African National Congress 1943
Source: ANC Historical Documents Archive.
In the following pages the reader will find what has been termed "Bill of Rights" and "The Atlantic Charter from the African’s Point of View". This document was drawn up after due deliberations by a special committee whose names appear at the end of this booklet. Their findings were unanimously adopted by the Annual conference of the African National Congress at Bloemfontein, on the 16th of December, 1943. We realise as anyone else the apparent inappropriativeness and vagueness of the expressions when adopted by us. We have, however, adapted them to our own conditions as they give us, the most dynamic way of directing the attention of our Government in the Union of South Africa, the European population of our country of the African position and the status in this land of our birth - South Africa - because the Government and the European section alone have the absolute a the Prime Minister of the Union of South African and his delegation to the Peace Conference will represent the interests of the people in our country. We want the government and the people of South Africa to know that the full aspirations of the African peoples so that their point of view will also be presented at the Peace Conference. We want the Government of the United Nations to know and actin the light of our own interpretation of the "Atlantic Charter" to which they are signatories. This is our way of conveying to them our undisputed claim to full citizenship. We desire them to realise once an for all that a just and permanent peace will be possible only if the claims of all classes, colours and races for sharing and for full participation in the educational, political and economic activities are granted and recognised.
Already according to press reports there seems to be differences of opinion as to the applicability of the ‘Atlantic Charter’ as between the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. It would appear that President F.D. Roosevelt wanted the Atlantic Charter to apply to the whole world while the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, understood it to be intended for the white people of the occupied countries in Europe.
In South Africa, Africans have no freedom of movement, no freedom of choice of employment, no right of choice of residence and no right of freedom to purchase land or fixed property from anyone and anywhere. Under the guise of segregation, they are subjected to serious educational, political and economic disabilities and discriminations which are the chief causes of their apparent slow progress.
We urge that if fascism and fascist tendencies are to be uprooted from the face of the earth, and to open the way for peace, prosperity and racial good-will, the ‘Atlantic Charter’ must apply to the whole British Empire, the United States of America and to all the nations of the world and their subject peoples. And we urge that South Africa as a prelude to her participation at the Peace Conference in the final destruction of Nazism and Fascism in Europe, must grant the just claims of her non-European peoples to freedom, democracy and human decency, as contained in the following document since charity must begin at home, and if to quote B.B.C Radio news Reel: "We Fight for World Democracy."
The Soldiers of all races Europeans, Americans, Asiatics and Africans have won their claim and the claims of their peoples to the four freedoms by having taken part in this war which can be converted into a war for human freedom if the settlement at the Peace Table is based on human justice, fair play and equality for opportunity for all races, colours and classes.
We deliberately set up a committee composed exclusively of Africans in South Africa to deal with this matter so that they can declare without assistance or influences from others, their hopes and despairs. The document that follows is their deliberate and considered conclusion as well as their conviction. Others who believe in justice ad fairly for all human beings will support these rightful claims from Africans themselves.
The list of names of the members of the committee who produced this document tells a story for those who would understand. These fruits of their labours area legacy, nay a heritage which they will lee behind for future generations to enjoy. For it, and to them, we are all forever indebted.
As African leaders we are not so foolish as to believe that because we have made these declarations that our government will grant us our claims for the mere asking. We realise that for the African this is only a beginning of a long struggle entailing great sacrifices of them, means and even life itself. To the African people the declaration is a challenge to organise and unite themselves under the mass liberation movement, the African National Congress. The struggle is on right now and it must be persistent and insistent. In a mass liberation movement there is no room for divisions or for personal ambitions. The goal is one, namely, freedom for all. It should be the central and only aim for objective of all true African nationals. Divisions and gratificational of personal ambitions under the circumstances will be a betrayal of this great cause.
On behalf of my Committee and the African National Congress I call upon chiefs, ministers of religion, teachers, professional men, men and women of all ranks and classes to organise our people, to close ranks and take their place in this mass liberation movement and struggle, expressed in this Bill of Citizenship Rights until freedom, right and justice are won for all races and colours to the honour and glory of the Union of South Africa whose ideals - freedom, democracy, Christianity and human decency cannot be attained until all races in South Africa participate in them.
I am confident that all men and women of goodwill of all races and nations will see the justice of our cause and stand with us and support us in our struggle.
If you ever feel discouraged in the struggle that must follow remember the wise and encouraging words of the Prime Minister, Field Marshal the Right Honourable J.C. Smuts who says: "Do not mind being called agitators. Let them call you any names they like, but get on with the job and see that matters that vitally require attention, Native health, Native food, the treatment of Native children and all those cognate questions tat are basic to the welfare of South Africa are attended to."
