About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

"Racial Crisis in South Africa"

Address to meeting of Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, March 2, 1961 by Dr Yusuf Dadoo

South Africa has a population of 15 million, of which 12 million are non-whites and 3 million are whites. The white people of South Africa are a settled community unlike those in the rest of Africa, with the exception of Algeria and to some extent Congo. While at the present moment many territories in Africa are becoming free, 9 million Algerian people are shedding their blood in the struggle for freedom against 15 million settled French population, and we in South Africa have to battle against three million white people. There is no reason why it should be so. Insofar as white people are concerned our policy is quite clear. We do not say that we want to push the white man into the sea or throw him out of the country. Our demand is that democratic rights should be enjoyed by all people. There should be equality between man and man. There should be no discrimination on grounds of race or colour. White and non-white can live peacefully and build a bright future for all the people of South Africa. Its natural resources are developing and we can all live together in prosperity. But the three million whites who have amassed all the power and wealth in their hands do not want to give them up. They do not want to give up their privileges. They want to maintain white supremacy in South Africa. That kind of policy cannot continue. There is bitter opposition to it and in the end a bitter struggle might ensue. They cannot for ever maintain their supremacy with the force of arms; their police and their military cannot subdue 12 million people.

Apartheid received its greatest condemnation on 21 March last year. That is the date of the Sharpeville massacre in which African men, women and children protesting against what is known as the pass law system were killed. They were demonstrating in a peaceful way. The police opened fire on them, is the official number of persons killed in one place and there were killings in other places as well. This massacre shook the conscience of the world. The matter was raised in the Security Council. The apartheid policy and the massacre were condemned and the secretary-general was instructed by the Security Council to communicate with the South African Government in order to see if changes could not be brought about in this whole system of apartheid and racial discrimination in the Union of South Africa. A year has passed but there has been so far no change on the part of the South African Government.

The question arises why do they persist in this policy, knowing fully well that they will have to abandon it sooner or later. They say that they want to make South Africa safe for the white people for a thousand years. The present rulers of South Africa have been very closely following Nazi Germanys policy. They were great supporters of Hitler during the war and they opposed the war effort of the South African Government. They are fascist-minded and want to hold onto their privileges, depending upon the power of the State, its police, military and Air Force to keep that power as long as it is possible for them to do so.

Apartheid tyranny The word apartheid, when literally translated into English, means separateness. Different racial groups are to live separately so that there should be no question of their coming together. That is the simple meaning of the word apartheid. But in the context of South African politics, it is something more than that. The system of apartheid was introduced in the year 1948 by the National Party, which is still the ruling party in South Africa. At that time Dr. Malan was the leader of the Party. Today Dr. Verwoerd is its leader. It is mainly a party of Afrikaans-speaking people, that is, people of Dutch origin. Out of three million whites, 60 per cent are people of Dutch origin. The remaining 40 per cent are English-speaking people. These are mainly of British origin but there are also amongst them people from other parts of the continent of Europe.

In the 1948 election, the first one after the war, the Nationalists came out with the policy of apartheid against the traditional policy of segregation which successive white Governments had followed. Under the policy of segregation, political rights were denied to the non-white people. There was segregation in every sphere, so that whites and non-whites could not come together. That policy has been followed since the time the white people came to South Africa in 1652. They had landed at the Cape of Good Hope, which is now Cape Town. They were looking for the spices of the East but by accident their ship got wrecked and they landed at the Cape. Since then Africans have had to face misery. As the white people moved up, they had to fight bitter wars against the settled African population. So far as courage and strategy were concerned, the African people were better than the white men but the latter possessed superior arms. Therefore, gradually the whole of the area of the Union of South Africa was swallowed up by the whites. The Africans were robbed of their land. There is a saying amongst Africans that when the white man first came to South Africa he had the Bible and we had the land; now we have the Bible and the white man has the land.

When at the turn of the century there was a war between the English people and the Boers, the Boers were defeated but eventually self-government was given and in 1910 the Union was formed. The Act of Union prescribed that there should be no rights for the non- white people. That was a betrayal on the part of the British Government who in spite of the representations made by the organisations of the non-white people, sacrificed all their rights and gave a constitution in which the non-white people did not get any franchise or any say in the affairs of the State.

Then came the Land Act of 1913, which deprived the African people of their land. The result today is that 80 percent of the South African population, consisting of non-white people, mostly African, have only 13 percent of the land and 20 percent of the population that is, the whites today own 87 percent of land. One can imagine the land hunger and poverty of the African people. Then there were the pass laws which control and regulate the freedom of movement of the African people. The aim of these measures was to ensure cheap labour for the gold mines, which were then thriving, and for the white mans farms. Later, with industrial development, there was need for providing cheap labour for industries. Cheap labour being thus ensured, the white people benefited from it and enjoyed all the prosperity at the expense of the blood, sweat and lives of the non whites.

