SA History Online: I Did What was Right’ Statement from the Dock by Bram Fischer after the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial, 1966.
Collection: Speeches and Public Statements: Rivonia Trial 1963-1964. Abram “Bram” Fischer.
I Did What was Right’ Statement from the Dock by Bram Fischer after the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial, 1966
Supreme Court Statement by Abram Fischer, Pretoria, 28 March 1966
The sentencing of Abram Fischer to life imprisonment on a charge of sabotage in May 1966 roused a storm of protest throughout the world such as has not been seen since the Rivonia trial of 1964, when people’s leader Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were sentenced to life imprisonment for preparing to overthrow the Verwoerd government by violence. Fischer was held to be part of the same conspiracy and received the same sentence.
The trial of Fischer, an honoured and respected figure, produced world-wide condemnation of the unjust laws imposed by the Verwoerd regime, and the continued prosecution and sentencing of political leaders because of their opposition to the apartheid system.
In Africa, Western Europe, Asia and the socialist countries protests were sent from Members of Parliament, jurists, trade unionists, churchmen, women’s, youth and peace organizations – from people everywhere.
In Norway over 120 prominent personalities and jurists, including the President of the Supreme Court, warned that they were watching the trial closely. In Sweden twenty-one prominent Swedish lawyers, including the president of the Swedish Parliamentary Law Commission, demanded his release. The National Council of Swedish Youth, representing more than one million Swedish youth, deplored the sentence imposed on Fischer. Several thousand postcards, bearing Fischer’s picture and demanding his release, were sent by leading British personalities to Dr. Verwoerd.
In Switzerland a deputation led by the last President of the State Council of Geneva was refused an appointment by the South African Ambassador in Berne. The deputation, consisting also of prominent Members of Parliament, scientists, trade unionists, journalists and churchmen, nevertheless signed the visitors’ book giving the reasons for their visit. A similarly high-powered deputation in Paris was not even allowed to enter the Embassy and the letter handed in by the deputation was returned unopened.
In Italy twenty-six Social Democrat and Communist deputies and Senators from all political parties, including the Liberals and Christian Democrats, signed a statement protesting that the life sentence ‘violates the international democratic conscience’.
In Britain the press statement of the World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners, of which Jeremy Thorpe, M.P., is honorary secretary, said: ‘It is Bram Fischer’s integrity, his courage, his determination to defeat the apartheid policies of the present government that have made him a prisoner for life’. Thirty-six M.P.s and eleven peers demanded his release, but their letters were not accepted when handed in by delegations at South Africa House. Seven prominent Oxford dons had written to The Times demanding Fischer’s release in terms of the United Nations resolution of October 1963, and thirty-six Cambridge students wrote a similar letter to the Guardian . Anti-Apartheid groups throughout England, Scotland and Ireland held demonstrations, sent letters of protest and took part in the demand for the release of Fischer and all political prisoners.
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers condemned the South African government and demanded the release of Fischer and all political prisoners.
The Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee of Ceylon sent a cable to Fischer to say its members ‘greatly admire your tremendous contribution to human dignity and freedom’.
The Secretariat of the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Committee in Cairo called for the release of Fischer and all political prisoners. Referring to Fischer as a ‘brother and comrade-in-arms’ of all South African freedom fighters, the African National Congress [ANC] in Cairo said: ‘We shall not rest until Fischer and all other freedom fighters in Vorster ‘s prisons are released’.
Cairo representatives of Frelimo, ZAPU, SWAPO , M.P.L.A., and the A.N.C. also issued a joint statement demanding the release of Fischer.
In the German Democratic Republic, cables of support were sent to Fischer from Professor Steineger, Director of the Institute for International Law at Humbolt University, and many other prominent personalities. Many Christian organisations, including the Regional Committee of the Christian Peace Conference and the Union of Protestant Parsons, sent cables to the Minister of Justice condemning the life sentence.
The Vice-Dean of the University of West Berlin also sent a cable of protest. Meetings were organised in Berlin and in Leipzig within hours of the sentence being passed.
Messages were sent personally to Fischer from many other organisations and individuals too numerous to mention in detail. They include Holland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, the World Peace Council and the British Peace Committee, the World Federation of Trade Unions, the International Organization of Journalists, the International Union of Students, the African National Congress (Dar-es-Salaam), the South African Freedom Action Committee (U.S.A.) and scores of others.
This overwhelming international support is a tribute, not only to the liberation movement as a whole, and to the thousands of other political prisoners in South Africa’s jails, but also to Bram Fischer himself.
A man of outstanding courage and integrity, he has symbolised to the world the determination of the peoples of South Africa, of all races, to dare everything, and if necessary to suffer everything, in the struggle for freedom. Mandela, great African leader, declared in the Rivonia trial that he had devoted his life to the ideal of liberty, and for this ideal he was prepared, if necessary, to die. Fischer, a distinguished son of the South African soil, son of a Judge President and grandson of a former Prime Minister of the Orange Free State, Rhodes scholar, Oxford graduate and eminent Queen’s Council, showed himself equally prepared for the greatest sacrifice in the same cause. He could, with his background and training, have reached the pinnacles of political or legal life in South Africa. But he could not live a lie, and languished in a lonely prison cell because he was prepared, not merely to think but to act in opposition to the Verwoerd tyranny. He sacrificed his family life and his career. For eleven months he lived underground, a hunted man and an outlaw, in a bid to carry on the fight. When captured, he was subjected to months of solitary confinement and humiliation in police cells before being brought to trial.
The speech he made to the court explaining why he had taken the course he did, is not merely proof that his enemies were unable to break his spirit. It is one of the historic documents of the South African freedom struggle, of our age, a defence and a justification of the ideals to which he had devoted his life.
Bram Fischer, the great advocate, who had defended so many political cases in the Courts – the Treason Trial , the Rivonia trial and scores less well known – had little to say in the way of legal defence in his own trial. Instead he devoted himself to an unanswerable indictment of the apartheid regime which has driven South Africa’s best sons and daughter to defy its unjust laws and take the revolutionary road; an eloquent defence of the conduct of the national liberation movement and of the policy and programme of the South African Communist Party , of which he proudly declared himself a leading member.
It is clear that Bram Fischer was not addressing himself only to the Court before which he appeared. He was speaking as a Communist, an Afrikaner and an upright human being, to the people of his country and public opinion everywhere.
The text has been somewhat abbreviated, omitting much detailed consideration of evidence and exhibits before the court. The emphasis and sub-headings have been added by the editor.
‘What I did was right’ – Statement from the Dock by Abram Fischer , Q.C., in the Supreme Court, Pretoria, 28 March, 1966.
I AM ON TRIAL for my political beliefs and for the conduct to which those beliefs drove me. Whatever labels may be attached to the fifteen charges brought against me, they all arise from my having been a member of the [South African] Communist Party and from my activities as a member. I engaged upon those activities because I believed that, in the dangerous circumstances, which have been created in South Africa, it was my duty to do so.
When a man is on trial for his political beliefs and actions, two courses are open to him. He can either confess to his transgressions and plead for mercy or he can justify his beliefs and explain why he acted as he did. Were I to ask forgiveness today I would betray my cause. That course is not open to me. I believe that what I did was right. I must therefore explain to this Court what my motives were: why I hold the beliefs that I do and why I was compelled to act in accordance with them.
