South African’s National Liberation Movement

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South African Native National Congress Constitution

September 1919 [Extracts]

  1. WHEREAS there existed in the Provinces of the Union of South Africa several small and independent Associations, Organisations or Vigilant Committees each one established for the purpose of advancing, observing and considering interests within its own tribal or local limits;

  2. AND WHEREAS the subjects and problems with which the said free spontaneous and independent Associations, Organisations or Vigilant Committees had to consider and deal, were essentially of general interest to and affected the whole Bantu people in South Africa;

  3. AND WHEREAS the good work of the aforementioned bodies was being rendered futile by the apparent indifference, ignorance and want of cooperation between one another;

  4. AND WHEREAS there also existed in some of the Protectorates and Territories in South Africa certain bodies or Councils each constituted to consider and deal with the subjects and problems within its own tribal and local limits and no further;

  5. AND WHEREAS there met at Bloemfontein O.F.S. on the 8th day of January 1912, certain Chiefs, delegates and other leading men in all representing the said Territories, Protectorates, the Provinces and also the aforesaid bodies throughout South Africa; AND the said meeting, there and then, resolved that it was expedient and desirable that a well-digested and accepted native opinion should be ascertainable by the Government and other constituted Authorities with respect to the Native problem in all its various phases and ramifications. And it was then further resolved to invite all aforementioned Associations, Organisations or Vigilant Committees and Councils to unite together and form as affiliated bodies, a Federation of one Pan African Association the name thereof to be “THE SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS” (hereinafter in these recitals called the “National Congress”) and to be composed and consist of two sections or Houses – to wit, one section then to be known as the Upper House and the other the Lower House;

  6. AND WHEREAS an Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Congress was held at Bloemfontein on the 1st day of August 1914 wherein (inter alia) the draft Constitution of both the said Houses was considered, amended, read and confirmed and was declared henceforth to be the Constitution of the National Congress its Rules, Regulations and Bye-laws in the manner and all respects as therein contained and provided;

  7. AND WHEREAS by a Resolution passed and agreed upon in the fourth annual meeting of the National Congress held at Kroonstad, O.F.S., on the 3rd day of August 1915 convened (inter alia) to consider the amendment of the Constitution of the National Congress. After declaring that the said meeting was not satisfied with the then existing Constitution of the National Congress in that it did not contain adequate or uniform provisions necessary to safeguard the material interests of a National Organisation and more particularly in the respects therein mentioned. It was thereby resolved, inter alia, that the amendment of the Constitution be referred back and a Select Committee of ten members be appointed to consider the proposed amendments and either to prepare further or other amendments, or to revise same or draft a fresh constitution. And the Select Committee to present its report thereon to the Executive Committee of the National Congress.

  8. AND WHEREAS the Executive Committee of the National Congress met on the 2nd day of August 1918 at Bloemfontein to receive the report of the Select Committee embodying the revised constitution of the National Congress when in the said meeting the Constitution was read [and] discussed clause by clause, when certain alterations and amendments were made and the same as altered and amended was adopted and agreed upon;

  9. AND WHEREAS it is intended and it is hereby declared that the National Congress be made a corporate body to exist as such in perpetuity by the Registration of the Constitution hereof and in pursuance thereto the President and the General Secretary being the executive officers of the National Congress shall sign and execute the constitution hereof on behalf of the National Congress and that no other authority for the execution thereof shall be required and these presents to be called “THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN NATIVE NATIONAL CONGRESS.”

Chapter II

Interpretation of Terms

  1. Throughout this constitution, if not consistent with the context: –

“Association” shall mean the incorporated body known as the “South African National Congress.”

“National Congress” shall mean the Annual Meeting of and including the South African Native National Congress as an Association.

“Convention” shall include any ordinary special extraordinary or annual meeting of the National or Provincial Congress and Branch and any Committee Meeting.

“President” shall mean the president of the National Congress and no other with full discretionary and executive powers as such under this constitution.

“Chairman” shall mean the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, President of the Provincial Congress, Vice Chairman and other person holding or presiding in a meeting or in a Committee held under these presents.

“Officer” shall mean any person holding an office or a member of the Committee as well as the Committee as a body under these presents.

“Chief” shall not include a Headman or Induna, but shall mean one ruling over a tribe or tribes.

Chapter III


  1. The Provincial Office of the Association shall be situated within the Union of South Africa.

  2. The objects for which the Association is established are: –

    1. To form a National Vigilant Association and a deliberative Assembly or Council, without legislative pretentions;

    2. To unite, absorb, consolidate and preserve under its aegis existing political and educational Associations, Vigilance Committees and other public and private bodies whose aims are the promotion and safeguarding of the interests of the aboriginal races.

