South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Treason trial

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Testimony by Albert Luthuli in the Treason Trial

5 March 1960


MR. TRENGOVE (of the prosecution): The African National Congress was working for the overthrow of the ruling classes?

A. J. LUTULI: My Lords, the African National Congress was not working for the overthrow of the ruling classes. It was working for being given an opportunity to participate in the government of the country.

Would it be incorrect then to say that the African National Congress was working for the overthrow of the ruling classes?- My Lord, if it means that the A.N.C. was working to just get rid of the ruling class which is White and then take over a Black government, that would be incorrect.

We will come to that. The African National Congress was aiming at the seizure of power in this country? Is that correct?- That is not correct, My Lord. Again one must say that in the light of what I have said, it could only mean having an opportunity to participate inasmuch as now we are not participating in the government, but I would not interpret it to mean – in fact it has never been the purpose of the African National Congress in the light of its activities to say that it wants to seize power in the sense of throwing out the White Government and replacing it by a Black Government.


MR. TRENGOVE: You held out the view that the White electorate had certain inherent qualities of goodness and if you applied a little pressure, those good qualities would result in the White man granting you your claims?

A. J. LUTULI: Some.

Wouldn`t it have to be the majority?- I think, My Lords, I did indicate in my evidence in chief that there are degrees and degrees of response, to the struggle.

I am talking of the ultimate response. Ultimately?- Ultimately, My Lord, I repeat this that we hope that we will have brought pressure on the electorate so that the majority of the electorate come to see the justice of our claims and demands.


MR. TRENGOVE: Now as a result of the pressure which you were going to bring to bear on them, what would happen, why would the pressure make the White man change his mind?

A. J. LUTULI: My Lords, I don`t know that I can satisfactorily answer without going back to what I said in my evidence in chief, namely this, that I indicated there and I indicate now that you would have some of the Whites through sheer moral persuasion seeing the justice of our cause. You might have others, My Lord, who through ignorance might not have known the conditions under which we live, and maybe through prejudice, but who when they see us struggling would begin to think and think on this – think on our demands. There would still be yet another group which would only come to concede, in fact maybe reluctantly, to our demands because of the fact that you are now affecting the man`s interests.


MR. TRENGOVE: This change of mind or change of heart on behalf – on the part of the white electorate, either on the grounds of moral principles or out of self-interest, you say that it was all along the purpose of the African National Congress to effect that change of heart or change of mind, call it what you will?

A. J. LUTULI: That is so.

You expect the white man to undergo this change of heart:- I do, My Lord.

And I take it you expected it only if you applied what one might call sufficient pressure?- That is so, My Lord.

Now what do you mean by applying pressure?- I mean. My Lord, applying pressure along lines clearly laid out in our Programme of Action.

We know what is contained therein. By the means set out in the Programme of Action you wanted to apply this pressure?- That is so, My Lord.

So it was not going to be a question of persuasion, it had to be pressure or coercion or intimidation of the White public, is that correct?- I don`t know about the question of coercion or intimidation. All I am saying, My Lords, is this, that you would apply pressure. I don`t know that you would be intimidating. You are merely applying pressure so that the man comes to consider otherwise. I don`t know that you would call it intimidating. He thinks, and then he says, in the circumstances I think rather than jeopardise my interests I think I should concede.

So he wouldn`t willingly concede?- I wouldn`t say he would willingly concede. He would – the pressure would eventually get him to. He wouldn`t be a man who starts off willingly.


MR. TRENGOVE: Incendiarism, is that a type of pressure that you think one could bring to bear on the public or the government to change its policies.

A. J. LUTULI: No, My Lord.

What about burning of passes?- My Lords. I don`t know that I would – well, it depends upon interpretation, but the question of burning a pass to me, if I may elaborate, is an entirely different proposition. I come to a position where I feel that in this country, South Africa ought to be free, I ought not to carry a pass. I come to the position when I feel that in order to demonstrate that, I must subject myself to whatever the law might do to me, and I just throw away my pass. That is all there is to it. In fact I am exerting pressure on no one, I am merely saying now as evidence of the fact that I hate a pass, I get rid of it.

Anything you hate you can set a light to?- I wouldn`t say that, some things I would set a light to. I wouldn`t say everything.

