Address by President Nelson Mandela at the 50th anniversary of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign and the launch of the commemorative publication

13 June 1996

Members of The Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1946 Passive Resistance Council;
Members of the Institute for Black Research and the University of Natal;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We meet here today to commemorate an epic of our struggle for liberation.

Exactly 50 years ago to this day, a gallant group of men and women defied the latest racist laws inflicted upon one of our disenfranchised peoples.

As the government tightened the screws of oppression against the Indian population during the nineteen forties, it reached the point at which it moved to impose further restrictions on ownership of land. This was combined with the declaration that Indians were to be represented in parliament by three White MPs.

Having seen what the 1913 Land Act had done to Africans, Indians were not about to take the Ghetto Act lying down. They defiantly set up tents at the corner of Gale Street and Umbilo Road, a white residential area, and waited for the police to arrest them. The police did not do so. Instead, hooligans from the neighbourhood descended on the resisters, ripped their tents and assaulted them. True to their commitment to non-violence, they did not retaliate.

From those small beginnings, the campaign grew and drew into its ranks thousands of people across the racial divides. More and more streamed to the forbidden plot until the police could no longer ignore them. Night after night scores were arrested and night after night large numbers flocked to occupy the plot.

When the pernicious Act was introduced in Parliament, people gathered in their thousands at the Resistance Plot.

The 1946 campaign also saw the internationalisation of our struggle. The South African Indian Congress approached India, on the eve of her independence, to raise the issue of racism in South Africa at the United Nations. India became a champion of the world campaign against all forms of racism.

India recalled her High Commissioner. Even though the balance of trade was in her favour, she broke off economic relations with South Africa. These actions marked the beginning of the isolation of the racist regime.

The campaign fired the conscience of South Africans at large and the ranks of those who joined up and suffered imprisonment included people from every section of our society.

The Passive Resistance Campaign also initiated united action against oppression. In 1947 Dr Xuma of the ANC, Dr Naicker of the Natal Indian Congress and Dr Dadoo of the Transvaal Indian Congress signed what later came to be known as the "doctors pact" and committed their organisations to a future of united action.

The campaign's success and its lessons influenced our thinking as we drew up the 1949 Programme of Action which ushered in the momentous decade of the roaring fifties. The ANC and the South African Indian Congress jointly embarked on the Defiance Campaign in 1952. This period also brought resistance to the imposition of gutter education, the launching of a series of anti-pass campaigns that saw women marching on the Union Buildings in 1956 and culminated in the mass protests of 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC and the PAC. Thus was inscribed in our hearts the uncompromising warrior pledge - Victory or Death!

Today as free citizens, we salute the activists of the 1946 Campaign. A few survived the times. We have with us Ismail Meer, J N Singh and Dr Goonam. Leading the campaign were Doctors Naicker and Dadoo who went on to guide the democratic movement for many years. On this occasion we lower our rainbow flag for M.D Naidoo, Nana Sita, Debi Singh, Amma Naidoo, Cissy Gool and scores of others who courted imprisonment rather than obey racist land restrictions.

Present with us are some other stalwarts of that campaign. I salute all of them.

To commemorate that campaign the Institute for Black Research has published a book. I have the honour of officially launching this latest contribution to our history and I commend the Institute for Black Research for its sterling work.

I also have the honour of opening a photographic exhibition of the 1946 campaign organised by the Sastri College Alumni Association.


Our work is never done. We continue until we breathe our last. What Doctors Naicker and Dadoo left unfulfilled, it is our duty to accomplish.

So the struggle must continue, for development, for the elimination of poverty, for job creation, for a better life for all. The forthcoming Local Government elections will establish structure that will bring to our locality the power to fulfill our aspirations. Local democracy will help to make a reality at last of the ideals which inspired the passive resisters of fifty years ago. We will go to the polls on the 26th of June with the memory of that campaign refreshed in our minds.


Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation