Dr Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo


Yusuf Dadoo

Compiled by E. S. Reddy



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Dr. Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo played an outstanding role in the South African liberation movement for over half a century - in persuading the Indian community to link its destiny with that of the African majority, in building the unity of all the oppressed people and democratic whites of that country in a common struggle against racism, in promoting fearless and militant resistance to the oppressors, and in developing the international outlook of the movement and international solidarity with it. He led the non-violent Indian passive resistance movement - uniting Gandhians, Marxists and others. He was a founder and leader of the Non-European United Front, and of the Communist Party when it was revived as a clandestine organisation. And since going into exile in 1960, he played a key role in promoting underground and armed struggle in South Africa and a world-wide anti-apartheid movement.

His contribution was recognised by the national Indian organisation and by the Communist Party which elected him chairman. It was acknowledged by the African National Congress which awarded him its highest honour, Isitwalandwe-Seaparankoe in 1955, and elected him the Vice-Chairman of its Revolutionary Council and later of its Politico-Military Council. It was also recognised by the racist regime which imprisoned and restricted him on numerous occasions.

Dr. Dadoo began his political activities as a young pupil in South Africa in his teens. Inspired by the spirit of defiance of injustice that Mahatma Gandhi tried to impart in the Indian community in South Africa, he took part in demonstrations against anti-Indian measures by the racist regime and organised a meeting of students to hear Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, the Indian poet and national leader, who saw, already in 1924, that the struggle of the Indian community is linked with that of the African and Coloured people. Though he came from a prosperous Indian family, he developed a sense of solidarity with the African people suffering inhuman exploitation, and took an interest in the African trade union movement (ICU). He even helped African workers in his father`s business in their strike for better conditions.

In later years, during his sojourn in India and in Britain as a student, he not only identified with the Indian national movement and the anti-fascist and anti-colonial movements in Europe but actively participated in them. He was first arrested in 1929 in London in a demonstration for Indian freedom. The unity of the oppressed people and democratic whites, advocated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the League against Imperialism, and the united front against fascism which was espoused by progressive leaders in Europe, were an inspiration to him. He saw clearly that such unity was essential in the struggle against racism in South Africa.

Returning to South Africa in 1936, he soon began to confront the authorities, as well as the rich traders in the leadership of the Indian Congresses who saw the future of the community in an accommodation with the racist regime and kept aloof from the struggle of the Africans. He began to organise the community for resistance and at the same time pressed for unity with the Africans and the Coloured people in a common struggle. In 1938-39 he became the founder and secretary of the Transvaal Non-European United Front and leader of the Nationalist Group of the Transvaal Indian Congress. Above all, he fully dedicated himself to the struggle for freedom and equality for all the people of South Africa. His first two trials in South Africa were, in fact, not in the struggle of the Indian community but for his work as a leader of Non-European United Front. From the dock of the racist courts, he denounced the oppression and exploitation of all the black people in South Africa. In 1944-45 he was associated with Dr. A.B. Xuma, President of the African National Congress, in a campaign against the humiliating pass laws imposed upon the African people, and was again arrested for leading a procession.

In 1946-48, he led the Indian passive resistance movement in which over two thousand people courted imprisonment, and served two terms of imprisonment with hard labour. Even during that difficult struggle, which was to have a great impact on the liberation movement, he and his colleagues helped the great African mineworkers` strike of August 1946. A number of Africans, Coloured people and whites went to prison in solidarity with the Indian people. Out of that experience came the Xuma-Naicker-Dadoo pact for cooperation between the African and Indian Congresses. His determined efforts to promote cooperation in struggle, despite all difficulties, contributed greatly to the joint action of African and Indian Congresses in the stay-at-home on June 26, 1950, in protest against apartheid, and then to the historic Campaign of Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952 in which he was the first, together with Nelson Mandela, to court imprisonment. Banned and restricted, he continued clandestine acivities to strengthen the Congress Alliance of the 1950`s and helped the formation of the underground South African Communist Party.

The Sharpeville massacre, the outlawing of the African National Congress and the State of Emergency in 1960, created a new situation. Going abroad at the insistence of the liberation movement, he made a great contribution, in cooperation with the leaders of the African National Congress, to the organization of armed struggle and to the building of a world-wide anti-apartheid movement.

Oliver Tambo, President of the African National Congress, pointed out at his funeral in 1983:

I have prepared this compilation of his speeches and writings, from 1940 to the day he passed away in London, in the hope that it will assist scholars and students interested in the study of the history of the great South African liberation movement. I am aware that no such compilation can fully reflect his wide-ranging contribution to the struggle, for, though he was a powerful speaker and a thinker, he was, above all, a man of action.

He led by his example, by his readiness to participate in every struggle and campaign, whatever the sacrifice. He never set himself apart as a leader, but was always with the freedom fighters. By his commitment, courage and modesty, he earned the love and affection of the people, and the admiration even of those who disagreed with his ideological convictions.

I became interested in the South African struggle, as a student in 1943-44, when I read a pamphlet by Dr. Dadoo. I became convinced that the destiny of the Indian community in South Africa was linked to that of the African people, and that its future can only be secured by its wholehearted participation in the common struggle for freedom and equality, in which the interests of the African majority must inevitably be paramount. For my country, India, as Pandit Nehru affirmed, it was not merely a question of the protection of people of Indian origin but of identification with the struggle for the total liberation of South Africa.

Twenty years later, as Principal Secretary of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, I met Dr. Dadoo in London on the suggestion of the leaders of the African National Congress, and we remained close friends until his death. I was always impressed by his vision and faith, and by the readiness of this man, who loved life, to sacrifice all. He always emphasised that the leadership of the struggle belongs to the African National Congress.

His mind was always with those in apartheid prisons in South Africa, above all, Nelson Mandela for whom he had a great affection - and he constantly encouraged me in promoting the campaign for the release of South African political prisoners.

I have, therefore, thought it most appropriate that this compilation of his speeches and writings should be dedicated to Nelson Mandela, who came to symbolise the struggle of the South African people against the inhumanity of racism and for a non-racial and democractic society.

E. S. Reddy
South Africa Freedom Day
June 26, 1990


I must express my gratitude to a number of friends who have encouraged, advised and assisted me in the preparation of this compilation:


The documents in this compilation are mainly from the following sources:

Last updated: 22 May 2000