You said on Friday that you were against the burning of passes by individuals?- Yes.

If it took place on a mass scale then it would be different?- I did.

Do you still adhere to that view?- I do.

Did you on occasion in the past commend the burning of passes where it took place in isolated instances?- I didn`t.

Leaving out what happened over the weekend, prior to that, had there been burning of passes by Africans?- There had been in past years and even in recent years, there have been instances where Africans have burnt passes.

You say that doesn`t carry your approval?- It doesn`t carry my approval, for reasons that I think I gave.


MR. TRENGOVE: On the question of burning of passes, do you know if that type of certificate was issued by the African National Congress to women who burnt passes? That bears your signature at the bottom?

A. J. LUTULI: That is so, My Lord.

And also the signature of Nokwe?- That is so.

And what does it say?- “African National Congress. Award of Merit. This award is conferred upon Johanna Moketeli in the name of the oppressed people of South Africa for outstanding service given in a spirit of selflessness and courage in resisting oppression on the occasion of the Anti-Pass Campaign, 1958 pass burning. By this service the day of liberation from oppression has been brought closer. Signed A. J. Lutuli, President-General. D. Nokwe, Secretary-General.”

Have you any comment to make?- I have no comment to make, save this My Lord, that quite frankly I had forgotten about the recent demonstration by women, when I said I don`t recall in recent years-but I recall this.

What do you mean recent? 1958?- Yes, recent.

So that you did approve of the burning of passes in isolated areas in previous years?- My Lord. I don`t know that I would take the situation here as having been an isolated case. If the questioner knows the situation – at the time women throughout the country were agitating greatly and we supported them, as African National Congress, against passes. Now some of the women in that struggle voluntarily, without any instructions from us, burnt their passes, and I wouldn`t take that really as an isolated instance as an individual or a group burning a pass. Mind you, I think I must make it quite clear that insofar as the principle is concerned I am not against it. It was merely a question of saying well, if you do burn a pass, it must be furthering the struggle, and I would interpret this as having
been help in furthering the struggle, insofar as the pass in concerned.


MR. TRENGOVE: Assuming that the White people said that they were not prepared to grant a full franchise immediately, what would the attitude of the African National Congress have been at this time, 1952 to 1956?

A. J. LUTULI: My Lords, all I can say to that is this, that as I have already indicated, the African National Congress had not discussed compromises, and I would not be truthful if I were to say now the African National Congress would do this, because I would not know. I might have my own views, but I cannot say the African National Congress would do this, because we had not come to the position of discussing compromises as we had not reached that stage at all. That is all that I can say, My Lords.

Now the position is this, and you know it very well, that the African National Congress – that this very question was considered by the African National Congress and its attitude was no compromise with the oppressor and no achievement of freedom by gradualistic reforms. You wanted full freedom immediately or nothing else?- My Lords, it is possible that there would be statements and maybe many statements by African National Congress leaders and documents, to that effect. But one must realise My Lords, the stage at which we are in the struggle. In other words, you must tell the people exactly where you stand and what you want. I do not think, My Lords, any leader can say to his people at the time of making the demands, I want this, but I`ll take this.



Why not, Mr. Lutuli?- I think you want to make your case very clear to your followers and to the world.

Did you not consider saying while we demand or desire full rights, we are prepared to negotiate in regard thereto and compromise about this?- No, My Lord. We – with respect, My Lords, we would say generally I think that in a situation such as ours of a struggle, you make your demand as strongly as you can, and wait to react to proposals. My Lords, I must say this that we have as an organisation, the A.N.C., made overtures to the Government, not on demands but to sit down and discuss. We have made those overtures ourselves, My Lord.


MR. TRENGOVE: Now, you did not regard the white oppressor as being fair and reasonable; you regarded the white oppressor as being vicious and brutal?

A. J. LUTULI: A section.

The ruling section; the majority?- The majority, yes.


MR. TRENGOVE: Yes; and you also propagated the view – the African National Congress – that the white majority would resist pressure to the point of drowning the whole country in blood?

A. J. LUTULI: I wouldn`t say the African National Congress said so. You might hear individuals saying so, I won`t deny that, but I don`t think it was ever said by the African National Congress – never.


