The complaint lodged by India against South Africa on its policy of discrimination against the South African Indian community once again constitutes an important item on the agenda at the forthcoming fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly which opened at Lake Success on September 20. South Africa, a member State of the United Nations Organisation, has been regularly indicted before the United Nations Assembly since its first session in 1946 for its racial policies which were held to be in contravention of the United Nations Charter.
This question has, in fact, become a hardy annual with the United Nations Assembly. If anything it underlines the weakness of the United Nations Organisation in taking effective action against an offending member State for blatant violation of the Charter and deliberate defiance of the decisions taken by the Assembly after due deliberations.
If, therefore, the dangers of racial conflagrations and violent upheavals in South Africa, which may have deleterious repercussions on the future of world peace and the struggles of the colonial and semi-colonial countries for national independence and freedom are to be averted in time, it is necessary to comprehend the nature of the underlying international factors which make it possible for the pro-fascist Government of Dr. Malan in South Africa to continue unhampered with their repugnant racial policies.
Thus a brief review, in this respect, of the history of the South African question before the commencement of the coming session of the United Nations Assembly may be helpful and instructive.
In the year 1946 the Government of General Smuts, in the face of bitter resentment of the whole of the Indian people of South Africa and the strongest protests from the Government and people of India, enacted the notorious Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act which is known to the Indian people as the "Ghetto Act".
The Government of India demonstrated its protest by imposing trade sanctions on South Africa and by withdrawing its High Commissioner and also by taking up the matter before the United Nations. The South African Indian community, with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi and the national leaders of India, launched out on a Passive Resistance struggle in which in two years over 2,000 men and women volunteers courted imprisonment rather than submit to this unjust law.
General Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa at the time, personally appeared before the first session of the United Nations Assembly in 1946 and staked his reputation as a world statesman in defence of the racial and anti-democratic policies pursued at home by his Government. He fervently pleaded before the international Assembly that India's complaint was a matter of domestic jurisdiction and thus U.N.O. was hardly competent to judge the issue. He moved that the question of competence be referred to the International Court of Justice.
The United Nations Assembly, of course, quite rightly rejected such an unconvincing and lame plea and condemned South Africa for its racial policies by the requisite two-thirds majority. It called upon South Africa to bring its treatment of the South African Indians in conformity with the basic principles of the United Nations Charter.
As was not unexpected, the resolution of the United Nations was deliberately ignored by the South African Government and the matter again came up before the second session of the Assembly in 1947.
This time a mild resolution calling upon South Africa and India to meet at a Round Table Conference in order to come to an amicable settlement of the dispute between the two Governments was passed by a large majority. However, it failed by a narrow margin to get a two-thirds majority.
General Smuts`s Government again defied this decision. But before the matter could come up at the 1948 session of the Assembly, General Smuts's United Party suffered a defeat at the hands of the Nationalist Party of Dr. Malan in the general elections held in May 1948.
Dr. Malan's party had been returned to power by the white electorate: the non-white people have no effective say in the election of Parliament. The Africans or Natives in the Cape Province are entitled, on property and educational qualification basis, to elect three white members to the House of Assembly of 153 members; whilst the Indians and the Coloured people of the same province are on similar qualification basis, entitled to a vote on the common roll with the Europeans but are not allowed to stand as candidates themselves - they can only vote for European candidates.
Dr. Malan assumed office on a clearly defined programme of "apartheid" or complete segregation of the various communities into watertight compartments, the abolition of the existing franchise privileges enjoyed by the African, Coloured and Indian people of the Cape and the repatriation, or rather expatriation, of the Indian people as "foreign and outlandish elements".
At the 1948-49 session of the United Nations Assembly, Dr. Malan's Government was represented by Mr. Eric Louw, Minister of Economic Development, a notorious advocate of racialism and Jew-baiter.
In view of the gravity of the situation in South Africa resulting from the policy and programme of Dr. Malan's Government, which was in no small way responsible for the pogrom against Durban Indians, the Indian delegation to the United Nations pressed at the Assembly session for a United Nations Commission of Enquiry to go out to South Africa to investigate the matter at first hand. At a later stage in the proceedings, however, the Indian delegation withdrew its resolution(1) calling upon the Governments of India, Pakistan and South Africa to meet at a Round Table Conference.
