STATEMENT TO THE DELEGATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL COMMITTEE AGAINST APARTHEID, LONDON, APRIL 1964(1)

On behalf of the South African Indian Congress, I should like to express our deep gratitude to the Special Committee against Apartheid for having given us this opportunity of presenting a written memorandum and for giving me the privilege of appearing here personally in order to underline some of the submissions which we have made in our written document.

We, the South African Indian Congress and the Indian people in South Africa, as well as all the non-whites and the democratically minded white people of South Africa, deeply appreciate the drive, the energy, the integrity and the determination with which this Special Committee has been carrying out its task. It has indeed been a great inspiration to our suffering people in South Africa, and for that we are very grateful indeed.

The written memorandum which we have presented makes all our points, but, nevertheless, I would like to underline some of them in order to emphasize some of the aspects of the situation in South Africa.

Position of the Indian community in South Africa

Representing the Indian community in South Africa, I would like to say a few words about the position of the Indian minority there. That minority, which comprises almost 600,000 who live in and who have made South Africa their home, are indeed Africans in every sense of the word. The Indian people suffer a great deal under the apartheid tyranny and the racial segregation policy of the South African Government. The Indian people ask for no special privileges. It must be understood that about 80 per cent of the Indian people live below the bread line. Their position, because of the laws of the country, because of the policy of the South African Government, may not be so terrible or as bad as that of the African people, but by and large, the Indian people suffer as much under this racial tyranny of the South African Government.

Out of the 80 per cent of the South African Indian people who live below the bread line, at the present moment in a city like Durban with a population of 130,000 Indians, 30,000 of the 130,000 are unemployed. It must be understood that the Indian people, when they went to South Africa about one hundred years ago, did not go of their own free will. They were under the British and were taken as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations of Natal for the white settlers. Since then the position of the Indian people has deteriorated. Therefore, the Indian people have been struggling for their just rights all these long years, as far back as the beginning of this century when Mahatma Gandhi went to South Africa and led the Indian people in their fight against the discriminatory policies of the government at that time. Since then the Indian people have realised that these differentiations which were brought about by the South African Government were not in the interests of the Indian people or indeed in the interests of the people of South Africa as a whole. Therefore, the Indian people have thrown in their lot completely with the African people, with the other non-white oppressed people in the struggle for human rights, for justice and for liberty. Today we find that the Indian people, under the leadership of the South African Indian Congress, are wholly allied with the principles of the Freedom Charter for the African people in their struggle.

As I said before, we ask for no special privileges for the Indian people. The Indian people have suffered in proportion to the population and in the ratio to the population in all the struggles that have been conducted in the last twenty years and more. The Indian people at the present moment are confronted with a situation where they face a position of genocide, which is indeed the word to be used, when they are faced with the application of the Group Areas Act that was enacted by the present Nationalist Government in 1950. The terms of this Act affect all the non-white people, but particularly affect the Indian people more since the African people have already been segregated into separate areas and robbed of their land. The Indian people are being driven into ghettos far away from the cities where they have been living; they are cut off completely from the economic and social stream of life in the country. This is the policy of the Government as declared at the time when the Group Areas Act was enacted, to eliminate the Indian people in South Africa.

At first they started with a policy of expatriating the Indians, to send them back to India and Pakistan and other parts of the world. The South African Indian people refused to do this. They said that they came to South Africa, that South Africa is their home and that they were prepared to live and die in the struggle, if need be, for their just rights in common with the other sections of the South African population. So that today we are carrying out a struggle under the leadership of the African National Congress. The African National Congress has the whole-hearted support of the Indian community of South Africa, as represented by the South African Indian Congress, in all the submissions made by the African National Congress and by its leaders to the Special Committee and to the other agencies of the United Nations.

As regards the present situation in South Africa in general, I do not think that there is any dispute at all that we are in a racial war, a war carried out by the South African Government, backed by the armed and police might of the State against the non-white people in the country. Violence has been used by the police in this war at every conceivable opportunity, even when the non-white people were demonstrating in a peaceful manner for their rights.

Save the lives of leaders on trial

As the other submissions made before the Special Committee bear out, the present position is that the non-white people in South Africa are faced with violence on the part of the Government. This has brought about a situation whereby the non-white people are confronted with the choice whether to submit to tyranny and a life of ignominy, or face up to the situation and meet the violence of the Government with determined resistance on their part.

It is this situation which is leading the country into a period of conflict, bloodshed and violence. The Government has led the South African people on the path of murder and repression. As has already been pointed out, there have been many sabotage trials; many persons have been sentenced to death. Under the 90-day detention act hundreds of people have been detained. Under various other acts thousands of people are in prison or are being banished to distant parts of the country.