    3. To be the medium of expression of representative opinion and to formulate a standard policy on Native Affairs for the benefit and guidance of the Union Government and Parliament;

    4. To educate Parliament and Provincial Councils, Municipalities other bodies and the public generally regarding the requirements and aspirations of the Native people; and to enlist the sympathy and support of such European Societies, Leagues or Unions as might be willing to espouse the cause of right and fair treatment of coloured races.

    5. To educate Bantu people on their rights, duties and obligations to the state and to themselves individually and collectively; and to promote mutual help, feeling of fellowship and a spirit of brotherhood among them.

    6. To encourage mutual understanding and to bring together into common action as one political people all tribes and clans of various tribes or races and by means of combined effort and united political organisation to defend their freedom, rights and privileges;

    7. To discourage and contend against racialism and tribal feuds or to secure the elimination of racialism and tribal feuds; jealousy and petty quarrels by economic combination, education, goodwill and by other means;

    8. To recommend, propose and lay before the Government for consideration and adoption laws for the benefit and protection of the Native races. And also to watch Bills introduced in Parliament for proposed legislation as well as in other bodies for legislation affecting Natives and to draft and present amendments thereto.

    9. To agitate and advocate by just means for the removal of the “Colour Bar” in political education and industrial fields and for equitable representation of Natives in Parliament or in those public bodies that are vested with legislative powers or in those charged with the duty of administering matters affecting the Coloured races;

    10. To promote and advocate the establishment in Parliament and other public bodies of representatives to be under the control of and for the purpose of the Association.

    11. To record all grievances and wants of native people and to seek by constitutional means the redress thereof, and to obtain legal advice and assistance for members of the Association and its branches and to render financial [aid] where necessary with the objects hereof;

    12. To encourage and promote union of Churches free from all sectarian and denominational anomalies;

    13. To establish or to assist the establishment of National Colleges or Public Institutions free from denominationalism or State control;

    14. To originate and expound the right system of education in all schools and colleges and to advocate for its adoption by State and Churches and by all other inde pendent bodies in respect thereto;

    15. To encourage inculcation and practice of habits of industry, thrift and cleanliness among the people and propagate the gospel of the dignity of labour;

    16. To acquire land by purchase, lease exchange, gift or otherwise for erection of halls and other public buildings for the use and purposes of the Association;

    17. To sell, dispose, manage, develop, let and deal in any way with all or any part of the property of the Association;

    18. To borrow or raise money by mortgage or charge of all or any part of the property of the Association; and also to grant loans on security of mortgages in the manner hereinafter provided;

    19. To establish a National Fund for the purposes of the Association either by means of voluntary contributions, periodical subscriptions, levies, contributions charges or other payments; and to hold and manage all funds raised for the objects of the Association;

    20. To all and everything directly or indirectly to maintain and uplift the standard of the race morally and spiritually, mentally and materially; socially and politically.

    21. AND GENERALLY, to do all such things as are incidental or conductive to the attainment of the above objects or any of them;


    1. That the Association shall not support with its funds or endeavour to impose on, or procure to be observed by its members or others any regulation, restriction or condition which, if an object of the Association, would make it a commercial or proprietary concern;

    2. The income and property of the Association whensoever derived shall be applied solely towards the promotion of the above objects, and no portion thereof shall be paid or be transferred directly or indirectly by way of interest bonus or profit to the members of the Association.

    3. Provided nevertheless that nothing herein contained shall prevent the endowment by the Association of any public useful object or the payment in good faith of reasonable and proper remuneration to any officer or servant of the Association or any of its members or other person in return for services actually rendered to the Association; nor be deemed to prevent the making of a gratuity of honorarium to its officer, servant or member or any other person for special services rendered to the Association voluntarily or otherwise.

Chapter IV

Methods or Modus Operandi

  1. The work of the Association shall he affected and advanced (a) by means of resolutions, protests and a constitutional and peaceful propaganda; by deputations and other forms of representations; by holding enquiries and the investigation of grievances and other matters; and by passive action or continued movement; (b) by means of education, lectures, and distribution of literature on the objects of the Association; (c) by means of united action and when time is ripe for this method to secure the election to all legislative and administrative bodies of candidates, who shall form a group of members and shall primarily stand and promote the interests of the Association so far as it is practicable and expedient, without identifying themselves with any political party or section. Such candidates to be under the control of the Association.

[No paragraph is numbered 14.]

