Opening address by Dr G M Naicker
16 December 1954
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The National Executive Committee of your Congress has done me a great honour by inviting me to declare open your Annual Conference here. I was very pleased to accept your invitation and wish to take this opportunity at the outset of thanking you for the great honour you have done me, particularly at a time when the ban imposed on me by the Minister of Justice under the Suppression of Communism Act is in force.
The invitation you have extended to me symbolises the great, unbreakable links which have been forged between our Congresses and between the African and Indian people we represent. Today we find a great bond of friendship and understanding that has grown between our peoples through the joint, heroic struggle for freedom launched under the banners of our Congresses, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that jointly we shall advance together with all true democrats in South Africa to the goal which we have set to achieve – freedom in our life-time.
Your Conference meets at a time when grave issues face not only people of our country but the peoples of the world. Today in every country, in all the continents of the world, the forces of peace and freedom are making great headway. The days of colonialism and imperialism are rapidly coming to an end, and we see the emergence of free and independent nations on the continent of Asia, a continent which has been subjected to centuries of colonial exploitation.
Because the forces of imperialism have received the shattering blow in Asia, it is only natural that Africa should assume a place of tremendous importance to those who had exploited Asia hitherto, but Africa, long described as the dark continent, is today astir. From the shores of the Mediterranean to the Cape Point, powerful forces of liberation are making themselves felt, to enable the 150 million people of this continent to take their rightful place within the family of nations through their own democratic governments.
We in South Africa have no hesitation in making our stand clear on the international question. As oppressed people, believing firmly in the ideals of democracy, we totally reject all forms of imperialism and colonialism. We reject the exploitation of man by man. We make common cause with the world-wide movement for peace, and are pledged to make positive contribution towards this peace for which mankind yearns. We make this contribution in particular by opposing all forms of racial discrimination. In our hearts we are convinced that in racial discrimination lies the seat of a massive global conflict and this conflict we are pledged to avert. As protagonists of peace, we are the enemies of war, and are opposed to the armament race which is now in progress. We stand for total banning of the atom and hydrogen bombs.
Because we stand for world peace, and against the exploitation of man by man, we find ourselves in strong opposition to the policies which have been consistently pursued by the white ruling classes in South Africa before and after the coming into existence of the Union. The policy of segregation and apartheid based on the maintenance of white domination has today brought our country to the brink of disaster. More and more people in the country are beginning to realise that like peace, freedom is indivisible. Laws, which in the past affected only one section of the people, invariably the African people, are today being extended to the rest of the people of the land. Freedom and liberty of the people, Black and White, are in danger.
It is only a matter of weeks since Dr. Malan resigned, and today more strongly than ever before the country finds itself under the rule of a group firmly pledged to the policy of apartheid and all that apartheid stands for. The Strijdom-Verwoerd era(1) has commenced, and the anti-Nationalist forces in the country realise that even greater attacks on democracy and freedom are on the way. Our beloved country is heading towards chaos and disaster, under a policy which has resulted in increased racial tension, in a climate in which there is little respect for human dignity. A small minority group are seeking to impose on the majority an Afrikaner tribal rule, a rule which seeks to perpetuate a caste structure in South Africa, under which the non-white people are to remain in perpetual subjugation.
South Africa has reached the parting of the ways. Those who rule us have chosen the narrow and bigoted path of Afrikaner triablism, embodied in the theory of apartheid. With deep regret we are forced to admit that the vast numbers of the white electorate of the country have given their support to this basic policy of apartheid. It is in such an atmosphere that African nationalism is asserting itself in the Union.
Let us remember that never in world history has any single movement for national liberation failed in achieving its object, and I am confident that in South Africa too the movement for national liberation is destined to triumph, notwithstanding all the obstacles which may exist today.
A movement for national liberation can become reactionary in character. Nationalism under anti-democratic leadership can become a great threat to the basic values for which we stand. Afrikaner nationalism is an example of how a movement essentially progressive in its initial stages has today become a great threat to democracy, and has become the spearhead of fascism in South Africa.
African nationalism too, under wrong leadership, can become an anti-democratic force giving rise to the emergence of Black fascism in the Union. It is to the credit of the leadership of the African National Congress that African nationalism has chosen the path of democracy, notwithstanding the environment in which it has emerged. The slogan of the African National Congress is not South Africa for the Africans but South Africa for all her peoples of all creeds and nationalities.
