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by Nelson Mandela for Liberation
Liberation – a “Journal of Democratic Discussion”
– was published in Johannesburg
from 1953 to 1959.

On
political tactics, in particular the boycott weapon. By 1958 there was a close
working relationship between all the bodies forming the Congress Movement,
headed by the ANC and consisting also of the Congresses of the Indian and
Coloured peoples, and democratic whites, and the South African Congress of
Trade Unions (SACTU). This came to be called the Congress Alliance. The
organisation SACPO referred to by Mandela in this article is the Coloured
People’s Congress under its earlier name.

Political
organisations in this country have frequently employed the boycott weapon in
their struggle against racial discrimination and oppression. In 1947 the
African National Congress decided to boycott all elections under the Native
Representatives Act of 1936, as well as all elections to the United Transkeian
Territories General Council, generally referred to as the Bunga, to the
Advisory Boards, and all other discriminatory statutory institutions specially
set up for Africans. A year earlier the South African Indian Congress had
decided to boycott and had launched a resistance campaign against the Asiatic
Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act which, inter alia, made special
provision for the representation in Parliament of Indians in the Provinces of
Natal and the Transvaal and for the representation in the Provincial Council of
Natal of Indians in that Province. In 1957 the South African Coloured People’s
Organisation (SACPO) considered its attitude on the question of the election of
four Europeans to represent the Coloured people in Parliament, and decided to
boycott these elections as well as the election of 27 Coloured persons to the
Union Council of Coloured Affairs. The same year SACPO reversed this decision
and decided to participate in the parliamentary elections.

Apart from
such boycotts of unrepresentative institutions, boycotts of a different kind
have often been called by various organisations on matters directly affecting
the people. For example, in 1949 the Western Areas Tram Fares Committee
successfully boycotted the increased fares on the Johannesburg Western Areas
tram route. Similarly last year, and by means of the boycott weapon, the
Alexandra People’s Transport Committee achieved a brilliant victory when it
rebuffed and defeated the decision of the Public Utility Transport Corporation,
backed by the Government, to increase fares along the Johannesburg-Alexandra
bus route. The Federation of South African Nurses and Midwives is presently
campaigning for the boycott of all discriminatory provisions of the Nursing
Amendment Act passed last year. By and large, boycott is recognised and
accepted by the people as an effective and powerful weapon of political struggle.

Perhaps it
is precisely because of its effectiveness and the wide extent to which various
organisations employ it in their struggles to win their demands that some
people regard the boycott as a matter of principle which must be applied
invariably at all times and in all circumstances irrespective of the prevailing
conditions. This is a serious mistake, for the boycott is in no way a matter of
principle but a tactical weapon whose application should, like all other
political weapons of the struggle, be related to the concrete conditions
prevailing at the given time.

For
example, the boycott by the Indian community of the representation machinery
contained in the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act of 1946 was
correct at the time not because the boycott is a correct principle but because
the Indian people correctly gauged the objective situation. Firstly, the
political concessions made in the Act were intended to bribe the Indian people
to accept the land provisions of this Act, which deprived the Indians of their
land rights – a bribe which even the Indian reactionaries were not prepared to
accept. Secondly, a remarkable degree of unity and solidarity had been achieved
by the Indian people in their struggle against the Act. The conservative Kajee
Pather bloc worked in collaboration with the progressive and militant Dadoo
Naicker wing of the SAIC and no less than 35,000 members had been recruited
into the SAIC before the commencement of the campaign. Under these conditions
the boycott proved correct and not a single Indian person registered as a voter
in terms of the Act.

Similarly,
the 1947 boycott resolution of the ANC was correct, in spite of the fact that
no effective country-wide campaign was carried out to implement this
resolution. It will be recalled that at the time, in an endeavour to destroy
the people’s political organisations and to divert them from these
organisations, the United Party Government was fostering the illusion that the
powers of the Natives Representative Council, the Bunga, the Advisory Boards,
and similar institutions would be increased to such an extent that the African
people would have an effective voice in the Government of the country. The
agitation that followed the adoption of the boycott resolution by the ANC,
inadequate as it was, helped to damage the influence of these sham institutions
and to discredit those who supported them. In certain areas these institutions
were completely destroyed and they have now no impact whatsoever on the outlook
of the people. To put the matter crisply, the 1947 resolution completely
frustrated the scheme of the United Party Government to confuse the people and
to destroy their political organisation.

In some
cases, therefore, it might be correct to boycott, and in others it might be
unwise and dangerous. In still other cases another weapon of political struggle
might be preferred. A demonstration, a protest march, a strike, or civil
disobedience might be resorted to, all depending on the actual conditions at
the given time.

Tuesday 14 June 2011 11:07

In some cases, therefore, it might be correct to boycott, and in others it might be unwise and dangerous.