My belief, moreover, is one reason why I have pleaded not guilty to all the charges brought against me. Though I shall deny a number of important allegations made, this Court is aware of the fact that there is much in the State case, which has not been contested. This Court was entitled to have had it before the witnesses who testified in chief and under cross-examination against me. Some of these, I believe were fine and loyal persons who have now turned traitors to their cause and to their country because of the methods used against them by the State – vicious and inhuman methods. Their evidence may therefore in important respects be unreliable.
There is another and more compelling reason for my plea and why I persist in it. I accept the general rule that for the protection of a society laws should by obeyed.
But when the laws themselves become immoral ad require the citizen to take part in an organised system of oppression – if only by his silence or apathy – then I believe that a higher duty arises. This compels one to refuse to recognise such laws.
The laws under which I am being persecuted were enacted by a wholly unrepresentative body, a body in which three-quarters of the people of this country have no voice whatever. These laws were enacted, not to prevent the spread of communism, but for the purpose of silencing the opposition of the large majority of our citizens to a Government intent upon depriving them, solely on account of their colour, of the most elementary human rights: of the right to freedom and happiness, the right to live together with their families wherever they might choose, to earn their livelihoods to the best of their abilities, to rear and educate their children in a civilized fashion, to take part in the administration of their country and obtain a fair share of the wealth they produce; in short, to live as human beings.
My conscience does not permit me to afford these laws such recognition as even a plea of guilty would involve. Hence, though I shall be convicted by this Court, I cannot plea guilty. I believe the future may well say that I acted correctly.
My first duty then is to explain to the Court that I hold and have for many years held the view that politics can only be properly understood, and that our immediate political problems can only be satisfactorily solved, by the application of that scientific system of political knowledge known as Marxism. I shall also have to explain why this view compelled me to act as I have. And I wish to emphasise that I do this from the dock and not from the witness box, not because I fear cross-examination on these matters. I would, in fact, welcome nothing more than to discuss this subject. But I know that cross-examination must go further and must involve others who may or may not have been associated with me in my work. In the long series of political trials which this country has experienced in recent years, brave men and women have refused to testify against their friends and have accepted long prison sentences rather than do so.
In this very case, Mrs. Lesley Schermbrucker, whose husband is already serving a five-year sentence for his political ideals, provides an outstanding example of that courage. She was prepared to sacrifice herself and the happiness of two young children rather than give evidence. I ask the Court to consider my position in the light of such conduct.
I will not go into the witness box and prevaricate or lie. I cannot go into the witness box and answer questions that might implicate others. There is only one alternative, therefore, which is open to me. That is to make my statement from the dock. I know that it is possible for this Court to draw adverse inferences from my failure to go into the witness box. In the circumstances I cannot avoid that possible consequence. In no circumstances, whatever the consequences to me personally may be, would I myself be a State witness. I cannot even allow myself to be put in the position of informing on others, whether directly or indirectly, whether by answering or by refusing to answer questions.
WHY I JOINED THE COMMUNIST PARTY
When I consider what it was that moved me to join the Communist Party, I have to cast my mind back for more than a quarter of a century to try and ascertain what precisely my motives at that time were.
Marxism is a system of philosophy, which covers and seeks to explain the whole range of human activity, but looking back, I cannot say that it was Marxism as a social science that drew me originally to the Communist Party, just as little, presumably, as a doctor would say that he was originally drawn to his own field of science by its scientifically demonstrable truths. These only become apparent later.
In my mind there remain two clear reasons for my approach to the Communist Party. The one is the glaring injustice which exists and has existed for a long time in South African society, the other, a gradual realization as I became more and more deeply involved with the Congress Movement of those years, that is, the movement for freedom and equal human rights for all, that it was always members of the Communist Party who seemed prepared, regardless of cost, to sacrifice most; to give of their best, to face the greatest dangers, in the struggle against poverty and discrimination.
The glaring injustice is there for all who are not blinded by prejudice to see. This is not even a question of the degree of humiliation or poverty or misery imposed by discrimination on one section of the community. Hence it cannot be justified by comparing non-White standards of living or education in South Africa with those in other parts of the continent. It is simply and plainly that discrimination should be imposed as a matter of deliberate policy solely because of the colour that a man’s skin happens to be, irrespective of his merits as a man, a worker, a thinker, a father or a friend.
But the injustice of the system does not in itself explain my conduct. All White South Africans can see it. The vast majority of them remain unmoved and unaffected. They are either oblivious to it or, despite all its cruelty, condone it on the assumption, whether admitted or not, that the non-White of this country is an inferior being with ideals, hopes, loves and passions which are different from ours. Hence the further tacit or open assumption that he need not be treated as a complete human being, i.e. that it is not “unfair” to make him carry a pass, to prevent him from owning land: deprivations, which if applied to Whites, would horrify all and cause a revolution overnight.
Though nearly forty years have passed, I can remember vividly the experience which brought home to me exactly what this “White” attitude is and also how artificial and unreal it is. Like many young Afrikaners I grew up on a farm. Between the ages of eight and twelve my daily companions were two young Africans of my own age. I can still remember their names. For four years we were, when I was not at school, always in each other’s company. We roamed the farm together, we hunted and played together, we modeled clay oxen and swam. And never can I remember that the colour of our skins affected our fun or our quarrels or our close friendship in any way.
Then my family moved to town and I moved back to the normal White South African mode of life where the only relationship with Africans was that of master to servant. I finished my schooling and went to University. There one of my first interests became a study of the theory of segregation, then beginning to blossom. This seems to me to provide the solution to South Africa’s problems and I became an earnest believer in it. A year later, to help in a small way to put this theory into practice, because I do not believe that theory and practice can or should be separated, I joined the Bloemfontein Joint Council of Europeans and Africans, a body devoted largely to induce various authorities to provide proper (and separate) amenities for Africans. I arrived for my first meeting with other newcomers. I found myself being introduced to leading members of the African community. I found it hard to shake hands with them. This, I found, required an enormous effort of will on my part. Could I really, as a White adult, touch the hand of a Black man in friendship?
That night I spent many hours in thought trying to account for my strange revulsion when I remembered that I had never had any such feelings towards my boyhood friends. What became abundantly clear was that it was I and not the Black man who had changed, that despite my growing interest in him, I had developed and antagonism for which I could find no rational basis whatsoever.
I cannot burden this Court with personal reminiscences. The result of all this was that in that, and in succeeding years when some of us ran literacy classes in the old Waaihoek location at Bloemfontein, I came to understand that colour prejudice was a wholly irrational phenomenon and that true human friendship could extend across the colour bar once the initial prejudice was overcome. And I think that was lesson No. 1 on my way to the Communist Party, which has always refused to accept any colour bar and has always stood firm on the belief, itself two thousand years old, of the eventual brotherhood of all men.
