Paper On The Group Areas Act And Its Effects On The Indian People Of Natal, May 195649


1. The Group Areas Act enacted by the Union Parliament over six years ago in 1950 may be described as the high water mark of the Union’s legislation against non-European land rights in South Africa. Like its predecessors, the chief aim of this law is to give effect to the racial policy of the white ruling group in South Africa.

2. Segregation and apartheid are fundamentally based on the maintenance of white domination by creating a reservoir of cheap labour among the non-white population of the country. As far as the African people are concerned, territorial segregation has been deeply rooted in the Union’s history and Conference has the benefit of having before it the views of Chief Albert J. Luthuli, President-General of the African National Congress, on this vital question.

 3. While this paper of the Natal Indian Congress deals specifically with the effects of the Act on the Indian community, nevertheless it is right and proper to emphasise that this law is aimed at the entire non-white people of the Union. The Land Act of 1913, the Urban Areas Act of 1923 and the subsequent amendments to it and the Native Trust and Land Act, 1936, are some of the primary laws directed against the African population.

4. To the Coloured people of the Union the Group Areas Act comes as a first attack on their land rights.

As far as the Indian community is concerned, laws dealing with its land restrictions also go back into history. In the Transvaal, Law 3 was enacted in 1885. We have the history of the "Class Areas Bill" and the "Areas Reservation Bill" introduced before the so-called Cape Town Agreement of 1927. There was the Natal Pegging Act of 1943 and in 1946 the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act was passed. The Group Areas Act is indeed a climax to the many laws that came before it seeking to attack the property rights of the Indian community.

5. The Group Areas Act is a product of the Nationalist Party and hence it embodies that Party’s policy of apartheid.

6. When this measure was before Parliament Dr the Hon. D. F. Malan, the then Prime Minister of South Africa, made it known that Parliament was dealing with undoubtedly the most important of all apartheid measures. "What we have in this Bill before us is apartheid. It is the essence of the apartheid policy which is embodied in this Bill", declared Dr Malan.

7. What precisely apartheid means is difficult to determine even from the pronouncements of Nationalists themselves. A study of official and semi-official statements on this question leaves one with a very confused picture. But removed of its frills and trimmings, apartheid is an accentuated form of the policy of segregation, though differing in some respects from the traditional segregation policies of the previous Union Governments. A study of the Manifesto issued by the Nationalist Party, prior to their coming to power in 1948, throws some light on apartheid and the non-European policies of the Nationalist Government.

8. Dealing with the Indian people the Manifesto, after declaring that the Nationalists believed in the definite policy of separation between the white and non-white racial groups, says: "The Party holds the view that Indians are a foreign and outlandish element (Vreemde En Uitheemse) which is unassimilable. They can never become part of the country and they must therefore be treated as an immigrant community." The Nationalists accept as a basis of their policy the repatriation of as many Indians as possible. The Manifesto adds: "So long as there are Indians in the country, a definite policy of separation will be applied as far as possible between Europeans and Indians in every sphere, as well as between Indians and other indigenous non-European groups."

9. When the Group Areas Bill was introduced in Parliament the Government sought to justify its action by primarily relying on the report of the Inter-departmental Sub-Committee appointed by Dr Donges50  in 1948. The Joint Report of the Asiatic Land Tenure Laws Amendment Committee, published in 1950 on the eve of the enactment of the Group Areas Act, makes interesting reading and underlines that one of the chief aims of this law is to attack the Indian people. The so-called Indian question seemed to have been uppermost in the mind of these sub-committees.

10. It was not surprising that these Committees to some extent re-echoed the policies and precepts of Dr Donges, the Nationalist Minister of the Interior, who had appointed them. Their findings are blatantly of a political nature and bear little resemblance to what may be expected of a judicial commission.

"Before stating our recommendations we feel that reference should be made to one matter which, strictly speaking, falls outside our terms of reference but which is so closely associated in the public mind with the Asiatic question that it has a determining influence on the evidence tendered to us and accordingly also on recommendations based on such evidence and that is the possibility of repatriating the Asiatics from South Africa.

