The Atlantic Charter and the Africans, August 14, 1941

  1. The Atlantic Charter, agreed upon by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain in their historic meeting of August 14, 1941, and subsequently subscribed to by the other Allied Nations, has aroused widespread interest throughout the world. In all countries this summary of the war aims of the Allied Nations has aroused hopes and fired the imagination of all peoples in regard to the new world order adumbrated in its terms.
  2. For us in South Africa particular significance attaches to this document because of its endorsement on more than one occasion by Field-Marshal Smuts, who has announced that the post war world will be based upon the principles enunciated in the Atlantic Charter. The Honourable Deneys Reitz, speaking on behalf of the Natives Representative Council in December 1942, indicated that the Freedoms vouchsafed to the peoples of the world in the Atlantic Charter were indicated for the African people as well.
  3. In view of these pronouncements and the participation of Africans in the war effort of various Allied Unions, and to the fact that the Atlantic Charter has aroused the hopes and inspirations of Africans no less than other peoples, the President-General of the African National Council decided to convene a conference of leaders of African thought to discuss the problems of the Atlantic Charter in its relation to Africa in particular and the place of the African in post-war reconstruction. In other words, the terms of reference of the conference were to be:-
    1. To study and discuss; the problems arising out of the Atlantic Charter in so far as they relate to Africa, and to formulate a comprehensive statement embodying an African Charter, and
    2. to draw up a Bill of Rights which Africans are demanding as essential to guarantee them a worthy place in the post war world.
  4. The President-General accordingly invited various African leaders to become members of the Atlantic Charter Committee which would meet in Bloemfontein on December 13 and 14, 1943 to perform this important national duty, as he saw it. At the same time the President-General called upon those invited to submit memoranda on different aspects of this subject for the subsequent consideration of the whole committee on the dates indicated above.
  5. The response to the President-General's invitation as indicated by the number of well prepared and thought provoking statements submitted from different parts of the country was proof that his action was timeous and in line with the thinking of Africans on the vital subject of post war reconstruction.
  6. The Committee met at Bloemfontein and deliberated on Monday and Tuesday, December 13 and 14, 1943. The Committee elected Mr Z. K. Matthews as Chairman and Mr L. T. Mtimkulu as Secretary, and a Sub-Committee consisting of Messrs. S. B. Ngcobo, M. L. Kabane and J. M. Nhlapo, with the chairman and secretary as ex offcio members, to draft the findings of the Atlantic Charter Committee. Throughout its deliberations the committee acted under the able guidance of the President-General, Dr. A. B. Xuma.
  7. As already indicated above, the work of the committee fell into two parts, viz., (a) the consideration and interpretation of the Atlantic Charter, and (b) the formulation of a Bill of Rights. In dealing with the first part of its work the Committee discussed the articles for the Atlantic Charter one by one and made certain observations under each article.
  8. In considering the Charter as a whole, the Committee was confronted with the difficulty of interpreting certain terms and expressions which are somewhat loosely and vaguely used in the Atlantic Charter. Among the terms or words to which this structure applies are 'nations, 'states,' 'peoples' and 'men'. whatever meanings the authors had in mind with regard to these terms, the Committee decided that these terms, words or expressions are understood by us to include Africans and other Non-Europeans, because we are convinced that the groups to which we refer demand that they shall not be excluded from the rights and privileges which other groups hope to enjoy in the post-war world.
  9. The Committee noted with satisfaction that the twenty-six other nations, which subscribed to the Atlantic Charter on January 2, 1942 made it quite, clear that the freedoms and liberties which this war was fought for, must be realised by the Allied Powers 'in their own lands as well as other lands'. This is the common cry of all subject races at the present time.
  10. The articles of the Atlantic Charter and the observations of the Committee under each were as follows.

The Atlantic Charter
(From the standpoint of Africans within the Union of South Africa.)


  • Carter, Karis (eds). From Protest To Challenge: Documents of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964. Vol. 2. Hoover

Support South African History Online

Donate and Make African History Matter

South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.

Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.