The other reason for my attraction to the Communist Party, the willingness to sacrifice, was a matter of personal observation. But there could be no doubt of its existence. By that time the Communist Party had already, for two decades, stood avowedly and unconditionally for political rights for non-Whites and its White members were, save for a handful of courageous individuals, the only Whites who showed complete disregard for the hatred which this attitude attracted from their fellow White South Africans. These members, I found, were Whites who could have taken full advantage of all the privileges open to them and their families because of their colour, who could have obtained lucrative employment and social position, but who, instead, were prepared, for the sake of their consciences, to perform the most menial and unpopular work at little or sometimes no remuneration. These were a body of Whites who were not prepared to flourish on the deprivations suffered by others.
But apart from the example of the White members, it was always the communists of all races who were at all times prepared to give their time and their energy and such means as they had, to help those in need and those deeply affected by discrimination. It was members of the Communist Party who helped with night schools and feeding schemes, who assisted trade unions fighting desperately to preserve standards of living and who threw themselves into the work of the national movements. It was African communists, who constantly risked arrest or the loss of their jobs, or even their homes in locations, in order to gain or retain some of their rights. And all this was carried on regardless of whether it would be popular with the authorities or not.
Without a question this fearless adherence to principle must always exercise a strong appeal to those who wish to take part in politics, not for personal advantage, but in the hope of making some positive contribution. The Court will bear in mind that at that stage, and for many years afterward, the Communist Party was the only political party which stood for an extension of the franchise. To this day, the elimination of discrimination and the granting to all of normal, human rights remain its chief objectives as a number of exhibits show. In particular, as far as I am concerned, this appears from my own draft notes for the Programme, from the programme itself and from the Draft Discussion Statement or our New Draft Programme. It is the objective for which I have lived and worked for nearly thirty years.
But I have to tell this Court not only why I joined the Communist Party when it was a legal party – when at times it had representatives in Parliament, the Cape Provincial Council and the City Council of Johannesburg. I must also explain why I continued to be a member after it was declared illegal. This involves what I believe on the one hand to be the gravely dangerous situation, which has been created in South Africa from about 1950 onwards, and, on the other, the vital contribution which Socialist thought can make towards its solution. I shall start with the latter.
This is neither the time nor the place in which to embark upon an exposition of a system of philosophy. I want to refer, however, to a few well-recognised principles, which demonstrate the nature of the extremely dangerous situation into which South Africa is being led, by those who choose to ignore these principles, and which also demonstrate the desperate urgency for reversing its direction. I should add that most of the Marxist principles to which I shall refer are today accepted by many historians and economists, who are by no means themselves Marxists. It is clear, for instance, that during the course of its development, human society assumes various forms. There is a primitive kind of communism found in early stages, best illustrated today by the Bushmen society still in existence in parts of South Africa. There have been slave-owning societies and feudal societies. There I capitalism and socialism, and each of these types of society develops its own characteristic form of government, of political control.
Now a number of factors may contribute towards shaping the precise form of political control which each form of society develops for itself and historians may differ as to the weight to be given to each factor. There can be no doubt, however, that the economic form that a society assumes is basically determined by the manner in which it produces the goods upon which it lives, i.e. the manner in which it satisfies its material wants. There can equally be no doubt that it is this economic form which basically determines the form of political control which each system ultimately evolves for itself. Thus, in a primitive clan or tribal system such as exists amongst Bushmen, the whole community is occupied with the task of scraping a bare subsistence from nature itself, assisted by only the most primitive types of tools and weapons, such as crude implements and the bow and arrow. Here there is obviously no room for slavery because the slave would produce no more in general than he himself consumes. Hence slavery is not to be found amongst these people. Here too the society has its own particular method of political control by the clan itself.
As more elaborate tools and methods come to be developed, for instance in a settled agricultural community, man gradually evolves ways of producing more than he himself can consume and hence provides the basis for the slave owning society, the typical form of classical times. Then, for the first time, do we find a division in society itself between those who own the means of production and those who do not, and who have therefore to work in order to remain alive. Then too a new political form of government has to be evolved.
I do not propose to go through the whole process. Two things are abundantly clear. The one is that the economic form which one society assumes is incompatible with that of the society which preceded it or with that which will succeed it. The second is that a new form of economic society cannot finally establish itself unless it also develops the new political forms which can allow it to develop to its full extent.
It is hardly necessary to elaborate these propositions. In the main they are self-evident. Two illustrations will suffice. The idea of universal adult franchise can simply not exist in a slave-owning society for, if put in operation, it would be destructive of that society itself. The majority of the people, the slaves, would simply vote themselves free. Similarly, to go to a much later stage in human development, feudal economic and political forms are wholly incompatible with the system of capitalist production. Capitalist production requires certain essential conditions. Land must be alienable and serfs must be freed from their feudal obligations in order that they can move to the cities, which spring up and take part as “free” workers in the new system of production.
Thus, one man has invented machinery and has learned how to drive it by mechanical power. New economic forms must, of necessity, come into existence and, in their train, inevitable political changes must take place. It is inconceivable, for instance, that modern Britain or modern France should be ruled by the feudal aristocracy of the Middle Ages, just as it is inconceivable that a modern capitalist system could run with slave labour.
The political changes, therefore, are as inevitable as the economic changes, and ultimately both depend upon that slow, but ever accelerating, process of change in the methods of production. It is these political changes which, the Marxist language, are known as “revolutions”, whether they take place by violent or by peaceful means, and this again depends on the circumstances at any given stage of history. It is not difficult to illustrate this proposition either, if one merely compares the French Revolution with the evolution of capitalist democracy in England during the 19 th century.
What I am saying therefore, and this is relevant to my motives, is that this approach explains in rational terms why, at different times in man’s history, different economic and political forms of society have existed. It also explains why one type of society must of necessity give way to a new and higher form.
History, therefore, becomes something that can be rationally understood and explained. It ceases to be a meaningless agglomeration of events or a mere account of great en wandering in haphazard fashion across its stage. Similarly, modern society itself assumes a meaning as well. It has not appeared on the scene by mere chance; it is not final or immutable and in its South African form it contains its own contradictions, which must irresistibly lead to its change.
This is part of Marxist theory and the first point, therefore, which I seek to make, is that Marxism is not something evil or violent or subversive. It is true that propaganda against it has, in recent times, been unbridled and unscrupulous. It is also true that, for sixteen years now, its principles have been outlawed, and that prejudiced propaganda has made it almost impossible for our people to give unbiased thought to those principles, which most closely affect their future. They do not even study what the people they choose to look upon as enemies, are thinking. In fact, they have no idea what Socialism means and the tragic stage has been reached where the word ”communism” evokes nothing but unthinking and irrational hatred.
But this does not alter the character, nor the accuracy, of the Marxist view of South African society, nor does it alter the fact that socialism has already been adopted by fourteen states with a population of over 1 000 million people, and is accepted as the future form of society by many other millions in all parts of the world. What it does do is throw into higher relief the absurdity of legislation which seeks to abolish a scientific approach to history, as I shall show, has so much to contribute to the solution of our problems.
One should not forget either that this legislation cannot abolish those four years when the Soviet State, then the only socialist State, stood as one of the main bastions between civilization and the Nazi armies. Nor can it finally prevent our returning to the more rational attitude we have previously displayed, when, for instance, in 1919 even the late Dr. D. F. Malan could study and praise the virtues of socialism.