"There appears to be an ever-growing belief in the public mind that the only satisfactory solution of the Asiatic question is repatriation, and that whatever is done by way of legislation should be such as not to endanger the possibility of repatriation and deprive the public of one of its most deeply cherished hopes.

"The fundamental theme of the evidence throughout the years has been and still is: repatriation or, failing which, compulsory segregation. In the most recent evidence there is noticeable a distinct tendency for this theme to assume the form of: repatriation, and, pending which, compulsory segregation... In its most advanced form this then reads: repatriation and, failing which, compulsory segregation with boycott to induce repatriation."

11. One may observe that in the typical South African racialist pattern these Committees use the word "public" to mean only the white racial group of the Union. The report further adds that failing or pending repatriation, "the present situation has to be dealt with incisively if civil commotions arising from racial tension and strife are to be avoided. We can see no way of attaining this end except to legislate for total territorial segregation of the different racial groups, so that in the course of time homogeneous racial groups are brought about". (para. 333 of the Report).

12. Hence the Group Areas Act was born.

13. It is significant that because of the Nationalist policy of regarding the Indian people as a foreign, alien and outlandish element to be expatriated, the Act makes primary provision only for the "White", "Native" and "Coloured" groups. In this primary division there is no room for the Indian people. By Proclamation 73 issued on the 30th of March, 1951, the Indian group was created as a sub-division of the Coloured group, perhaps to emphasise the immigrant status given by the Nationalist Government to the Indian people.


1. The Group Areas Act is perhaps the only law of a member State of the United Nations which was circulated to delegates of the General Assembly as an official document for consideration when the world forum discussed the racial policies of the Union Government.

2. It is natural that this law should have received the condemnation of democratic world opinion, for does not Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights read:

"1. Every one has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others;

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property"?

3. The Act, its background and the present policy of the Nationalist Government all go to indicate that this law seriously infringes the principles contained in this international Declaration.

4. Within the borders of the Union this Act is totally opposed by the vast majority of the people. In 1946 the Indian people of the Union, under the banner of the Congress, launched Passive Resistance Campaign against this Act’s predecessor, the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act. In opposition to that law over two thousand men and women, young and old, served terms of imprisonment in order to show their abhorrence of the principles underlying it.

5. In 1952, under the leadership of the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress, the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign was launched against a number of measures, amongst whom was the Group Areas Act. In that heroic struggle over 8,500 individuals of all races went to jail rejecting the policy of apartheid and upholding the principles of democracy. That opposition to the Act is enshrined in the hearts of the masses of South Africa.

6. We reject apartheid and the contention that separation of races leads to racial harmony in a multi-racial society. We oppose the uprooting of any peoples from their homes and we are firmly convinced that the policy of apartheid leads further to the oppression of the non-European people. The application of this policy has accentuated racial tension, conflict and bitterness on an unprecedented scale. No policy which attempts to keep the majority of the population of South Africa under permanent subjection or "baaskap" can ever succeed. The non-European people rightly claim full democratic rights in the land of their birth.

7. In relation to the Indian community, it is clear that the real motives behind the Group Areas Act are:

(a) To deprive the Indian people of their long established ownership of land and homes;

(b) To facilitate the uprooting and expatriation of South African citizens of Indian origin;

(c) To ruin the Indian people economically; and

(d) To confine them to ghettos as a source of cheap labour.

8. Any act conceived under the policy of "baaskap" and apartheid and passed by Parliament from which all non-Europeans are strictly excluded can only be in the interest of the white dominating section of South Africa.

9. A law which is manifestly unjust cannot be applied justly.

10. Arising from the above contentions the Congress policy on the Act is unambiguous and clear. We declare our total opposition to the law and at no stage will we be a party to its implementation.

11. This paper is being presented to a Conference which is historic in that it presents a broad united front against the Act which is the cornerstone of the policy of apartheid.

12. Not only have we to be united but we must be for ever vigilant.

This paper was presented by Dr G. M. Naicker, on behalf of the Natal Indian Congress, to the Conference on the Group Areas Act, convened by the NIC in Durban on May 5-6, 1956. Only the first and last sections of the paper are reproduced here. The rest of the paper contains an analysis of the Group Areas Act and the Group Areas Development Act and information on its effect in Durban.

Dr T. E. Donges, Minister of the Interior