Today the African National Congress is the most important factor for democracy in the country, for the A.N.C. enshrines the hopes and aspirations of the nine million oppressed Africans to be free in the land of their birth. The A.N.C. seeks to achieve this freedom, not at the expense of any other group; it seeks to exercise the freedom of its people among the rest of free South Africans.
The political maturity and the ideals of the African National Congress are clearly demonstrated in its call for the convening of the Congress of the People for the formulation of the Freedom Charter, the call which your Congress made last year in Queenstown and which has resulted in the launching of a movement of freedom for the first time jointly sponsored by African, European, Coloured and Indian peoples. The convening of the Congress of the People is the most important task which faces all true democrats of all colours in the country today. Let me express the earnest desire that before you meet in your Annual Conference next year, this mighty assembly of South African people will have taken place, and that the Charter for Freedom will have been drafted, enshrining the hopes of the millions of our land, particularly those who are voiceless today.
Let me assure you, on behalf of the Indian people, that the Indian Congress will do everything in its power to make the Congress of the People a success and that we shall answer unflinchingly to the call of your President-General to enrol within the ranks of the 50,000 volunteers for freedom. I visualise the Freedom Charter as one of the most historic documents to emerge from South Africa. It will not only in the clearest possible terms state what freedom is, but will be a document by which all South Africans will be judged, whether they stand for freedom and democracy, or for oppression and segregation.
While we are engaged in this great organisational task of convening the Congress of the People, the Government of the day is not hesitating in its attempts to stifle the true voice of democracy in the country. I am, however, convinced that banning orders and deportations will not halt our onward march to freedom and democracy. Action on the part of the Government against our leaders will only make our people even more determined to resist injustice and oppression.
While we talk of freedom and organise our people to make all South Africa truly free, the rulers of South Africa are continuing to bring measure after measure for the perpetual subjugation of the non-European people. The most hated apartheid measure of the Nationalists is undoubtedly the Bantu Education Act, a law which seeks to make the African people a subject people for all times. There can be no compromise with the principle which seeks to enslave a people and, therefore, this Act has to be fought with all the resources available to the democratic forces of South Africa.
All South Africans should realise that the people of the Western Areas in the Transvaal are presently engaged in a bitter struggle in defence of their homes. What is happening in the Western Areas is of national concern, for a great deal depends on the outcome of their struggle. What is happening in the Western Areas today will happen in many parts of South Africa tomorrow, if the Group Areas Act is allowed to be implemented. The race zoning plans submitted by local authorities under the Areas Act demonstrate how tens of thousands of people are to be removed from their homes to satisfy the ideology of apartheid. We will have to unitedly oppose this obnoxious law with all our might.
The African National Congress has come of age and, with its present leadersip, no democrat in South Africa should have any hesitation in making common cause with the African National Congress for the achievement of democracy. The Indian people have already made the decision. Not only have we been equal parties in the great Defiance Campaign, a campaign which will fill a glorious chapter in the liberatory struggle of our country, but we are presently working as great allies together with European and Coloured democrats. It is our task to strengthen that alliance so that it becomes unbreakable.
I would like to have been present at this assembly. I would have liked to have heard Chief Lutuli deliver his Presidential Address, and inspire us to make even greater contributions to the cause of liberation. I would have liked to have sung with you the songs of freedom, led by Chief Lutuli, and to hear his voice which has moved so many in so short a time. But Chief Lutuli and I cannot be with you today, because of the ban imposed on us. But a day will dawn when Swart(2) and his Cabinet will be forgotten and when South Africa will be free, when men and women will meet to talk of freedom and build a free society without fear and hatred. I urge you, in the name of South Africa, to work unceasingly towards that great freedom we all desire, and we assure you that we will work unceasingly for our common objective.
In the name of freedom, I have now the pleasure in declaring your Annual Conference open. History has placed the torch of freedom in your hands; may you hold high its flames!
1. – Strijdom succeeded Dr. Danial F. Malan in 1954 as Prime Minister. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was Minister of Native Affairs.
2. C. R. Swart, Minister of Justice