Presidential Address, by Dr. A.B. Xuma

14 December 1941 

Fellow Countrymen,

If you may ever need comfort, courage and inspiration for the difficult yet manly task I am going to urge you to assume, I advise you to pin on the walls of your hearts the wise words of our Prime Minister, the Right Hon­ourable Field-Marshal J.C. Smuts who said recently, "Do not mind being called agitators. Let them call you any names they like but get on with the job and see that matters that vitally require attention. Native Health, Native Food, the treatment of Native Children and all those cognate questions that are basic to the Welfare of South Africa are attended to."

In the founding of the African National Congress in 1912, African leaders of that day displayed a great vision and laid a broad and deep foundation upon which to build the superstructure for African freedom and liberty in the land of their forefathers. They proclaimed through the organization they set up and the efforts they made, that, only through unity and concerted action of all leaders from our various races and classes may we hope to achieve our freedom and obtain justice and a fair play in South Africa. They made sacrifices and suffered privations in the cause of African freedom. Some went to gaol and became unpopular with power and influence but remained loyal and true to the cause of their people. Thus they were the architects of our salvation. Thus they pointed the way for us. They showed that freedom is precious and a heavy price must be paid to obtain it.

With our State Native Policy and the racial attitude in general, to serve your people honestly and sincerely; to take an uncompromising stand on their behalf, is to become unpopular in certain high and influential quarters.

You and I are inheritors of these great traditions. We are debtors to their fine examples. We are called upon to copy their fine example of sacrifice. We are urged not only to build upon the foundation they laid but also to improve and modernise the plan of their structure. To do this it requires the best African brains, and I believe we have them at this Conference. It calls for the greatest effort and sacrifice from every man and woman of our race. It means for all of us wherever we are and whoever we are to do our duty. Congress claims us. Congress demands our best service for our people.

Since Congress was founded and made its initial spectacular success it has experienced periods of inactivity because you and I thought and believed that organizations led by non-Africans were more dignified than African organizations and thus we abandoned our organizations and surrendered our leadership to others. We, especially the intellectuals, so-called, have been more loyal to this new leadership. We are better trained than the founders of Congress but we do not seem willing to think and act for ourselves as did these old stalwarts.

To-day you and I, the better trained we are, seem more disposed to work under orders and direction of others against and away from African organizations. Someone said to me one day, with some degree of truth, "We uneducated Africans feel that the educated African is lost to us. He is afraid to identify himself with his own people. When crisis .arises, he is either silent or joins the forces against his own people. We do not know whether the education you get puts fear in you." I was dumbfounded; but was somewhat ashamed because you and I, outside our jobs for which we are paid, have not done the best we can to assist our people. Fellow Countrymen, this is a challenge. Shall we not pick up the gauntlet? South Africa, white and black, needs us. We must pull our full weight; we must make our real contribution to the building and the progress of South Africa to the full benefit, mutual helpfulness and happiness of all sections, white and black.

Let us stand for, and with, our people as long, as we are in the right.

Our position and place is what it is in South Africa and will remain what it is until you and I realise that no race can save another. Each people must rise through the efforts and leadership of its own members. Others can and must help. In spite of this I am very much encouraged to find that during the past year Congress has received the support and co-operation of all African groups and organizations. The representations that Congress made before Government Commissions have been supported and adopted by most responsible groups. We are, therefore, proud and happy at the evidence of this unity which means strength and hope for our people.

It will not be amiss here to remind you of the aims and objects of the Congress as enunciated by its founders.... Thus the African National Congress is the mouthpiece of the African people of the Union of South Africa. All its efforts are and must be concentrated upon raising the status of the African people from their semi-serfdom to citizenship. To work for this end and to achieve it, the leaders of Congress cannot hope to be popular with any of those who would exclude the African from citizenship rights.

We cannot go on blindly and hope to achieve our goal. We must have a plan; we must have a programme of action.


