Memorandum submitted to the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, during his visit to South Africa
6 January 1961
Our organisations have sent many memoranda to the United Nations since its formation. We have repeatedly stressed the unjust and undemocratic rule of an all-White minority Government over a disenfranchised Non-White majority.
The character of South African political life can be readily understood by an examination of the Parliamentary structure in this country. All the Members of Parliament and the Senate are Europeans. There are three representatives of the Coloured people in the House of Assembly, but they are Europeans elected on a severely restricted separate roll. There are no members representing the African and Indian people, and no Africans or Indians have a Parliamentary vote of any kind, direct or indirect.
In place of political rights, in the legislative assembly, the Government has chosen to introduce so-called “self-Government” for Africans in the “Reserves”. This policy, known as Bantu Authorities, has been rejected by the African people throughout the country, and they have demanded representation in Parliament which they maintain, is the law-making body for the whole of South Africa, including the reserves. Bantu Authorities is by its very nature purely administrative and, therefore, can never take the plece of democratically elected peoples` representatives.
The persistence of the Government in imposing Bantu Authorities on the African people in the face of African opposition has led to violent eruptions in one reserve after another, including such important areas as Zeerust, Sekhukuniland, Pondoland, Transkei, Ciskei and many others. No major reserve area has been left untouched by strife and bloodshed: The recent disturbances in Pondoland have shown such united and strong opposition to the Government that a State of Emergency has been declared over the whole of the Transkei and the Police, Army and Navy have been brought in to enforce Government authority. This is the way “self-Government” is granted to the African people.
Political rights for the Indian people are practically non-existent. Most of them do not even have the elementary right to vote in municipal elections, even though many are property owners paying municipal rates and contributing to municipal coffers in other ways. In many towns in Natal, the Indian people form the great majority of the inhabitants, but they are ruled by a local authority elected on an all-White franchise. Only Indians registered before 1922 may vote in municipal elections in Natal. As for representation in Parliament itself after 100 years of settlement in South Africa, the Government is not yet prepared to officially recognise the Indian people as South African citizens.
The Coloured and Indian people in the Cape Province only are entitled to a limited vote on a separate roll for Parliament and they have a qualified vote for the Municipal Councils. However, the Government is preparing to remove these voters from the common roll and to create separate municipalities with separate voters` rolls where they will be privileged to “develop on their own lines,” according to the principles of apartheid. These municipalities will, however, embrace a poverty stricken community from which the authority will be unable to raise sufficient funds for necessary local works. The Coloured local authority will also be subservient to European local authorities and to the all-White Provincial Authority and Parliament.
In dealing with political rights, it is necessary to add that even for the European voters democracy is severely curtailed by the loading of constituencies, by delimitations favourable to the Government and by the general restrictions on free speech and organisations.
The denial of political rights goes hand in hand with the most oppressive and discriminatory measures.
The Indian and Coloured people have suffered greatly from the Ghetto provisions of the Group Areas Act. Under this law, land is reserved for a specific racial group and no other race may reside or trade in this area. Thus thousands of people have been forced to sell their homes and businesses at great loss and under duress, and move to an area reserved to them alone. An all-White Government elected by Europeans has used this law to benefit Europeans at the expense of the Non-Whites.
Job Reservation has been applied by the Government to limit the possibilities of advance of the Non-Whites as a whole. It has hit the Coloured artisans in the Cape particularly severely with many skilled artisans forced out of skilled work and replaced by Europeans, often with less skill.
The working population of South Africa is severely hampered by the complete denial of trade union rights to the African workers, and by the splitting effects of the Industrial Conciliation Act. In most cases workers have no recognized channels of negotiation, and their strikes are met with police brutality. These are the realities of life for the workers under Nationalist rule, and nothing can disguise them.
Conditions for rural farm workers in the countryside are even worse. Their working conditions have been exposed frequently as being sub-human, and the International Labour Organisation and other international bodies have described them as blatant forced labour.
The material conditions of the Non-White people have been analysed and described on many occasions, not only South African social scientists, but also by many visiting writers.
Almost everyone has been deeply moved by the squalour that is to be found here, and by the fact that, taken as a whole, the situation is deteriorating under Nationalist rule.
The people themselves are supremely conscious of this fact, and are now expressing the view that as long as apartheid and race discrimination remain, conditions will deteriorate.
The people are, therefore, turning to political action in order to seek relief. But Nationalist tyranny meets this political activity with outright repression and military force – hence the South African deadlock and crisis.
The record of political suppression is a long one. From its very first year of office, 1948, the present Government has followed a policy of eliminating its opposition. Members of Parliament were removed from office, trade unionists proscribed, political leaders banned from their organizations. On many occasions meetings have been banned for no other reason than that the Government did not approve of the particular manifestation of opposition.
This throttling of the expression of public opinion is bottling up widespread resentment among the people. This frustration manifests itself in periodic eruptions with increasing intensity and frequency, which cannot be suppressed. That we are sitting on a volcano due to erupt at any time arises directly from this fact. This is recognized by all men interested in South African politics the world over, but it appears to have escaped the myopic vision of our present Government. This, too, is the basis for world-wide concern for South Africa.
An eruption in South Africa would have world-wide repercussions. Whereas the unjust nature of South Africa`s form of government was only of academic interest in the past, it is now a source of great concern to many nations throughout the world. This is because South African tension and violence is recognized as a threat to world peace.
Above all, we hope that your investigations here will bear out our repeated contention that the South African Government is a monster imposing its arrogant will on a dissenting people. We hope that you will recognize, as we do, that this Government is holding the vast majority of our people down by sheer force and that its policies are contrary to world practice. We hope, too, that you will inform the Security Council that the majority of the South African people are looking to that body for substantial assistance in their struggles for the realization of true democracy in our country.