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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Document 9: First letter from Nelson Mandela to Hendrik Verwoerd, 20 April 1961

I AM DIRECTED by the All-In African National Action Council to address your Government in the following terms:

The All-In African National Action Council was established in terms of a resolution adopted at a conference held at Pietermaritzburg on 25 and 26 March 1961. This conference was attended by 1 500 delegates from town and country, representing 145 religious, social, cultural, sporting, and political bodies.

Conference noted that your Government, after receiving a mandate from a section of the European population, decided to proclaim a Republic on 31 May.

It was the firm view of delegates that your Government, which represents only a minority of the population in this country, is not entitled to take such a decision without first seeking the views and obtaining the express consent of the African people. Conference feared that under this proposed Republic your Government, which is already notorious the world over for its obnoxious policies, would continue to make even more savage attacks on the rights and living conditions of the African people.

Conference carefully considered the grave political situation facing the African people today. Delegate after delegate drew attention to the vicious manner in which your Government forced the people of Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, Pondoland, Nongoma, Tembuland and other areas to accept the unpopular system of Bantu Authorities, and pointed to numerous facts and incidents which indicate the rapid manner in which race relations are deteriorating in this country.

It was the earnest opinion of Conference that this dangerous situation could be averted only by the calling of a sovereign national convention representative of all South Africans, to draw up a new non- racial and democratic Constitution. Such a convention would discuss our national problems in a sane and sober manner, and would work out solutions which sought to preserve and safeguard the interests of all sections of the population.

Conference unanimously decided to call upon your Government to summon such a convention before 31 May.

Conference further decided that unless your Government calls the convention before the above-mentioned date, country-wide demonstrations would be held on the eve of the Republic in protest. Conference also resolved that in addition to the demonstrations, the African people would be called upon to refuse to co-operate with the proposed Republic.

We attach the Resolutions of the Conference for your attention and necessary action.

We now demand that your Government call the convention before 31 May, failing which we propose to adopt the steps indicated in paragraphs 8 and 9 of this letter.

These demonstrations will be conducted in a disciplined and peaceful manner. We are fully aware of the implications of this decision, and the action we propose taking. We have no illusions about the counter-measures your Government might take in this matter. After all, South Africa and the world know that during the last thirteen years your Government has subjected us to merciless and arbitrary rule. Hundreds of our people have been banned and confined to certain areas. Scores have been banished to remote parts of the country, and many arrested and jailed for a multitude of offences. It has become extremely difficult to hold meetings, and freedom of speech has been drastically curtailed. During the last twelve months we have gone through a period of grim dictatorship, during which seventy-five people were killed and hundreds injured while peacefully demonstrating against passes.

Political organisations were declared unlawful, and thousands flung into jail without trial. Your Government can only take these measures to suppress the forthcoming demonstrations, and these measures have failed to stop opposition to the policies of your Government, and we will carry out our duty without flinching.

Resolutions of the All-In African Conference held in Pietermaritzburg - 25-26 March 1961

A grave situation confronts the people of South Africa. The Nationalist Government after holding a fraudulent referendum among only one-fifth of the population, has decided to proclaim a white Republic on May 31st, and the all white Parliament is presently discussing a Constitution. Iris clear that to the great disadvantage of the majority of our people such a Republic will continue even more intensively the policies of racial oppression, political persecution and exploitation and the terrorisation of the non-white people which have already earned South Africa the righteous condemnation of the entire world.

In this situation it is imperative that all the African people of this country, irrespective of their political, religious or other affiliations, should unite to speak and act with a single voice.

For this purpose, we have gathered here at this solemn All-In Conference, and on behalf of the entire African nation and with a due sense of the historic responsibility which rests on us. . .

1. WE DECLARE that no Constitution or form of Government decided without the participation of the African people who form an absolute majority of the population can enjoy moral validity or merit support either within South Africa or beyond its borders.

2. WE DEMAND that a National Convention of elected representatives of all adult men and women on an equal basis irrespective of race, colour, creed or other limitation, be called by the Union Government not later than May 31st, 1961; that the Convention shall have sovereign powers to determine, in any way the majority of the representatives decide, a new non-racial democratic Constitution for South Africa.

3. WE RESOLVE that should the minority Government ignore this demand of the representatives of the united will of the African people -

(a) We undertake to stage country-wide demonstrations on the eve of the proclamation of the Republic in protest against this undemocratic act.

(b) We call on all Africans not to cooperate or collaborate in any way with the proposed South African Republic or any other form of Government which rests on force to perpetuate the tyranny of a minority, and to organise and unite in town and country to carry out constant actions to oppose oppression and win freedom.

(c) We call on the Indian and Coloured communities and all democratic Europeans to join forces with us in opposition to a regime which is bringing disaster to South Africa and to win a society in which all can enjoy freedom and security.

(d) We call on democratic people the world over to refrain from any cooperation or dealings with the South African government, to impose economic and other sanctions against this country and to isolate in every possible way the minority Government whose continued disregard of all human rights and freedoms constitutes a threat to world peace.

4. WE FURTHER DECIDE that in order to implement the above decisions, Conference -

(a) Elects a National Action Council;

(b) Instructs all delegates to return to their respective areas and form local Action Committees.

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.