FEATURES OF CAPITALISM
I have not said anything about capitalism as yet. Its characteristic features are displayed in South Africa hence I ask the Court to look at it in its South African context. Before I do so I want to emphasize two relevant matters:
The political changes I have referred to occur when the outmoded political form ceases to serve the needs of the people who live under the new circumstances brought about by the development of new economic methods. Where old forms are at their weakest, the change is most likely to occur first, and when it comes it is irresistible. The clock of history can never be set back. Once the economic changes have occurred, the political changes are bound to follow.
In fact, therefore, the sole question is whether, when they occur, the political changes will be effected by peaceful means or by violence, and this depends, in essence, upon the balance of forces at the time when the changes come, and on the degree to which people understand the need for political change.
South Africa today is a clear example of a society in which the political forms do not serve the needs of most of the people. The chief features of capitalism as we know it here are clear:
The means of production are owned by a relatively small handful of people. This ownership is becoming more and more concentrated. I am referring, of course, to the ownership of factories, mines and land used for productive purposes.
The overwhelming majority of men and women in the country own no means of production and can exist only by selling their labour power.
Production of commodities is undertaken solely for the purpose of making a profit and for no other. This is not due to any particular trait of avarice in mankind. It is inherent in the system, for profit is its lifeblood. If profit disappears, as it does periodically, the system falters or even comes to a standstill as it did in the 1930s.
Moreover, the existence of the system depends on competition for markets and raw materials and cheap labour. Since large-scale production, and up to date methods of production that are constantly being improved, reduce costs, the inner motive force of the system is constantly driving it to form larger and larger production units and to en ever more intense search for markets.
It is precisely these characteristics of capitalism that lead to imperialism and that led to the scramble for Africa during the last century and to the division of the world into the colonies of the imperial States.
FEAR AND RACIALISM
All recognise these facts. What everyone tries to forget, or simply overlooks, is that for the vast majority of men the system is based upon fear, fear of unemployment and poverty. This is so in the older industrial countries. It is more particularly so in the colonies and ex-colonies and in South Africa it is a fear which is accentuated by the colour bar. At heart the problem is an economic one, which becomes only too apparent in South Africa when one takes note of the reactions, which, even in a period of apparent prosperity, follow any attempt to permit non-Whites to perform skilled work. In the back of every White man’s mind lurks the fear of losing his job. This fear is always with the White man in this country, be he miner or bricklayer, steelworker or bus driver.
For the non-White the position is intolerable. He knows he will always be the first to suffer loss of employment. He realises that so little concern is shown for him that in South Africa the number of unemployed Africans is never even counted or known.
Now it is the fear, bred by this system, which is the fertile soil for producing racialism and intolerance. It was a similar fear, which in Europe enabled Hitler to propagate his monstrous theory of race superiority, which led to the extermination of five million Jews in Germany. It is this fear which provides scope for the ready acceptance by Whites in South Africa of many distorted ideas: that Africans are not civilized; that they cannot become so for many generations; that they are not our fellow citizens, but really our enemies, and hence must be ruled by extreme police state methods and must be prevented from having any organisations of their own; that their voice should be heard only through mouthpieces selected by our all-White Government; that their leaders should be kept permanently on Robben Island .
As far as South Africa is concerned, it is the economic fear which is the greatest evil that our system has produced, for it has severed all contact between the two main races of the country and it is daily making it more difficult for those two races to get together to work out by discussion, and not by violence, a method whereby they live together in peace and prosperity in this great country of ours.
What I have had to say about Marxism is also directly relevant to the indictment. I am charged with performing acts calculated to further the objects of communism, to wit, the establishment in South Africa of a despotic system of government based on the dictatorship of proletariat. This is a gross misstatement of my aims and those of my party. We have never aimed at a despotic system of government. Nor were any efforts ever directed to establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat in this country. It is necessary therefore for me to explain what we have worked for.
It is true that we say that the ultimate remedy for the evils I have described, and the many other evils which exist today, lies in a change to a socialist system. Socialism is a system under which the means of production are owned by the people. Under that system production takes place not for profit, but for the benefit of the people as a whole and in accordance with a planned economy. It is therefore not subject to ups and downs and the fluctuations of a capitalist economy. It can ensure full employment at all times and will therefore abolish fear. The distribution of goods produced takes place according to the needs and the contributions of those who produce, and the needs of those who cannot work – the children and the aged. Total production can be increased rapidly until it eventually reaches a stage where socialism itself (where each worker is paid according to the work he performs) changes into full communism. Under communism a superabundance of wealth entitles all to receive according to their needs. All this, we maintain, goes hand in hand with an ever widening democracy and an ever-increasing degree of individual freedom and participation in the control of the country. But, as far as South Africa is concerned, there are matters that the future will settle.
SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY
As I have already indicated, we have never put forward socialism as our immediate solution. What we have said is that immediate dangers can be avoided by what we always refer to as a national democratic revolution, That is by bringing our state at this stage into line with the needs of today, by abolishing discrimination, extending political rights and then allowing our peoples to settle their own future. This is fully demonstrated by our Programme, which right at the outset says at page 4:
“As its immediate and foremost task, the South African Communist Party works for a united front of national liberation. It strives to unite all sections and classes of oppressed and democratic people for a national democratic revolution to destroy White domination. The main content of this revolution will be the national liberation of the African people; carried to its fulfillment, this revolution will at the same time put an end to every sort of race discrimination and privilege. The revolution will restore the land and wealth of the country to the people and guarantee democracy, freedom and equality of rights and opportunities to all.”
And then again, at page 53 where it puts forward its “immediate proposals”, it makes clear that they are put forward within the framework of the Freedom Charter for urgent discussion by a National Convention, no in order to establish a socialist State, but for the building of a national democratic state.
There are sound reasons for doing this. South Africa has already advanced far too long along the path, which will lead us directly to war to wait for advent of socialism in order to save it from that horror. One has only to look at this country’s military budget to realise that. From a military expenditure in 1946 of R18 350 000 it has risen to R229 400 000 in 1965 – an increase of more than 12-fold. This exceeds the highest amount spent when the country was actually at war – the sum of R204 000 000, which was the amount of our military expenditure in 1944.
Moreover, as I have already indicated, the point at which, as history shows us, a system breaks down, is just that point at which it displays its greatest weakness and there can be no doubt that in the past few decades, the greatest weakness in the present system has been displayed in the imperialist sector, i.e. that sector in which one people tries to rule and dominate another. This is the point at which it has already broken down.
Over the past twenty or thirty years the weakest link in the imperialist system has been its inability to deal with the wants of the colonial peoples. There it has bred its own downfall because on the one hand it created mass poverty and instability, and, on the other, developed intense feelings of nationalism. What imperialism succeeded in doing in the colonies in the 20 th century was to produce the worst evils, which the industrial revolution produced in England in the early 19 th century, plus a deep sense of national consciousness. Hence, in those parts of the world-India, Africa and the East-the so-called revolution has taken place, but in different forms. Four empires have had to dissolve themselves and have been compelled to grant political independence to some thirty or forty States, just as Britain was compelled to grant the vote to the so-called “lower” classes last century. But with three or four notable exceptions these States have achieved their independence peacefully and without having to resort to any form of violence.