Chapter V

Constitution and Government of the Association

  1. The Association shall consist of and be constituted as follows:-

    1. The Provincial Congresses;

    2. District and Local Branches;

    3. Agricultural and Educational Societies;

    4. Industrial and Economical Unions; and

    5. any other bodies formed for such specific purposes as are closely allied with the objects of the Association, may with the approval of the Executive Committee attach themselves to the Association, and be represented in its annual mortjoin [sic] the Association under and subject to the provisions of these presents.

  2. The Territories and Protectorates shall be within the pale of the Association and shall be represented at its annual meetings by the Chiefs or their nominees and with such representation and no other they shall be deemed to be incorporated with the Association.

  3. The existing Provincial Congresses and the District and Local Branches and all other organisations hitherto forming part of or under the pale of the Association shall each and every one of them hereafter be deemed to be the branches of the Association and shall herein after be governed by and be subject to the provisions of these presents and no other.

National Congress

  1. The Government and management of all and singular the affairs of the Association shall vest in a governing body called the “Annual Meeting of the South African Native National Congress (hereinafter referred to throughout in this constitution as the National Congress subject to and under the provisions of these presents.

  2. The National Congress shall be composed of

    1. The hereditary Kings, Princes and Chiefs;

    2. The Elected Representatives of the Territories and the Protectorates.

    3. The Executive Committee;

    4. Official Delegates of the Provincial Congresses;

    5. Delegates representing certain bodies allied with and under the aegis of the Association.

  3. The National Congress shall meet each and every year during the Easter Holidays at such place or places as the Executive Committee shall appoint.

  4.  SPECIAL MEETING of the Association may be held whenever the Executive Committee shall think it fit. AN EXTRAORDINARY MEETING of the Association shall be called by the Executive Committee whenever a requisition in writing and in the form of a resolution is made by not less than two Provincial Congresses and passed by a two-thirds majority of those present at each meeting; such requisition to be signed by the Chairman and Secretaries of the said Congresses and lodged with the Secretary of the National Congress stating fully the objects of the meeting. Each Provincial Congress so making the requisition shall on lodging same deposit with the Treasurer of the National Congress the sum of £20 for the purpose of the requisition.

  5. The National Congress shall meet as aforesaid to receive the Report of the Executive Committee, the Treasurer’s accounts and to transact any other business which under these presents may be transacted by the National Congress. And the business of the National Congress may be adjourned to any day that may be appointed by the meeting or from day to day.

  6. All business transacted at the Special and Extraordinary Meetings of the Association shall be deemed “Special or Extraordinary” as the case may be. And all that is transacted at an annual meeting of the Association shall also be deemed “Special” with the exception of the report of the Executive Committee, Statement of Account and election of officers.

  7. No meeting of the National Congress (including a special as well as extraordinary) shall be held or considered constitutional under these presents unless at least 24 ordinary delegates shall have answered the roll. And no decision resolution or matter whatsoever of such meeting shall be valid and binding in any manner howsoever unless at least 20 ordinary delegates shall have been present and voted in such meeting.

  8. The National Congress shall be the supreme authority of the Association and the final tribunal of all appeals matters and things submitted for its decision under this constitution. And in the meetings of the Association and in all matters in question, the act of the majority in number assembled as aforesaid shall be had, taken and be accepted as the act of the whole meeting and be binding on the Association and its constituents and all and singular its members to all intents and purposes and construction whatsoever.

  9. All the decisions, resolutions , orders and work of the National Congress shall be administered by and through the Executive Committee who are by these presents appointed general agents of the Association and invested with all the necessary powers as such for direction and control, subject always to the approval and confirmation of the National Congress as hereinafter provided.


  1. All Kings, Princes, Paramount Chiefs and Chiefs by heritage and other persons of Royal blood in the direct line of succession among the various tribes of the Bantu races in South Africa (hereinafter all referred to as Chiefs) shall have the right to attend the meetings of the Association either in person or by representation.

  2. They shall be allowed the distinction of Honorary Vice Presidentship of the National Congress and those present shall be deemed to represent their districts and places under their rule or control respectively.

  3. In any of the meetings of the Association, Chiefs shall be assigned a separate place of honour and respect. They shall also have precedence in reference to all rights audience.

  4. Whenever in the meeting there shall arise a matter which in its purport affects the interests of all or any one or more of the Chiefs or their places, the matter in question shall be referred to the Chiefs themselves and they shall be allowed a separate session for consideration thereof and whose decision shall be final on any such matter.

  5. No motion, resolution or decision of any of the branches of the Association, either in the Provinces or in the Territories, which in the opinion of the President for time being is hostile to the interests of the Chiefs and people or in direct conflict with the expressed desire of the majority of the Chiefs shall be considered valid and operative.

