Document 109 - G. H. Gool and J. A. La Guma, “Appeal of the National Liberation League for a National Convention of the Subject Peoples of South Africa”, The Liberator, September 1937

From:South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

FELLOW NON-EUROPEANS, Business men, Professionals, Intellectuals, Workers! History confronts the subject peoples of South Africa with a momentous question! Either a determined struggle to weld our divided and unorganised peoples into one united force for the struggle against Imperialism, for political freedom, or to continue as we are, divided and unorganised, facile subjects to the imperialist policy of "Divide and Rule."

It must now be obvious to all that our political line since the granting of the franchise to the non-European of the Cape has been tactically and ideologically incorrect.

Instead of a progressive rise in our political and economic status, the non-European peoples of today, Bantu, Coloured, Indian, find themselves dispossessed of many rights previously held and barred in all directions to further progress and development.

"A White South Africa"

Not satisfied with the present lowly position of the non-European population, the Anglo-Boer imperialists are straining every nerve to drive us still lower. British Imperialism, satisfied with the agreement to hand over the non-European population of South Africa to the unrestricted exploitation and subjection by the Boer Imperialist in exchange for the assurance that the dividends from investment in mine and workshop would be safeguarded and SECESSION be dropped as a policy of the South African Government. This agreement is exemplified in the present

FUSION GOVERNMENT.

The determination to make this a "white man's country" has often been expressed by leading members of the reactionary white population. What does this phrase imply?

It means the relegation of all non-white peoples to a position of social, political and economic inferiority. How is it to be accomplished?

Politically

The non-European masses must be rendered politically impotent. It must not be possible for them to exercise any influence on the legislature or policy of the Imperialist through their voting strength. And in accord with the favourite tactics of Imperialistic rule in the colonies, it must be carried out sectionally. It is well known how the Bantu were deprived of their vote.

To launch an attack upon all sections of the subject peoples at the same time is not in accord with the tactics of the Imperialists. Having dealt with the Bantu, the next for consideration are the Coloured people. The possibility of the Coloured vote threatening the designs of Imperialist in South Africa has been largely removed by granting the franchise to the white women and the introduction of adult suffrage for Europeans.

In this way the political value of the Coloured vote has been reduced to the worth of the paper it is recorded upon at every election. Whatever other possibility may still exist for influencing the trend of political affairs in South Africa by the Coloured vote will presumably be dealt with in the forthcoming year.

The Protectorates

To further strengthen their hold upon our lives and destinies, to broaden the base for exploitation of the man power of the subject peoples and the mineral and other wealth of their respective territories, Boer Imperialism negotiates with its partner, the British for the annexation of the Native Protectorates.

Industrially

None can dispute the fact that the cities of the Union of South Africa were raised by predominantly black labour. Non-European artisans, Coloured, Malay, manned the scaffold, Native labourers prepared the material for the proud edifices that to-day grace the cities of the Union.

The brawn of the Bantu made it possible to delve into the bowels of the Transvaal earth. Risking life and limb for the gold that has placed South Africa upon the world map. Indian workers were dragged from home and kin to transform the virgin soil of Natal into flowering plantations of profit for the Imperialist. Profits from the employment of cheap Coloured female labour made possible the establishment of many secondary industries. South African agricultural products compete successfully on the world markets at the expense of a lifetime of misery for the vast majority of the population, with illiterate black peasantry and agricultural worker. All this, in exchange for what?

By the subtle operation of the government's "Civilised Labour Policy" non-European artisans are gradually being ousted from skilled trades. Those still in employment go in daily in fear of the displacement process. Our youth find increasing difficulty in obtaining apprenticeship to the skilled trades. It is easily discernible that the policy is to reserve semi-skilled occupations to Europeans FIRST if not ONLY. This visualises a future for our children as unskilled labourers in industry. Even in the ranks of the unskilled preference is given to European labour, particularly in government employment. By these methods will we be consigned to the menial tasks in the South African society of the future. This devilish scheme to blast our future and that of our children does not end here. There remains still another door to be barred.

Commercially

With the aim of preventing the rise of the non-European in the sphere of commerce Provincial authorities refuse trading licences without even giving reason for so doing. And they are supported in their action by racially prejudiced "white South Africans."

With a government of "white South Africans" in power it required very little intelligence to assess how meagre will be our opportunities in the field of commerce. Particularly when we note the intentions of the Boer Imperialist to dispossess the Indian communities of the North of what has already been acquired by them. These vicious intentions are embodied in the amendment to the Asiatic and Tenure Act, No. 5, of 1885.

Heavy attacks are being made upon Indian industrialists in the North. Whatever hopes the other non-European communities may have entertained in this respect will suffer considerable disillusionment after the recent disclosure of the designs of "white South Africa."

Socially

Absurd theories of race inferiority and unfounded assertions of immoral practices are levelled against the non-white population, to justify anti-colour legislation, actually intended to complete the economic and political subjection of the subject peoples.

Cultured non-Europeans from other parts of the world are denied permission to visit our country while Europeans are permitted permanent residence in thousands. Our student youth are refused passports to proceed overseas, to acquire the culture denied to them in the land of their birth.

Not only are the Bantu, the great majority, denied the right to organise into trade unions, but also subjected to the stigma of Pass Laws, irrespective of the standard of culture individually acquired. Another section of the non-white population, the Indian, with a civilisation and culture older than that of the European, are also confined to certain areas, denied the right of free movement in the country, stigmatised on no other grounds than that of race and colour.

