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WE HAVE THE KEY TO FREEDOM – NOT THE OPPRESSOR

Albert Luthuli's Presidential Address to the Forty-fifth Annual Conference of the African National Congress, Orlando, Johannesburg, December 16, 1957

The powers that be have again made my personal presence at this, our 45th annual conference, impossible. My mouth is zipped but, Thank God, I can still speak to you in absentia, by the written word through the medium of a proxy whom I thank in anticipation.

The Speaker, no doubt, will extend a word of welcome to the delegates and others attending the Conference. With warmth and cordiality I wish to associate myself with his welcome of you and wish the Conference the blessing and guidance of the Almighty in all your deliberations.

What of this Conference?

Having expressed my sentiments of welcome, it is fitting to pose the question: What of this Conference? What are your visions and hopes about it and Congress generally? Yes, your doubts and fears, as you ponder on the many duties and problems – internal and external – that face our Liberatory movement. A constant reflection on such questions during this conference and after should create in you a positive forward look and co-operativeness that should drive every one of you to do his best for the Freedom cause. It should help you to see the special task and significance of this Conference and so help you all co-operatively to diagnose and prescribe correctly for the ills and weaknesses that beset us in our struggle for freedom.

In this matter of significance of this Conference it is not out of place to note without comment at this stage that it comes in a pre-election year: an election that, for good or for worse, must affect our struggle for liberation; an election that is a painful reminder to us of the ten-year dictatorial rule of the Nationalist Party that has plagued our country since 1948 with apartheid, a most deadly policy. Is it too much to hope that this election will see the final end of this infernal Nationalist Party rule? Would to heavens it would be so!

In the execution of its task Conference must seek to re-assure the world in general and white South Africa in particular that our struggle is a non-violent one and our goal is a democratic civilised pattern of life and a belief in justice, fairplay, human dignity and in the equality and brotherhood of man. With this assurance reiterated we can ask white South Africa – which I here do, what else we could reasonably be expected to do to prove our bona fides that we are no enemies of theirs or anyone else’s, but only of domination, racialism and exploitation and that in our struggle we are in quest for a South Africa where everyone in the land, according to individual ability and inclination, shall have the right and the opportunity to serve his country and enjoy its fruits.

1957 tells the same grim story of the persecution of the oppressed people, the non-whites

If the year 1957 has presented us under trying conditions with opportunities for service in the prosecution of our struggle for freedom, it has given us also more than we can bear, tribulation and nagging anxiety about our future.

The Nationalist Government, alarmed and greatly shaken by the rising tide of freedom consciousness among the oppressed majority, the non-whites, has continued, with greater vehemence, trickiness and fury, to pass numerous restrictive and oppressive laws and administrative enactments as never before. These laws and administrative enactments have rained untold cruelty and suffering on the people. All this has revealed the evil intent of the nationalist party in particular and white South Africa in general, towards non-whites and freedom lovers in general. It has shown up the Nationalist Party as power-drunk autocrats.

The extent of the cruelty they have perpetrated on defenceless, voteless non-whites is too vast to describe in a brief address such as this. Suffice is to say:

  • Furious threats by nationalist party leaders including ministers of the crown against people and organisations opposing apartheid have been made;
  • Mass pass raids and mass arrests;
  • Ruthless enforcement of the law by the police;
  • Bannings and deportations of political leaders;
  • Deposition and banishment of African chiefs suspected of not supporting government apartheid schemes;
  • Displacement of people from their long established homes and places of business;
  • Starvation wages, and general insecurity and poverty arising out of many apartheid laws such as the industrial laws of the country and the land laws.

All this and more, has made the life of non-whites, especially the African, to be a nightmare and an inferno.

For the non-whites the Union has become a police state where he is made "prisoner in his own castle," a state where he is denied the universal human rights accepted by all nations that qualify to be called civilised.