In a democratic country all members of the State must be part of the policy moulding machinery. They must have a voice and a vote in the affairs of the State. However, in South Africa the African has no vote and, therefore, no voice in South African affairs. He has ingeniously been disfranchised and put in differentiated pseudo-franchise which disfranchise the most qualified people under any fair, just, and equitable system of franchise. Under the Representation of Natives` Act, the individual educated person is victimised. In rural areas only the chiefs under the influence of the Native Commissioners are voters. In urban areas, the Advisory Boards, some under the influence of the Superintendents are voters. The professional man, the teacher, the minister, the property owner outside locations, have no vote, and, therefore, cannot choose a representative either to the Native Representative Council, to the House of Assembly, or to the Senate except in the Cape Province.

In a country in which two-million Europeans are represented in Municipal Councils, Provincial Councils besides 150 members in the House of Assembly and 40 in the Senate, there are only three members in the House of Assembly and 4 Senators to represent six to eight million Africans. There are no members in the House of Assembly to represent Africans in the Free State, Transvaal and Natal. The Transvaal and the Free State on the one hand and Natal on the other are represented by one Senator respectively. In the Native Representative Council there are 12 members elected by Chiefs in Rural Areas and by Advisory Boards in Urban Areas, and 4 members nominated by the Government-with 5 Chief Native Commissioners and the Chairman representing the Government. The Council has only advisory functions and no legislative power. The Representation of Natives` Act not only gives inadequate representation but also excludes the best qualified Africans from being voters. It may justly be called the Mis-Representation of Natives` Act.

We must work for:-

·         Adequate representations and right of franchise for Africans.

·         Participation of Africans, as voters and citizens, in the building of a Union Policy acceptable to all sections including the African.

·         Representation of Africans in all Government chambers and Government departments.


The fundamental basis of all wealth and power is the ownership and acquisition of freehold title to land. From land, we derive our existence. We derive our wealth in minerals, food, and other essentials. On land we build our homes. Without land we cannot exist. To all men of whatever race or colour land, therefore, is essential for their wealth, prosperity, and health. Without land-rights any race will be doomed to poverty, destitution, ill-health and lack of all life`s essentials. In South Africa all our legislation aims at depriving the African of all right and title to land, in both rural and urban areas. He is made a perpetual and eternal tenant of the State and Municipalities so that he may forever be dependent for existence and wages upon Europeans who are, alone, entitled to get as much land as they can use and even more than what they can use but may hold it for future speculation while Africans are landless, homeless, destitute, and starving.

The over-crowding of the reserves is no accident. Generations of young men come of age in many of these areas but no land is available for their occupation so that tens of thousands of-them are squatting on their fathers` limited areas. As many as 2 to 4 families squat on such little plots in surveyed areas.

Much of this over-crowding of stock we hear so much about is a mis­representation of the position. Few people have as many as 5 head of cattle or more. The problem is over-population due to limited land space. The solution is not limitation of stock as it is often officially urged even though no one would object to the improvement of the quality of stock. The solution will be the opening up of more land for occupation by Africans through all forms of tenure possible for them, that is, freehold, lease-hold, and rental, as the case may be.

The provisions of the Natives` Land Act (1913) and the Natives` Land Trust Act Amendment (1936) do not tend to solve the land problem in the rural areas. They tend to aggravate and confuse the situation. The land is available to be held communally under restricted conditions and rent must be paid in perpetuity. The land, under the conditions of the Land and Trust Act is bought at highly inflated prices and thereby increases the rentals. These poor people must carry a heavy financial burden in rents.

Under this Act no land is available for sale to individuals or groups of Africans who wish to buy. Further, no facilities are available to them, such as the Land Bank to assist them to acquire or improve their land. The whole land policy has been of benefit to European farmers who have made unheard of profits for the sale of farms in their names without any real improvements having been effected by them.

In fact, the over-crowding of the reserves, the lack of facilities to encourage the acquisition of freehold title by Africans are not an accident or an insoluble problem. They are part of a studied land policy which aims at providing an uninterrupted flow of cheaply paid labour and an absence of independent self-sufficient African farmers who would be under no European control.

