Speech in Parliament
On the National Party’s Race Policy
July 22, 1970 — Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa
Mrs Helen. Suzman: Mr Speaker, the honourable the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development brings a dangerous enthusiasm with him for his hopeless task. He has a crusading spirit which I personally find rather frightening . . . and in his hands there is a dangerous amount of power. That is why I have found the words he acted this afternoon distinctly frightening. He talks about a dynamic third decade of the National Party’s regime.
The Minister of Bantu Administration and Development: I hope you will see it.
Mrs Helen Suzman: Yes, I hope I will, but what I see at the moment is a shrinking economy . . . simply because of the policies which this country has been following for the last 23 years. The honourable the minister says that the shortage of labour is caused by the prosperity of this country. He does not know what he’s talking about. If he had listened to any of the experts . . . he would know that all of them have stated the shortage of labour is an artificial one . . . The entire economy is being hindered by the Government’s policy of refusing to let up on labour restrictions . . . I do not believe he has made any study of economics. If he had . . . he would know that labour is not a unit which can be substituted, one man for the other, as happens in a migratory system of labour, which in any case is unsuited to an economy that is highly industrialised and which requires more and more skilled and semi-skilled labour . . . However, there is another aspect which is brought to the attention of this House this afternoon, namely his grandiose schemes for creating dozens of governments in South Africa. As I remember it, there are to be eleven in Southwest Africa, eight in South Africa for the Africans, one for the coloureds, one for the Indians and one for the white people. That makes 22 governments for 20 million people. One government, roughly, for every million people is not a bad average. When one remembers that something like 36 per cent . . . of the gainfully employed white population in South Africa is directly or indirectly in state employment in this so-called free enterprise country of ours, one’s mind absolutely boggles to think of the number of people who will now be absorbed in unproductive occupations in manning 22 governments . . . and 22 civil services . . . There was the third point that the honourable minister made on which I want to take issue with him . . . The third point . . . was that he, Merlin the magician, will give to every single African a tribal identity. He will link him to his tribe. Each one will have his own country. How does the honourable the minister know that the African wants this? Who is he to tell the urbanised African that he has to go back to tribal culture? How does the honourable the minister know this? The Minister of Bantu Administration and Development: Because I am in contact with them. Mrs H. Suzman: The honourable the minister’s contact with urban Africans consists of telling them what he wants them to do and telling them what they must do. It does not consist of asking them or consulting them. Nothing of the kind. I want to tell the honourable the minister that he has forgotten that among the three-and-a-half million urban Africans there are at least two generations that were born in the urban areas, that have lost their tribal contact and that want to have nothing whatsoever to do with all these ethnic groupings that he is forcing on them. The honourable the minister is forgetting all about 150 years of contact with Christianity . . . They do not retain their tribal culture once they have adopted Christianity . . . The honourable the minister cannot promote Christianity and tribalism any more than he can promote tribalism and the modern system of agriculture, for those are incompatible as well. The honourable the minister has forgotten that the African has had decades of contact with Western civilisation and with modern industrial systems. He has forgotten that those people do not want to return to the tribal culture and tribal customs. If the honourable the minister does not believe me, why does he not ask them? Why does he not give them the choice? Why does he insist on imposing his will on people who may not want it? … I want to say that I am disappointed in this debate … We did not even have an interesting little travelogue from the honourable Prime Minister. I was looking forward to some sort of account of his travels . . . He should have mixed with some of the common people [overseas]. It might have been difficult for him, because he says he does not speak other languages. But that does not matter. He could have gone heavily disguised as an ordinary human being, if necessary, and sat himself down at a table at the boulevard cafe and watched the world go by. He would have learnt a great deal from that. One of the things that he would have learnt is that it is completely irrelevant to bring in examples of what happened in the pre-war world . . . The whole world has changed … Not only geographically, it has changed politically and sociologically. Most of all perhaps, it has changed in its attitude to race . . . It is for that reason that we appear to be so weird to the outside world. That is one of the reasons why the honourable the Prime Minister finds it so difficult to sell separate development or apartheid or South Africa’s colour policy to the outside world. We are