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

Despite the low percentage poll in the election, the Minister of Internal Affairs declared that the Government would look upon the S.A.I.C. 'as the only representative body that exists today on a national level that would serve the interests of [the] community'. In his opening speech before the council A. Rajbansi, chairman of the executive committee, pointed out that the S.A.I.C. would need to produce results to be effective. He declared that he regarded his work as a continuation of the 1914 Gandhi-Smuts Agreement and of the Cape Town Agreement of 1927. Source: Copy supplied by Mr. Rajbansi. See S.A.I.C. Debates, Proceedings and Minutes, 1st Meeting, 5th Council, 22 February 1982, pp. 13-18.

Mr. Chairman, Minister of Internal Affairs and fellow councillors, on behalf of the South African Indian Council I wish to place on record our sincere thanks to the honourable Minister for having agreed to come and open this, the first working-session of the South African Indian Council. Today we will be able to emphasise many significant features. Amongst them we are fortunate to have a Minister in charge of Indian Affairs who is also overall the Minister in charge of constitutional development in South Africa. We believe a constitutional formula acceptable, discussed and agreed to, not only by the local leaders of all sections of South Africa's community, but also by the international community, go side by side as a key to the solution of our socio-economic and educational problems, because on numerous occasions we hear the dictum that the politicians have the key to the opening-of the doors to the solutions of our problems.

Another significant feature is that we meet today as a body that is fully elected by the people. And as the record-breaking size of the agenda indicates, this council really means business and is definitely on the move away from the pushcart and the robot-controlled eras. This institution, Mr. Minister, has been born in a climate of confusion where, as you have indicated, very divergent views have been expressed in respect of its very existence and continuation also. Those whom it has served, those who have direct connections with it, and those who have served on it and those who serve in it, are the best judges of its significance as an important link ”” so the late chairman of this council, Dr. A. M. Moolla, has stated ”” as an important channel of communication between the community and the Government. This council, as you have indicated, Mr. Minister, has to win the hearts of the people and therefore, being elected, it is carrying a very, very heavy responsibility. It has ever been haunted in its birth by the ghost of Pageview, the ghost of areas like District Six and the scars of the areas like Grey Street, Cato Manor and Clairwood, areas we once regarded had in settlement the largest concentration of Indians outside the Asian sub-continent. The removal of such ghosts and scars is necessary if dialogue and consultation in South Africa has to be translated into proper action.

My people quite justifiably claim that they have been wronged from the time they set foot on the shores of South Africa. The study of Indian history, especially during the time of the struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, will agree with people who justifiably claim that we have been wronged. My people also claim, Mr. Minister, that they have been pushed around, have been subjected to humiliations, have been subjected to moral degradation, social impoverishment, injustice and subjugation. My people claim that they are voiceless and they are voteless, and as a next step they are relying on the voice of the South African Indian Council. If the South African Indian Council has to be the true voice of the Indian people, then, it must be a worthy one and one whose voice of reasonableness can be heard and understood and responded to. It has to be a voice that can stand up against injustice, unrighteousness and unfairness. Mr. Minister, this Indian Council cannot be an effective voice if in regular periods of stock-taking it cannot produce the results which the people want; and it is the results, as you have suggested, that will bring about the changing of hearts and changing of attitudes to this council. In the final analysis it will be the fruits of the labours of this council that will determine whether it should continue to exist or not.

The past, gentlemen, clings to us with a great measure of bitterness, but it is the future that beckons us. There are people in this country who are not even prepared to give dialogue and consultation a chance. They are convinced at a political solution in this country will only come about through the barrel of a gun. We are firmly committed as anti-Communists to a course of peace-evolution. I want the Government to know that from this course of peace-evolution towards the realisation of our ideal, that is proper political sharing and sharing in the economy of this country, we shall not deviate. The Government ought to take strong note of the fact that the critics state that we may be the last generation of South Africans who believe in talking and believe that talking will bring about the desired change. Therefore it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that there are meaningful and effective changes in the Republic, and institutions like the South African Indian Council dare not fail. Mr. Minister, you very strongly emphasised peace, stability, security, etc. If institutions like the South African Indian Council and like institutions in South Africa that are dealing with or talking about the process of change fail, then one can foresee what a former Prime Minister of South Africa [called] an alternative that is too ghastly to contemplate. We approach our task with confidence, because our cry is for no more than what the [white] electorate enjoys.

