< Back


Presidential Address to the 47th Annual Conference
of the African National Congress

Durban, 12 December 1959

The Annual Report of the Secretary-General and the Presidential Address will
have failed if they do not impress you with the dominant fact of our day:
in the rest of Africa.

The number of men and women persecuted for the political faith and stand by
the Nationalist Party Government since it came into power in 1948, is the
largest in the Union’s history. The number covers a representative cross
section of the people: workers, peasants, professional people, mostly teachers,
among whom our own veteran and highly honoured leader Z.K. – Professor Z. K.
Mathews – is numbered as a recent victim. We are proud of him. What a triumph
in a most difficult situation.

All told this year alone the victims of Nationalist Party Government tyranny
are close on 4,000, mostly women. They cover these categories: Treason
Trialists, exiled people, those confined to their districts but gagged, those
arrested and convicted for their challenge and resistance to oppression. Add to
this number members of the families and dependants of these victims of
Nationalist Government tyranny, for these families and dependants suffer greatly
too from the resulting anxiety and want and all the misery that flows from all

To these champions of the noble cause of Freedom and Democracy I say:
"Money to give you we have none but in full measure we express our
deep-felt sympathy and admiration. We are proud of you."

The ferocity of the oppressor in attempting to crush the struggle of the
people to free themselves is an index of the people`s indignation at the affront
to their dignity and poverty and all the disastrous consequences that flow from
all this.

Where would we be in all this political persecution without the financial aid
canvassed from the public here and overseas by the public-spirited men and women
working in solo fashion or under the auspices of organisations such as the
Treason Trial Defence Fund, Christian Action in England and others. We thank
them all.

This appreciation covers others who have raised funds for other political
cases and for the defence lawyers in all political cases that have come before
the courts of the land, particularly the Treason Trial defence lawyers. With
much devotion, sacrifice and dignity all have done their work to great effect
and much credit to themselves.

The Nationalist Party Government has extended and tightened its apartheid
paralysing squeeze on seemingly hitherto untouched sections of life and

Industries and commerce are beginning to squeal. Some educationists and some
parents in the white community are becoming worried about some educational
trends encouraged if not sponsored, by the Nationalist Party.

Christian churches are greatly hampered in their ministry among Africans in
urban and rural areas by apartheid laws and regulations.

In the Western world church schools with an emphasis on Christian education
exist side by side with state schools, but not in the Union in the case of
Africans. It could not be the fear of communistic influence. Certainly not in
church school. What is the fear then? White supremacy is being maintained at
great cost to the country. It is no mere rhetoric to say that apartheid is
proving to be a Frankenstein. It is stating an unfolding reality.

Oppression in any guise cannot pay any country dividends. Wise statesmanship
will mortgage a country’s future for goodwill, unity, justice and fairplay
among its people on the basis of "DO UNTO OTHERS WHAT YE WOULD THEY DO UNTO
YOU". The much maligned ANC strives to have the country invest its energy
in building a South Africa where all its people regardless of race and colour
can unitedly say: "We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our
country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,
black and white, and that no Government can justly claim authority unless it is
based on the will of the people; … that our country will never be prosperous
or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and

It should be plain from this extract of the Freedom Charter that embodies the
principles of our political creed that:

  • We accept the fact of the multi-racial nature of our country;
  • To us race and colour are mere accidents of birth and environment and
    should not be a dominant and determining factor in human relationship.
  • That time will evolve a broad South African culture whose main strand will
    be the aggressive Western culture.
  • We believe in an unpartitioned South Africa that respects freedom of
    association and residence.

The policy of separate development assumes without proof that people of a
different race cannot live together. It is not a question of a community being
fairly homogeneous. It took years of strife to establish democracy in England,
France and in other countries of Europe. Germany under Hitler and Italy under
Mussolini virtually renounced democracy in our day. Greed and a desire to
dominate others have always been the enemy of democracy.

The tragedy of our situation is that the overwhelming majority of white South
Africa support the Nationalist Party on the colour issue. That is why the
official opposition, the United Party, tries but unsuccessfully to out-Nat the
Nationalist. Few would mourn its demise. In the circumstances it will be
deserving of an ignominious end if it continues to place expediency over moral
principles, showing that like the Nationalist Party, it denies the universal
validity of democracy. We believe that it is possible and desirable even in
heterogeneous communities like multi-racial communities to develop a spirit of
common nationality sustained by loyalty to a common fatherland and by the
cherishing of common ideals and aspirations that respect civilised standards.

We face a situation where Dr. Verwoerd, a potential dictator, has succeeded
to gain undisputed control of the Nationalist Party and so in turn of

With all the force at my command I would like to impress on Conference the
fact that the advent of Dr. Verwoerd, and some of his fire-eaters and
lieutenants means that we have entered a most crucial and decisive stage in our
struggle for freedom. The foundation and some skeletal framework of an apartheid
South Africa has been built. The Nationalist Government during its last session
of Parliament in the passing of such bills as the Promotion of Bantu
Self-Government, the Extension of University Education, establishing tribal
colleges and the transfer of Fort Hare University College has just about
completed its evil design it has been working on since it came into power in

The Government has obtained from successive Parliaments since 1948 legal
sanctions for their evil discriminatory plans intended to seal our doom in
perpetual servitude in the interest of white supremacy and domination.

