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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: "THE LIBERATION STRUGGLE IS ON IN EARNEST" in our own South Africa and 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 this.

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 communities.

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 opportunities…"

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 Parliament.

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 1948.

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 non-violence.


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 laws.


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 point.

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 ruthlessness.


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 won.
  • Freedom will surely come if everybody does his duty by Africa.
  • No one can stop the onward march of a determined people.