Open Letter To General Smuts, January 1942

Sir,

We hear that you will speak to the Non-European people of South Africa when you address the Conference of the Institute of Race Relations on the 21st of this month at Cape Town.

We desire to draw your attention to the fact that the Non-European people will judge you by your deeds and not by your words. They have not forgotten your past actions; the Bulhoek Massacre and the Rand Strike of 1922 cannot be easily forgotten. Besides, you and your Government's present actions are not such as to inspire confidence in the minds of the Non-European people.

Your Government shares equal responsibility with the Imperial Government for the brutal manner in which the National Organisation of the people of Basutoland, Lagotla la Bafu, has been banned and its national leader Lefele interned.

Your Government ordered the starving African peasants of the Northern Transvaal not to plough the land.

Your Government attacked the primary means of livelihood of the Transvaal Indians by placing on the Statute-Book the obnoxious legislation known as the Asiatic (Transvaal) Land and Trading Act.

Whilst you and your Government were engaged in suppressing the rights of the Non-European people, you were allowing full freedom to the European fifth-columnists to carry on unabated their Fascist activities.

Sir, your noble-sounding phrases will not move a single Non-European soul. Only by actions can you convince him. If the Government has sincerely set itself to defend democracy, then the Non-European masses constitute a formidable force in that struggle.

Sir, you have appealed to the people of South Africa to go all-out to win this all-in war. But how can the Non-European people go all-out when they are chained down under the burden of oppression: low wages, pass laws, Poll Tax, segregation, inadequate land, no democratic rights.

Sir, your Government should bear in mind the bitter lessons of Malaya. The bulk of the Malayan population, which could have been a formidable bulwark against Japanese aggression, could not do much since it was subjected under British rule to the life of a ruthlessly exploited working class; the Malayan Communist Party which was leading the struggle against Fascism was banned, and when it was allowed to resume its activities it was too late.

Sir, it might well be too late here in South Africa. We hope you will utilise the present parliamentary session to give practical shape to the just democratic demands of the Non-European people.

Yours faithfully,

Y. M. Dadoo

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

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