Interview  To The United Nations Radio, 1979

[Dr. Dadoo was interviewed in London by Michael Kallenbach ofthe United Nations Radio's anti-apartheid unit.]

MK: With me is Yusuf Dadoo, who is Chairman of the South African Communist Party and Vice-Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the ANC.

First of all, Mr. Dadoo, perhaps you could start this interview by telling me a little bit about yourself, where you lived in South Africa, and why and when you left the country.

DADOO: Well, to say a few words about myself. I was born and bred in South Africa. My parents are of Indian origin, from India, but I was born in South Africa in 1909, just 70 years ago. And I have been brought up in South Africa. I studied there for a time - and because at that stage in the 30s there were no possibilities for higher education for black children in South Africa, I had to come all the way to this country, to Britain - and I studied at Edinburgh and qualified there in 1935 as a medical doctor.

Well, from my young days at school when I had to travel because of apartheid - segregation at the time - now it is called apartheid - because of the segregation policies I couldn't go to a school in my own place, Krugersdorp, which is twenty miles away from Johannesburg. I used to go to a Coloured school. But then they laid down that if it is Coloured, then it is only for Coloured children, if it is Indian it is Indians and so on. So I had to travel, every day - I was about 8 or 9 - I had to travel every day in the train to Johannesburg and the experiences have really been such that it made one full of anger and wrath. For instance, first of all in the trains separate compartment for black people; on the station, there are separate benches for the black people - and in this way that itself was frustration every day … and then going to school from my place which took about 15 minutes walk to the station and then in Johannesburg from the station to the school was also about 15 minutes walk.

And we used to come across white children going to school and they used to taunt us, insult us and call us "coolies" - because you know the derogatory term for Indians is "coolies," for the Africans in those days it was "kaffirs" and for the Coloured people "hotnots" - and they used to sing ditties like "coolie, coolie, Sammy, Sammy, ring a bell, coolie, coolie, go to hell," and of course we used to have fights. If we were two or three or four, we used to put up a fight with them. Sometimes they had the better of us and other times we had the better of them.

But that is the kind of experience one had from one's very childhood, and that, of course, had a great deal to do with my feelings and made me realise that it is absolutely impossible to put up with this kind of things.

I was a very young boy in those days, school days, but that remained in my mind so that when I came out to this country, even in this country I was first afraid, because of my experiences at home in South Africa, coming out here in Britain where there is no obvious, apparent discrimination in the trains, or in public places, or in restaurants. At first my reaction was of fear - whether I would be accepted there, because of the experience at home, because there the blacks can't go anywhere.

MK: How old were you when you left South Africa for the first time?

DADOO: When I came to this country I was 17 years old.

MK: And you've never returned home?

DADOO: No, no, I qualified in 1935 and since then I have stayed in South Africa until 1960. I practised medicine as a private practitioner and there too I came across the poverty, the misery, the malnutrition, the sickness of the black people every day. And when the people can't pay - and in those days in the 30s that was a very severe period for the people because of the economic crisis- that made one's blood boil. I mean, what can one do to help these people? Medicine is one thing - you give a few tablets or a mixture or something - but it doesn't go to the basis of the whole thing and that also had a great deal to do with my thinking.

So I got into the political struggle of the people from those days, from 1935/36. As an Indian we had the Indian movement, the Indian Congress, the African people had the African Congress, the Coloured people had their organisation, but these organisations were separate and different precisely because of the old policy of segregation. We were kept apart, all black, but kept apart. The Indian in a slightly different position from the Coloured, and the Coloured and Indian in a slightly better position than the Africans who are the most exploited people. So…

MK: The situation hasn't changed as far as medical treatment is concerned for blacks in South Africa today, has it?

DADOO: By no means whatsoever. The position is just as bad if not worse today than it had been in those days. The medical treatment of the people is terrible, absolutely.

MK: Which party were you affiliated with, when you decided to join this one?

DADOO: Well, then I joined the Indian Congress which was the national organisation of the Indian people. At that stage the leadership was in the hands of what we call moderates, or conservatives, who looked after not even the whole interests of the Indian people as such but of a section of the community - the merchant class, the merchant section, the merchant strata, the traders. And so, they used to go cap in hand to the government in order to barter away some of their rights in order for them to maintain some of their little privileges as a trading class. As far as the majority of the Indian people were concerned, and of course the majority of the Indian people are concentrated in Natal where the… came in the 1860s to work on sugar plantations. There were terrible conditions under which they had to work in those days. And the working class was in Natal. But the Indian Congresses were in the hands of the handful of small traders who looked after their own interests. And they did not realise also the whole important question of the struggle in South Africa. We had the tradition of struggle for our rights, when Gandhi came to South Africa and the Gandhi struggle of passive resistance against segregation, against discriminatory laws - it had left a tradition of resistance among the Indian people.