the only country that has moved backwards. Every other country in the world has been extending rights to people of colour. But this is not the position in South Africa. This is the only country where there has been a steady whittling away of the rights of the non-white people. Any independent observer . . . will come to the conclusion that what has been substituted for those rights — the territorial authorities that we heard so much about, the Coloured Representative Council, the Indian Council or the Transkeian assembly — do not mean anything. How can they measure up to the rights in the Parliament which legislates for, or rather, against those people who do not have any representation in this House any more . . . ? I was hoping that there would be some sort of dramatic change and that the Honourable Prime Minister and his cabinet would come back with some sort of fresh attitudes after the election. We all know they were severely affected earlier this year. The whole lot of them had a dread disease known as Hertzogitis … However, that is over now. Honourable members need not be so upset. They are recovering from this disease. I was hoping we would have a bit of a new outlook. However, it is the same old mixture as before. And it seems to me from what the honourable the Minister of Bantu Administration has been saying that it is going to get worse. It is going to be a stronger mixture . . . The honourable the Prime Minister has an idea — and he got it I think from the honourable the Minister of Bantu administration — that if we only stop calling the country ‘multiracial’ and start calling it ‘multinational’, we will be able to pull the wool over the world’s eyes . . . Then we will apparently get over this whole business of a minority government, because it almost puts the whites in the majority in this country. In this way it is thought that that argument would be disposed of. Does he really think that the world judges us by the myths that keep Nationalists happy? Or does the world judge us by the realities of the South African scene? The honourable the Prime Minister found the policy difficult to explain, because the world judges us by the realities . . . You cannot explain away the treatment of the urbanised Africans [to people] overseas. People do not believe that urbanised people want tribal culture. And they are quite right in not believing that. You cannot explain away the harshness of the policy as it is implemented today, by telling people that in the future there are going to be rewards from the policy . . . It is no use trying to give explanations to the outside world, as its views on race have moved miles ahead of South Africa. You cannot explain the obvious unfairness of separate amenities, when there are not even pretensions that these amenities are “separate” but “equal” . . . We cannot explain our sporting policy away at all, because it is based on a completely unacceptable principle. People do not realise in South Africa what a highly emotive issue the race issue is overseas . . . They do not consider an all-white team sent by South Africa as a team that comes from a country whose policies they disapprove of. They consider a South African all-white team — and now I quote from a newspaper — “as a roving embassy for racialism”. And that is why we will never get our sporting policy accepted even though we offer to send two teams to the Olympic Games. It is not going to work that way . . . South Africans must stop bluffing themselves that the cancellation of the cricket tour [to Britain] was the work of what they care to think of as long-haired demos and a bloody-minded [British] Labour Party government. Nothing of the sort. This issue became something far greater. It had become a race relations issue inside Britain itself. It had become a Commonwealth relations issue. That position will remain until we change our actual attitude inside South Africa . . . We have to change fundamentally our attitude on sport. We have got to have multiracial sport and we will have to pick our teams on merit. Otherwise we are out of sport internationally. We can forget about it. The tide which has swept us out of the Olympic Games, out of the Davis Cup, out of international soccer and out of international athletics is simply going to roll on and sweep us out of any remaining international contests in which we hope to participate. Do you know what you also cannot explain in England or elsewhere, irrespective of whether you call this country multiracial or multinational? You cannot explain away why a country, which is not in an emergency situation, cannot control its population, presumably, without the use of acts, such as the Terrorism Act, particularly Section 6 thereof, and the 180 day detention law. You cannot explain why there are powers still in force allowing ministers to detain people without trial. It is obvious that many more people are being detained without trial than any of us know anything about. Why is this so in a country where there is no emergency situation? Why should this be in a country where we are spending millions on the army and the police force? Can we not control any attacks that might come from abroad? Only the other day the Prime Minister was telling us that not only could we control people that attacked us, but if necessary we could arm ourselves to attack other people. He, however, hastened to add that we have no intention of doing so. Why do we need these powers which are only taken in democratic countries under the most stringent emergencies? . . .