When the Second World War came there were those who opposed it. But in spite of them there was war effort and industrial development took place in South Africa. One of the natural consequences of industrial development is that there is influx of people from rural areas into industrial areas. Precisely the same thing happened in South Africa. This influx of non-white people took place in spite of the restrictive laws and it could not be stopped. With this contact came the question of apartheid. The Nationalist Party, in the interest of the white farmers, sponsored the policy of apartheid. In industry there was a policy of laissez faire supported by General Smuts who was Prime Minister during the war. In 1942 when the Japanese submarines were around the African ports, Smuts said 'segregation, is gone. He said that in order to mobilise the non-white people in the fight against the fascists, people were allowed to come into towns and some form of integration was taking place. With industrial development, black people came into the towns and naturally mixed with the whites.

The Nationalist Party demanded that there must be a conscious, calculated effort on the part of Government to bring to a halt this form of insidious integration. When after the war we had the elections, the majority voted the Nationalists into power.

Since then we have had this policy of apartheid. Every movement of a non-white person is controlled or regulated or governed by the laws of the country. We thus have in South Africa a system of racial discrimination sanctioned by law, which is the worst in the history of mankind. Of course, there has been discrimination in many parts of the world. People in Asian countries and in other parts of Africa have suffered from discrimination of one kind or another. But here is discrimination sanctioned by law and enforced by the authority of the State against a section of the population on the ground that it is not white. Merit does not count. I may be a doctor, but when I walk in the street, I am a 'coolie'. People of mixed breed or Coloured people are no better treated. That happens in education and in social welfare. This kind of system makes life absolutely intolerable.

Is it surprising that people in South Africa should rise against this tyranny? We have been conducting a struggle for 50 years or more. Non-white people have had to suffer for it, many have been killed, sent to prison or sent out of the country and so on. In this decade, when territory after territory in Africa is becoming independent, there is a great upsurge on the part of the African people which no one can prevent. Freedom is coming to other territories in Africa. That has its impact on the non-white people of South Africa, who are determined to carry on the struggle to the bitter end. Until they have won their freedom, basic human rights and their self-respect, this struggle will go on.

A world-wide struggle What about the other countries of the world? Can they do anything to help? The struggle against racial discrimination has been a world-wide struggle. A bond of solidarity has existed between all those who are engaged in this struggle. The struggle against racial discrimination is a part of that against colonialism. South Africa constitutes a base against all people striving for freedom and equal rights. You have seen what has happened in the Congo. What the colonialists gave with one hand, they tried to take back with the other. But they will not succeed in their desire in the Congo. The Portuguese too will have to forego their African possessions. The struggle in Africa is part of a common struggle of the African people. The independent African States recognise that fact, and nobody in Africa is prepared to tolerate the policy of apartheid followed by Dr. Verwoerd.

At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference to be held in London a week hence, Dr. Nkrumah, President of Ghana and Alhaji (Tafewa) Balewa of Nigeria are bound to make that clear.

At the time of the last years Conference, a state of emergency was declared in South Africa, about 2,000 leaders were arrested and the two main political organisations of the African people were declared illegal. These organisations are now functioning underground. Most of the leaders were arrested but some of us who managed to escape the net were asked by our organisations to go out of South Africa to work abroad for the cause. Of course we could not have got permission and passports to leave South Africa from the Government

The South African United Front comprises five organisations of South Africa and South West Africa. South West Africa is a mandated territory, which was given as a trust territory to Britain after the First World War. Britain in turn gave it to South Africa to manage it as a trust territory. The Government of Dr. Verwoerd has incorporated South West Africa into the Union of South Africa, unconstitutionally and illegally. The question is before the United Nations as to what should be done about it. The matter has been referred to the International Court at the Hague. The Government of South Africa is trying to find a loophole for maintaining that since no provision was made when the United Nations was formed that this territory would go to the United Nations, it belongs to South Africa. The United Nations itself has not accepted the South African position.

Boycott South Africa It is our duty to thank the Government and people of Pakistan for their constant support in our struggle during all these years. We want to thank also the people of other countries that have supported us. At the same time we ask them now to do something positive and resolute to help us. We demand that there should be a boycott of South Africa and it should be isolated in the international field in every possible way, diplomatically, culturally, economically. So far as this is concerned we are very glad that the independent States of Africa at a conference last June resolved not to have diplomatic relations with South Africa and that is now being implemented by them. They are also considering the question of not allowing South African planes to fly over or land in their territories. The African States are determined also not to allow South African ships or South African goods to come into their territories. The movement is not confined to Africa. Malaya has just imposed a trade boycott against South Africa . That has also been done by the Caribbean States like Trinidad and Jamaica.