  6. Every Chief in the Territory affected thereby as in the preceding clause mentioned may appeal through the elected Representatives (hereinafter referred to) direct to the President of the National Congress to contravene thereon as herein before provided.

  7. If any such motion or decision arise within provinces the Chief therein affected as aforesaid, shall have the right to appeal to the Chairman of the Provincial Congress for intervention there on, subject to the confirmation of the President.

  8. All disputes between Chiefs, upon being reported to the President, shall be referred to arbitrators in that Province or Territory nominated by the President through and by the advice of the Chairman of the Province or elected Representatives of the Territory (as the case might be). The said arbitration shall in all and in every case be conducted under the direction of the Chairman or elected representative the sum of ten pounds or to give adequate security thereof for the purpose of the arbitration. And the Party who on the day of Arbitration has failed to deposit the said sum or to give security thereof, shall not be heard in the enquiry; for all purposes thereof he shall be treated as a person in default.

  9. Any party dissatisfied with the award may request the Chairman of the Provincial Congress to refer the matter for review in the ensuing meeting of the National Congress by a Council of Chiefs in which review at least ten Chiefs shall be present. The party so appealing shall deposit with the Chairman thereof a further sum of £20 for the said purpose. The decision of the said Council shall at the absolute discretion of the Executive Committee be final. Any dispute between the Chief and any of his people, upon being referred to the National Congress for Arbitration the Chairman of the Provincial Congress shall appoint a board of the Arbitrators consisting of three men. And for all purposes of this provision, clauses 43, 44, and 45, hereof shall apply in all respects.

  10. Whenever there is a separate session of Chiefs as herein before provided, the president or his deputy shall preside. All the members of the Executive Committee and including the elected Representatives of the Territories shall have a right to sit and therein except that all matters of dispute between the Chief and Chief they shall have no right to vote.

  11. In each Territory there shall be appointed by the President at the nomination and approval of the Head Chief a Representative of the National Congress in the Territory. His duties shall be to receive all notices and edicts and matters of the National Congress and communicate same to that Territory through the recognised channels. And shall also receive collect and transmit all matters and things therein to the President. He shall hold his position under the direction and control of the President and shall be the official representative in all meetings of the Association.

  12. Each Territory through its Chief Ruler shall contribute to the funds of the Association a fixed sum. And every district of the Chief within the Province shall contribute through its ruler, a sum not exceeding £50 per annum according to the size and proportion of the district. A special session of the Chiefs during the sitting of the National Congress shall determine the amount to be contributed by each district thereof within the extent aforesaid with the advice of the Executive Committee.

  13. All monies of whatever nature or purpose intended for the Association from and contributed by the Territories shall be paid to the Senior Treasurer of the National Congress. Also all monies of similar description from and contributed by districts of Chiefs within the Provinces shall be paid to the Treasurer of the Provincial Congress who shall pay over to the General Treasurer one third thereof.

  14. All Chiefs shall be ex-officio members of the Association with the right to attend and speak in all its meetings whenever and whensoever.

  15. Chiefs within the Provinces shall be Honorary Vice-Chairmen in all districts and local branches and be delegates for their districts in the meetings of the Provincial Congress with a separate place of honour and a right of preference to audience. Each shall pay an honorary membership fee to the Association of one guinea.

  16. In every district of a Chief within the Province with the approval of himself there shall be appointed an official representing the interests of the Association under the control and direction of the Chairman of the Provincial Congress and through whom all the affairs of the Association shall be made known to the Chief and his district. He shall attend all the meetings of the Provincial Congress and be ex-officio member of its Executive Committee. All reports grievances, notices, etc., to and from and affecting the district shall be made through him and the Chairman of the Provincial Congress. He shall be designated the “District Agent” of the Association.

  17. The District Agent shall attend the meetings held by the Chief in his district and read all notices, etc., from the Chairman of the Provincial Congress and generally report the result thereof. He shall attend the meetings and Committees of the Provincial Congress at the expense of his district.

  18. For the purpose of these presents, the undermentioned places, are hereby declared to be the Territories for the time being, viz.:(1) Basutoland, (2) Swaziland, (3) British Bechuanaland and (4) Bechualand

  19. The National Congress (through the Executive Committee) shall define, declare, demarcate and subdivide the Territories, Provinces, Divisions, Districts and Branches and shall also from time to time create new ones and demarcations or subdivisions and form Associations therein and appoint officers or representatives thereon, under control of the Association. The Transkeian Territories with the existing boundaries are hereby declared a Province and to have a Congress constituted in all respect and with powers and functions of a Provincial Congress within the meaning of Chapter VII of these presents.