Presidential Address to the Twenty-Third Conference of the South African Indian Congress, Durban, September 3, 1961

This Twenty-third Conference of the South African Indian Congress meets at a time when the Indian people of South Africa have completed a hundred years of their stay in this country. It is meeting at a time when we as the smallest minority group in our country are facing great challenges and history has destined that we must play our rightful role in solving the gigantic problems which face South Africa.

We are a small country at the southern tip of the great continent of Africa and we can either retreat further and further into isolation from the rest of the world or advance boldly to face the future as a democratic nation, holding its rightful position in international affairs.

As the oldest national organisation in South Africa, the South African Indian Congress has made its position clear both in international and national affairs. There is no doubt as to where we stand in relation to world affairs or in relation to our own country. It is however essential to emphasise our stand and restate in the clearest terms possible our policies so that delegates attending this Conference can go back to their constituent bodies and to their respective areas knowing fully well what lies ahead of us and how to meet the challenges which confront us.

Both in the international and national fields we stand for peace and for peaceful solution of the problems which beset humanity. It is because of this fundamental stand of ours that we have at all our Conferences declared in the clearest possible terms that we believe in the ending of the cold war which is today creating fears in the mind of humanity. If we cannot have peace the only alternative is war and war in this nuclear age means incalculable destruction to civilisation - the possible end of all that mankind has contributed to progress and the ushering in of such dark ages that man has never experienced in his past and primitive history.

The devastation which can result from nuclear war can be so great that no ideologies may survive after the holocaust to guide man to further progress. It may mean the destruction of man. Believing as we do in peace we strongly support the world-wide movement which seeks through the United Nations to solve all international problems through negotiations and by peaceful means; we regard foreign domination of any people as having in it the seeds of war and we regard in similar light racial discrimination within the boundary of any single State.

We therefore welcome the emergence of free and independent States, particularly within our continent, and we make common cause with all peoples everywhere who are in the midst of liberation struggles. We welcome the role played by the new independent Afro-Asian States at the United Nations and we express our gratitude to them and all others who have championed our cause at the United Nations and who have spoken out against the inhumanity of discriminating against people on grounds of race.

While we believe in the extension of political rights to every man and woman within our own country and throughout the world, the Government of the Republic of South Africa is pursuing a directly opposite policy. It is the only country in the world which enshrines race discrimination in the statute books of the highest law-making body of the country and attempts to justify its practices under the false slogan of separate self-development.

The present government has inherited the policy of race discrimination from its predecessors and has sought to give it a philosophical facade under this theory of self-development - a new name for the much discredited policy of apartheid.

Internationally the effect of this policy has been to isolate the Government of the Republic of South Africa from the rest of the world. Our country is no more a member of the Commonwealth74 and in every international gathering South Africa is subjected to severe criticism based directly on the policy of segregation and apartheid.

The total State machinery is geared for the advancement of apartheid and it is integral to this scheme that those who are opposed to it are going to be confronted with more and more restrictions and hardships. These restrictions and hardships are in the first instance imposed on the non-white majority in our country but since democracy is indivisible their effects will be and must be, as in fact they are already being, felt by all South Africans, white and non-white. How true this is is borne out clearly when one analyses the laws enacted by the Nationalist Government during the past 13 years. One by one the lights of liberty are being extinguished and if the democratic forces do not rally to face this challenge total darkness may prevail in South Africa.

Our historic task is to play our rightful role within the democratic camp in the country for the meeting of this challenge not only in a negative way but also in a positive direction by creating the conditions which will result in a lasting non-racial democracy for South Africa. Numerically we are a small group and yet we belong to the Congress Movement which to my mind is the most powerful factor not only in opposing the tyranny of apartheid but in leading South Africa to freedom for all in a non-racial democracy.

Since we last met one of our allies - in fact the leader of our alliance - the African National Congress - has been declared unlawful. We call upon the Government of South Africa to remove this ban, both on the African National Congress and on its leaders, so that Chief Albert Luthuli, one of South Africa’s greatest democrats, can lead his people under the banner of the organisation enjoying the confidence of the African people.

Bannings of organisations and individuals are not the weapons of democrats and we therefore call upon the Government to repeal the laws which make such bannings possible in South Africa.

We welcome the growing non-racial front among white South Africans for we believe in the closest possible alliance of all South Africans of all races and colours.

We meet on the eve of yet another so-called General election confined to the white electorate in South Africa. We are, however, not mere spectators. Although denied the vote we are keenly interested in the outcome of the elections. After 13 years of Nationalist rule white South Africans have the opportunity of either accepting or rejecting the policy of apartheid and segregation. The elections will give us some indication of how far white South Africans have been indoctrinated by apartheid.