In urban areas, under the Urban Areas Act, 1923, provisions are only made for accommodation of those Africans who are potential labourers for Europeans. These Africans must be accommodated in locations or hostels. Even though the idea of Native villages is provided for under the Act, it has not been encouraged in practice. No provision is made for the acquisition of freehold titles by Africans generally except in townships that were allowed before the Act came into force. Here, also, over-crowding exists because areas available to Africans and Non-Europeans in general are very limited and, therefore, become slums.

In all this land policy the worst and most dangerous clause is the restriction that provides that no Native may buy land from a non-Native except with the Governor-General`s approval to the transaction. The provision is universally acceptable in government and European quarters because the native generally speaking has no land to sell. This ensures that there is little chance for Africans securing more land and therefore, independence.

Congress must, therefore, work and negotiate for:-

·         Adequate land for Africans and for Africans to acquire freehold title to land in rural and urban areas.

·         The right of Africans to secure freehold titles to land individually or collectively or as syndicates inside or outside released areas.

·         Right of Africans to purchase land from any seller anywhere in rural and urban areas.

·         Land Bank facilities to assist African farmers to purchase land to improve it.

Every effort must be made, now, during the war, to get adequate land for Africans as over-crowding and starvation are undermining the health and physique of our people for generations to come. The present conditions of land occupation and available land for Africans unfit them physically, mentally and even morally for survival.


The African is the worker of South Africa. However, because of his lack of political power and because of the existence of many statutory restrictions against him such as the Pass Laws, the Natives Service Contract Act, the Masters and Servants Act, the Natives` Labour Regulations, the African finds himself debarred from benefits of certain labour awards. For instance, the Pass Laws restrict his freedom of movement, limit his bargaining power, expose him to exploitation by a certain type of employer and exclude him from enjoying benefits to be derived from the Industrial Conciliation Act. The African is paid wages far below the cost of living.

He is debarred from skilled trades. He is a pawn between the white worker and the employer. He is forced to live below the bread line. Besides African wages are further depressed by the uneconomic system of recruiting and importation of African labour which exempts the mines from the operation of economic and industrial laws, supply and demand so far as Africans are concerned. He is allowed to trade on sufferance and under great restrictions. The African is a great producer and consumer of goods. He should, therefore, be allowed to trade freely according to his means and ability to help raise his economic status.

To achieve our ends in this direction, Congress must work for:

·         Removal of industrial and commercial restrictions against the African.

·         Living wage and better working conditions.

·         Right of all classes of African workers to organise into Trade Unions.

·         Recognition and Registration of African Trade Unions under African leadership by the Union Labour Department with all the rights, privileges and immunities appertaining to such organizations under the Industrial Conciliation Act.

·         Right of Africans to learn skilled trades and engage in them.

·         Trading rights for Africans anywhere.

·         Abolition of Pass Laws, Natives` Service Contract Act, The Masters` and Servants` Act, and other Special Disabilities.

·         Abolition of Recruiting and Importation of African labour from outside the Union.
All of us, whatever our status or calling, must join hands with all other classes in this fight for existence.


Recently the African has suffered severely at the hands of the police. During police raids not only assaults on Africans have taken place but, in the course of such raids, Africans have been actually shot dead. The situation in cities like Johannesburg has been aggravated by the appearance, as special constables, of the Civic Guards. They are more worry and a greater horror in the already harassed life of the African. Some of them do not seem to use much judgment in carrying out their duties. They seem to have no regard either to time, circumstances or persons.

Some of them search all and sundry. Any questions or reluctance on the part of the African often leads to man-handling of the victim. These high-handed methods of both the police and the "civic guards" do not tend to arouse a spirit of good race relations. One feels that there are many people under these circumstances who are given authority over the African without the necessary discipline and training for the task. The Pass Laws and Police Raids in general must be abolished in justice to the African and as a measure of relief to him.

Those who want to fight should go to the various battlefronts instead of attacking defenceless and unarmed Africans.


Africans in South Africa are the worst paid and consequently the poorest section of the community. Generally speaking they have no margin from their earnings to set aside for a rainy day; consequently, during old age, disablement and non-employment they find themselves with nothing with which to support themselves. As a group Africans are more in need of benefits from the Social Welfare Departments than any other section in South Africa. The Africans, therefore, should be eligible to receive all benefits from Social Welfare Departments.