South African State propaganda suggests that this was due to some mystical decadence in the West. Nothing could be further from the truth. Britain, France, Holland and Belgium have not in a couple of decades become soft or decadent. Far deeper forces have come into play that left them no alternative but to do what they have done. The combination of the new nationalism and the urge to take control of their own economic future proved, in the new States, to be irresistible.
It should indeed not be difficult for South Africa to understand this process. In one sense we Afrikaners were the vanguard of this liberation movement in Africa. Of all former colonies we displayed the greatest resistance to Imperial conquest, a resistance that a handful of freedom fighters carried on for three years against the greatest Empire of all time. We failed then. A few decades later, without having once more to resort to arms, we succeeded in gaining our independence because it was impossible to stop us. And we did not say then, whichever date one chooses to regard as the date when we achieved freedom (whether in 1907, 1910, 1932 or 1961), that we had obtained freedom because the West had become decadent. We knew that we could not be resisted. Now, as we communists see it, those who rule South Africa are trying to do just those things which imperialism could achieve in the 19 th century, but which are impossible in the second half of the 20 th .That attempt must lead, inevitably, to disaster.
BREAKING THE LAW
So much for the considerations of theory that led me to contravene the law. Let me turn to what I regard as the present dangers in South Africa, which should impel people to act. I suppose it can never be easy for the normal citizen of a State to break the law. It is usually only amongst those who are mentally sick or warped that law-breakers are found, for the normal, healthy citizen is a social creature bred to respect the rules of his society. If, in addition, he has been trained as a lawyer as I have, his instincts are reinforced by his training. For him to make the departure is doubly difficult. Only profound and compelling reasons can lead him to choose such a course.
In my view such powerful and compelling reasons have been brought into existence in South Africa during the past fifteen years or more, and they have as I shall show, when I deal with the indictment, led many thousands of South African citizens, including many of the country’s kindliest and wisest, and in normal circumstances, most law abiding citizens, to transgress against unjust laws.
My own case is but a single one which illustrates to what our laws have driven such widely different persons as: Chief Luthuli , Nelson Mandela , Robert Sobukwe , Dr. G. M. Naicker , Nana Sita, Hugh Lewin, Jean Middleton, Alan Brooks and thousands of others, young and old, men and women.
There has always, since the days of slavery, been racial discrimination in South Africa. I suppose, at the beginning, when people enjoying a more advanced civilization come into contact and intermingle with those not so fortunate, this is inevitable, though according to the tenets of true Christianity it should not be so. Today we know, from experience in other parts of the world, that it is possible to make an illiterate people literate and to “civilise” them in one or at most two generations, provided those who hold the State power are prepared to devote sufficient resources to that object-even if that entails sacrifices in other directions. That course South Africa never took. For 150 years it hesitated. Then the White rulers chose a road which led in an entirely opposite direction. To preserve “civilization” one would think it prudent to spread it as rapidly as possible. Instead our rulers elected, as far as possible, to retain it as a White monopoly.
Deliberately we chose the path of “segregation” which, whatever changing appellations we may give to it, was and is a policy intended to keep the non-Whites in a state of permanent inferiority and subjection – an inferiority, which is political, social and economic. This in itself constitutes a grave menace.
I do not propose to deal with this policy in detail. Some of its laws and enactments I shall have to refer to in relation to the charges against me. What I do want to say about it relation to my motives can be said briefly.
‘APARTHEID’ FOR AFRIKANERS?
In the first place “apartheid” or “ parallelle ontwikkeling ” [parallel development] can never succeed. In terms of what I have already said, it is a form of “imperialism” which is a complete anachronism. It is unnecessary to argue this or to refer to the facts, the figures and events that show, day by day, that it is crumbling. It is sufficient to ask whether my Afrikaner people would, after a century long struggle for freedom and equal rights, ever have been satisfied were it proposed:
- That they should be given, say, the Orange Free State without its gold or coal mines, as the one and only part of the country in which they could live as of right and in which they could own land.
- That Afrikaners should enjoy political rights in the Orange Free State only and those in the form of an emasculated Provincial Council always subject to the control of a legislature comprised entirely of members of a different race-with only a promise of some vague form of “independence” at some unspecified, dim and future time.
- That, elsewhere in South Africa, where the majority of their people live, and would of necessity for ever have to live, they should be allowed only on sufferance of another race – only subject also to having employment, the necessary documents and having a political record of not being openly opposed to the government of the day.
- That in all parts of the country – the Transvaal, Natal and the Cape – where lie the industries, the mines and the big cities of our country, they as Afrikaners should have to live in locations or in compounds, be excluded from owning their own homes, be excluded from performing skilled work and be constantly subject to losing their employment because of job reservation.
- That in those areas they should be excluded from all administrative and judicial posts and from all our best universities and schools, our theatres, restaurants, places of entertainment and other amenities.
- That they should be subject to the Pass Laws and that Afrikaans should be recognised as an official language in the Orange Free State only.
- Hence, that they should be condemned for the foreseeable future to degrading poverty and insult.
I have gone far enough, though this catalogue could be extended indefinitely. After all, my object is merely to explain my motives. The answer should be obvious. But what does not seem to be obvious to the White people of this country is that the attempt to implement their present policy is one that is fraught with peril. Here too argument is superfluous if for one moment one uses one’s imagination and pictures its application to one of the White races of this country. The situation created would immediately be explosive and would lead overnight to extreme unrest and violence – as indeed much milder policies have in the past led: in Graaff Reinet and Swellendam, in the Free State, in 1881 in the Transvaal and even in the 1914 rebellion when those who thought they were wronged were in fact in possession of the vote.
That similar reactions on the part of the non-White have not been produced during the past fifty years is no tribute to the policy of segregation, but rather to the tolerance, understanding and infinite goodwill of the African. The only surprising thing is that it has produced nothing more violent than some highly controlled and restricted sabotage.
But there are circumstances that make the policy of segregation far more dangerous in the 1950s than it would have been in earlier decades.
South Africa has chosen the fifties and sixties of the 20 th century as the point of time at which to signal full-steam-ahead for this policy. Historians will point to that period approximately as the end of the “colonial system”. It has been in these decades that political independence has spread through Africa and Asia. And it has spread not by mere chance or because of some so-called decay of the imperial powers or of the West. It has spread because historically imperial domination has outlived its purpose and is now about to be replaced by something different. Consequently former colonial peoples are today able to demand and obtain independence-something they were quite unable to do even 25 years ago.
This has far-reaching consequences for South Africa, which is in effect trying to establish a “colonial” system of its own brand at this stage of history, complete with “indirect” rule and even with the re-establishment of tribalism. This can never succeed for one cannot move backwards in history.
I am not trying to dramatise this situation. I am stating nothing but plain simple fact: It is there for anyone to see – for anyone whose vision is not totally obscured by the myopia of the White South African:
There is a strong and ever growing movement for freedom and for basic human rights amongst the non-White people of the country – i.e. amongst four-fifths of the population. This movement is supported not only by the whole of Africa, but by virtually the whole membership of the United Nations as well-both West and East.
However complacent and indifferent White South Africa may be, this movement can never be stopped. In the end it must triumph. Above all, those of us who are Afrikaans and who have experienced our own successful struggle for full equality should know this.