I appeal to Congress members and officials at all levels - national, provincial and branch - to give full support to all anti apartheid campaigns Congress is prosecuting jointly with her allies and sometimes including the Liberal Party of South Africa. Efforts should be made always to explain the "why-for" of the opposition. As an example: Bantu Education must be shown up as slave education: an education for ignorance intended to isolate and brainwash the African child in order to more easily indoctrinate him with theories of white supremacy and black inherent inferiority. Pass laws and their ruthless enforcement must be seen as a means of controlling African labour and canalising it to mines and European farms where abundant African labour is shamefully exploited. In some cases national headquarters and provincial headquarters provide study literature that could be made use of in this connection.

Other victims of Nationalist Party Rule

The non-whites, no doubt, are the main victims of nationalist dictatorial rule. For them there has never been any attempt to rule them by consent. To some degree their lot is suffered by the whites who champion the freedom cause. But the tentacles of nationalist party dictatorship are reaching and threatening the limited autonomy of local authorities when it comes to the implementation of apartheid laws; the freedom of industrialists to site industries and negotiate with their African employees is being interfered with; the movement of whites in the so-called Bantu areas in urban and rural centres is being strictly regulated.

The freedom of association in churches and multi-racial gatherings is threatened by the Native Laws Amendment Act of 1957.

All this is a warning to white South Africa that their own freedom is in great jeopardy. One dreads to think to what peril it will be exposed under a Nationalist Party dominated South African Republic. It is non-whites now; but soon it will be all non-nationalist whites.

When the Halt

With cruel rigidity and terrifying callousness the Nationalist Party machine, ostensibly to protect white civilisation, rolls relentlessly, crushing all opposition to the Nationalist Party until what there is of democracy, as known in the civilised world, disappears in the Union.

The tragedy is that the dominant minority white group seems to be blind to the realities of our situation and to the lesson of history that sooner or later – sooner rather than later - the non-white majority will be free;

That the Almighty created man to be free is an immutable law which any ruler neglects to his own undoing. The validity of this law is attested to by the attainment of freedom by oppressed people from time immemorial to our day.

How can the oppressed people of the Union of South Africa not become free sooner or later?

THE LENGTH OF THE TERM OF SLAVERY DEPENDS LARGELY ON THE OPPRESSED THEMSELVES AND NOT ON THE OPPRESSOR.
The challenge of this fact to non-whites is too obvious to explain.

THE TASK AHEAD IS COLOSSAL.

We must not underrate the task ahead of us on our forward march to freedom; it is most exacting and colossal. It confronts us with many problems – internal and external – in our life and death struggle for freedom – nay for existence of life itself since we are faced by a ruthless oppressor. Success will only come our way if we face this threat with indomitable courage and tenacity of purpose. We must build a formidable force of freedom lovers on the basis of a broad freedom front. We must seek to develop in our people a spirit of DEFIANCE that will despise terrorism and violence as methods of struggle.

Let no difficulties and temporary set-backs in our struggle discourage us and our vision of a united democratic South Africa; a South Africa where human relations shall rest on the firm foundation of equality, friendship and respect for human dignity. What is happening in our country as a direct outcome of the policy of segregation and its variant apartheid gives a bad name to South Africa in the outside world and has disastrous effects on the well-being and character of the people in many ways.

It breeds in the down-trodden non-white a sense of frustration and resentment; this in turn makes it harder for him to practise patience and tolerance. To the oppressor it breeds an unsettling fear which drives him more and more to greater severity in his enforcement of the unwanted apartheid laws; this, unfortunately, is bound to leave on the oppressor marks of inhumanity. The total result is strained human relations in our country. No country can truly be prosperous and great and enjoy the peace when its people are subjected to strained relationships.

It is our desire to see tensions and unco-operativeness removed from our South African scene.

Letter to Prime Minister, Mr. Strijdom

It was this desire that prompted me to write a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Strijdom, on behalf of my executive urging him and his Government to take immediate steps to arrest the fast deteriorating race relations in our country. I suggested to him that a preliminary step to this desirable end would be to establish contact with the elected leaders of the African people with a view to holding a frank discussion on our situation. I pleaded that at this discussion means and ways should be sought of governing Africans democratically with their consent and not as at present when it is by force, by coercion and by camouflage enticement that hides the evil effects of legislation and so trap the unwary and less politically tutored among us.