As a deviation from the 1927 Cape Town Agreement, the late Dr. H.F. Verwoerd,the former Prime Minister, accepted about 21 years ago that we are as a community a permanent part of South Africa's multifarious population. But in spite of the passage of time our bitter fight for citizenship rights continues. We cannot explain, gentlemen, to the laymen who read the newspaper and watch the television, how it is that Communists from Poland are allowed into this country and given homes and money overnight, when a South African-born Indian for example with a mining-engineer’s degree cannot find employment in the country of his birth. No amount of sophistry and no amount of jugglery ”” the famous words used by Mahatma Gandhi ”” can explain or give answer to questions which the layman is asking. About twenty years ago, Mr. Minister, we heard complaints about the shortage of skilled manpower. We heard about the advertisements that are placed in London and other foreign capitals for skilled workers to come to South Africa. But if there was a genuine effort twenty years ago to train all sections of South Africa's population, then I am sure that this difficult effort of trying to import foreign labour would have been avoided. It is very difficult to explain to my community, in the light of what is happening in South Africa, why the husbands of our South African-born girls and their children cannot be allowed into this country from Mozambique and other countries. We find it also very difficult to explain to our people, Mr. Minister, that our State President in his passport recommends the heads of other Governments to allow us free access into their countries, yet from the time of the Cape Town Agreement and the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement, we are not allowed to enter or settle in the Orange Free State and certain districts of northern Natal. [Hear, hear!] Nevertheless, I also want to emphasise and take this opportunity to say, Mr. Minister, that we are not going to be prepared to be misled by any so-called pink liberals who sit as editors of black newspapers, thinking that they are going to determine and map out the course of the destiny of South Africa's Indian population. In respect of our efforts to solve our problems, it is important to note that unlike the Gandhi era of pre-1960, Indian aspirations cannot be looked at in isolation alone. Indian aspirations or the solution of the problems of the Indian community go side by side with the solution of the problems of other sections of the South African community. I want to emphasise this point very, very strongly; it is not an island. At the same time, Mr. Minister, for this institution to gain respectability we are not going to tolerate any prescriptions. Honesty and sincerity demand that consultation be like a two-way traffic. On the positive side, Mr. Minister, I want to express the appreciation of the community and the Indian Council to you personally for having arranged meetings with Cabinet Ministers at short notice.

I am going to announce during the course of the deliberations the latest news you have given to me about Cato Manor.Of course if you want to announce it yourself, I have no objections. And one aspect of our lives where we must give credit to your Government is the field of education. Of course we are going to have detailed discussions during the council's deliberations. South Africa is a wonderful country. Everyone should have the right to decide its future, and our cry, Mr. Minister, is simple. By joint decision-making and equal sharing of the wealth we can come to finding each other and finding a real solution to the problems of South Africa. I also want to emphasise that South Africa in this process of announced changes has many friends in the international arena, amongst whom we have the famous Western Governments. I want to advise that South Africa must not go by default. South Africa must not be the cause of changing these attitudes. Mr. Minister, a lot has been said about the activities of the South African Indian Council. We can speak volumes about its successes. We have failed, but there are people who deliberately try to magnify our failures. In the past few months, Mr. Minister, you are aware of the wonderful work this council has done in respect of Cato Manor, in respect of Clairwood, in respect of Grey Street and in respect of looking for a new formula for housing, in which a large section of South Africa's community reside. I want to make it very clear here that no single organisation can substitute or has substituted the work of the South African Indian Council.

Mr. Minister, you quite rightfully stated that in order for there to be change one must create the atmosphere, one must create the climate for change, or shall I say one must create the climate for the acceptability of the processes of change. You indicated that the [success] of this council will depend on the performance of the individual members of the council. I want to go one step further and say that while the success of this council will depend on the individual and the collective performance of this council, it also depends on the attitude of the Government to respond to the reasonable demands we are making from time to time. Mr. Minister, we are going to negotiate with your Government certain agreements, in respect of the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement, which were not fulfilled, and certain aspects of the famous Cape Town Agreement, which were not fulfilled. We are going to place high priority on these terms, Mr. Minister. But also since you are Minister in charge of constitutional affairs, we look forward to the expected proposals of the President's Council in respect of the future of local government especially, with a great measure of optimism. I hope that whatever comes out from the President's Council, if not the end-point, will be a starting-point to the general acceptability of the process of change”¦.