The sole questions for the future of all of us therefore are not whether the change will come, but only whether the change can be brought about peacefully and without bloodshed; and what the position of the White man is going to be in the period immediately following on the establishment of democracy – after the years of cruel discrimination and oppression and humiliation, which he has imposed on the non-White peoples of this country.
THE “SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNISM” ACT
If this is correct – and all the world except South Africa knows it is – then my conduct in recent years must be viewed in relation to the results which have been produced by the ruthless and persistent application of the Act, which in order to mislead, has been entitled the “Suppression of Communism” Act.
As the Congresses, the Communist Party and many others correctly prophesied in 1950 when this Act was before Parliament, its true purpose was not to suppress the political and economic principles of Marx. Neither at that stage, nor at any stage since then, has a socialist revolution been on the agenda in South Africa. Its true intention was, and is, to prevent the growth of two ideas accepted throughout the whole civilised world today: the idea that all men should have a say in the manner in which they are to be governed and the idea that it is possible for men of different races to live and work together in harmony and peace – to co-operate for the good of all. That the prophecies of 1950 were correct has been demonstrated beyond doubt by the experience of the past sixteen years.
[Here Bram Fischer detailed how not only the Communist Party, but also the African National Congress , the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Congress of Democrats had been outlawed, thousands who stood for equality had been jailed, banned, restricted, banished and driven into exile. “The police state does not create real calm or induce any genuine acceptance of its hated policy.” ]
I believed when I joined the illegal Communist Party that South Africa had set out on a course which could only lead to civil war of the most vicious kind, whether in ten or fifteen or twenty years. Algeria provided the perfect historical example of that. I believed, moreover, and still believe, that such a civil war can never be won by the Whites of this country. They might win some initial rounds. In the long run the balance of forces is against them, both inside and outside the country. In Algeria, a close historical parallel, a French army of half a million soldiers backed by one of the world’s greatest industrial powers could not succeed. But win or lose, the consequences of civil war would be horrifying and permanent. Clearly it is imperative that an alternative “solution” be found, for in truth civil war is no “solution” at all.
Here I believed, and still believe, that socialism, in the long term, has an answer to the problem of race relations – that is, a socialist state. But by negotiation, other immediate solutions can be found. They must, however, not be imposed, but worked out in co-operation, and that is what the Communist Party has stood for.
I have said that the problem is, at heart, an economic one. In 1930 we had hurriedly to assemble a “White Labour” policy to protect White employment during a crisis. Today we have prepared in advance up-to-date machinery for that purpose: We have Job Reservation and Bantustans to which superfluous Black labour can be endorsed; we have forbidden African trade unions so that African workers will be without protection; we have removed all their representatives from our legislative councils so that they shall be voiceless in a new crisis.
But whatever may have been achieved in the 1930’s, this can never be a solution for a crisis today. Thirty years of industrialisation have passed since then. An enormous class of African industrial and urban workers has been created. The capacity of the Reserves to accept and keep people alive has grown even smaller, while the numbers to be accommodated have grown even greater. We cannot go back to 1930. To try to do so would lead immediately to starvation and want, to unrest and violence. This policy in a crisis is one that would fail before it had started.
Therefore an alternative must be found. We must start at the other end. We must find a system that creates work and banishes fear of unemployment. That I believe can be found in a carefully conceived plan along the lines of the Freedom Charter with a fair division of political and economic power. All the peoples of South Africa must be given a voice in their own affairs and in the whole of the country, which they work in, and they must be taught that races can live and work together in harmony. Had our White political leaders during the past thirty years preached the possibility of inter-racial co-operation instead of using every means of destroying any belief in it, we might already have reached a position of safety. South Africa would certainly by now have achieved a unique leadership amongst the States of Africa and would undoubtedly have influenced the history of the whole of this Continent and the future of the White man’s position in it. Instead we stand completely isolated from over 200 million people, hated by all.
And so, in the circumstances, who was there to preach this co-operation but the Congresses and the Communist Party? And if one believes that these things can only be achieved by political means, what party was there to join but the illegal Communist Party? Moreover, such ideals are not achieved by theorising only. To convince people one must put them into practice. Over the past two or three decades it has been the Congresses and the Communist Party who have demonstrated in practice that men and women of different races can work together without difficulty on the basis of complete democracy and who have produced leaders prepared to sacrifice everything – even their lives – to achieve this ideal – people who have actually hammered out a policy, the Freedom Charter, in terms of which there will be room for all to exercise their rights. With these leaders no one need fear that he will be “driven into the sea”. I speak from practical experience. I have worked with every Congress leader in South Africa. With these beliefs I had no alternative but to break the law.
I must now deal further with the allegations made in the evidence led by the State. Before doing so, I have one more thing to say as to my motives. I entreated bail on the 25 th January of last year. Had I wanted to save myself, I could have done so by leaving the country or simply by remaining in England in 1964. I did not do so because I regarded it as my duty to remain in this country and to continue with my work as long as I was physically able to do so. The same reasons which induced me to join the illegal Communist Party induced me to entreat bail. By 1965 they had been magnified a hundred-fold. All protest had been silenced. The very administration of justice had been changed by the 90-day law and by the “Sobukwe” clause, which, in a vital respect, had usurped the functions even of the court trying me. My punishment was no longer in the sole discretion of that court.
‘I SPEAK AS AN AFRIKANER’
During the previous decade too – and now I speak as an Afrikaner – something sinister for the future of my people had happened. It is true that “apartheid has existed for many decades” with all that it entails in shapes ranging from segregation and the deprivation of rights, to such apparently trivial things as the constant depicting in our Afrikaans newspaper cartoons of the African as a cross between a baboon and a 19 th century American coon. What is not appreciated by my fellow Afrikaner, because he has cut himself off from all contact with non-White, is that the extreme intensification of that policy over the past fifteen years is laid entirely at his door. He is now blamed as an Afrikaner for all the evils and humiliation of apartheid.
Hence today the policeman is known as a “Dutch”. That is why too, when I give an African a lift during a bus boycott, he refuses to believe that I am an Afrikaner.
All this bodes ill for our future. It has bred a deep-rooted hatred for Afrikaners, for our language, our political and racial outlook amongst all non-Whites – yes, even amongst those who seek positions of authority by pretending to support apartheid. It is rapidly destroying amongst non-Whites all belief in future co-operation with Afrikaners.
To remove this barrier will demand all the wisdom, leadership and influence of those Congress leaders now interned and imprisoned for their political beliefs. It demands also that Afrikaners themselves should protest openly and clearly against discrimination. Surely, in such circumstances there was an additional duty cast on me, that at least one Afrikaner should make this protest actively and positively, even though, as a result, I now face fifteen charges instead of four.
It was to keep faith with all those dispossessed by apartheid that I broke my undertaking to the Court, separated myself from my family, pretended I was someone else, and accepted the life of a fugitive. I owed it to the political prisoners, to the banished, to the silenced and those under house arrest, not to remain a spectator, but to act. I knew what they expected of me and I did it. I felt responsible, not to those who are indifferent to the sufferings of others, but to those who are concerned. I knew that by valuing, above all their judgment, I would be condemned by people who are content to see themselves as respectable and loyal citizens. I cannot regret any condemnation that may follow me.
