From the book: Passive Resistance 1946 - A Selection of Documents compiled by E.S. Reddy & Fatima Meer

The 1946 Passive Resistance against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Acts ushered in a glorious decade of liberation struggle in South Africa culminating in the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 and the arrest of 156 Accused on a charge of high treason.

This publication is an important contribution in understanding the advancement from protest to challenge of white minority domination in our country. Valuable source material of the 1946 opposition to the Ghetto Act, the 1952 Defiance of Six Unjust Laws, the Congress of the People, the birth of the Freedom Charter and the Treason Trial which began in 1956 was confiscated by the Security Police during this glorious decade and lost to historians. We are hence most thankful for this collection of documents.

Progressives within the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian Congress had initiated the new strategy of "Unity in Action" which flowed out of the experience gained in the organising of the Non-European United Front which was born on the eve of the Second World War. Among the NEUF's leaders, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and D.A. Seedat were imprisoned in Benoni and in Durban respectively, under the War Measures Act for opposing race discrimination. After these imprisonments, there was a huge influx of members, mostly Africans into the NEUF.

In some quarters, it was felt that such influx of members was at the expense of building the numerical strength of the African and Indian Congresses, the NEUF was hence allowed to fade away, and) we concentrated on strengthening our-separate Congresses-by providing them with progressive leaderships that would be committed to unity I in action against chosen racists laws. In 1945, the Natal Indian Congress, under Dr G.M. Naicker was the first to achieve this objective, by defeating the conservatives led by the Kajee-Pather Group; in the Transvaal the same result followed a year later when Dr Y.M. Dadoo and his group took over the leadership of the Transvaal Indian Congress.

The African National Congress did likewise in 1952 when Chief Albert John Luthuli took over from Dr James Moroka who had succeeded Dr A.B. Xuma.

One of the clearest explanations of the new strategy of unity in action was given by Mr Debi Singh at the time, who in a letter to The Leader in 1945, as the Secretary of the Anti-Segregation Council spelled out, what I would term, the need for the politics of alliance. Debi Singh argued that the NIC on its own was not capable of achieving the new leadership's objectives of a non-racial South Africa and that this objective required the strengthening of the different Congresses of the oppressed, who, while retaining their separate structures, should in unison, challenge racist oppression.

There is little doubt that the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign laid a Oasis for collective action. The Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Acts highlighted the two fundamental issues of protest from the earliest of times; that of land ownership and that of the vote. Gandhiji had grappled with these issues when he formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and they were the chief issues discussed in Bloemfontein in 1912, when the ANC was born two years before Gandhiji left South Africa for India.

It was thus not surprising that the Indian campaign in 1946 drew significant, albeit small, support from Africans, Coloureds and whites as the documents included in this volume show.

At the historic mass meeting held at the Red Square in Durban on 31 March 1946, the day when the resolution to resist was taken, H.I.E. Dhlomo, playwright and poet, told the huge gathering that the young people in the African National Congress supported the struggle of the Indians. He added, "Justice is not Indian, and neither is freedom, Indian. We want all people to be free." H.I.E. Dhlomo, who later became editor of llanga lase Natal was the first ANC Youth League leader to support the NIC-TIC campaign to the extent of appearing on the Natal platform. He had been an active member of the liberal Study Group and had taken part in the group's debating team.

In the Transvaal, Dr A.B. Xuma, President General of the ANC had also spoken in support from the TIC platform before Passive Resistance was launched.

Support also came from the coloured community, from Mr L.A. Smith of the African People's Organisation (APO), who said at the Durban meeting, that, "If white civilisation means this Ghetto Bill, then it has no right to exist. It itself should perish."

And when in 1946, the African mine-workers in Johannesburg came out on strike, raising their legitimate demands for the improvement of working conditions of the most oppressed workers in the country, the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council, abandoned our resistance work and placed its resources at the disposal of J.B. Marks and his Mine Workers' Trade Union.