On the parliamentary front it is however correct to say that at present we find very little hope for drastic changes which are so essential to end existing tensions and to lead our country on the path of sanity. The official United Party opposition is weak and policyless precisely because it agrees on fundamentals with the apartheid philosophy of the Nationalists. It is offering no hope to the majority of the people of the country. To the extent to which the Progressive Party rejects racialism we welcome it although fully aware of the fact that it is by no means voicing the aspirations of the voteless majority in the country.

The real strength of the democratic forces in the country is in the extra-parliamentary front. The voteless democratically-minded majority in South Africa has the vital role of convincing the dominating minority group that South Africa belongs to all her people who must on a basis of equality share the good things that the country offers and assume equal responsibilities in advancing her prosperity and greatness.

The Indian people have suffered much under the policy of segregation and apartheid. The past hundred years have been years of trials and tribulations but we have emerged from them with clear foresight; as adherents of the democratic ideals we claim no special protection as a minority group, we claim no superiority, we claim a democratic future for all South Africans and we hold the unshakeable belief that in a true democracy individual merit will alone count and not the race or colour of persons.

We are totally opposed to the regimentation of the South African population either on racial or on ethnic bases. We are totally opposed to the creation of the apartheid wall separating the privileged white minority from the under-privileged non-white majority. With equal vehemence we condemn all compartmentalisation of the non-whites on ethnic basis. We must reject the concept of labelling South Africans as Zulus, Indians, Jews, Afrikaners or English. Instead we want the democratic concept of a single and indivisible South Africa to prevail, with all her people regarded as South Africans enjoying equal rights and discharging equal duties within our common motherland.

Having that concept as we do we totally reject the creation of the Indian Affairs Department. The South African Indian Congress will have nothing to do with it for we claim to be South Africans although it took the white ruling group in South Africa a hundred years to admit that we are a permanent part of the country’s population.

As recently announced by Dr Verwoerd it is clear that the Nationalist Government does not intend to regard us as a part of the integrated South African community. The Government policy appears to be one which envisages separate areas for Indians as it does for all non-white people of the country. This separation or apartheid is to be implemented through laws such as the Group Areas Act and the Indian Affairs Department will be the instrument through which co-ordination will be given to the different apartheid laws for the achievement of the Government’s objectives. That is the only light in which we can see the Department of Dr Maree.

Can the Indian people be blamed for holding this view? To them the creation of this Department is to negate all for which they have stood and for which they have striven since they first came to the shores of this country and since Mahatma Gandhi gave them political cohesion and a democratic objective.

To cooperate with the Indian Affairs Department is to show our willingness to isolate ourselves into Indian Group Areas and to accept the Nationalist policy of apartheid which offers nothing but complete economic ruination of the Indian community. An ethnic university has already been imposed on us and if we are not careful, under the guidance of the Indian Affairs Department the control of Indian primary and secondary education will follow.

Our future is not in apartheid, not in ethnic division, not in the spurious policy of self-development under the Indian Affairs Department. Our future lies in a common society in South Africa with deep roots in a non-racial democracy.

All those who believe in a common society and in a non-racial democracy must now come together and voice their opposition to apartheid unitedly. That is the only salvation for South Africa. The historic Conference of African leaders held in Pietermaritzburg and the new awakening among the Coloured people, as reflected in the Malmesbury Convention,75  are strong pointers of how the non-white people of the country are thinking. They have with them a resolute band of white democrats. Together, this democratic force is the real challenge to apartheid and racism in the country. The future belongs to those who believe in the democratic ideal. That is the lesson of history.

Delegates attending this Conference will in their deliberations deal with the policy of apartheid as it affects the different facets of our lives. I do not intend dealing with any of these matters in detail. It is the task of all and every delegate present at this Conference to have our basic objectives clear and to realise that we are a small but very important regiment of democracy. We must leave this Conference with a new spirit and a rededication. We must be prepared to face the future boldly and with courage. We can only do so if we know and understand the problems of our people and take part in their day-to-day living so that we can truly voice the aspirations of Indian South Africans. We must as we have done in the past make common cause with all South Africans so that we can lead our country to its goal of non-racial democracy within the shortest possible time.

Forward to a Democratic South Africa!

Because of the opposition of the members of the Commonwealth to apartheid, South Africa was obliged to leave the Commonwealth when it proclaimed a Republic at the end of May 1961. Dr Maree was the Minister of "Indian Affairs".

The Coloured National Convention was convened by a number of Coloured leaders with broad public support. The Government banned the holding of the Convention in Cape Town and several other urban areas. It was held in July 1961 on a farm in Malmesbury, 35 miles from Cape Town. The participants pledged to work for a non-racial democratic South Africa.

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