In this respect we have to bear in mind the Rivonia trial where some of the most outstanding leaders of the people, leaders who stand for a way of life which only can bring about a peaceful solution in South Africa, are at the moment walking in the valley of the shadow of death.

We have been reassured by the Chairman of this Committee, in reply to the submission made by Thabo Mbeki, the son of one of the leaders who face a death sentence in this trial, that this Committee is doing everything in its power to persuade the United Nations to take such action - such immediate action - as may be necessary in order to save the lives of our leaders in South Africa. That is very heartening indeed. I think that no stone should be left unturned, that every effort should be made to see that these leaders are saved, because if they are taken away, if they are executed, then there can be no return to a peaceful solution in South Africa; it means then a period of bloodshed and violence in which the people will meet force with force in order to obtain their just human rights.

So it is therefore one of our submissions that everything possible should be done. One of the urgent tasks before the United Nations today, indeed before all Member States of the United Nations and world opinion as well, is to try by every possible means to save the lives of these leaders.

Impose effective sanctions on South Africa

The other question is: What is to be done in the situation in South Africa? It is our submission that only effective sanctions, mandatory economic sanctions, applied against South Africa can save the situation. In this respect I should like to touch upon two arguments which have been persistently put forward from time to time by the opponents of sanctions, those who do not desire sanctions to be applied.

One argument is that sanctions will hit the non-white people of South Africa and will therefore bring about further suffering on their part. I think that contention must be scotched right away. It is indeed the submission of the African National Congress, on behalf of all the people of South Africa, and for many long years the appeal of Chief Albert Lutuli, the president of the banned African National Congress, that we desire sanctions to be applied against the South African Government because that will help us to reduce the suffering of the people and the cost in life and bring about a speedy settlement of the South African problem. In this respect you will be hearing in a little while the representative of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, who will be speaking on behalf of the working people of South Africa. I have no doubt that his submission will be as it has been many times proclaimed by the South African Congress of Trade Unions on behalf of the working people, that they are prepared for those sacrifices. If they are prepared to die in the struggle, they are prepared for whatever sacrifices may come as a result of economic sanctions, and it is the duty of the outside world and of the United Nations to impose those sanctions effectively so that a situation may be brought about in South Africa which will be favourable for the return of democracy and the national liberation of the people of South Africa.

The other argument which is being put forward in some quarters and which has no validity at all in fact is that sanctions tend to harden white public opinion in South Africa; that is, that the more people talk about sanctions and the more sanctions are applied by the outside world, the more the white people will be driven to support the South African Government.

It must be understood that the large majority of the white people in South Africa are with the Government because they stand to benefit from the apartheid policies; because under apartheid they enjoy extra-ordinary privileges and live from the sweat, the blood and the very lives of the non-white people. They will not give in; they will continue to support the Government as long as they think they are assured of this way of life. The only way in which sense could be driven into large sections of these people is to make them begin to feel the brunt of effective sanctions, to make them realise that there is no way out for the white people and that they cannot continue to live a life of luxury out of the exploitation and the blood of the non-white people. And this point can be driven home to them only when effective sanctions are taken. Therefore the question of hardening white public opinion holds no water at all. The white people will understand only when effective action is taken. The South African Government assures the white people in South Africa that the talk of sanctions is merely talk, that it will not come about, it will not come to pass because they have allies in the Western world. And their allies in particular are Great Britain and the United States because they have tremendous investments in South Africa, because they derive terrific profits out of the apartheid policies of the Government of South Africa - and it is this which is keeping and hardening white public opinion and making them rally in support of the fascist Government.

So the one problem with regard to effective sanctions is, of course, the question of what the Western world, and in particular Britain, the United States of America and France, will be able to do. It is our submission that, as far as the United Nations is concerned, they must seek ways and means of making these sanctions enforceable by making them mandatory in some way, so that all the members of the United Nations will be able to take effective sanctions. The resolutions of the General Assembly, if they are carried out, will, in our opinion, meet the situation. The question of how the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the other Western countries could be persuaded to impose sanctions is two-fold: first, through moral persuasion, and second, through pressure to be brought to bear on the governments. These governments should be made to realise that if they desire to profit from the blood of the people of South Africa, then they will have to meet with opposition and unfriendliness from the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. For, after all, these Powers are helping the South African Government which, by its actions, by its armament plan, is today poised as a threat to the security of the whole continent of Africa. It is a matter of life and death for the people of South Africa; it is also a matter of security for the continent of Africa and indeed for the peace of the world.

Therefore we submit that as far as possible and as speedily as possible effective sanctions must be imposed. The kind of sanctions to be imposed has already been dealt with in many documents and I will therefore not dwell upon it save to say that these sanctions are absolutely essential if the international community and the international organisation is to do anything effective to bring about a solution of the South African problem with a minimum of cost in life and a minimum of violence.


1 From United Nations document A/AC.115/L.65