Prisoners of apartheid
July 11, 1973, marked the passage of ten years since the leadership of the South African liberation movement was arrested at Rivonia.
Three months later the United Nations General Assembly, by 106 votes to one (South Africa only voted against) requested the South African Government to abandon the arbitrary trial of this leadership and to "grant unconditional release to all political prisoners and to all persons imprisoned, interned or subjected to other restrictions for having opposed the policy of apartheid". Despite numerous resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, the Pretoria regime continues to imprison, restrict and detain thousands of South Africans of every race.
These political prisoners represent, in the words of our late President-General Chief Luthuli, "the highest in morality and ethics in the South African political struggle... (men whose) policies are in accordance with the deepest international principles of brotherhood and humanity; without their leadership, brotherhood and humanity may be blasted out of existence and reason; when they are locked away, justice and reason will have departed from the South African scene".
Brotherhood, humanity, justice and reason have indeed departed from apartheid South Africa. The pursuit of these ideals has been made a crime and those who seek justice search in vain. Men of the calibre of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada who, as the true representatives of their people, should be engaged in helping to create a new world order, are instead sentenced to life imprisonment and spend their days breaking stones in the bleakness of Robben Island.
Many others, trade unionists like Billy Nair, Raymond Mhlaba, eminent Queen`s Counsel Braam Fischer, writers, professors, housewives, miners, artisans have been victimised for their unreserved opposition to apartheid. They have been penalised in so many ways and under so many laws that an accurate assessment of their numbers is impossible, but that they number many thousands is undeniable.
Cases of torture, assault and death in South African prisons is well documented as are the inhuman conditions in which detainees are held. Those who have been sentenced are not even accorded the internationally accepted status of political prisoners and are branded criminals and classified in the lowest category D together with "the type of prisoner with a previous record and/or conviction of serious crime of a daring and aggressive nature or other aggravating circumstances such as convictions for rape, robbery or violating in one form or another or participating during any period of imprisonment in a daring escape, or other gang activities involving knife assaults or incitement thereto".
Unlike all other prisoners they receive no remission or reconsideration of sentences and life sentence can only end with death.
Those who are released after completion of sentence are frequently placed under house arrest, or banished to remote areas and/or banned.
Indres Naidoo, Shirish Nanabhai and Reggie Vandayar who completed a ten-year sentence on Robben Island last month, were immediately placed under house arrest and banned. Within the last few months, various student leaders have also been banned and restricted without charge or trial.
For all these prisoners of apartheid the international community has a specific responsibility, for, they have been victimised for upholding the very principles, aspirations and rights embodied in the United Nations Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights. Not only have Vorster`s policemen no authority to imprison and restrict these people but by so doing the Pretoria regime manifests its contempt for the international community and its ideals.
The contempt is aggravated and the illegality compounded by the detention of Namibians in South Africa and Namibia, and by the imprisonment of South African freedom fighters in Zimbabwe.
The African National Congress, therefore, calls for a worldwide campaign to bring about the release of all the prisoners of apartheid, at the same time as greater efforts are made to continue the isolation of the Vorster regime and the enforcement of United Nations resolutions.
This call must not be understood to mean that the ANC will not continue to pursue relentlessly the struggle to liberate all of South Africa. This battle will be fought to ultimate victory.
The African National Congress accepts that our struggle must continue and will entail hardship, imprisonment and death. As our leader Nelson Mandela stated in open court, this is the price we are prepared to pay.
But that is not to say that when it concerns the prisoners of apartheid the world community needs stand by the price of freedom in South Africa. For it is in large measure because of the failure of the world community to take decisive and meaningful action that South Africa is able to continue to exact this price from those who seek freedom.
If the world is to make any claim to have moved forward from anarchy and barbarity towards a world order based on justice and equality, then it can no longer afford the Pretoria regime the protection of international legality. Rather, that regime must be branded the outcast that it is.
It is to those who seek to bring about brotherhood, justice and freedom in South Africa, that the international community must afford protection and extend legality.
The Status of the South African Regime
Today, twenty-five years after the installation of the apartheid regime and 54 years after the African people first appealed to the international community at Versailles, the African National Congress has called upon the members of the United Nations to reassess the status of the regime in Pretoria:
To consider whether it may validly claim to represent the people of South Africa;
To examine whether by its failure to live up to the principles for which the United Nations was found, by its continued defiance of the very basic aspirations of humankind, it has the right to be granted legality under international law;
To judge whether its failure to comply with specific resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, its flouting of rulings of the International Court of Justice, its aggression across its borders do not now require that this regime be refused the protection of the international community and be declared an outcast.
Over the centuries many documents have testified to the fact that no government based on tyranny can claim to be recognised by its own people or by humankind (cf. the United States Declaration of Independence).
The major constitutional document purporting to legitimise the present regime, namely, the Republic of South Africa Act 1961, expressly entrusts all sovereign power in South Africa to a legislature constituted by law of persons of European descent only. The vestigial rights of black South African to participate in elections to Parliament have been entirely eliminated.