So when we came on to the scene- by we, I mean the younger people, like Dr. Naicker who also qualified in Edinburgh, but who was stationed in Natal - we embarked upon a policy of bringing about political consciousness among the Indian people. Make them realise that it is no use kowtowing to the authorities on all these questions, that it is absolutely necessary, as was done in the days of Gandhiji that we should resist any attacks made on us by the regime, by the authorities. And in that way we created a strong feeling of resistance among the Indian people. And also got to the notice of the Indian people that the struggle in South Africa against segregation, against racial discrimination, cannot be fought by the different sections of the people separately - that is, by the Indian people and the African people and the Coloured people - that what was essential was unity in action of all the oppressed, discriminated people in South Africa. And it is on that basis that we, by our work, brought about trust and confidence in the masses of the Indian people and eventually we succeeded into assuming leadership or place into leadership by the people of the Indian Congress.

And from then on, as the leaders of the Indian Congresses, we worked assiduously to bring about unity with the African people and as a result, in 1946 we succeeded in bringing about co-operation with the African National Congress. At that time Dr. Xuma was the President-General of the African National Congress and a pact was signed, which is known as the Three Doctors' Pact - that is Dr. Naicker, myself and Dr. Xuma - and that laid the basis for unity in action between the African and the Indian people. And out of that, when the Nationalist Government came into power in 1948 on the whole policy of apartheid, which was taking further the whole question of segregation and segregating the black people in a most ruthless manner, bringing about group areas, displacement of people who had been settled for long periods, creating separate areas of residence for the Indians, for the Coloureds - of course, the Africans were already in locations - it laid the basis. Out of that arose the big political strike in 1950. At that time the Nationalist Government had brought in the Suppression of Communism Bill before Parliament and we realised, everybody realised, that the Suppression of Communism Act was not only intended against the Communists but because of the wide implications involved in the Act it meant that anybody who opposed apartheid, anybody who opposed the discriminatory policies of the regime would fall under the Act. And therefore a united group of not only the Indian and the Coloured and the African people, but also white democrats because we all realised that it was now a common struggle against the fascist inroads of the Nationalist Party Government.

MK: I want to just briefly go back to your personal beliefs. Were you a follower of Gandhi? Did you agree with what he was thinking and which direction he was moving at the time?

DADOO: That is a very important question. Of course, I hold in very high respect and love and affection Gandhiji. He, as a matter of fact, had a great deal in moulding my thinking and subsequently my political activities. But at the same time when Gandhi went back to India and involved himself in the struggle there arose another great revolutionary fighter and that was Pandit Nehru and with his views, broad views on politics, Pandit Nehru attracted the younger people more than Gandhi did at that time. So I believed in Gandhiji to the extent that there must be resistance, there must be struggle for justice and for righteousness. But on the question of the principles laid down by Gandhi … that is, of absolute non-violence, I did not agree with Gandhi. I at that stage believed in the policy of Nehru, who also did not believe completely, implicitly, in the whole principle of non-violence.

MK: You talked earlier about the Communist Act and I wanted to ask you to develop that theme a little… you talk about being enforced in 1950… it is 19 years later, it is still even stronger as you know. I wonder whether you could talk about how easy it is for the police, for the authorities to lock people up and detain them for whatever reasons they might think fit.

DADOO: Well, that is, you know, known to everybody in the outside world, what is being done in South Africa at the present moment… Today, you know, people, first of all, all the outstanding leaders of the struggle, Nelson Mandela… Goldberg and others, they are at the moment incarcerated on Robben Island serving life imprisonment. And there are many, many others, hundreds of them, who are serving varying terms of imprisonment. Any little activity against the viciousness, the violence of the regime - if you just stand up and say anything against apartheid - you come under surveillance and sooner or later you are detained or brought before courts, under the various Acts now, the Terrorism Act, besides the Suppression of Communism Act. So there are various trials, hundreds of trials, going on all the time, even at the present moment, there are so many trials going on in South Africa. So there is no one who is safe who wants to speak against the...

MK: Which year did you leave and were you personally detained? What was your circumstances affecting your ultimate decision to pack up and go as it were?

DADOO: Well, there was a state of emergency declared in 1960 when hundreds of our people were arrested and taken into prison, detained. Now at that stage, some of us managed to escape the net because it happened that we were through various means able to find out that the raid was going to take place and it was taking place early in the morning - I mean, before four(?). A very wide net was spread all over the country. Some of us were in a position to escape and so we escaped the net and we went underground.

MK: You were part of that movement that escaped?

DADOO: We were and then we were working underground in the country, underground whilst the others were detained and kept in prison. We started a movement underground of those who managed to escape the net and we were working there but then a decision was taken by the Indian Congress and African National Congress and by the party as well, the Communist Party, that I should go out of the country, get out of the country somehow, and I would be able to maintain contact with the outside world. Well, at that stage, Oliver Tambo who is now the President-General of the African National Congress, he also was directed by the African National Congress to get out of the country. So he left a few months before me. We joined up in Botswana, and from there we flew together. Of course the question of getting out was not easy. We had to find ways and means of getting out of the country but we did manage.