Then there are voluntary movements for the boycott of South African goods. There has been tremendous support for our stand from people in Britain, where it is now being officially supported by the Labour Party and the Trade Union Congress and unofficially by other organisations. A similar movement is afoot in the Scandinavian countries and it has been just as successful as that in Britain. To a lesser extent movements of this kind are winning support in other European countries and in the United States of America.

For our part we shall not be satisfied with the boycott of South African goods. We want economic sanctions against South Africa to be imposed by the United Nations. Every year the policy of apartheid has been condemned by an overwhelming majority in the United Nations. We appeal to the member States of the United Nations to wholeheartedly supports the proposal in the General Assembly for imposing economic sanctions against South Africa.

Membership of Commonwealth

Then there is the question of South Africa's membership of Commonwealth, a conference of whose Prime Ministers is to begin on 8 March in London. We appeal to member States to take steps to exclude South Africa from the Commonwealth. South Africa has decided to become a republic through a referendum, a referendum which was confined to the white people. Eighty percent of the South African population was excluded from it. Perhaps we want a republic; but we were not consulted about it. When the constitutional form of a member country is changed, it has to re-apply for the membership of the Commonwealth. South Africa has now to seek admission as a republic. We ask the Prime Ministers of all the Commonwealth countries to refuse it admission.

There are some people who say that if South Africa is thrown out of the Commonwealth, there will be no restraining influence on its policies. Dr. Verwoerd will impose further restrictive and oppressive measures on the people. Would it not be better to have South Africa in the Commonwealth so that we might exercise some check on its policies?

South Africa has been a member of the Commonwealth for many a long year but that has not had any restraining effect on its Government. On the other hand South Africa has been using its prestige as a member of the Commonwealth to further oppress non-white people. The factor of economic relations within the Commonwealth has been used by the South African Government against the non-white people. You know what will happen if South Africa is retained as a member? Dr. Verwoerd will go back from the Conference and proclaim to the whites that South Africa is still a member of the Commonwealth and he will be acclaimed as a hero by them. At the time of the referendum there were some among the whites who opposed the creation of a republic on the ground that if they did that they would be thrown out of the Commonwealth and isolated in the international world. Dr. Verwoerd and his colleagues went round the country and assured the white people that nothing of that sort would happen and that South Africa would remain a member of the Commonwealth. If Dr. Verwoerd goes back successful then he will have strengthened his position amongst the white electors, and have a freer hand to carry out his detested policies. On the contrary if South Africa is excluded from the Commonwealth, that will disillusion the whites

They will then know that these policies will not receive even the tacit support of people of the Commonwealth. That will have a salutary effect on the whites.

I must say one thing clearly, namely, that when I speak of white people I mean the majority of them. There are brave and courageous whites who abhor racial discrimination and apartheid. We respect and love them for the sacrifices they have made in common with us for our cause. Some of the Church leaders have also supported us. Men like Bishop Reeves and Alan Paton, a great writer and author, have had to go out of Africa. They had the courage of their convictions to condemn and speak against apartheid. There are others like them. There are also white industrialists who are perturbed because of the unfavourable reaction of the world to South Africa's racial policies. Its economic position is affected and people outside no longer look upon South Africa as a stable field for investment. By excluding South Africa from the Commonwealth you will further isolate it and weaken the position of those among the whites who advocate apartheid.

Tragedy can be averted We do not believe that our battle will be won by outside pressure alone. We know that the struggle will have to be carried on, as it is being carried on, by our people, legally or illegally, openly or underground. As time goes on, that struggle will become more bitter and hard. There is still time when external pressure can help to shorten the duration of the struggle, to minimise bloodshed and violence on the part of the Government and reduce the suffering of the people. If timely action is not taken, we may see in South Africa, whether we like it or not, a situation similar to that in Algeria, perhaps on a bigger scale. That tragedy can be averted only through the active intervention of all justice loving people of the world

We have seen several Prime Ministers and we shall be seeing your Foreign Minister. Then we shall go to London. There Dr. Verwoerd will face a severe attack from the Prime Minister of the Malayan Federation and from other Prime Ministers. The Malayan Prime Minister has made it quite clear that the question of apartheid will be raised in the Commonwealth Conference in spite of the fact that Mr. Macmillan who having spoken of "the wind of change sweeping the Continent of Africa has been trying his best that there should be no controversy about it. Mr. Diefenbaker too has made his position clear to Mr. Macmillan and so has Dr. Nkrumah. So far as others are concerned, they have not yet spoken their minds but we know what they think about it. In any case Dr. Verwoerd is not going to have an easy time. A policy such as his cannot be tolerated in the year 1961 and it cannot last.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.