Mandela’s first letter to Verwoerd

Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Cornel van Heerden)

Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Cornel van Heerden)

On 31 May 1961, South Africa was declared a Republic by the Nationalist Party, a move they made without the express consent of the non-whites majority.

In disapproval of this move, former freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, on behalf of the All-In African National Action Council, wrote a letter to then Prime Minister of the country Hendrik Verwoerd.

In the letter, Mandela relayed the grievances of the Council which were adopted at a conference held at Pietermaritzburg on 25 and 26 March 1961.

The conference, attended by 1 500 delegates, contented that the nationalist government could not decide to turn South Africa into a republic without consulting the African people.

“It was the firm view of delegates that your Government, which represents only a minority of the population in this country, is not entitled to take such a decision without first seeking the views and obtaining the express consent of the African people. Conference feared that under this proposed Republic, your Government, which is already notorious the world over for its obnoxious policies, would continue to make even more savage attacks on the rights and living conditions of the African people,” Mandela said in the letter.

(Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Kevin Sutherland)

(Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Kevin Sutherland)

Mandela also pointed to the issue of Bantu Authorities (also referred to as Bantu Authorities Act), a piece of legislation introduced to support the government’s policy of separate development. The letter argued that the legislation had a negative impact on race relations in the country.

“Conference carefully considered the grave political situation facing the African people today. Delegate after delegate drew attention to the vicious manner in which your Government forced the people of Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, Pondoland, Nongoma, Tembuland and other areas to accept the unpopular system of Bantu Authorities, and pointed to numerous facts and incidents which indicate the rapid manner in which race relations are deteriorating in this country,” said the letter.

(Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Kevin Sutherland)

(Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Kevin Sutherland)

Based on the conclusions made at the conference, Mandela, through the letter, called on “a sovereign national convention representative of all South Africans” to draw a non-racial constitution. The conference further decided that unless the apartheid government calls the convention before the 31st of May, country-wide demonstrations would be held on the eve of the proclamation of the Republic in protest.

“These demonstrations will be conducted in a disciplined and peaceful manner. We are fully aware of the implications of this decision, and the action we propose taking. We have no illusions about the counter-measures your Government might take in this matter. After all, South Africa and the world know that during the last thirteen years your Government has subjected us to merciless and arbitrary rule. Hundreds of our people have been banned and confined to certain areas,” Mandela said.

The following are resolutions of the All-In Conference as contained in Mandela’s letter:

1. We declare that no Constitution or form of Government decided without the participation of the African people who form an absolute majority of the population can enjoy moral validity or merit support, either within South Africa or beyond its borders.

2. We demand that a National Convention of elected representatives of all adult men and women on an equal basis irrespective of race, colour, creed or other limitation, be called by the Union Government no later than May 31st, 1961; that the Convention shall have sovereign powers to determine, in any way the majority of the representatives decide, a new non-racial democratic Constitution for South Africa.

3. We resolve that should the minority Government ignore this demand of the representatives of the united will of the African people –

(a) We undertake to stage country-wide demonstrations on the eve of the proclamation of the Republic in protest against this undemocratic act.

(b) We call on all Africans not to cooperate or collaborate in any way with the proposed South African Republic or any other form of Government which rests on force to perpetuate the tyranny of a minority, and to organise and unite in town and country to carry out constant actions to oppose oppression and win freedom.

(c) We call on the Indian and Coloured communities and all democratic Europeans to join forces with us in opposition to a regime which is bringing disaster to South Africa and to win a society in which all can enjoy freedom and security.

(d) We call on democratic people the world over to refrain from any cooperation or dealings with the South African government, to impose economic and other sanctions against this country and to isolate in every possible way the minority Government whose continued disregard of all human rights and freedoms constitutes a threat to world peace.

4. We further decide that in order to implement the above decisions, Conference –

(a) Elects a National Action Council;

(b) Instructs all delegates to return to their respective areas and form local Action Committees.

Read the full letter below:

As we celebrate Mandela month, we will publish a series of articles about the fallen freedom fighter and world icon every week for the rest of the month.



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