South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Treason trial


Speech by Ahmed Kathrada at a Meeting of People`s Defence Committee held after the Arrests of Leaders on Charges of High Treason

20 December 1956

Afrika! Afrika! Afrika! Mayibuye!

Mr. Chairman and Friends,

I speak today not as an individual, not as Kathrada, I speak today on behalf of a minority of people in South Africa – on behalf of the Indian people who are also oppressed and enslaved like yourselves. Strydom and his henchmen say that my people are foreigners in this country. I want to tell you something that perhaps you don`t know, and what Die Vaderland does not write about. Ninety percent of the Indian people of this country were born and bred in this country. I was born and bred in this country. I am not from India, but I will tell you who is a foreigner in this country. Dr. Verwoerd is a foreigner in this country. Dr. Verwoerd was born in Holland, and they are trying to tell us that we are foreigners in this country. I saw the countries from which Dr. Malan and Dr. Verwoerd came. I was in Holland and I was in Britain, and the people there said to me, “Stay behind in this country.” I said, “No, my place is not to run away from my country.” My place is to be with you, to be struggling with you to the bitter end, until this country has come back to its rightful owners.

They say our leaders are in for Treason; like Mr. Harmel I am not a lawyer, I do not know what Treason is. I came here this morning together with you to send a message to our leaders, that the people of South Africa are still with them. What do we see at this meeting? What was the first thing we saw? Major Spengler with his policemen, his policemen from the platteland – they work for £20 per month, and he brought them here to provoke us. Mr. Spengler is disappointed.

The people of South Africa have seen too much blood. Western civilisation has shown us too much blood. Western civilisation has shown us the horrors of machine guns and of atomic bombs. Ever since Jan van Riebeeck came to this country we have seen nothing else but blood. We don`t want to spill our blood unnecessarily, and if in the past, as the result of provocation blood has been spilled, that provocation has not come from you people; all the blame rests at the door of Mr. Swart. We have our peaceful meetings and I think we will get on very well without ugly brutes standing in uniform around us.

Yes, they say our leaders will be tried for Treason. We know what our leaders have said. You know what our leaders have been saying all these years. Our children playing in the streets are hungry. The big beautiful homes that are built are not for us. All the facilities of this country are not for us. There are thousands and thousands of our children dying in the Ciskei because they have no food, and our leaders have said that all these things are wrong.

We have said that the time is coming when we must begin to change these things and that the time is past for us to just sit. We want to be up and about. We want to be doing things in a peaceful manner, not in the uncivilised manner of Mr. Swart, not by brute force. We want to change this country into a happy country; a beautiful country. Instead of breaking down Sophiatown we want to build up Sophiatown. Instead of dividing this country into group areas we want all the people to live more and more together and if that is Treason, then tell Mr. Swart that as far as I am concerned, as far as the people of South Africa are concerned, we will continue to commit Treason and no force on earth is going to stop us.

Friends, these are trying times. These are times when we expect our friends to be with us – I mean our European friends. I am very glad that those (pointing to Europeans)…are here this morning, that not all the Europeans of South Africa follow Mr. Swart. Like Mr. Harmel, hundreds and hurdreds of European friends stand with us – not only in our struggle, but sitting with our leaders in Mr. Swart`s court. We welcome them.

There are other European friends whom we have asked to join us at this meeting. Unfortunately they have not shown their faces. The people of South Africa will also remember them. A friend stands with you when you need him. These people are absent and we shall never forget them.

I want to end by sending from this powerful gathering our greetings, our fighting greetings to Dr. [G.M.] Naicker, President of the Natal Indian Congress. Dr. Naicker is a gallant son of South Africa and has served many terms of imprisonment, and the gaol will never frighten him. We want to send our fighting greetings to Chief Lutuli, that great son of the soil. We want to send our greetings to that great daughter of Africa, Lilian Ngoyi. We know she was outside the country and she came back to take her place in the struggle, and today she is behind iron bars. We send our greetings to Africa for having given birth to such a noble daughter as she. We hope that Africa will continue to give us people who will lead us to freedom.

We are not frightened of imprisonment because we read the newspapers. Swart and Donges like to stop literature from coming into this country, but they will never stop the messages of freedom from coming in and we know what is happening. The message of freedom cannot be stopped. Nehru was in gaol not for one year but for more than twelve years but he came out of gaol to take his place as Prime Minister of India. And on this Continent of Africa Dr. Nkrumah was in gaol. The struggle went on, and today he is Prime Minister of Gold Coast. We know that history teaches us that there are thousands and thousands of people who went through rigours, the rigours of prison life and came out…

Other people suffered much more than that. Since our struggle started our people have been shot down and in this very Sophiatown on the 4th May, 1950, people were killed. In Kimberley and Witzieshoek, in Port Elizabeth – all over the country our people have been killed. They have been killed whilst fighting for freedom. We honour them. We know from that blood will grow the power of freedom. We honour our leaders today. Out of the gaols they will come back to lead this country. Those who are sitting inside today are the Prime Ministers of tomorrow.

I want all of you to say after me, “Long Live Chief Lutuli! Down with Strydom and Swart! Long live Freedom!”