In the name not only of the African National Congress but of all African leaders of all shades of political opinion, I offered the Prime Minister a hand of co-operation provided that the acceptance of the policy of apartheid was not made a sine qua non to any consultation and co-operation. Unfortunately to date I have had no response from the Prime Minister to this appeal. This desire to see human relations regulated by a spirit of friendliness and co-operativeness made the African National Congress support the convening of a multi-racial conference recently in Johannesburg. Some of our people attended this conference, I trust they will give Conference a report on it to enable Conference to discuss the findings of this historic Conference.

A word about the Human Rights Day anniversary on December 10th. I trust that in compliance with directives sent out by the African National Headquarters all lower Congress organs made arrangements for the observance of this anniversary this year. The significance of this anniversary is that it is world-wide and is observed where there are progressive groups to sponsor it. Its observance must help to create and cement a world-wide fellowship of freedom lovers and focus attention on those areas of the world where, as in the Union of South Africa, some people are denied human rights as contained in the Declaration on Human rights in the United Nations Charter.

This anniversary of Human Rights Day, December 10th, must be included in our calendar of special days in our Liberatory Movement and be observed regularly.

1957: A Year full of Hope for the Liberatory Movement

The year 1957 constitutes a most significant landmark in our struggle for freedom in our country. It marks another turning point for the better. It is brimful of events – anti-apartheid protests – and noble deeds that show the growth of the resistance spirit among the oppressed people and freedom lovers. This year augurs well for the broadening of the Freedom Front.

The significant thing about most of these protests is that they were staged by groups: Ministers of Religion, University Authorities and students, nurses, civil liberties bodies - not among the regulars in the freedom struggle but new recruits concerned mainly with the introduction of apartheid in their own spheres of activity.

The protests were many and came on one after another or simultaneously. This made a tremendous impact on the public, white and black. The Government was greatly disturbed by this unanimous opposition to their policy by people outside the Liberatory Movement. The Security police must have been kept busy this year more than ever before.

There are many events of this year which could be cited for note Who will deny that the dramatic arrest of 156 leaders of this Liberatory Movement on December 5th, 1956, is an event of unsurpassed significance and ramifications that cannot yet be fully assessed? It made South Africa the focal point of world interest. It generated a wonderful spirit of solidarity within the Liberatory Movement itself and between the Congresses and other progressive groups and individuals. What of the accused themselves? Their being together at the Drill Hall knit them into a community of their own. In tribulation they got to know one another more intimately and developed a most effective comradeship that provides this Drill Hall family – for that is what they are – with moral and spiritual resources that make them bear the frustrations of the already long-drawn Inquiry. Adversity has not broken down the morale of the group; on the contrary it seems to have geared the group to greater determination. This is what I call "The Drill Hall Spirit."

The Rand and Pretoria bus boycott is another of the soul inspiring events of 1957 and so is the wonderful resistance of African women against taking passes. The women should be an object lesson to men; men should bow down to them in shame. It must be put on record that their resistance, notwithstanding setbacks in some areas has been magnificent. The demonstrations have confused the Government and frustrated their plans to the point of putting them out of gear.

These samples of courage, determination and consistency demonstrated by the demonstrations carried out this year are sufficient to proclaim 1957 as "A year full of Hope for the Future."

The Church Militant

I wish briefly to pay special tribute to some churches, here and overseas, who on moral grounds have boldly, unequivocally and consistently pronounced against the implementation of apartheid by the Nationalist Government. It is our view that the church in our land has not been sufficiently militant in this regard; it has not always raised its voice vocally whenever the rights of non-whites were assailed. Protesting voices have been too few. We are grateful when now we hear more church voices protesting loud against state policies that enslave us.

Pay Tribute to Whom Tribute is Due

I must here congratulate and pay deserving tribute to all Congress officials and members who rallied magnificently with added effort and zeal to the freedom cause and to the routine work of keeping Congress machinery moving under difficult circumstances. This swift rallying action frustrated the plans of the government to cripple – if not utterly destroy the various organs of the Liberatory Movement. The threats made then within government circles to further attempt to destroy the African National Congress by more arrests, bannings and deportation from the ranks of the new leaders is a significant measure of the effective performance of these men and women who so ably and devotedly carried on the work of the organisation during this difficult year.