The 1946 Passive Resistance saw us as well-trained Resisters, with the full knowledge of what M.K. Gandhi had achieved during the Indian resistance campaign in South Africa spanning the years 1906 to 1913. We were following in the footsteps of the great Mahatma, as we would da again in 1952.

I remember the evening I led my batch to occupy the resistance plot. As usual, our resistance followed a huge mass meeting at Red Square, where speaker after speaker made it clear that this was a struggle for the liberation of all the oppressed people of the country, denied access to land, and to the democratic voting process.

We were arrested on occupying the plot, and taken to the Umbilo police cells where we spent the night. We appeared before the Magistrate at the Durban Court the next morning. We re-iterated our opposition to the discriminatory laws in court and were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour. No resister paid the alternative of a fine. We were then removed to the Durban Central Prison.

On the Second day of our imprisonment, I was isolated from my fellow-prisoners, put in chains and under two guards, removed to the prison in Stanger, travelling third class in a slow train.

I arrived at Stanger Prison very early in the morning, when the prisoners were having their breakfast of yellow mealie meal, without sugar or milk, dished out in containers which appeared unhygienic. They were eating their porridge with wooden spoons. I was also given such a container, but without a spoon.

I asked a White warder, burly in stature, for a spoon and he roared, "You Coolie! You eat with your hands every day at home, but now you come to prison and you want a spoon!" I thanked him for teaching me my custom. At no time had I eaten porridge without a spoon at home.

As I looked at my porridge, my thoughts went back to the day that brilliant young ANC Youth League leader, Anton Lembede, had spent a day with me. I had taken him to the Witwatersrand University campus. Though a lawyer in the office of Dr Seme, one of the founders of the ANC, he had never been to a University, having done all his studies by correspondence.

He was moved by everything he saw, and particularly impressed by the law library. His agile mind raced through the rows and rows of books and paused in wonderment at all that he had been denied. We ended the day at the Pahads, where that great freedom fighter, Amina Pahad, kept an open table for all who dropped in, and where I was a regular guest. We sat down to dinner of Indian delights.

The next day, I received a letter from Lembede thanking me for the day spent with him. He wrote, "Far more important than the academic experience, was the experience at the Pahad dinner table where you all eat with your fingers and did not use knives and forks." He went on to say how important it was for all oppressed people to respect their customs and expressed the hope that the day would come when the black intelligentsia would be able to walk in the city with their people dressed in tribal customs, with pride and dignity.

This treasured letter from Lembede, whose death we all mourned in 1947, was also confiscated by the Security Branch in their never ending raids on our home.

Two important consequences of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign need to be highlighted: the political cooperation between Indians and Africans, symbolised in the Dadoo-Naicker-Xuma Pact, and the start of sanctions against South Africa. India led the way in this regard.

It was in protest against the Ghetto Act that, at the request of Indian South Africans, India withdrew her High Commissioner from South Africa in June 1946. and imposed a trade ban.

India's action was followed by other countries and breaking-off of diplomatic and trade relations became a worldwide phenomena, accelerating the birth of democracy in the land of apartheid. The Government of India's decision to raise the issue of the Ghetto Act at the United Nations was the first step to rally world opinion against South Africa's racist regime.

And in March 1946, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru advised the Rustomjee-led South African delegation of conservative Indians in the Library of the Legislative Assembly of New Delhi that "Indians in South Africa should cooperate with Africans" because racism was an issue "affecting all the oppressed people of the world." Pandit Nehru's advise had a deep effect on Sorabjee Rustomjee. It also resulted in Dr A.B. Xuma, President-General of the ANC going to the United SJ Nations in 1946, and to his signing of the Dadoo-Naicker-Xuma Pact in March 1947, on the eve of the Dadoo-Naicker visit to India.

The conservative Rustomjee had not been an advocate of Indians and Africans working together politically. His attitude changed when Nehru asked the delegation to press for the recognition of the rights of all peoples of the world. "Indians in South Africa should cooperate with the African people, for," Pandit Nehru said, "if you consider yourselves their superiors, then others will consider themselves your superiors."

