adult in the community without any personal risk can take it. Yet that simple act says a lot.

It says we have seen through apartheid as an integrated system.

It says we are aware that we can define our own political activity, we have done so before, and the experience has allowed us a glimpse of what a non-racial democratic South Africa could be like.