MR. TRENGOVE: Mr. Lutuli, let`s just examine the replies that you`ve been giving in the last quarter of an hour in the light of what is stated in this document, “No Easy Walk to Freedom” [by Mandela, Document 2]… Then at the bottom of page 4 the writer states, “The cumulative effect of all these measures is to prop up and perpetuate the artificial and decaying policy of the white man. The attitude of the Government to us is that `Let`s beat them down with guns and batons and trample them underneath our feet.` `We must be ready to drown the whole country in blood, if only there is the slightest chance of preserving white supremacy.`” Now, Mr. Lutuli, that was the attitude of the African National Congress towards the reaction of the White majority in this country, if pressure is applied?

A. J. LUTULI: My Lords, that would be the view of the writer, but not of the African National Congress. I have already said so. I have already stated the view of the African National Congress. Its aim is not to try and force the Government to shed blood; it hoped the Government would see reason before that but if the Government doesn`t see reason and goes on – I have already said the oppressed people will carry on their struggle, within the framework of the policy of the Organisation.


MR. TRENGOVE: Do you regard the publication of this type of statement as dangerous?

A. J. LUTULI: I would say that I could wish my colleagues had been a little more careful. I`d leave it on that basis.

Why, Mr. Lutuli?- The use of words and statements are liable to give a wrong point of view, a wrong interpretation of Congress view.

Yes, but what is wrong with this type of statement; what harm can it do?- I`ve already indicated, My Lords, that this last particular statement as given me might have the interpretation that the Government would go on shedding blood and never coming to the point which I`ve already tried to tell this Court, that one always expects, even before the Government starts shooting – it might negotiate. Some other Government might do so. It depends upon the Government. But it`s not our aim to say “I must force this Government to a position where it starts shooting,” far from it.


MR. TRENGOVE: Mr. Lutuli, I would now ask you to listen to a tape recording of a speech made by Resha9 on the 22nd November, 1956. The speech was made at 37 West Street, which was the offices of the African National Congress, is that correct, those were the offices?

A. J. LUTULI: That is correct.

And Mr. Lutuli, it was a secret meeting, at which only certain delegates who presented their credentials were allowed to be present…

TAPE RECORDING OF RESHA`S SPEECH PLAYED TO WITNESS [saying, “if you are a true volunteer and you are called upon to be violent, you must be absolutely violent, you must murder! Murder! That is all.”]

Mr. Lutuli, you have listened to what the Crown alleges to be the voice of Resha who was really the Supreme Commander of the 50,000 top brigade of volunteers. Now would you just – you heard this speech? – I have, My Lords.

Do you agree that it is a subversive speech? It is a speech inciting people to violent action?- My Lords, I will not say subversive because I don`t know the legal meaning, but it is a violent speech, it is a very violent speech.

Did you hear the reaction of the people to whom he was speaking? – Yes, I heard.

And what was that reaction? – They applauded.

[The prosecution stated that E. P. Moretsele, chairman of the Transvaal ANC, presided at the meeting and that Duma Nokwe and Leslie Masina were among those present.]


MR. TRENGOVE: Now do you know why these people tolerate this violent speech and applauded it?

A. J. LUTULI: No, My Lords, I wouldn`t know.

Is it entirely inconsistent with your alleged policy of non-violence?- In parts it is, yes.

Now Mr. Lutuli, did any of the members of the National Executive or anybody ever take any steps about this speech?- My Lords, I wouldn`t know to what extent the Executive – the National Executive became aware of the speech. I wouldn`t know. I was not aware of it, I don`t know how many were aware of it, other than those who were there at the meeting, I wouldn`t know.

Now having listened to the speech, are you shocked to hear that a speech of this nature was made?- There are some parts that shock me. There are some parts what one might call a fighting speech, but there are some parts that I absolutely don`t like at all.


MR. TRENGOVE: You see, Mr. Lutuli, if the Volunteer-in-Chief makes that type of speech, who is in a better position to know what the duties are of a volunteer than the Volunteer-in-Chief?

A. J. LUTULI: Oh no, that doesn`t follow. If I may make an illustration, My Lords, I don`t know about army technique and things like that, but surely if a General were to do something that is not right, I don`t think it can be said that therefore in fact the whole policy must now be aligned to what that particular General who is wrong, does. I wouldn`t accept that proposition.