Adding on to legislation of previous governments it has fully armed itself to
deal most cruelly with anyone who opposes and defies it.

From my opening remarks it is clear that the government on the slightest
pretext has used those powers and will increasingly do so. We must brace
ourselves to meet this grim situation with heroic fortitude.

We are not without Hope

Since Union we have witnessed an ascendancy of forces in the white group that
worked for the re-incarnation of slavery in New Look forms. Apartheid has
emerged as the evil policy of these reactionary forces.

Elsewhere in this address I have said that this has provoked a progressive
aggressive resistance from the blacks themselves and from a growing number of
freedom lovers in the white community who have all - black and white - made
creditable efforts to challenge and resist apartheid with "a courage that
rises with danger".

We have come to a point where there is a growing support for the idea of
building a BROAD FREEDOM FRONT AGAINST APARTHEID. In concern for the mutual
respect of the views of others the co-operating groups in this Front maintain
their respective political programmes and confessions of a political faith.

Within the Christian Church voices condemnatory of apartheid are becoming
more vigorous and more frequent in their denunciation of it. The recent attack
on University Education shocked many white intellectuals and others to a belated
realisation that one of the bastions of freedom and democracy was being
seriously assailed to the harm of South Africa as a whole and to the non-white
in particular.


An encouraging new feature in the growth of the militant spirit of the ANC
has been the growth among the African people of what may be termed a Congress
spirit among the masses. Effective demonstrations have been initiated
spontaneously in some communities by local leadership in response to the
Congress spirit within them. There are obvious dangers in this. But the duty of
Congress is to encourage and direct this mass upsurge of the oppressed people.
Yes, "We are not without hope."

Support for our liberation is not only internal but external.

Important sections of world opinion are most critical of the Union policy of
apartheid and openly condemn it vehemently.

Agencies like the United Nations, the World Council of Churches and some
organisations in many countries, are in the vanguard of this condemnation of
apartheid. Some independent states of Africa and the newly emergent states,
despite facing many reconstruction problems, should continue to meet and feel a
deep concern and responsibility for helping to free the rest of Africa still
under the white rule, of white tutelage, as in the case of the African states
coming under the so-called "French Community" in Africa.

To this era the question of the liberation of Africa figured prominently at
two Conferences that met in Ghana. The first in 1957 was that of the independent
states of Africa and the other in 1958 was an All-Africa Peoples’ Conference.

Some African leaders, notwithstanding the fact that their own territories are
still struggling to gain complete freedom, as in Kenya, are actively concerned
about our situation in the Union to the extent of taking a lead in initiating
through Trade Union the boycott of South African goods in terms of the aforesaid
All-African Peoples’ Conference.

We are most grateful and deeply appreciative of the efforts of all these
groups and individuals, here and outside our borders, and overseas, who have
given unstinted support, by word and action to our liberation struggle. We dare
not, by our lethargy, cowardice and indifference, dampen the spirits of our
gallant supporters. Rather, their efforts should ginger us to redouble our
freedom efforts.

The Nature of our Struggle

As a practical man my assessment is that our struggle will be long and grim
and that the Nationalist Party leaders mean it when they say: "Over our
dead bodies."

Why should it be so? Our task is to see to it that the democratic form of
government and the values inherent in democracy become the accepted pattern and
are valued by all people in the land. One evil of Bantu Authorities is that it
does not give people training in the democratic fashion. Tribalism had some
values and usages that suited a simple life and culture but is most ill-equipped
to meet the demands of life in a dynamic scientific age. Chiefs themselves on
whom the system must revolve may be possessed of Native wisdom, but, not of the
knowledge required of leaders of this age.


It is unfortunate for the government to incite people to violence. This could
be the effect of pronouncements like the one recently made by the Minister of
Defence, Mr. Erasmus, when he said that preparations are in progress to place
units of the defence force at several strategic areas in order "to have the
army ready to assist the civil authorities in case of internal uprisings."

Notwithstanding all this, I counsel the oppressed to brace up and prepare
themselves to meet this threat to our existence as a people by exploring to the
full the possibilities of non-violent methods of struggle. This is the
suggestion in our interest. One is not guided by pacifist considerations, but by
practical considerations that led Congress in 1949 to decide to prosecute on
this basis its militant struggle for liberty.

Protest demonstrations, defiance campaigns, stay-at-home of limited duration
are very necessary warming up process to train people for more exacting forms of


One suspects the operation of influence that clamour for "action"
without a prior careful consideration of situations.

If that should be so I counsel those responsible for it to desist from such
reckless haste and impatience which would be suicidal and might be playing into
the hands of the government.