Nehru had joined the League against imperialism in 1927 and had won the hearts .of socialists all over the world. Rustomjee had implicitly believed that Gandhiji, under whom he had played a courageous role in South Africa, was not in favor of Indian South Africans making a common cause with the African majority. In India he found out how mistaken he was. Gandhiji asked his delegation to listen carefully to his chosen successor Panditjee, who he said knew more about international issues. Rustomjee returned to South Africa a changed person on these issues.

Rustomjee discussed the matter with the Passive Resistance Council and then asked me to see Dr A.B. Xuma and we had long discussions. I became, so to speak, a conduit between Nehru and Dr A.B. Xuma, President-General of the ANC, with Sorab, acting as Nehru's chief agent in South Africa. Rustomjee, in a way, was the driving force in getting Dr Xuma to go to the United Nations' meeting in New York. I was delegated to request Dr Xuma to do so. I remember the numerous discussions between Dr Xuma and myself at his Doornfontein surgery, not far from the residence of Dr Yusuf Dadoo. And Dr Xuma went to the UNO in 1946.

He returned from there inspired, particularly by such persons as Mrs Vijayalakshmi Pandit and others representing the new choice of India. The Nehru foreign policy strengthened our own radicals who wanted our struggle to be part of the colonial struggle and who were striving within the Indian and African Congresses to achieve 'Unity in Action', the action took the form of resistance. The conservative Sorabjee Rustomjee and his supporter Ashwin Choudree became recruits to our movement and served imprisonment.

After Dr A.B. Xuma's return from the United Nations, it was decided to send Dr G.M. Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo to India. On the eve of their departure, I was once again asked to contact Dr Xuma with the view to signing a joint declaration against racial discrimination.

The joint declaration of Dr Xuma, Dr Naicker and Dr Dadoo was signed on 9 March 1947 in the names of the Transvaal Indian Congress, Natal Indian Congress and the African National Congress. The declaration fully realised the urgency of cooperation between non-European peoples and other democratic forces for the attainment of basic human rights and full citizenship for all sections of the South African people. It resolved that a joint declaration of cooperation was imperative for the working out of a practical basis of cooperation between the national organisations of me non-European peoples. The historic Pact endor3ed the demand for universal franchise and pledged full cooperation between the African and Indian peoples, and appealed to all democrats and freedom-loving citizens of South Africa to support the six objectives listed in the Pact and cooperate fully in achieving them. The Pact also talked of the urgent necessity for the launching of a vigourous campaign, but such a campaign was not launched under Dr A.B. Xuma.

It had to wait until 1952 when the progressives in the African National Congress, led by the ANC Youth Leaguers such as Walter Sisulu, A.P. Mda, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, succeeded in changing the leadership of the ANC, firstly from Dr A.B. Xuma to Dr James Moroka and then to Chief Albert John Luthuli. Then, and only then, was the ground prepared for the coming into existence, fully, of the politics of alliance and unity in action against unjust laws.

The politics of alliance was born in 1952 when the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign was launched under the joint leadership of the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress. In the Congress of the People, this alliance was extended to include the coloured organisation, the white democrats and the trade union movement. But the beginning of this alliance goes back to the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign where the seeds were sown and which germinated and grew both in South Africa and abroad when the ANC and other bodies were declared unlawful in South Africa.

Indeed President Nelson Mandela is correct to point out that many people regard the 1976 Soweto Rising as the beginning of the liberation struggle and it is the duty of historians to trace back our rich history to the colonial days, to the Gandhian era of struggle and to the peoples struggle, including the 1946 Resistance.

As the glorious decade of the fifties drew to an end, we acknowledged our great liberation heritage of the past, but had no illusions of the difficult days that lay ahead; we were, however, certain of the ultimate victory of our just cause. I am among those who survived to see the dawn of freedom in our lifetime. At the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela, there was sadness that so many of those who had fought under this magic slogan were not there to celebrate with us.

I.C. Meer


Fiftieth Anniversary Council: 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign

June 1996