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

In 1961 the South African Government gave official recognition to the de facto situation, and decided that Indians were henceforth to be regarded as a permanent part of the population. The hope of repatriating Indians, faint though it once might have been, was at last laid to rest.

Some form of constitutional dispensation in line with the ideology of apartheid had now to be made to accommodate the Indians. This took the form of the South African Indian Council (S.A.I.C.), which began operating as a statutory body consisting of nominated members in 1968. This body became partly elective in 1974, and almost fully elective in 1982. Since its establishment the cleavage within the Indian body politic has revolved entirely around the debate whether Indians should participate in such ethnically-based organisations, or whether they should insist that South Africa’s future be determined non-racially by all her people in democratically representative institutions.

The documents in this section reflect the seriousness and the intensity with which this debate has been pursued. The 'near-decade' of martyrs seeking 'open confrontation' with the South African Government had come to an end, declared Dr. M. B. Naidoo in the late 1970s, and a time for reassessing the old strategy had arrived. Thus, Amichand Rajbansi, executive chairman of the South African Indian Council, gave warning in 1982 that although the council served 'only as a channel of communication as an interim measure', its members would proceed to negotiate with the Government certain agreements in respect of the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement which were not fulfilled, and 'certain aspects of the famous Cape Town AgreementAgreement which were not fulfilled.’ Local affairs committees, as Yunus Moolla, another S.A.I.C. member, explained, were a 'means to an end' and their instrumentality ought therefore to be explored.

Opponents disagreed vehemently. The South African Indian Council, some argued, was 'created a powerless body and was not intended to achieve anything more than placate a small section ”¦' It had become an 'instrument of our own oppression'. An Indian Parliament as envisaged by the Government's constitutional proposals of 1977 was a means 'to divide power, not to share it'. Moreover, as many noted, 'separate can't be equal'. In much the same way the Charter for Change, a document endorsed by 110 organisations in 1981, argued that Bantustans, the President's Council, the S.A.I.C. and local affairs committees, merely reinforced 'domination and exploitation by a minority', and excluded 'the possibility of establishing a democracy'. Nothing in South Africa remained unaffected by politics. Hassan Howa believed that sport embraced 'all facets of existence', and student leader, Abba Omar, saw the 'student battle as part of the overall struggle'. Almost all of these spokesmen called for a national convention to decide upon a new political formula for the country.

There were some who tried separate institutions and became disillusioned. R. A. M. Salojee, a medical practitioner heading the People's Candidates Party, tried out the Management Committee in Lenasia (Transvaal) and discovered that 'local racial autonomy [was] the cellular component on which the whole farcical citadel of [the proposed] three parliaments [was] built. . . .' Pat Poovaligam participated in the President's Council on the basis of his broad South Africanism, but found the Government intransigent on the issue of including Africans in the body, and thus resigned. G. Mahomed, another member, found the body's first proposals 'no more value than oxygen administered to a corpse'. He, too, resigned.

With whom does the future lie? Is it with those who are serving on narrowly-defined ethnic bodies and insist that they are thereby helping to promote the common cause of non-racial democracy? Or is it with those who argue that South Africa's salvation lies in authentic organisations which can advance the cause of the majority . . . [and are] rooted in the people'?

Our last document sees the dilemma clearly:

Our people have decayed into isolation and segregation, ethnic and religious differences have been accentuated, and generations of neighbourhood and community traditions have collapsed.

The average man and woman is confused and benumbed by decades of propaganda and repression. What are we to make of a recent survey which shows that while 58 per cent of Indians were prepared to live under African rule given certain guarantees, the overwhelming majority of 81 percent would the basic human right of one-man one-vote to Africans and settle for a qualified franchise?