I am not asking you to approve of what he did. I want to know who was in a better position than Resha to know what the duties of a volunteer are? Was there any person in a better position than Resha?- No, there wouldn`t be any person in a better position than Resha to know the duties, that is true, that is quite true.

And I put it to you Mr. Lutuli that Resha made this speech and he gave those instructions to the volunteers because that was exactly what volunteers were expected to do? And you know that?- I don`t. I don`t. Because Resha would be expected to lead the volunteers along the policy of Congress. Now if Resha as a General departs, he departs as Resha. It has nothing to do with the policy of the African National Congress, definitely.

And judging by the reaction of the people whom he addressed, do you think they thought he was departing from policy?- My Lords, it is difficult to say about the whole meeting, a group of people. No doubt it was a time when feelings were very high, and their applauding actuated by the feeling in the circumstances might be interpreted as approving. On the other hand, My Lord, insofar as the meeting applauding it would not necessarily be to say they are applauding the violent aspects. My Lord, I wouldn`t really go as far as that. As I have already indicated, I don`t approve, it would be contrary to Congress policy, and if they were applauding that part, then they are wrong. But on the other hand, My Lords, I think I am right in saying it was a time when the feelings of the people were high and therefore they could have been – applauding, actuated by the emotions of the times, not necessarily saying we are foregoing Congress policy. I am talking now of the crowd as a whole, My Lord.


MR. TRENGOVE: Now Mr. Lutuli, do I understand you correctly that you say that the only explanation you can give for the speech that Resha made was that he was deviating from policy because he was inciting or making a violent speech?

A. J. LUTULI: That is correct, My Lord.

And you can`t suggest any reason why in those circumstances he should have done it?- My Lords, I wouldn`t be able to say why in those circumstances he did it, and I don`t like to advance excuses at all. I have said in general it was a tense moment, but I should think that even in a tense moment a responsible person should be able to hold himself.


MR. TRENGOVE: … I just want you to explain one or two matters which you already dealt with but which I am still unable to follow. The first one was that the people shall govern. According to that the attitude of the African National Congress was that everybody should have the vote, irrespective of sex, irrespective of colour?

A. J. LUTULI: That is correct.

And there was to be no – apart from perhaps a qualification as to age, there was to be no other qualification?- That is correct, My Lord.

So that every person would be entitled to participate in parliamentary elections?- That is correct.

Now that was a claim on which the African National Congress was not prepared to compromise in any way?- That is correct, My Lord.

So that if there were any negotiation at any stage, that had to be conceded as fundamental?- I wouldn`t go as far as that, My Lord, because when you come to negotiation, My Lords, there are several factors to consider, and I could not here from the witness box anticipate and say now this might happen. But let me illustrate a possibility, just a possibility, to indicate how difficult it would be in a witness box to say it would be this, a thing that has not been discussed. Supposing the government of the country came along and said look, we now accept in principle your demand for universal adult franchise, we accept it. But, we cannot implement that next year. We will have to consider certain factors because the country has been run after all on this basis, we will have to consider. Now my Lords, I take it that negotiators there would have to sit down or rather go and report back to other leaders, and the leaders would consider in the light of what the government says, so that I cannot say My Lords that – what will take place, but it is definitely a clear goal that we are striking for, uncompromisingly. On the other hand, supposing the government had to say now well, we have called you here, we want to improve wages and things like that.

We are just dealing with the vote?- Yes, but I am just giving an illustration, you touched on negotiation. And then they were to say well, insofar as the vote is concerned now we don`t feel we can. I think the negotiators would simply say right away oh no, so far as that is concerned, we think that is a fundamental issue. Thank you for whatever you may do in the economic field, we are not throwing that away, but insofar as this is concerned, – so you see, one really can`t anticipate and say what will happen at negotiation.


MR. TRENGOVE: Mr. Lutuli, negotiation was never contemplated, and you know that?

A. J. LUTULI: It has been all along anticipated. My Lord, even at this moment, we would be very, very happy if the government would take up the attitude of saying, come let us discuss. We would be extremely happy, in fact even to discuss, even if at the end of the discussions we didn`t agree.