It has been a matter of pride to the authorities that the latest rounds of election to Parliament have involved white voters only. The Vorster regime is accordingly responsible both in theory and practice only to the white Parliament and represents only this small segment of South Africa.
By treating the majority of South Africans not as citizens but as rightless aliens in the country of their birth, the Vorster regime is denying itself any lawful authority to act in the name of the majority. It may demand obedience on the basis of naked force, but cannot claim allegiance on the basis of lawful authority.
The policies of the Vorster regime as explicitly expressed in its laws and openly enforced in its courts are avowedly racist and involve clear and systematic breaches of the United Nations Charter.
As long ago as 1952, the General Assembly adopted a resolution referring to South Africa - which declared that in a multiracial society, harmony and respect for human rights and freedoms and the peaceful development of a unified community were best assured when patterns of legislation and practice were directed to ensuring equality before the law of all persons regardless of race, creed or colour; economic, social, cultural and political participation of all racial groups should be on a basis of equality.
The resolution - 616B(VII) - affirmed that the governmental policies of a member State which were not directed towards these goals but were designed to perpetuate or increase discrimination, were inconsistent with the pledges of members under Article 56 of the Charter.
In the years that have followed, every single organ of the United Nations had found it necessary to reiterate that apartheid was inconsistent with the provisions of the United Nations Charter and international legal obligations. Moreover, the practice of racial discrimination and apartheid have been expressly outlawed by a number of almost universally accepted legal documents setting out standards of conduct and establishing new and binding international legal rules.
The minority regime in South Africa has, in fact, through its legislation, contravened every single article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the State Parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination expressly stated that they "particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid".
South Africa has systematically flouted every resolution of the United Nations arising from its policies of apartheid. What is more, far from desisting she has aggressively pursued her policies and increased her repression of the African people.
Further, in defiance of the international community
- South Africa today illegally occupies and administers Namibia
- South Africa is the major instrument in the evasion of United Nations sanctions against the illegal Smith regime and the main support of the economy
- South Africa provides support and sustenance to the Portuguese government in its continued defiance of United Nations resolutions on decolonisation and the right to self-determination of the peoples of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.
South Africa is in violation of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. The United Nations defines genocide as the "committing of certain acts with intent to destroy wholly or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such".
The entire policy of apartheid is by its own definition aimed at destroying the South African nation by denying its national, multiracial and essentially African identity, and weakening its character and its people by deliberate regressive fragmentation.
The vicious racism preached and practised by the ruling minority, the indoctrination of children in schools, the youth and grown-up men and women in every walk of life is breeding hatred, suspicion and fear. The massive and relentless dispossession of peoples, coupled with the denial of elementary rights on the grounds of race, has established all the preconditions of genocide.
The applications of apartheid have created the preconditions, and its ideology and manifestations establish the intent to commit genocide. The right of the African people to live together as family units is denied by the apartheid regime - wives are separated from husbands, whilst children may not live with their mothers. Even the taxation system does not recognise wives or children as dependents of African workers.
Nearly nine-tenths of the surface area of South Africa has been appropriated by law for whites only, as has 70 per cent of the wealth of the country, with not unexpected consequences for the health and well being of our people. Is it genocide only when one starts to put children in gas ovens? Is it not equally extermination if you deliberately create conditions in which more than 50 per cent of African children in one reserve in South Africa die before reaching the age of five?
Call for Urgent Action
Over the years, in attempting to defend its posture of defiance of universally held concepts of equality and justice, South Africa has not hesitated to commit aggression, and is now a threat to the peace of Africa and the world. The threat arises not merely from the fact that apartheid is a crime against humanity and the deliberate glorification of racism and fanatic maintenance of white domination is a serious provocation to all the peoples of the world who have suffered or been witness to the practices of the herrenvolkism and colonialism.
The threat arises because the imperatives of the South African economy impel South Africa along the path of expansion. South Africa is an intrinsic part of the imperialist world, but it now needs to expand in its own right. Its economy based on the cheap labour pool created by the apartheid system, now requires the export of capital and needs new expanding markets outside its borders. If it is to survive as it is, South Africa needs to expand, and unless stopped, will do so, either by extending its sphere of influence through neo-colonial trade and aid agreements or by direct aggression.
The continued South African presence in Namibia, the extension of her military "frontier" to the Zambesi, her military advice and assistance to the Portuguese armies in Angola and Mozambique, the political and military threats and aggression against Zambia and Tanzania, as well as the attempts to woo African States and break out of its isolation - all bear witness to the imperative need to expand.
South Africa can no longer be considered just as a problem of racism or apartheid. It now has the need, the intent and the military potential to commit aggression, and indeed has done so.
South Africa is unquestionably a threat to the peace and security of a very wide area in the southern hemisphere and must be recognised as such at the international and diplomatic conference tables. Urgent action by the Security Council - under Chapter VII, Article 39 - is called for.
An examination of these matters which we have raised here only in outline places upon the international community a responsibility to act, for such a recognition and branding of the South African regime definite action must follow.