President-General of the African National Congress
Secretary-Organiser Atlantic Charter Committee, South Africa.
From the standpoint of African within the Union of South Africa.
"Their countries seek no aggrandisement, territorial or otherwise."
In this article there is very important assurance which is intended to exonerate the Allied Nations from the charge of having entered into this war for territorial gains or imperialistic reasons. With that understanding we support the principle continued in this article and hope that the rejection of aggrandisement in the War Aims of the Allied Nations is genuine and well meant ... Having regard, however, to the possible danger of aggrandisement in the form of the extension of the Mandates System which was instituted after the last Great War, in spite of similar assurances in President Wilson’s FOURTEEN POINTS, and also to the possibility of ‘annexation’ of certain African territories through their economic strangulation under veiled forms of assistance, we have deemed it necessary to make these three reservations.
Firstly, the status and independence of Abyssinia and her right to sovereignty must be safeguarded, and any political and economic assistance she may need must be freely negotiated by her and be in accordance with her freely expressed wishes. Abyssinia should be afforded a corridor into the sea for purposes of trade and direct communication with the outside world.
Secondly, we urge that as a fulfillment of the War Aim of the Allied Nations namely, to liberate territories and peoples under foreign documentation, the former Italian colonies in Africa should be granted independence and their security provided for under the future system of World Security.
Thirdly, there are the anxieties of Africans with regard to British Protectorates in Southern Africa. It is well known that the Union of South Africa is negotiating for the incorporation of the three Protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland and that incorporation might be pressed during or after this present war as part of South Africa’s price for participation in this war. The schedule to the South Africa Act of 1909 did envisage the transfer, under certain conditions, of the territories to the Union of South Africa, but Africans were not contracting parties to these arrangements and they do not regard the provisions of the schedule as morally and politically binding on them. They would deprecate any action on the part of Great Britain which would bring about the extension of European political control at the expense of their vital interests. Africans, therefore, are definitely opposed to the transfer of the protectorates to the South African State.
"They desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned."
This statement is intended to refer to territorial changes which have been brought about in Europe by military aggression. It is clear, however, that territorial changes are also being discussed in regard to other parts of the world. WE are mainly concerned with such changes in so far as they relate to the African continent, and in this connection mention has to be made to the suggested territorial changes in regard to West African, East Africa and Southern Africa under a system of regional regrouping as outlined in the recent speeches and writings of Field Marshal Smuts.
We hope that the mistakes of the past whereby African peoples and their lands were treated as pawns in the political game of European nations will not be repeated, and we urge that before such changes are effected there must be effective consultation and that the suggested changes must be in accord with the freely expressed wishes of the indigenous inhabitants. Further, where territorial changes have taken place in the past and have not resulted in the political and other advancement of the Africans living in those territories or colonies it would be a mistake to continue to maintain the status quo after the war. The objective of promoting self government for colonial peoples must be actively pursued by powers having such lands under their administrative control, and this objective should also be a matter of international concern more than has been the case in the past.
"They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them."
The principle of Self Determination made famous by President Wilson in his FOURTEEN POINTS on behalf of small nations has been reaffirmed by this article of the charter. This principle of self determination necessarily raises not only issues relating to the independent existence of small nations besides their more powerful neighbours but those also concerning the political rights and status of minorities and of Africans now held under European tutelage.
In the African continent in particular European aggression and conquest has resulted in the establishment of Alien governments which, however beneficent they might be in intention or in fact, are not accountable to the indigenous inhabitants. Africans are s till very conscious of the loss of their independence, freedom and the right of choosing the form of government under which they will live. It is the inalienable right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live and therefore Africans welcome the belated recognition of this right by the Allied Nations.
We believe that the acid test of this third article of the charter is its application to the African continent. In certain parts of Africa it should be possible to accord Africans sovereign rights and to establish administrations of their own choosing. But in other parts of Africa where there are the peculiar circumstances of a political entrenched European minority ruling a majority European population the demands of the Africans for full citizenship rights and direct participation in all the councils of the state should be recognised. This is most urgent in the Union of South Africa.
"They will endeavour, with due regard for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment of all states, great and small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity."
There is envisaged by this article an Open Door Policy in regard to, trade and the distribution of the world’s resources. Africa has figured prominently in the discussions on the better distribution of the world resources and of free international trade because of her rich raw materials most of which have not as yet been fully tapped. The exploitation that is suggested by the above article, judging by past experiences and present economic evils, raises in our minds considerable misgivings as likely to bring about a continuation of the exploitation of African resources to he detriment of her indigenous inhabitants and the enrichment of foreigners.
We are, however, in agreement with the necessity for the technical and economic utilisation of a country’s resources wit due regard for the human welfare and the economic improvement of the indigenous inhabitants. The primary obligation of any government is to promote the economic advancement of the peoples under its charge and any obligation, agreement, contract of treaty in conflict with this primary obligation should not be countenanced.
In our view it is essential that any economic assistance that might be rendered to weak and insufficiently developed African States should be of such a nature as will really promote their economic progress.
"They desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations on the economic field with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and Social Security."
This article of the charter has reference to the International Labour Office as the machinery by which nations shall collaborate in economic affairs. The Governments of African states have fully participated in the deliberations and exchange of ideas in regard to the promotion of improved living standards and industrial peace. For this reason Africans are vitally interested in the decisions and conventions of the International Labour Office.
But it is regrettable that conventions dealing the welfare of African labour - Forced Labour, Migrant or Recruited Labour, Health and Housing, Wage Rates - that have been drawn up at Geneva an accepted by the majority of civilised states have, for selfish reasons, been either rejected or half-heartedly applied by African governments whose protestations at being civilised have been loudest. Thus Africa has not to any large extent felt the beneficent influence of the International Labour Organisation.
Hitherto the International Labour Organisation has been representative mainly of the interests of Governments and the capitalist class. We claim that collaboration between all nations in the economic field must include consideration of the interest of labour as well as of capital and that all workers, including African workers, must be fully and indirectly represented in this collaboration. In order to make participation by the workers effective it is essential that their right to collective bargaining should be legally recognised and guaranteed.
We shall understand, ‘improved labour standards,’ economic advancement’ and ‘social security’ as referred to in this article to mean the following:- (a) the removal of the Colour Bar; (b) training in skilled occupations; remuneration according to skill; (d) a living wage and all other workers’ benefits; (e) proper and adequate housing for all races and colours."
The policy of economic collaboration is probably more applicable to economic relations between sovereign states rather than to relations with weak insufficiently developed states or territories. In our view it is essential that any economic assistance that might be rendered to weak and insufficiently developed African territories should be of such a nature as will really promote their economic improvement and not pauperise them.
"After the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want."
Africans are in full agreement with the war aim of destroying Nazi tyranny, but they desire to see all forms of racial domination in all lands, including the Allied countries, completely destroyed. Only in this way, they firmly believe, shall there be established peace which will afford to all peoples and races the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford the assurance that all men in all lands shall live out their lives in freedom from fear, want and oppression.
"Such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance."
We agree with the principle of freedom of the seas.
"They believe that all the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no further peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten or may threaten aggression out of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential... They will likewise aid and encourage all other practical measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments."
We are in agreement in principle with the idea of the abandoning of the use of force for the settlement of international disputes, but we do not agree with the idea of envisaged in this article of the character concerning the armament of some nations and the disarmament of the other nations as this policy is provocative of future wars. As a preliminary, steps must be taken to nationalise the armament industry.
While recognising the necessity for the use of force within a country as part of its policing machinery, we must nevertheless deplore the fact that force, especially in South Africa, is frequently resorted to as a method of suppressing the legitimate ventilation of their grievances by oppressed, unarmed and disarmed sections of the population.
We, the African people in the Union of South Africa, urgently demand the granting of full citizenship rights such as are enjoyed by all Europeans in South Africa. We demand:-
We demand the right to an equal share in all the material resources of the country, and we urge:
We demand for the Africans-
In short, we demand the repeal of any and all laws as well as the abandonment of any policy and all practices that discriminate against the African in any way whatsoever on the basis of race, creed or colour in the Union of South Africa.
1. Congress Series No. II. Issued and Published by the African National Congress, Rosenberg Arcade, 58 Market Street, Johannesburg, and Printed by the Liberty Printers, 325, 6th Street, Asiatic Bazaar, Pretoria.
In December 1942, the conference of the African National Congress requested its President, Dr. A.B. Xuma, to appoint a committee to study the Atlantic Charter and draft a bill of rights to be presented to the peace conference at the end of the war. (The Atlantic Charter had been proclaimed on August 14, 1991, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, as a statement of the peace aims of the Allies.)
Accordingly, an Atlantic Charter Committee - consisting of prominent African professionals and intellectuals of varied political views - met on December 13 and 14, 1943, in Bloemfontein. Professor Z.K. Matthews was elected Chairman.
The report of this Committee - "Africans’ Claims in South Africa" - was unanimously adopted by the ANC annual conference on 16 December 1943.
This statement of the aspirations of the African people was one of the most important documents of the ANC. It was, however, spurned by the racist regime. Dr. Xuma requested an interview with Prime Minister Smuts to discuss it, but received a reply that Smuts was "not prepared to discuss proposals which are wildly impracticable".