I propose now to deal with the evidence.
[ Bram Fischer began this section of his statement by referring to the evidence of Hlapane, a former Communist who had been broken by the police and testified for them. “At the times referred to in the evidence I was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party”, he said; but Hlapane’s evidence about its meetings was not accurate; “some of this evidence is correct; some of it is totally false”. He detailed the events leading up to the formation of uMkhonto we Sizw e (the Spear of the Nation), the repeated attempts by the African National Congress, the Indian Congress , the Coloured People’s Organisation and the Communist Party to bring about change by exclusively non-violent and legal methods. ]
If proof were needed of the fruitless results of these methods it can be found in any statute book printed during those years. Discrimination was piled upon discrimination. Steadily over the years the rights of non-Whites were eroded. After forty years no leaders could be expected to continue with such fruitless methods.
During the fifties, therefore, new methods were put into practice. There was the great campaign for the defiance of unjust laws . Over 8 500 people, men and youths, went to gaol in 1952 for breaching discriminatory laws and this campaign was conducted without one single act of violence. Our all-White government took no cognizance of the deep human feeling underlying this movement. Instead it imposed vicious punishment on any attempt to breach laws by way of protest. The twenty leaders were tried and convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act though few were communists, some were anti-communist and none intended to achieve any object other than the withdrawal of petty apartheid laws and regulations.
During that decade too, as all strikes were illegal, passive resistance by means of mass stay-at-homes was developed. Again care was taken to avoid all violence. But here violence was used against the protestors, violence in the form of arrests of innocent people and actual violence in the way of shootings. On the 26 th June 1950, the police, in breaking up the mass stay-at-home, shot eighteen people dead – to give but one illustration.
But negative methods were not the only practiced in this period. After two years of preparation, there gathered at Kliptown on the 26 th June 1955, an assembly of over 2000 delegates from all races and from all corners of our land – The Congress of the People. Though the obstacles placed in their way by police interference and by arrests were enormous, this assembly nevertheless took place – the most representative gathering this country has ever seen. It adopted a Charter for the future of South Africa, putting forward positively what people believed to be a solution for South Africa’s problems – The Freedom Charter .
Once again the Government refused to pay any attention to peaceful demands. Instead it used this very document as a basis for the arrest in 1956 of 156 of the leaders of the Congress Movement and the Communist Party on a charge of high treason. As the Court knows, that trial dragged on for five years until, eventually, the accused were found not guilty.
Meanwhile the shootings at Sharpeville and in Cape Town had taken place, a State of Emergency had been proclaimed and the A.N.C. had been declared illegal. During that State of Emergency over 2000 leaders went to gaol and some 10 000 others were arrested.
Meanwhile too there had been grave unrest in many parts of the country due to the application of apartheid laws – in Zeerust and Sekhukhuniland, in Durban and Warmbaths, in Zululand and in Pondoland.
All these pointed to the almost inevitable outbreak of violence in its most dangerous form, i.e. indiscriminate violence purely on racial grounds. The answer of the Government was not to attend to grievances, but to use force in these areas and to place the Transkei under a State of Emergency, where it remains to this day.
This then was the position when African leaders met in March 1961 in Maritzburg in an all-in Conference and decided to make one more peaceful call on the Government to hold a Convention, at least to discuss the constitution for the new Republic of South Africa, failing which there should be a three-day stay-at-home at the end of May.
Again the appeal fell on deaf ears. Again, instead of sympathy, new oppressive legislation was passed, all gatherings were prohibited between the 19 th May and 26 th June; nation-wide police raids were conducted; this time between 8 000 and 10 000 Africans were arrested; leaders were held under the twelve-day no-bail rule and the army staged demonstrations in the non-White areas of our cities. That was the Government’s reply to what was surely a reasonable request. Save for a handful, none of those leaders arrested was ever charged. The few who were charged were acquitted. In fact, these arrests on this vast scale amounted to an abuse of legal process.
In these circumstances history will not blame those Congress leaders who, in some way or other, came together in July 1961 and devised the scheme by which the Spear of the Nation was to be brought into existence under the control of one of its ablest and most responsible leaders, Nelson Mandela .
I must emphasise the basic ideas which then prevailed:
To do nothing and simply accept apartheid would have meant total and unconditional surrender to ideas which were, and still are, intensely hated.
To proceed to personal violence against Whites or White leaders would have been to negate all the Congresses had ever stood for: the establishment of racial harmony and co-operation.
Therefore there was devised a plan which it was hoped might help to achieve the required results without injury to person or to race relations: viz., the formation of a small, closely knit, multiracial organisation which would practise sabotage against carefully selected targets, targets which could be attacked without endangering life or limb, but which, because of their nature, would demonstrate the hatred of apartheid. For this purpose, therefore, targets were to be Government installations, and preferably those which, if successfully attacked, would disrupt the process of governing.
Two further ideas were of importance in this scheme. One was that the leaders of uMkhonto gave the assurance that it would not depart from its self-imposed limitations without prior reference to the political movement. In the circumstances the A.N.C. and the Communist Party took no steps to prevent their members joining Umkhonto.
The second was that the organisation was not only to be secret, but was to be self-controlled by men selected by Mandela, was to finance its own affairs and was to be kept entirely separate and distinct from the Congresses and the Communist Party. This was of equal importance. The Congresses and Communist Party still had important political functions to fulfill as several exhibits clearly indicate – the functions of political education and organisation, of making use of every political opportunity that presented itself to advance the cause of freedom and democracy.
The Congresses and the Communist Party did not wish to have their membership held liable for every act of sabotage nor, and this was of crucial political importance, did they want their members to gain the idea that once sabotage commenced, political work should cease. This separation of organisations was always maintained. I had no hand in the founding of uMkhonto and I was never a member. I became aware of its existence, and I did not dispprove.
It was never believed that a fundamental change in South African policy could be brought about by sabotage alone. What was hoped by those who devised the plan was that it would highlight the ever growing dissatisfaction and that steady political work by the Congresses and Communist Party would have to continue to try to bring about a change.
Nowhere are these principles more clearly stated than in the Umkhonto Manifesto (Exhibit A.F.188) which says:
“We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We hope, even at this late hour, that our first actions will wake everyone to a realisation of the disastrous situation to which Nationalist policy is leading. We hope that we will bring the Government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late, so that both the Government and its policies can be changed before matters reach the desperate stage of civil war.”
I should say, at this stage, that the Communist Party has always, in this country and elsewhere, been rigidly opposed to individual acts of violence. Such acts are regarded by communists as acts of terrorism, which achieve nothing. Communists are not, of course, opposed to violence on principle. They are not pacifists. They do, however, believe that, in general, it is the working class that suffers most from violence and war, and hence, that wherever possible, this is to be avoided.
We, in the Communist Party, never believed that South Africa was ripe for a socialist revolution. That is precisely why in our programme we aim, in the first place, only at democracy and the abolition of racial discrimination and leave entirely open the manner in which, and the time when, socialism may eventually be achieved in this country, for, of course, it is clear from all the theoretical Marxist statements today, that communists do not believe that violence is the only method by which socialism can be achieved.