Mr. Lutuli, it is sheer hypocrisy to make a statement like that and you know it. That was never your attitude?- You may be allowed in Court, I don`t know what your rights are, but to call one a hypocrite, really it does hurt. And I will defend myself, My Lords, although if I recall at the time when I was being led by Counsel, reference was made to the fact that I wrote as President-General of the African National Congress a letter in 1957 with – to the Prime Minister, pleading exactly for what I am saying here now, and for me to be called a hypocrite, publicly be called a hypocrite, well Counsel has the right to say so, but it does hurt one.


MR. TRENGOVE: Mr. Lutuli, I want to put it to you that you and the whole Congress movement, you accepted the position that the Freedom Charter was a revolutionary document, and that it couldn`t be put into effect without breaking up the whole political and economic set-up of the present South Africa, that is correct, is it not?

A. J. LUTULI: I think that is generally correct.

And that one would have, once the demands are put into effect, one would have a state which differs radically and fundamentally from the present state?- My Lords, I think in some respects. I think that if you read the whole of the Freedom Charter, My Lords, you will find that the demands made in the Freedom Charter [are] as such demands really, My Lord, that you get in any bill of rights. For an example, I think that if you were to make comparisons with the Freedom Charter, you will find that.

I am not asking you to compare it with anything else. I am asking you to compare it with the present political and economic structure of the Union?- I am saying that in some respects there are radical changes, in others they wouldn`t be so radical.

Mr. Lutuli, I also want to put it to you that you never expected that the White oppressor would ever accept your demands and concede your demands?- My Lords, I wouldn`t be in Congress if I didn`t expect that White South Africa would some day reconsider. That is my honest belief, and one has grounds for it. I think I have already indicated them, but I firmly believe that White South Africa will one day reconsider. When, My Lords, I cannot say.

But you were not prepared to wait for that one day. You were telling the people now, not next year or any other year, now. Your – leading members of your organisations said within a matter of five years. You weren`t going to wait for the White electorate to change their minds and you know that, Mr. Lutuli?- I think that the Prosecutor in my view, My Lords, is really putting a wrong construction into a phrase or motto intended to gear people`s determination.

[This statement was to have been made to the court before the passing of sentence, after which I had been found guilty of burning my pass, guilty of disobeying a law by way of protest, and not guilty of incitement. At the time I voluntarily accepted the advice of my lawyers, and because of the very poor state of my health I did not make it. I am still not sure whether I made the right decision. I place it on record here and leave the reader to decide. Whether he applauds or derides, he will know what I feel.]

I stand before you, your Worship, charged with the destruction of my Reference Book (or Pass) and because of that with the crime of inciting my people to do the same. I have pleaded legally not guilty to all the charges.

What I did, I did because I, together with the overwhelming majority of my people, condemn the pass system as the cause of much evil and suffering among us. We charge that it is nothing less than an instrument of studied degradation and humiliation of us as a people, a badge of slavery, a weapon used by the authorities to keep us in a position of inferiority.

It cannot be very easy for you, sir, to understand the very deep hatred all Africans feel for a pass. I say this not as a mark of disrespect to your person, sir, but because only a direct experience and contact with a pass and all that it means can make one really understand and appreciate the justice of our charge against the evil thing, the pass. We are deeply conscious of, and grateful for, the fact that there is a growing number of fellow white South Africans who appreciate our situation and feel deeply about it; but they, too, can never really fully understand the depth of our suffering. Can anyone who has not gone through it possibly imagine what has happened when they read in the Press of a routine police announcement that there has been a pass raid in a location? The fear of the loud, rude bang on the door in the middle of the night, the bitter humiliation of an undignified search, the shame of husband and wife being huddled out of bed in front of their children by the police and taken off to the police cell.

If there is a law in any country in the whole wide world which makes it a crime in many instances for husband and wife to live together, which separates eighteen-year-olds from their parents, I have yet to learn of it. But the pass does so in the Union of South Africa.

Each year half a million of my people are arrested under the pass laws. Government Annual Reports tell of this tragic story. But statistics can tell only half the tale. The physical act of arrest and detention with the consequence of a broken home, a lost job, a loss of earnings, is only part of this grim picture. The deep humiliation felt by a black man, whether he be a labourer, an advocate, a nurse, a teacher or a professor, or even a minister of religion, when, over and over again, he hears the shout, “Kaffir, where is your pass? – Kaffir, waar`s jo paas?” fills in the rest of this grim picture.