MK: So you in fact at that time were Chairman of the South African Communist Party.

DADOO: No, No.

MK: You weren't.. you were a member?

DADOO: I was President of the South African Indian Congress at the time and a member of the Communist Party.

MK: And now you are Chairman of the South African Communist Party in London?

DADOO: No, I am Chairman of the Party as such. Of course the party is illegal and underground. We function inside the country and we also have a few people outside, but most of the members of the party are inside. Of course, because of being an illegal party and underground, the membership is not known to the outside world. Or to the people generally.

MK: But you are based in London?

DADOO: Well, I am based in London to the extent that it is the headquarters. But by virtue of my being not only the Chairman of the Party, but also the Vice-Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of the African National Congress, I have spent quite a lot of time in Africa, outside of South Africa of course.

MK: What can you say about the work, in your capacity as Chairman of the Communist Party, that one can, without giving too much away? Is there anything you can say about the sort of work you…

DADOO: The position of my party is that we are at this stage in the struggle against the racist regime, against the fascist tyranny of the racist regime in our country. We have analysed the situation as being one where there must be national liberation. The party works for the working class as such, for the social and national emancipation of the working class or the working people. But we realise that the situation in South Africa is such that we have a type of colonialism in South Africa, as far as the black people are concerned, and therefore the immediate, the urgent, the vital task before the people of South Africa is national liberation - the question of completely eradicating the whole evil system of apartheid, or the overthrow of the racist regime, and the establishment of a democratic South Africa for all. It is on this basis, on this principle, that we come in. Let us work very closely together with the African National Congress. We don't see any difference in the immediate objective in South Africa, as between the Communists and non-Communists.

MK: I want to go briefly to India's stand at the UN. You know it was India that first introduced the question of apartheid, way back at the UN. What would you personally like to be seen done, possibly by the UN and other world organisations, to eradicate apartheid or to bring equality of the people in South Africa?…

DADOO: Yes, that is a very important question. You refer to India bringing the question. We at that stage, in the South African Indian Congress in 1946, when we embarked on passive resistance struggle against what we called the "Ghetto Act" introduced by Smuts, not by the Nationalists but before, we called upon India to take measures to see that the matter is brought before the United Nations. Happily at that stage there was the interim government with Nehru, and Gandhiji was still there. That was a great help to us. Well, it was touch and go. We didn't know whether the question would be accepted by the United Nations but of course it was and since then it is not only the question of the treatment of people of Indian origin. It became the question of the treatment of all black people. It was very encouraging for our people who have to struggle day in and day out in the country, facing a life and death struggle, that the United Nations has declared apartheid a crime against humanity and that is exactly what it is. And I must say that the United Nations, as far as has been possible for it to act, has done a great deal. Of course, it is not always so easy.

What we would like is the complete isolation of South Africa in every field. The Security Council has its mandatory sanction against the supply of arms to South Africa. But unfortunately, the western powers, the imperialist countries, who have such vast interest in South Africa and southern Africa - tremendous investment in South Africa from which they derive big profits - they would not like to see any radical, revolutionary changes taking place in the country, because they want to primarily act… in order to preserve their own economic and financial interests in that part of the world. So it is an uphill fight. In spite of the mandatory sanctions against the supply of arms, every now and then it has been uncovered that some western powers by various devious ways supply those arms to South Africa, so that today South Africa possesses all the most modern weapons and the technology in the production of weapons and nuclear arms, so that it is an uphill fight to carry on this struggle. Also to completely isolate South Africa in every sphere of human activity.

MK: You refer to sports…

DADOO: Of course, sports, culture, what have you. Everything. There should be no truck with South Africa at all.

MK: One final question. You know these programs are beamed to some of the suffering people in South Africa. I wonder whether you might have a message… to the people who might be listening to the broadcasts.

DADOO: Well, to our people in South Africa, though they know from time to time, it is very difficult to know what is happening in the outside world, the action taken by the United Nations and their various agencies against South Africa, of the world outcry of condemnation of the apartheid policies of South Africa, and of the actions which countries on their own and through United Nations are taking in order to help the struggle of our people at home. I say to our people that in so far as world public opinion is concerned, they are on our side, and that it is a great and tremendous help to us. But so far as we are concerned, bearing in mind the help that we get from the outside world, the main brunt of the struggle is upon us, on our shoulders. If we carry on as we have been doing - and at the present moment there is a tremendous upsurge in the country - you are fighting a valiant battle. The resistance of the people is such that the racist regime has not been able to bring it under control. It is still a powerful enemy but at the same time, your struggle has done a great deal to bring about a weakening of the whole apartheid structure. And so if we carry on unitedly by mass political mobilisations and with the help of the… that if we carry on the struggle then there must be no doubt that in the end, however much the suffering may be, victory will be ours.

MK: Dr. Dadoo, thank you very much.

Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo South Africa's Freedom Struggle: Statements, Speeches and Articles including Correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi

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