All officials and members who thus did their duty by Congress at this critical time so richly deserve our thanks which I am here happy to convey. This tribute is extended in equal measure to those of the public who, here and overseas, have responded to the call to support the Treason Trial Fund.

The events of 1957 have brought greater co-operation and devotion to the cause of freedom. May this spirit grow.

It is encouraging to note that whilst the Nationalist Party Government was becoming more and more ruthless in the implementation of apartheid, whites, including some supporters of the government, were beginning to have doubts about the efficacy of apartheid in ensuring white South Africa an exclusive hold on the Union of South Africa. This is a good sign.

Ourselves and the World

The Annual Report of the National Executive which I commend to members for careful study has dealt fully with "External Affairs." For emphasis I shall only touch on some aspects of our External Affairs Policy.

We hold that Congress must take an interest in world affairs as world affairs inevitably impinge on and effect our situation in the Union. The Union of South Africa, no doubt, is encouraged to pursue its immoral policy of apartheid because it feels that in the end her friends will not abandon her; my friend, right or wrong attitude. In a recent debate on the apartheid policy of the Union by U.N.O., Great Britain supported the Union. Often nations will adopt benevolent neutrality whose effect is to help their friends.

Peace: Congress stands for peace, hence it opposes all practices that create world tension; big nations often by coercion or enticement divide the world into spheres of influence each dominates. The net result is that small or weak nations become dependencies or satellites of some big nation. For the same reason, we are opposed to economic aid with strings tied on to it.

Co-Existence: We support this policy as the only one likely to ease tension among nations with different ideological outlook. The policy of destroying a nation of a differing ideology is not democratic.

Colonial Powers: We are opposed to colonialism. It favours domination and so oppression of natives of the country who are entitled to self–determination. In multi-racial communities the principle of common society must be adopted and citizens left to elect as they please. We charge that where the population is black – white metropolitan powers always adopt a policy that favours white settlers. This is the error and weakness of Britain, France and others.

Emergent Native Territories: We support Liberatory Movement anywhere; that is, the emancipation of the oppressed.

Our Policy of Relations with Nations in the World: We make no connection whatsoever with governments of foreign states. In our struggle we seek aid from persons or societies in a country whenever these people support or are sympathetic to our view or objectives. We are neither East nor West, but draw friends from either with due regard to our honour and dignity. We are nobody’s satellite.

What Next?

In the coming year our work shall largely be that of streamlining and reinforcing our present plans and campaigns.

I would like to pin-point some special needs as I see them:

  • There is much organisational work to be done, but so far to do it. I reiterate with greater force my call for Freedom Volunteers. I want them by the thousands. Congress must not just be brought to every town and rural community, but to every African home in the Union.
  • The need for building a broad UNITY without sacrificing our principles and stand by an iota. The ANC. must continue to give a lead in forming a UNITED FRONT AGAINST ALL THAT APARTHEID STANDS FOR.
  • Re-think our idea of indifference to a white general election. Such period properly used can be most fruitful politically. It provides a favourable climate for the political education of our people. For our policy in this matter I commend to you the views I expressed in a recent interview with New Age. The views there expressed received the endorsement of the National Executives ANC and the NCC. I am happy to state that it is now in fact the policy of the Congresses on the General Elections.
  • I commend to organs and members of Congress to study the POLICY STATEMENT you will be furnished with. Reinforce it by referring to other sources such as Presidential addresses and letters written at different times to the Prime Minister, in particular the last letter of May 8th, 1957.

Let me end up by reminding you that WE HAVE THE KEY TO FREEDOM – not the oppressor. It all depends on how much we sacrifice ourselves for Freedom. Let us make the coming year a special ANTI-APARTHEID year and to that end, with the maximum of UNITY within our ranks, work to the maximum of our ability to deliver a knock-out blow that will end apartheid by the shortest time possible. WE DETERMINE THE PACE not the oppressor.

MAYIBUYE! AFRIKA, INKULULEKO NGESIKATI SETHU.