It should be the task of the African National Congress to work for:-

·         Old age pensions for Africans.

·         Disability and Disablement pensions.

·         Extensions of provisions of the Children`s Act to meet social re­quirements of destitute African children-adequate maintenance grants.


Africans in South Africa have the highest Infant Mortality rate, highest mortality and morbidity rates, than any section. The causes are not racial but economic. The people are poverty stricken with low wages, lack of adequate food, semi-starvation, bad housing and therefore, low resistance to disease and consequent ill-health and premature death. Adequate hospital accommodation is desirable but hospital accommodation required can be reduced if the people are paid good wages to relieve them from poverty in order to buy their health through sufficient food, good housing and other amenities.

We must work for:-

·         Adequate well-equipped and adequately staffed hospitals-General and Special.

·         Full extension of public health and preventative health measures to Africans.

·         The training of Africans in medicine, surgery and public health and cognate subjects, training of health visitors, health inspectors and nurses, and their eligibility for public employment on basis of ability and training and recognised professional rates and conditions.


Man is not born with well-developed instincts like most animals. Unlike other animals he requires a long period of care and education. He must be taught.

Under the present conditions Native Education is not State-Controlled. It is only State-Aided. The missionaries establish the schools and provide the buildings. The Government through the Provincial Education Departments, pays the teachers` salaries. Native Education is at present financed from a block grant made up of £340,000 from the general revenue and the rest a sum voted from revenue accruing from Native Taxation under the Native Taxation and Development Act, 1925.

Only about one-third of the African children of school-going age are accom­modated in these schools which are always overcrowded and under-staffed.

The African teachers are the most overworked and paid the deplorable salary of £4.10.0dto £ 5.19.Od a month.
So far there has never been enough funds to meet the requirements of even the one-third of school population now accommodated in schools. As a consequence many of our children are growing wild without an opportunity of school education and discipline.

They get their education on the streets and back-alleys from where they graduate into reformatories and finally gaols and many people wonder why there is a high and increasing rate of African Juvenile Delinquency. The Government must be asked for adequate funds but it is difficult to expect the Government to distribute lavishly public funds over a system of education over which they have no control. How can we expect them to satisfy the numerous competing mission groups?
We thank the missionaries for pioneering in, and laying the foundation of African Education. However, time and circumstances have changed.

Congress, therefore, urges for:-

·         Free Public School system of education controlled by the Government through the various Provincial Education Departments.

·         Provision of School Buildings and equipment by the State.

·         Financing of Native Education on a per caput basis from the General Revenue based on the number of children of school-going age.

·         Higher salaries for the African Teacher with Civil Service Status and pension rights compatible with the requirements of their profession under modem conditions.

·         Unlimited opportunities for scholastic education and technical training for employment in Civil Service and skilled trades without colour or racial restrictions.

·         Formation of school boards with direct representations of Africans on such boards.

·         Appointment of qualified Africans into any post in African educational institutions.


Almost all Departments of State deal with African Affairs. In all these departments the candidates for the graded positions have to undergo some training and apprenticeship. Africans contribute directly and indirectly for the upkeep of these departments. We welcome the recent move by the Native Affairs Department for the appointment of Africans to certain senior posts. We urge the training of Africans and the employment of them generally in all Civil Service and Public Service other than Native Affairs. Africans must be employed in the administration of the country like others in increasing numbers and with adequate pay and pensions.


I now come to a question that affects our people vitally especially in rural areas. It affects Chiefs and people alike. I refer to the operation of the Native Administration Act. Under this Act the Governor General who in this case, is the Native Affairs, has absolute dictatorial powers over our people. He may remove tribes, appoint and depose chiefs at will if it is thought of course by some Native Commissioner that such action is in the interest of good government whatever that may mean. He may deport a member or members of the tribe. Such member or members of the tribe may not be tried before a Court of Law. It is suggested that such powers are derived from African law and custom and the Governor-General exercises them as "Supreme Chief of the Africans in the Orange Free State, Transvaal and Natal."