The Minister of Community Development: You are against a white government in this country.
Mrs Helen Suzman: I do not want a black government either. I want a multiracial government for a multiracial country. That is exactly what I want. What cannot be explained away is why a young, vigorous country like South Africa, with natural resources that are the envy of the world, should be running into economic difficulties, as it is. How do you explain that the Government absolutely ignores all the cries about bottle-necks, and the crippling effects of the industrial colour bar? This is what you cannot explain to people overseas. It all seems mad to them, and you know what, Sir? It all is mad. I have not even touched on petty apartheid, which is humiliating and disgusting . . . I want to stick to . . . major apartheid. This is what is ripping the very fabric of society in South Africa. What concerns me particularly is what we are doing in this all-white Parliament of ours . . . the gay abandon with which we pass laws that wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary people . . . This honourable minister . . . said that the Government has brought stability. Stability of what? Stability to whom? Could it bring stability to non-whites who know that they are doomed to poverty and second-class citizenship? Is that the sort of stability that people want? We have heard talk again of all being quiet and peaceful in South Africa. Does nobody take any notice of the fact that we have the highest daily average prison population in the Western world? Does this mean anything to these honourable members when they talk about peace and quiet in South Africa? The Prime Minister stated that the coloured people are contented. He says they like their Coloured Representative Council. Do they? They are complaining it has not been called together, [that] they have never been consulted . . . They have put in a resolution wherein they asked for equal pay for equal work, particularly as far as teachers, nurses and other civil servants are concerned. What is going to happen to that cry of equal pay for equal work? Is this Government going to listen to it? . . . I wonder whether the honourable Prime Minister has seen the statement made by Mr Justice [J.H.] Steyn the other month wherein he stated that 50 per cent of the coloured people are living below the poverty datum line. Are these people satisfied with their conditions? I wonder if he thinks that the coloured people enjoy being shunted around under the Group Areas Act. Certain areas are proclaimed for them where they can build their houses and where they can settle down again in a sort of new community, then suddenly they are deproclaimed . . . Does he think that people like this sort of stability? I wonder if he thinks that the coloured people really think of their Representative Council as anything other than a facade when everything that is significant in their lives is ruled by this Parliament . . . I wonder whether the honourable the Prime Minister really thinks that the Indians are really satisfied with what they got, and the treatment they are getting under the Group Area proclamations. [. . . ] What employment is there in his resettlement areas the honourable Minister has been talking about so proudly? What must these women, many of whom are widows, or children do when they are sent back to the resettlement areas? Many of these widows were in gainful employment: they are endorsed out of the urban areas, where they are not allowed to have houses, but there is no employment for them in the resettlement areas with the result that there are no means of maintaining the family in those areas at all. In other societies the aged, the sick, the widows and the very young are treated with special care. In our society they were singled out for especially harsh treatment . . . They are the famous ‘superfluous appendages’. What does the honourable the minister think the endorsing out of African families does to them? He is very proud of the number of people he has kept out of the urban areas, but he never stops to think what . . . they live on and what their family lives are like …The urban Africans are in a constant state of apprehension, because they have a very shrewd idea of what is going to happen to them . . . The 30-year leases [of houses] have gone, showing that permanency is not considered to be an intrinsic part of the urban Africans. There is also the question of the building of high schools in the towns. The Africans know that schools are being built in the rural areas and in their homelands in order to orientate their children towards the homelands. I would like to know what sort of jobs are going to be provided for the new generation of urban-born Africans if the Physical Planning Act is carried out to its fullest extent. Where are the job opportunities going to come from for the young generation of urban-born Africans who do not want to go back to live in their homelands? What is going to happen if the Bantu Laws Amendment Act is in fact enforced on the educated Africans, the white collar Africans, who have dragged themselves up by their own efforts?
Source: Speeches that Shaped South Africa: from Malan to Malema. ed. Martha Evans (South Africa: Penguin Random House, 2017), pp. 107-116.