Our feelings about the pass laws are not new or something born in recent years. The whole history of the African people since Union is studded with our complaints, petitions, mass demonstrations, pass burnings, etc.

In all these campaigns, sir, over the years, other sections of the South African population have gradually come to see the justice of our claim that the Pass Laws are oppressive in the extreme. One way or another, large and varied sections of the population have come to understand that the well-being of South Africa, no less than the cause of humanity and justice, demands the abolition or the drastic curtailment of these laws. I will refer you, sir, only to such well-known facts as these: that in the war years the late Mr. Deneys Reitz, then Minister of Native Affairs, spoke publicly of the need to repeal these laws, and in fact, for a time, virtually suspended the system of summary arrest on which these laws are based; then in 1948 the Fagan Commission, presided over by a man who as Minister of Native Affairs had administered these laws, and as judge had punished those who broke them, recommended a drastic revision and curtailment; that in more recent years these views have been echoed by churches, by the South African Institute of Race Relations, by at least two recognised political parties in the country, the Liberal Party and the Progressive Party, and by many hundreds of people and organisations of different kinds. In fact, sir, most public commissions appointed since 1912 by successive governments have been, to say the least, highly critical of it. World opinion generally has been critical too, and some sections of it, at times, outspokenly condemnatory. It has been a cause of regret and even bitterness amongst our people that in spite of such widespread condemnation, internal and external, of the inhumanity of these laws, the present Government has not only not seen fit to curtail or abolish them, but has extended and intensified their operation, cancelled all exemptions from these laws and, to add insult to injury, extended them, for the first time in the history of our country, to our womenfolk. All this is done in terms of the “Abolition of Passes and the Co-ordination of Documents Act.” We are asked to be grateful for this. Grateful for what? For stitching neatly into a single book various pieces of paper formerly needed to comply with the law. If this is not contempt for our national feelings, sir, it must be cruel mockery.

Each year since the so-called “Abolition of Passes Act” came into effect more of our people have been arrested for pass law offences. We do not have to read the Government Blue Books or Statistics to know this. Almost every African family knows this to their cost from their family experience.

It has long been clear to us in the Liberatory Movement that this Government action, to enforce and extend these laws, would increase tension between the African people and the Government and further strain white-black relations to the injury of the true interests and welfare of our country.

I do not want to comment much on the tragic events that occurred on 21st March of this year at Sharpeville, save to say merely this. All versions of this shocking event agree that the crowd which collected at the Police Station in Sharpeville did so because of – and only because of – the Pass Laws. All that is in dispute is whether people came to hear an official statement on the future of the Pass Laws or to demonstrate against these laws. Whichever version may be true, the end was an event which shocked and horrified every decent South African, black and white, and outraged the world. A large number of my people lost their lives, and a much larger number were wounded. If ever the cup of bitterness against the Pass Laws ran over, it was then. It was with deep feelings of disgust for the Pass Laws that many people, black and white throughout the country, responded magnificently to the A.N.C. call to observe a National Day of Mourning to mourn these late victims of the Pass Laws and for Africans to burn their passes.

In such an atmosphere it is understandable that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Africans, to show their mourning, voluntarily destroyed the symbol of bondage and burnt their passes; spontaneously, without urging, sir, many, many did so.
For me, sir, the situation demanded a momentous decision. I felt it my inescapable duty to give meaning to the Congress call to observe in a peaceful way the Day of Mourning and to bear witness in a practical way to our abhorrence for a pass. I saw no other effective peaceful way than to burn my own pass. This I did.

There comes a time, sir, when a leader must give as practical a demonstration of his convictions and willingness to live up to the demands of the cause, as he expects of his people. I felt that was the hour in our history, and in my life, for this demonstration. I am not sorry nor ashamed of what I did. I could not have done less than I did and still live with my conscience. I would rightly lose the confidence of my people, and earn the disrespect of right-thinking people in my country and in the world, and the disdain of posterity.

In all humility, I say that I acted as was my duty in response to the highest moral law in the best interest of the people of South Africa, because I am convinced that the urgent need of our country, for the maintenance of peace and harmony amongst the various races, black and white, is the immediate and wholesale abolition of the pass. It is my firm belief that it is the duty of all right-thinking people, black and white, who have the true interest of our country at heart, to strive for this without flinching.