In his high office as the Viceroy we bow to the Governor-General; but on the basis of African law and custom he cannot be recognized as Supreme Chief of the African. There can be no Supreme Chief in Native law and custom who acts without the advice of other chiefs; who does not express the wish and will of the people. The most controlled person in African society is the chief. He is controlled by his family, his councillors, headmen and sub-chiefs and finally by the people. The people express their will first and the Chief speaks it out for them. He is their mouthpiece.

This distortion of Native Law and Custom was copied by Europeans from the rule of Great Chaka. He was a dictator and a despot. He was not deposed because there is no deposition in African custom. He went the way such un­controlled Chiefs go in African society. He had his head cut off.

There is no deportation of members of the tribe. If a man is unruly, the Chief "eats him up", that is, fines him until he runs across the border by night. This deportation clause does not even recognise the rule of law in English law, namely, that an accused person cannot suffer penalty without trial. The Native Administration Act is tyranny invoked in the name of customary law. We must fight for the revision of this abuse and misrepresentation of African customs.


I take up now a question that interests all of us but which is, nevertheless, not essential. I refer to the nomination of candidates under the Representation of Natives` Act. Sometime ago the Provinces received a letter from the Secretary-General asking for nominations under this Act. I have since, however, studied the question and its implications in relation to our organisation and have come to the conclusion that for the present, Congress must not sponsor any candidates either nationally or provincially. Any nominations, therefore, made in any Pro­vince will be made by qualified voters in that Province and not by the Provincial Congresses. This, however, does not preclude any voters, as such, exercising their choice; but such nominee or nominees are not endorsed by Congress either nationally or provincially. To Congress we must be loyal and true. For Congress, we must forget any personal or sectional interests or gain. We must put the cause and the interests of the people before any expediency.

My ruling is in the interests of the Congress and all genuine supporters and well-wishers of this organization will abide by it. To be true leaders, we must put the interests and welfare of our people above our own.


The last point I would like to discuss with you is the problem of military service and the African in the Union of South Africa.

We are thrilled at the exploits of African forces from other parts of Africa. West Africans and the King`s African Rifles from Central Africa have distinguished themselves in the campaign against Fascist Italy. We are proud of their record in the fight to destroy the Italian African Empire. We learn that 90,000 of them took part in this campaign that is now history. West Africans are flying in Great Britain. Some have been commissioned in the Royal Air Force. South Africa and South Africans, black and white are safer to-day because these black African soldiers with their white comrades at-arms have barred the way.

Our own people have volunteered to serve King and country anywhere and in anyway; but our Government has restricted their service to manual labour. Their pay has been deplorably low. In fact, that one shilling and sixpence a day for unmarried African soldiers is just six-pence more than the allowance which, I understand, was given to internees, enemies of the State, whose dependents were receiving £2.10.0 to £ 5.0.0 allowance in addition, and that, for working against the Government. Our African soldiers in the Union unlike Coloureds and Indians cannot rise higher than the position of Sergeant and it seems that there have been attempts to differentiate and humiliate them further in certain directions. They are not receiving the extra shilling a day allowed for doing extra work such as clerical work, training transport drivers, and so on. There is also the problem of the disabled soldier and the discharged soldier. All these matters tend to discourage the enthusiasm of our people to join and put African leaders in a most embarrassing position.

While it is our desire to see our people armed and fighting like other soldiers, Lord Gort`s memoirs, recently published, seem to indicate that if the training of Africans for active service was begun now it may not be until 1943 before they are fit to take their part safely and efficiently in a campaign under modern war conditions.

It would be a sign of irresponsibility on my part to discuss publicly all the causes of reluctance of the African to join. I feel, therefore, without disclosing some of the more delicate questions, that Congress must take steps for representations to be made to the Right Honourable the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence-Field Marshal J. C. Smuts and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Native Affairs-Colonel Deneys Reitz, on these questions of ARMY SERVICE, REPRESENTATION, LAND, EDUCATION, WAGES AND RECOGNITION AND REGISTRATION OF TRADE UNIONS, THE NA­TIVE ADMINISTRATION ACT AND THE PASS LAWS.