During the last two months, in terms of this resolution, the Government of India have already approached the South African Government to arrange for the Round Table talks. The reply of Dr. Malan has been that his Government still adheres to the attitude that, firstly, the Indian question in South Africa is a matter of domestic concern and, secondly, the declaration of human rights adopted by the United Nations is more idealistic than practical.
However, in spite of these objections, the South African Government have suggested preliminary talks between the representatives of India, Pakistan and South Africa in order to discuss an agenda for a Round Table Conference.
The latter suggestion was forthwith accepted by Pandit Nehru, who invited Dr. Malan to advise him of the venue and date for such preliminary talks. South Africa made a move when only two weeks remained before the United Nations Assembly began its work.
In these proceedings on the South African question at the United Nations certain factors are worthy of our consideration. The most glaring fact is the shameful role played by the United States of America, Britain, the white Dominions and the colonial Powers making it almost impossible for the United Nations to take effective steps against South Africa. Although they could not openly rally in defence of racialism, the actions of those States, both inside and outside of the Assembly, were aimed at rendering as much support as possible to the South African Government.
In the early stages, they sided with South Africa in the contention that the matter should go before the International Court of Justice and when that was rejected by the Assembly, they threw in their weight on the side which sought to make any resolution on South Africa as ineffective as possible. It is an open secret that they brought to bear their influence on other satellite States to take up the same attitude. Thus it can be seen in so far as America and Britain particularly are concerned, they have been following generally a policy of appeasement towards South Africa.
Thus having been assured of the not unhelpful attitude of Britain and America, Dr. Malan`s Government have been emboldened to defy with impunity the decisions of the United Nations.
In the face of the Assembly's resolution on South West Africa, the South African Government has virtually annexed this mandated territory by giving its white population direct representation in the Union Parliament and by its refusal to submit annual reports to the Trusteeship Council.
In regard to the South African question, subsequent to the United Nations resolution adopted this year, Dr. Malan has personally piloted an amending Act through the South African Parliament, making the restrictions imposed by the "Ghetto Act" mare drastic and stringent. This constitutes nothing less than the most blatant and open defiance of the authority, and an utter disregard of the prestige of the United Nations.
In view of the grave situation which has arisen as a result of the intransigence of the South African Government, it will be necessary for the United Nations Assembly to act with the utmost severity and despatch if a serious danger to world peace is to be averted.
In my opinion the Government of India should instruct its United Nations delegation to call at the United Nations Assembly for the most drastic action in terms of the Charter against the racial policies of the South African Government. The question whether the requisite majority will be obtained or not should not be allowed to influence this demand for necessary and timely action.
A watered-down resolution without proper sanctions to enforce the decision of the United Nations can, in present circumstances, serve no useful purpose. Such a resolution can only help to maintain the illusion which has lasted long enough that something is being done by the United Nations.
It would be preferable on the other hand, to risk failure on a stronger resolution. It would at least unmask the role of the imperialist Powers.
If President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee can intervene in the Kashmir dispute on the pretext that it endangers the peace of the world, why can they not intervene in the Indo-South African deadlock?
The conditions of fascist tyranny under which nine million African, Indian and Coloured people are forced to live constitute a violation of all democratic principles and offer a studied insult to the Asian and Coloured races of the world.
The duty of India is clear in the matter. Millions of oppressed people throughout the world are looking to it for leadership and guidance. India must not allow itself to become a pawn in the imperialist strategy of America and Britain. Commonwealth connections and dollar aid mean nothing if they stand for the perpetuation of racialism and colonialism, for the utilization of the newly-won status of Asian countries for the maintenance and extension of imperialist interest and domination.
In dealing therefore with the question of racial discrimination in South Africa - the United Nations is called upon to answer the question: peace or war. And India, the question: national independence or subservience to Anglo-American policy.
1 Apparently some words are missing here.
The Indian delegation withdrew its resolution for the appointment of a Commission, and a proposal by France and Mexico - inviting "the Governments of India, Pakistan and the Union of South Africa to enter into discussion at a round-table conference, taking into consideration the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights" - was adopted, with only South Africa voting against.