A Provincial Executive may at its instance or at the instance of the National
Executive make a careful consideration and assessment of a situation to advise
the National Executive as to the state of readiness of the people to undertake
any campaign.

Implicit loyalty and discipline are expected of members and officials in the
handling of such matters. Short of a vote of non-confidence National Conference
itself may not authorise a campaign or demonstration without the prior advise of
the National Executive. Now that the liberation struggle is assuming a mass
character, Congress members and organs, including auxiliaries, should take note
of this advise on a democratic procedure.

"We are not without Strength and some Advantages"

Ad nauseam I have said: "We are not without strength. White South Africa
is vulnerable."

We are a giant that does not know its strength. When white oppressors impress
people with their military might and knowledge we should show the people that it
is because the white men fear us that they have curbed our advance by apartheid


Given an opportunity Africans in other territories do skilled work, e.g.,
Belgium Congo, Kenya.

We come from a brave sturdy stock.

We can mobilise and harness our economic power as workers and as
consumers to strengthen our liberation movement.

The Annual Report of the Secretary-General has useful suggestions on this

Our sympathisers are organising overseas boycotts of South African goods.
This should be an incentive to us in our limited boycott field here. We are
awfully tardy about it and lack diligence and consistency in prosecuting it. We
quickly get bored of routine. We need to practise the discipline of drudgery.

We do have some advantage over the government in the next stage. This is the
stage of implementation of apartheid laws. It is now that the people will feel
their rough rub in extra taxation and levies, rehabilitation schemes; those
present who will have been arbitrarily classified as workers will find
themselves with no immediate prospects of employment. We shall be doomed if we
fail to meet the succour the people in their plight of being forced to re-make
their way of life to satisfy the whims of apartheid. Let us not miss the bus: We
need an army of voluntary workers under expert full time guidance.

1960 and Africa

Africa is very much astir. She is fast freeing herself from the shackles of
colonialism. The year 1960 could be described as a Year of Destiny for many
areas in Africa.

The Flag of Independence will fly – in the Federation of Nigeria, in the
trust Territories of Togoland, in Italian Somaliland and in one or two other
territories. Tanganyika is at the door-step of independence.

  • Kenya and Uganda await important constitutional changes that may make
    "partnership" in these territories a real democracy instead of
    being virtually a white oligarchy.
  • The government of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland will be
    pressing for independence outside a Federation. She never wanted to be in
    any case.
  • Belgian Congo eagerly awaits constitutional changes that will give her
    some self-government. This is still an inadequate response to the people’s
    struggle for liberation which the Belgian Government tried to suppress with


The Union of South Africa will be celebrating her Jubilee Anniversary. A year
of rejoicing for whites. We cannot celebrate our enslavement, for 1959 saw
Africans lose the last vestige of representation they had in Parliament – at
that a mere token one – and instead given a mockery of
"self-government" in the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act – a
fraud and an insult perpetrated on a voteless and defenceless people.

While on Africa let me say:

  • We protest at and condemn the brutality of the territorial government of
    the Federation in suppressing the liberation efforts of Africans in the
    Rhodesias and Nyasaland. Where is British justice and fairness in all this?
  • We call for the release of Banda and his colleagues.
  • British should grant Nyasaland the independence she is asking for and not
    sell the African people there to a white settler controlled government as
    she sold us unconditionally to whites when she granted the four colonies to
    form the Union of South Africa.
  • France should stop insulting Africa. She offered her colonies freedom but
    under duress with the humiliating result of many ‘agreeing’ to be known
    as a "French Community" being in Africa and remained under the
    control of metropolitan France; she is engaging in a bloodbath in Algeria
    and denying her the independence her people want; against vehement protests
    by African independent states, some Middle East countries and other
    countries she refuses to stop exploding the atomic bomb.
  • Events in the Belgian Congo prove once more that with self-respecting
    people an offer of material welfare in servitude or even opulence can be no
    substitute for freedom and human dignity.
  • The rule of whites only in the Union of South Africa and Portuguese rule
    in Africa continue to be the most ruthless and the most determined in
    denying Africans in these territories freedom.

The World Scene

On the world scene I say:

  • We thank the countries of the world that give us some support in our
    struggle for freedom and democracy in the Union of South Africa.
  • In the present day scramble for Africa by affluent and mightier world
    powers the newly emerged independent countries of Africa must guard against
    selling away our African heritage and prestige. The past of Africa lies
    buried in the unrecorded deeds of our forebears. The absence of records robs
    of proof of their glorious deeds. It is left to us to redeem her honour in a
    world where whites have vilified her for so long.
  • It is to be regretted that force was used in the dispute between China and
    India. We urge that the two countries should settle their dispute amicably.

In Conclusion


  • Our struggle for freedom will remain an unfinished task until freedom is
  • Freedom will surely come if everybody does his duty by Africa.
  • No one can stop the onward march of a determined people.