Our actions of loyalty do not mean contentment and happiness on our part. We are very much dissatisfied with the lot and status of our people. We want these improved immediately. But we realise that if our present State is taken over by a foreign nation, there will be new problems. Our condition may or may not be worse. We would rather fight for, and correct, the evils of our present State and incorporate in her legislation and administration all that is best for the advancement and happiness of our common humanity.

A question may arise in the minds of some of us whether these problems of LAND, REPRESENTATION, EDUCATION, WAGES AND PASS LAWS ETC. should not wait until after the war. I reply NO! Emphatically NO! These are urgent matters clammering for immediate solution. They are essential, now for the health, well-being, and happiness of the African people as for other sections. South Africa is fighting for freedom, for democracy, for Christianity, and for human decency, and these must be enjoyed by all who will, irrespective of race, creed or colour. At home, Africans have given from their meagre earnings, from their dire poverty, more than their proportionate share towards the various war funds. As in the past when king and country were at war, the Africans` loyalty now is not and never has been excelled by any section in South Africa, white or black, notwithstanding their hope-destroying disabilities under our State policy and practice. Africans are no fairweather loyalists or democrats.

They have not anywhere committed acts of sabotage against the State. They have volunteered to serve anywhere and in anyway, so that, to-day, European boys and African boys, from South Africa, are falling together on the same battleground. In Sidi Rezek, Lybia, enemy bullets made no distinction on basis of colour or duties being performed. White men and black men suffered the same death, sustained the same wounds and others were taken prisoners. African men, even as stretcher bearers, died attempt­ing to save lives of wounded European compatriots at the battle line. These Africans, whatever service they are assigned to do, are doing a man`s job. They are protecting white and black women in South Africa, and all those men who either are unfit for service, those who are exempted from service, or those who expect freedom to be a gift from somewhere not worth fighting for or dying for.
African boys are dying in defence of freedom, democracy, Christianity and human decency in South Africa. They are making this supreme sacrifice so that we, their Kith and Kin, may enjoy these privileges as well. They hope that we, at the home front, will defend their inherent rights and see that full justice is done to their wives and dependents so that they will not have died in vain. South Africa must play the game with the Africans now. If she gives them their legitimate right of citizenship thus more to fight for, she will get the Africans` quota for service without recruiting.

As long as these grave disabilities and glaring inconsistencies exist and are not adjusted or settled, they will continue to kill, disable, and handicap more Africans and bring more unhappiness to as many more African families than the deaths and disablement that this war will bring to South Africa. This is the battle of the home front. It must be fought and won now before the war is over as a basis for real peace.

In the past South Africa has legislated and governed for the benefits of the Europeans, the privileged group and upper cast of South Africa. Because she claims to be fighting for the ideals we have just mentioned, and also in memory of, and as a monument to, the lives of black boys who are falling and will fall in various battle fronts in her defence. South Africa must begin now to legislate for the welfare and benefit of all South Africans irrespective of race, creed or colour but must be based on human worth. Thus and thus only may South Africa win peace.

This is Congress Policy. This is the African`s charter in South Africa. This is the New Order for which he is dying up North, for which he must live and work. It can only be achieved through hard work on our part, through serious thinking, careful planning, great personal sacrifices and self-denial on the part of all people, particularly Africans who would like to see the African given an opportunity to develop and use without let or hindrance, his God-given gifts and talents.

In conclusion, in the words quoted recently by our Prime Minister, Field Marshall J. C. Smuts, "I challenge you and all men of vision and goodwill of whatever race or colour to abandon the policies of the past for faith, for hope, for trust in each other. Take each others` hand and move forward to the destiny which is yours."
Thus South Africa may well adopt our Congress motto- "RIGHT NOT MIGHT. FREEDOM NOT SERFDOM."

Source:  Thomas Karis and Gwebdolen M. Carter (eds.) From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, Volume 2: Protest and Hope, 1935-1952. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, Stanford, California, 1972