Discrimination against the non-white population in every walk of life is the common every-day experience of non-Europeans in South Africa.

Why Is This So?

To understand our task, it is necessary to discard many of our old conceptions of politics. We must clearly understand that Britain came to Africa not with the intention of "civilising" the poor heathen, but primarily to gain control of the gold, mineral and other wealth of the country. For the same reason that Belgium went to the Congo to "civilise" the native races with "red rubber." The same as Germany "civilised" the native races of South West Afnca by driving thousands of the Herero tribe into the desert to death by thirst and starvation and almost exterminated the Hottentot peoples. The same as Italian Mussolini is "civilising" the people of Abyssinia with poison gas and machine gun. This is IMPERIALISM. The subjection of one people by another with the object of exploiting such without let or hindrance. We have such a situation in South Africa, and more: WE HAVE AN IMPERI- AJJSM WITHIN AN IMPERIALISM.

In 1901 we saw the Boers conquered by Britain, with the economic and political control passing into the hands of the British. But the conquered Boers were not satisfied with their defeat. They strove on through the years for political power under the leadership of General Hertzog and the Nationalist Party, with SECESSION from the British Empire as the main plank in their Republican platform. Eventually the Boers gained political ascendancy and were returned to govern in 1924.

It was expected that with the accession to power of the Boers the fight for freedom from British Imperialism would take fresh strength. Such was not the case. Instead, the Hertzog Nationalist bargained with the British Imperialists. And the terms of the bargain were, that Great Britain shall not interfere in the political and economic subjection of the non-European, Hertzog gained the "right to wallop his own nigger, " in exchange for the promise to drop the secession issue and thereby constituted themselves loyal and obedient guardians of British profits from investments and ensuring a ready field for economic exploitation.

Such could be the only solution for a reactionary nationalism, since any struggle for freedom from British Imperialism without the unity of the entire population would be futile. Much as the Boer Nationalist would desire to be free from British Imperialism they have no intention of granting equality to the non-white population, since they are themselves Imperialists. How apt and true are the words of a certain writer, "No people can be free who oppress another."

For reactionary nationalism to maintain itself in power it must have a mass basis; in other words, there must be a section of the population which supports the idea and who derive a benefit from such an arrangement. Obviously the forces of the Imperialist themselves are inadequate to provide such a mass basis. Here is where the forces of white labour are made use of.

With the aid of mythical race superiority theories, "Civilised Labour Policy," reservation of best jobs for whites, etc., the white working class are chained to the Imperialists. Though the return for such allegiance is meagre and inadequate as witness the deterioration of the white toilers into "poor whiteism." And in addition they are compelled to bear the burden of Imperialist wars when called upon.

Thus we have first, British Imperialism exploiting the whites and blacks combined, its representatives in Parliament being the South African Party. Next, the Boer Imperialist, represented in Parliament by the National Party, subjecting the blacks, and Britain, for all its vaunted love of fairplay and justice calmly looking on as long as her economic interests are not threatened.

Our Political Past

Either our past leadership was ignorant of the machinations of Imperialism in the subject colonies, and under the impression that freedom could be gained thus, pledged themselves to the Imperialist Party machine (South African Party -Nationalist Party, now fused into United Party) or they have deliberately refrained from exposing these designs and consequently betrayed their trust.

The outcome of either this ignorance or treachery has meant that for decades the subject peoples of South Africa have been following a political line totally opposed to their interests, finding themselves to-day encircled by a forest of "colour bars" of every description. It may be said in extenuation by the leaders of the past that they chose the lesser of the two evils. How incorrect this choice was is proved by the .fact that both evils have now fused into one and the subject peoples find themselves without a friend in the hour of the need.

Where Shall We Find a Friend?

Acting on the principle that "A man's best friend is himself' the Organisation hereafter named are convinced that no good can accrue to the oppressed peoples of this country, either black or white, through support of the Imperialists or their political Parties.

Our only hope lies in unifying all those forces that feel the weight of oppression as we do, into a cohesive and determined whole in opposition to Imperialism in South Africa.

That we centre our hopes in the masses of the subject people, as the ONLY force that can bring freedom. We desire to wage an open and straightforward struggle, free from the intrigues, political graft, compromises on vital issues and the thousand and one deceits that have brought us to this miserable and degraded pass.

As the first step into the new era, we call upon all the organised bodies of the subject peoples, political, social, religious and all liberty loving individuals to rally round and support us in this call for a

National Convention

of the subject peoples of South Africa.

At this convention we will strive to lay the foundation of future UNITY of all sections, Bantu, Coloured, Indian, and Malay. All those that suffer from the "Colour Bar" in South Africa shall form the united front against oppression. And this front we shall cherish and weld as the only means to Equality of opportunity for all, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

We ask you to consider well. Either we continue on the old lines of division, in the meantime every session of Parliament sees more legislation to blast your future and that of your children, or we strive to unite our forces. Our future welfare and progress depends upon your affirmative decision and support.

Representatives of the following Cape Organisations support a National Convention of the subject peoples:-

The S.A. Railway; Harbour Workers Union (non-European); The Cape Indian Congress; The Docks; Stevedoring Workers Union; The Cape Malay Association; The African National Congress; The Coloured Peoples Welfare Association; The African Advancement Association; The Communist Party (Cape Town Branch); The Laundry Workers, Cleaners and Dyers Union (Cape); The Domestic Employees Union; The Butchers Blockmen; Ordermen's Union.

On behalf and for the General Council, the National Liberation League of South Africa, G. H. Gool, President, J. A. La Guma, General Secretary.

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