Presidential Address To The Eleventh Annual Conference Of The Natal Indian Congress, Durban, November 21, 195864

Mr Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 11th Annual Conference of the Natal Indian Congress assembles at a time when our people are facing the most critical period in their history. The steps taken to implement the Group Areas Act have caused grave concern in every Indian home in the Union for one of the avowed aims of this diabolical legislation is to enforce expatriation and pending which to relegate them into ghettos as a reservoir of cheap labour.

The naked aim of the Group Areas legislation is to make our people impotent in the economic field so that apartheid oppression can be completed and all the non-white people of South Africa are reduced to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

 The Group Areas Act is described as the cornerstone of the policy of apartheid, a policy which seeks to entrench white domination under Afrikaner baaskap. It is a policy which naturally flows from the narrow and bigoted tribalism of the Nationalist Party.

While the white ruling group in South Africa is preaching apartheid and doing everything possible to prevent healthy race contact, we who belong to the democratic camp have a duty to ourselves, to our civilisation and to posterity. We have to uphold at all costs the banner of a common society based on equality and respect for all in our multi-racial country.

We reject Afrikaner baaskap tribalism most categorically and today this very platform at the opening of our Conference is a clear illustration of our unbroken faith in creating a South Africa in which all our people can live in harmony and in peace.

We have worked for some years now in closest cooperation in the Congresses in the Union. Today we are most thankful that Mr Alan Paton has opened our Conference. We regard this as an important step in broadening the democratic front, for we believe that we have now reached a stage in the Union where all true democrats opposed to the policy of apartheid and white domination should come together emphasising the points on which they agree in a working alliance to lead our country on the path of democracy.

Indian South Africans form the smallest group of our country’s multi-racial population. However it is recognised that the Natal Indian Congress has a history of which all true South Africans could be proud. It is the oldest national organisation in the country and the philosophy of its founder has had a profound impact on mankind.

We in South Africa are part of a world-wide movement for democracy, peace and justice and we are vitally interested as to what is happening outside our border. Our Congress policy is based on that great philosophy of non-violence and it is natural that in the international field we stand for peace and for the solution of all international problems by non-violent means.

We are totally against all domination of one country by another, for we stand for the right of each and every nation, big and small, to be completely sovereign and, therefore, we are against the presence and use of foreign troops on the soil of any country.

We have fully supported the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and once again we record our thanks to member States of the United Nations for the magnificent stand taken on racial discrimination in the Union.

We record with great satisfaction the growing influence exerted for peace and democracy in international affairs by Afro-Asian Powers, most of whom have entered the world family of nations with their newly-won freedoms.

Bandung, Cairo and Accra have become important milestones in cementing friendship and understanding between the peoples of Africa and Asia.65 Next month when the proposed conference is held at Accra representing the people on the continent of Africa, it will be the voice of the democracy-loving people of South Africa that will also be heard there.

Over 64 years ago, on the 22nd May 1894, in the humble home of Mr Dada Abdulla in Durban, the Congress movement saw its birth. A young lawyer from India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, on that day founded the Natal Indian Congress and today Congress has become the vanguard of the freedom movement in South Africa.

The founder of our organisation worked out the philosophy of non-violence and satyagraha on the South African soil. That philosophy has been consistently upheld by our Congress. We believe that in South Africa there is room for all her people. There can be no place for hatred against anyone in our multi-racial society.

We believe that it is vitally necessary that we as an organisation should each year celebrate Founder’s Day - the third Sunday of each May - by reiterating the significance of the contribution made by Mahatma Gandhi to the entire world. On this day there should be an annual Founder’s Day address by a prominent personality assessing the value of non-violence in the struggle for freedom and emancipation.

Delegates at the Conference should resolve to commemorate Founder’s Day as from next year.

When we met in Conference last year the general elections had not yet taken place and I had made pointed remarks on the issues involved before the electorate. The general elections have once again proved that the denial of the vote to the vast masses of the South African population results in the curtailment of democracy for all the people of South Africa, including the white population. The emergence of Verwoerdian regime66 is the natural and logical outcome of restricting the vote. Had the frontiers of democracy been extended to embrace all South Africans of all colours then our country today would not have been on the verge of totalitarianism. The election results should be a warning to all white South Africans opposed to the Nationalists that if they want to see true democracy in South Africa, the vote should be extended to all irrespective of race or colour.

As a community we fully know what it is to be completely voteless. In 1896 Indians in Natal were deprived of the parliamentary vote and in 1924 they lost the municipal franchise. Had the Indian people parliamentary franchise, would Dr Donges have dared to place in the Statute Book a measure such as the Group Areas Act? Had the Indian people the municipal vote, would the Durban City Council have advocated race zoning of the type proclaimed on June 6th this year or race zoning of any type?

It is vitally necessary for our people to understand fully the importance of political rights. It is because we are denied the vote that we suffer so many economic, social and educational disabilities in the Union.

It is not my intention to recount to you the measures taken by the Nationalist Government during the last session of Parliament to restrict further basic freedoms in the country. You know these too well. But I do wish to say this in respect of the Group Areas Act. By June 1959 we have a very important task to fulfil in making the country and world know how unjust and disastrous the Group Areas measures are.

We are indeed thankful to Mr Alan Paton for the way in which he has spoken out against the Group Areas Act and against all injustices in South Africa.

From this Conference let each and every delegate return to his area dedicated to the task of defeating this law. Our petition to Parliament must become the biggest petition ever presented and we must rally the entire community behind our just slogan "Defend Your Homes. I want to assure the Indian community that the Natal Indian Congress will be in the forefront of the struggle against the Group Areas legislation.

The Congress Alliance is continuing to grow in strength and we are proud of the fact that the African National Congress today stands as the real bulwark of freedom. It has completely rejected narrow tribalism and is today under the leadership of one of South Africa’s greatest democrats, Chief Albert J. Luthuli, leading the African people on the path of a common society based on democracy and peace among all sections of the South African population.

In two years` time the Indian people will be observing the centenary of their arrival in South Africa. It is our task to mark that event with some striking and lasting example of multi-racial cooperation and achievement. Delegates must give serious thought to this question at this Conference.

In 1960 when we celebrate this centenary let it be said by all true historians that in South Africa we have remained the upholders of democracy and freedom and that in a world full of violence and hatred the philosophy of non-violence and love has remained the only effective signpost for the progress of mankind.

I would have liked to have been with you all in person but as you know the treason trials are not yet over. These trials perhaps more than any other factor have brought South African democrats closer to each other and we are indeed thankful to people outside the borders of the Union, and in particular to Canon Collins, for the magnificent support the Treason Trial Defence Fund has received.

The ensuing year will be one of great trials and tribulations for the Indian community. It is the first year of Dr Verwoerd's rule and the first year of the Group Areas proclamations. We enter this year with the firm resolve to oppose all acts of tyranny in the firm belief that our cause is just. Democracy will and must triumph in this South Africa - our beloved country.

The address was read by the Vice-President of NIC since Dr G. M. Naicker was banned from attending gatherings.

Asian-African Conference, Bandung, April 1955; Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Conference, Cairo, December 1957; African People’s Conference, Accra, December 1958.

Dr H. F. Verwoerd became Prime Minister in August 1958.