A spirit that refuses to submit to Tyranny
Once again another biennial Conference is upon you.
It is my good fortune to be privileged once more to open your biennial Conference. It was in 1954 when I had the honour to open your twenty-first Conference. I wish this biennial Conference opening today the blessings and guidance of the Almighty.
My message at this Conference will centre around summoning you and all who like you believe in Freedom For All to accept the challenge of apartheid and solemnly to resolve that somewhere and soon a halt must be called to this policy which is seriously threatening peace in South Africa, by undermining confidence in the Government of the country and straining race relations in the country, especially black and white relations.
No one is more conscious than I of the difficulties that have to be contended with in building up this determination and that such a determination cannot be built overnight or by wishful thinking but can only be built by stoic, patient persistence.
Important and urgent matters arising out of the tyrannical white rule in the Union of South Africa will come for consideration at this Conference. But the Conference will have failed if it does not directly or indirectly generate a spirit of resisting this tyranny, especially at this time when the Nationalist Party Government, through the Group Areas Act and other kindred Acts, is robbing non-whites of their properties and seriously threatening their livelihood.
I shall be happy, even if only in a small measure, if my contribution to this Conference can help to create such a spirit of resistance to this arrogant and studied tyranny.
Stand up in defence of human values
I must begin by reminding you that the history of mankind shows that people in different lands throughout the ages have had to meet such challenges as face the people of the Union of South Africa at this time but history teaches us that rarely, except for some temporary setbacks, have movements of the people to resist oppression, no matter how ruthless the oppressor, failed. If we truly respect fundamental human rights and noble divine concepts of man, the dignity of man and the worth of an individual, the brotherhood of man, we must come all out in defence of these values as they are being seriously threatened by evil forces in our land. We should remember that Providence has ordained it that a people who refuse to meet such a challenge deservingly suffer moral degenration and degradation.
The grim story of oppressive rule over non-whites of successive white Governments in the Union of South Africa, climaxed by the tyrannical rule of the Nationalist Party Government, which has plagued the Union of South Africa for eight hard years, has confronted non-whites of the Union with inescapable challenge: either they meet it fearlessly to their honour and the salvation of South Africa or evade it to their dying shame and the desecration of our beloved land, South Africa.
May I refer pointedly to the Indian community and ask you of this community why Providence brought your forebears to South Africa? Was it just to help the white man to exploit selfishly the wealth of this country? Was it just to help some of you to exploit the wealth too? Was it just that the majority as ordinary humble folk should make a living?
It might have been for all this - yes - but certainly it was for a worthier cause than these. It was to harness the Indian community in building in this land a tradition that respects virtuous conduct and noble human values since it is only upon such values that a young country like South Africa could build a civilisation worthy of a country that lays claim to Christianity and the best in the so-called Western civilisation.
When we are faced with a Government that is carrying out a policy that is a negation of all that is best and noble in a civilised country - justice, fairplay - it is time you in cooperation with other decent people in the land stood up unequivocally in defence - not of your property or property rights, but of your souls and human values that are being trodden underfoot by the Nationalist Party Government and those white people who unfortunately accept the leadership of the Nationalist Party when it comes to the treatment of non-whites. Unfortunately, at present, such whites form an overwhelming majority of the white community in the Union of South Africa.
Fortunately for you, you are well equipped for this noble but most exacting task. You have as your guide, as your inspiration, as your fount of sustenance in such testing times, the noble tradition of resistance to tyranny of your leaders here in the land of your forebears. You have the undying example of devotion to, and sacrifice for, a noble cause of your illustrious leaders: your Mahatma Gandhis, your Nehrus, your Jinnahs and others here and in India.
You dare not fail them for failing them is failing the best in life - LIBERTY, for which they and others throughout the ages everywhere have sacrificed all to secure it and preserve it. We young fighters for freedom in this age stand between these heroes of freedom and posterity and our bounden duty is to defend and preserve this divine heritage - LIBERTY and all it stands for - and hand it unimpaired to generations yet to be.
Remember the inspiring words of an English poet I always like to refer to in such a connection. It runs something like this:
Life is real, life is earnest
And the grave is not its goal.
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time,
Footprints which another forlorn
And shipwrecked brother,
Seeing shall take heart again.
The challenge to you and all of us who love and value LIBERTY is to build a tradition that will be a STATUE OF LIBERTY in the Union of South Africa. We have to do this in the face of strong gales that make the task of building and maintaining this Statue of Freedom a most hazardous undertaking fraught with dangers that are capable of destroying us and the tradition of liberty we would be building. The cause is so worthwhile that any risks and dangers confronting its realisation sink into insignificance.
Shameful denial of rights
What an opportune time for the holding of your twenty-second biennial Conference! You are meeting at a time when the policy of apartheid is bringing untold suffering to thousands of non-whites, stark poverty, intense mental anguish, frustration and the like, especially as a result of the implementation of the Group Areas Act and kindred Acts such as the Resettlement of Natives Act, relevant amendments to the Urban Areas Act and the Natives Land and Trust Act. We are really witnessing a mopping process in the action of depriving and denying non-whites democratic rights and privileges. This action was started on a Union-wide scale at the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and since then has been carried out by successive Union Governments but never so intensely and ruthlessly to such a climax as by the present Government of the Nationalist Party.