The plan put forward by Umkhonto appeared to us to be of an entirely different character from that type of terrorism of which we all disapproved in principle and in practice. It was to be a demonstration. It might achieve its object of making the White voter in South Africa reconsider his whole attitude. If it succeeded in that it would succeed without loss of life or injury to persons, the very things which stimulate race antagonism. It might, in addition, have the effect of deterring extremists, whose numbers and influence were growing at an alarming rate, from undertaking precisely that kind of terrorism which we have always fought to prevent. It may, in fact, have succeeded in his respect if one remembers that, but for uMkhonto, the pattern for the future of this country may have been set by the Paarl riots and the Bashee River murders.
Bram Fischer continued by dealing with specific details of Hlapane’s evidence; he denied that the Communist Party discussed or approved details of the work uMkhonto we Sizwe, and dealt with a number of detailed allegations arising from this evidence. He denied Hlapane’s allegations that he had proposed new methods of sabotage, and also that the Communist Party decided the Policy of the African National Congress. “This is an old canard”¦.This assertion is only made by those who, because of their hatred of this policy (of removing racial discrimination from political, economic and social life in South Africa) wish to smear the A.N.C. with some of the political dirt which has over the years been thrown at the Communist Party. Finally, he answered the charges of “forgery” arising from his possession of a bogus driver’s licence and identity card. He had used different names while hiding “solely in order to hide my identity and with no intention of defrauding anyone at all”.)
That concludes what I have to say about the facts of this case.
HORRIFYING ADMINISTRATION OF LAW
I have but two things to add. The first relates to the evidence of Hlapane.
I cannot address any argument to this Court. What I can do is to give the Court certain facts regarding the manner in which the criminal law has come to be administered in political cases in this country. It presents a picture which is horrifying to those brought up with traditional ideas about justice.
In July of 1964 I was detained for three days under the 90-day law and was twice interrogated. There was nothing fair or impartial about the interrogation. It was an attempt to extract a statement by third degree methods. As for solitary confinement, I can only say that every South African voter should try it on himself. He can do so by locking himself up for a weekend in one small unfurnished room with no window through which he can see, by allowing himself to be taken out twice a day only, by a stranger, to walk around an enclosed yard for half an hour and for the rest to see no-one at all, except the stranger who brings him food three times a day. One week-end would be sufficient to convince him of its callous inhumanity – of why, in wiser days its application was strictly limited by the law.
For the past four and a half months I have also been held in conditions which, in some ways, amounted to solitary confinement. I was interrogated once only, though an extremely unfair method was used to try and extract information from me. It was suggested that by giving this information I could obtain the release of an elderly person in poor health who was being detained.
Compared with others, I have not suffered. During these four and a half months I have twice been allowed to see my children. I have also been allowed to consult with legal advisers and to obtain reading matter. Nevertheless, on the majority of days I have, sleeping and working, had to kill 23 hours a day by myself and I can only state that, if under such conditions pressure had really been applied to me – if I had been made to stand in one spot for 20 or 30 or even 60 hours at a time with batteries of trained men firing questions at me – the “statue” method, as it is known – if under those conditions I had given information, it could only have been information of a most unreliable character. Solitary confinement in itself is a vicious and inhuman form of treatment.
As I say, I cannot testify to the extreme forms that this “treatment” has taken. But there are facts of which the State knows, and some of which have come before our courts, which establish what their consequences have been, apart from twisting, and distorting human personalities like those of Beyleveld and Hlapane. These methods have already produced three suicides, one of them by an Indian who was a close friend of mine, a man no-one could ever have dreamed would take his own life. They have also produced two serious attempts at suicide by two other close friends. The first was by Mrs. Slovo, the mother of three small daughters, a courageous woman if ever there was one. The other, by Mr. Heymann, also a person of outstanding character and courage.
These are facts which all should know. They bring shame to our country. Few Whites recognise them. Most accept the application of the 180-day law as normal procedure. But the facts remain and they are the result of an attempt to use the criminal law in order to suppress political beliefs. In such circumstances the administration or criminal law changes its character. It ceases to have integrity. It becomes an Inquisition instead. It leads to the total extinction of freedom. It adds immeasurably to the deep race hatred.
FROM NATIONALISM TO COMMUNISM
The last subject I want to mention is personal. Therefore I hesitated before deciding to do so. But I shall not be giving evidence or making a statement in mitigation and perhaps I should acquaint the Court with one aspect of my background.
I was a Nationalist at the age of six, if not before. I saw violence for the first time when, sitting on my father’s shoulder, I saw business premises with German names burned to the ground in Bloemfontein, including some of my own family. I can still remember the weapons collected by my father and his friends who were bent on preventing a second outbreak. I saw my father leave with an ambulance unit to try and join the rebel forces. I remained a Nationalist for over twenty years thereafter and became, in 1929, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of a student parliament.
I never doubted that the policy of segregation was the only solution to this country’s problems until the Hitler theory of race superiority began to threaten the world with genocide and with the greatest disaster in all history. The Court will see that I did not shed my old beliefs with ease.
It was when these doubts arose that, one night, when I was driving an old A.N.C. leader to his house far out to the west of Johannesburg, that I propounded to him the well-worn theory that if you separate races you diminish the points at which friction between them may occur, and hence ensure good relations. His answer was the essence of simplicity. If you place races of one country in two camps, said he, and cut off contact between them, those in each camp begin to forget that those in the other camp are ordinary human beings, that each lives and laughs in the same way, that each experiences joy or sorrow, pride or humiliation for the same reasons. Thereby each becomes suspicious of the other and each eventually fears the other, which is the basis of all racialism.
I believe no-one could more effectively sum up the South African position today. Only contact between the races can eliminate suspicion and fear; only contact and co-operation can breed tolerance and understanding. Segregation or apartheid, however genuinely believed in, can produce only those things it is supposed to avoid: inter-racial tension and estrangement, intolerance and race hatreds.
All the conduct with which I have been charged has been directed towards maintaining contact and understanding between the races of this country. If one day it may help to establish a bridge across which White leaders and the real leaders of the non-White can meet to settle the destinies of all of us by negotiation and not by force of arms, I shall be able to bear with fortitude any sentence which this Court may impose on me. It will be a fortitude strengthened by this knowledge at least, that for twenty-five years I have taken no part, not even by passive acceptance, in that hideous system of discrimination which we have erected in this country, and which has become a by-word in the civilised world today.
In prophetic words, in February 1881, one of the great Afrikaner leaders, addressed the President and Volksraad of the Orange Free State.
His words are inscribed on the base of the statue of President Kruger in the square in front of this Court. After great agony and suffering after two wars they were eventually fulfilled without force or violence for my people.
President Kruger’s words were:
“Met vertrouwen leggen wij onze zaak open voor de geheele wereld. Het zij wij overwinnen, het zij wij sterven: de vrijheid zal in Afrika rijzen als de zon uit de morgenwolken .” [With confidence we place our case before the entire world. Whether we are victorious or whether we die, freedom will arise in Africa like the sun from the morning clouds.]
In the meaning which those words bear today they are truly prophetic, as they were in 1881. My motive in all I have done has been to prevent a repetition of that unnecessary and futile anguish which has already been suffered in one struggle for freedom.
Source: SA History Online.