In the
opinion of some people, participation in the system of separate racial
representation in any shape or form, and irrespective of any reasons advanced
for doing so, is impermissible on principle and harmful in practice. According
to them such participation can only serve to confuse the people and to foster
the illusion that they can win their demands through a parliamentary form of
struggle. In their view the people have now become so politically conscious and
developed that they cannot accept any form of representation which in any way
fetters their progress. They maintain that people are demanding direct
representation in Parliament, in the provincial and city councils, and that
nothing short of this will satisfy them. They say that leaders who talk of the
practical advantages to be gained by participation in separate racial
representation do not have the true interests of the people at heart. Finally,
they argue that the so called representatives have themselves expressed the
view that they have achieved nothing in Parliament. Over and above this, the
argument goes, the suggestion that anything could be achieved by electing such
representatives to Parliament is made ridiculous by their paucity of numbers in
Parliament. This view has been expressed more specifically in regard to the
question of boycott of the forthcoming Coloured Parliamentary seats.

The basic
error in this argument lies in the fact that it regards the boycott not as a
tactical weapon to be employed if and when objective conditions permit, but as
an inflexible principle which must under no circumstances be varied. Having
committed this initial mistake, people who advocate this point of view are
invariably compelled to interpret every effort to relate the boycott to
specific conditions as impermissible deviations on questions of principle. In
point of fact, total and uncompromising opposition to racial discrimination in
all its ramifications, and refusal to co-operate with the Government in the
implementation of its reactionary policies, are matters of principle in regard
to which there can be no compromise.

In its
struggle for the attainment of its demands the liberation movement avails
itself of various political weapons, one of which might (but not necessarily)
be the boycott. It is, therefore, a serious error to regard the boycott as a
weapon that must be employed at all times and in all conditions. In this stand
there is also the failure to draw the vital distinction between participation
in such elections by the people who accept racial discrimination and who wish
to co-operate with the Government in the oppression and exploitation of their
own people on the one hand, and participation in such elections, not because of
any desire to co-operate with the Government but in order to exploit them in
the interest of the liberatory struggle on the other hand. The former is the
course generally followed by collaborators and Government stooges and has for
many years been consistently condemned and rejected by the liberation movement.
The latter course, provided objective conditions permit, serves to strengthen
the people’s struggle against the reactionary policies of the Government.

The
decision of SACPO in favour of participation in the forthcoming parliamentary
elections is correct for various reasons. The principal and most urgent task
facing the Congress Movement today is the defeat of the Nationalist Government
and its replacement by a less reactionary one. Any step or decision which helps
the movement to attain this task is politically correct. The election of four
additional members to Parliament, provided they agree with the general aims of
the movement and provided that they are anti-Nationalist, would contribute to
the defeat of the present Government. In advocating this course it is not in any
way being suggested that the salvation of the oppressed people of this country
depends on the parliamentary struggle, nor is it being suggested that a United
Party regime would bring about any radical changes in the political set-up in
this country. It is accepted and recognised that the people of South Africa
will win their freedom as a result of the pressure they put up against the
reactionary policies of the Government. Under a United Party Government it will
still be necessary to wage a full-scale war on racial discrimination. But the
defeat of the Nationalists would at least lighten the heavy burden of harsh and
restrictive legislation that is borne by the people at the present moment.
There would be a breathing space during which the movement might recuperate and
prepare for fresh assaults against the oppressive policies of the Government.

SACPO’s
struggle and influence amongst the Coloured people has grown tremendously, but
it is not without opposition and there are still large numbers of Coloured people
who are outside its fold. In order to succeed, a boycott would require a
greater degree of unity and solidarity than has so far been achieved amongst
the Coloured people. Prior to the December resolution certain Coloured
organisations had indicated their willingness to participate in these
elections. To boycott elections under such conditions might result in hostile
and undesirable elements being returned to Parliament.

In several
conferences of the ANC, both national and provincial, the view has been
expressed that the 1947 boycott resolution requires to be reviewed in the light
of the new conditions created as a result of the serious and dangerous attacks
launched by the Nationalists on the liberation movement. The political
situation has radically changed since. The political organisations of the
people are functioning under conditions of semi-illegality. Legal authorities
are refusing to permit meetings within their areas and it is becoming
increasingly difficult to hold conferences. Some of the most experienced and
active members have been deported from their homes, others have been confined
to certain areas, and many have been compelled to resign from their
organisations.

The
present Government regards institutions such as the Advisory Boards as too
advanced and dangerous, and these are being replaced by tribal institutions
under the Bantu Authorities Act. Platforms for the dissemination of propaganda
are gradually disappearing. Having regard to the principal task of ousting the
Nationalist Government, it becomes necessary for the Congress to review its
attitude towards the special provision for the representation of Africans set
out in the 1936 Act. The parliamentary forum must be exploited to put forth the
case for a democratic and progressive South Africa. Let the democratic
movement have a voice both outside and within Parliament. Through the Advisory
Boards and, if the right type of candidates are found, through Parliament, we
can reach the masses of the people and rally them behind us.