In opposing this unashamedly brutal rule we should labour hopefully in the assurance that right must ultimately triumph over wrong even though evil might appear to be on the throne now. By way of emphasis let me remind you of some of these shameful acts of denial and deprivation.
Franchise rights for non-whites were whittled away at Union in 1910.
In 1936 the Cape Africans who were the only Africans with franchise rights, save a negligible number in Natal, were put on a separate voters` roll and were given a disgracefully emasculated representation by whites only. This fate has now befallen the Coloured people.
Legalised plunder of non-whites
The Indians in Natal lost their municipal franchise long ago. On the matter of land rights and security of home, notwithstanding the British maxim - "One`s home is one`s castle" - land rights ceased to be respected long ago in so far as non-whites were concerned. The Native Land Act of 1913 and subsequent amendments to it, such as the Native Land and Trust Act, deprived Africans of the right to further purchase or lease land, save in special scheduled and released areas. In urban centres he suffered a similar fate in the Urban Areas Act of 1923 and subsequent amendments to it. The Group Areas and other kindred Acts are but a mopping up process for him.
For the Indians compulsory segregation can be regarded as having commenced in 1932 and became more and more stringent until 1946 when the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act was passed. This Act pegged the rights of Indians to occupy land in certain controlled areas. The land tenure provisions of this Act can be regarded as the forerunner that inspired the passing of the Group Areas Act in 1950.
The Group Areas Act, in all its tyrannical provisions and its nefarious objectives as voiced by some leaders of the Nationalist Party, including Cabinet Ministers, spells utter doom to the Indian community and the Coloured community as does the mopping up process among Africans, carried out under the Resettlement of Natives Act, recent amendments to the Urban Areas Act and the intensification of the elimination of so-called "Black spots" in rural areas under the provisions of the Native Land Act, 1913, as amended, and the Native Land and Trust Act, 1936, as amended.
I could go on and add more to the list of these dishonourable acts which in effect sanction legalised plunder of non-white property but the laws I have cited to prove my charge against white South Africa in this regard suffice. Why all this tyranny and that in the name of Christianity and Civilisation? In brief: It is to try and satisfy the insatiable greed and selfishness of white South Africa. We truly pity our fellow white South Africans who in lust for power and comfort have cast overboard moral considerations to their own harm and to the harm of the name of the Union of South Africa and endangering the building of a sound State resting on firm moral foundations.
What shall you, what shall we all, do in the face of this grim challenge? Shall we complacently and passively resign ourselves to our doom in the fashion of "Tata baba, shiyamind sikukazi naloqude" (if you rob me of my fowls please leave a hen and a cock) as alleged by Africans to be what Indians in fear say to thieves stealing their fowls.
Remember it is not just our property and our property rights that are being threatened nor only our means of earning a livelihood but our honour as created beings of God and our honour as people who profess to value the heritage of Freedom and all the noble conceptions that are its components. We should seek economic security but not worship material things to the extent of disregarding moral values. Rather our properties go! Rather our homes go! - than that we should shamefully compromise in an effort to save what little we may save, if at all, after the plundering of our all by the Nationalist Party Government through the Group Areas and similar Acts has been carried out. In compromising we shall inevitably be guilty of aiding and abetting apartheid and all the insults and suffering it stands for. Rather lose all than lose our souls and honour and so save ourselves the shame of earning the disdain of our contemporaries and the condemnation of posterity but worse suffer eternal damnation for indeed "what will it profit to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?"
This Divine poser should be pondered upon deeply by any of us who might be tempted by considerations of expediency and false personal gain or intimidation by fear to flirt with the wicked maid, apartheid.
I assure you again of the support not only of the African National Congress, but of the responsible people in our community typified by the 349 leaders and delegates who attended the recent All-in Conference of the African people in Bloemfontein who with unanimous voice said "NO" to the Tomlinson Commission report as an instrument of apartheid. May the South African Indian Congress continue in its laudable efforts of seeking to cooperate with all people of goodwill who love and believe in freedom for all and with all such people form a liberatory movement that will oppose and eventually defeat enemies of freedom in our land, South Africa, whoever they may be and wherever they may be.
You - we all - should refuse to be fenced in physically, mentally and spiritually; we should refuse to be a party to anything that dishonours South Africa; we should refuse to compromise or in any way submit to tyranny and domination at the expense of degrading our manhood.
To go back to the title of my address, the answer to the challenge should be to build among all those who believe in Freedom for All a spirit that refuses to tolerate a reign of tyranny in our land. In this task I feel sure that this twenty-second biennial Conference of the South African Indian Congress will emphatically reiterate its past stand of standing firm in opposition to apartheid and of helping to forge a united opposition against it since organised unity is the one sure effective force that will spell doom to this evil thing, apartheid.
I now have pleasure in solemnly declaring this twenty-second biennial Conference of the South African Indian Congress, meeting in Gandhi Hall, Johannesburg, on October 19, 20 and 21 duly opened.
Long Live Freedom!
Long Live Africa!