Speech by Jan Steytler (Progressive Party) to Parliament, 20 January 1960

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The Progressive Party parliamentary caucus in 1960. Dr Jan Steytler and Helen Suzman are standing in the centre.
The Progressive Party parliamentary caucus in 1960. Dr Jan Steytler and Helen Suzman are standing in the centre.

Editor’s note: The following is a speech delivered by Dr Jan van Aswegen Steytler, the Leader of the Progressive Party, on 20 January 1960 in the House of Assembly. The Progressive Party was the earliest predecessor of the contemporary Democratic Alliance, and was one of Apartheid’s most vocal critics. A year after the speech, Steytler and all the other Progressives in Parliament lost their seats, with Helen Suzman being the only one remaining for the next 13 years. This speech should be seen in the context of a consistent history of classical liberal, free market opposition to systems of social and racial engineering in South Africa.

Martin van Staden
BL Group Editor in Chief

Dr. Steytler: For 300 years the non-European has been in contact with the civilising influences of the White man in South Africa. For 50 years we have had a pattern developing in South Africa, a pattern of discrimination on the colour of a man’s skin as the basis on which privileges and rights are accorded to him. For ten years we have had “baasskap apartheid”. And the political inquities [sic] perpetrated in the name of baasskap apartheid will take this nation and this country 100 years to live down.

Last year the hon. the Prime Minister [Hendrik Verwoerd], with his acceptance of the Bantustan concept as the basis of the Nationalist Party policy rejected, on behalf of the Nationalist Party, discrimination as the basis of political division. The hon. the Prime Minister said during the second reading debate, that he is according to the Bantu people the opportunity of developing to the maximum. His own words were “I am giving the non-Europeans, the Bantu people, the opportunity of getting on to the first rung of the ladder; whether they will reach the top will depend entirely upon their own ability.” The hon. the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development said “Anybody who believes that the Bantu people will forever be subservient to other people in South Africa is living in a fool’s paradise.” Therefore the Nationalist Party advances the concept of Bantustan.

Mr. Speaker, we have no quarrel with the Nationalist Party and with the Government in their search for a basis of non-discrimination on which political rights and privileges are accorded to the individuals in South Africa. But we reject completely the Bantustan cult because we believe it can never be brought into practice in South Africa. We believe that by virtue of the geographic distribution of the Bantu areas and the ethnic units, it is impossible ever to consolidate those areas so that they can form a homeland for the Bantu peoples. The Tomlinson Commission makes mention of the fact that there are 110 Bantu areas. In addition to that, there are 154 Black spots distributed over the length and breadth of the country, reminding me of the measle spots on the back of a child. If one listens to the speeches made in this House by hon. members opposite and if one goes into the speeches made outside it is quite apparent that it is not the intention of the Nationalist Government to implement that policy. The Tomlinson Commission recommended that there is only one basis on which this can be made reality in South Africa, and that is if more land is bought for the Bantu people. The Government has said unequivocally that no more land in addition to the 1936 settlement will be acquired. In addition to that, a prerequisite to any idea of implementing Bantustans is the acquisition of the protectorates. As yet they do not form part of South Africa.

Or second reason for believing that it is impossible to realise this policy is because of the economic sacrifices that will be demanded from the South African nation. Once again the Commission recommended that 104 million pounds per annum should be spent over a ten-year period. The hon. the Prime Minister estimated that 30 million pounds would suffice. Other experts tell us that 1 billion pounds might be necessary in order to realise this ideal. Our third objection is our doubt about the practicability of this policy on account of the racial distribution of our people. Even if by the wave of a magic wand this can become reality, what would be the position of the racial composition of our country? We find, too, that the Tomlinson Commission found that even if the entire scheme could be put into practice, which according to our way of thinking is an impossibility, the Whites will still be outnumbered by the non-Whites. The entire economy of South Africa will still be dependent on non-White labour. The non-White will still have a vice-like grip over the entire South Africa, because by virtue of the fact of his economic integration he has power which will put him in a position to demand all rights and privileges if he so chooses to do. That is the reason why we of the Progressive Party reject in toto the Bantustan concept. We believe that for all time to come South Africa will be a multi-racial country, and the the choice before the people of South Africa is: How are we going to live together, because for nearly all time to come we will have White people, we will have Bantu and we will have Coloureds and we will have the Indian community, all part and parcel of the South African nation. The choice before the people is whether we are going to perpetuate our living on a basis, in the short-term view, of White domination, but as assuredly as we are gathered here today in the long term it will mean Black domination. Sir, it is our view that we can only maintain harmony and peace and co-operation between the various sections of our community if we discard colour as the only yardstick by which a man is accorded rights and privileges. We believe that after 300 years of civilising the non-White in South Africa it is incumbent upon us to recognise a civilsed man when we see him. Therefore we say that we reject the separate roll as a basis on which a multi-racial country must be governed. We believe that there is only one way of doing it, and that is to place all qualified people on the Common Roll. We have come to that conclusion not only after a very extensive consultation with people, but also after going into all the evidence at our disposal, and with your permission, sir, I would like to quote some of that evidence.

The first one I would like to quote is General [Jan] Smuts. In 1929 already at the Rhodes Memorial Lectures at Oxford he dealt with the Native problem of South Africa. I would like to quote an extract from his speech which has never before been quoted in this House. This is what he said – 

“If we had to deal only with the tribal Native, the question would not be so difficult and the application of the general segregation principle to the particular case of political rights might be justified. Unfortunately very large numbers of detribalised Natives are spread all over the Cape. These urbanised Natives living amongst the Whites constitute the real crux of the people as it is today. With the application of a strict educational, civilisation test it would probably be better to allow them to exercise their political rights along with the Whites.”

Then we have at our disposal the findings of Royal Commissions which were appointed in the past to investigate in principle which of the two systems might be better, whether the Common Roll be preferable or whether the separate roll might be the right one. In this connection we have the findings of seven Royal Commissions. The sum total of the findings amounted to this (that they had come hesitatingly to the conclusion) that the communal representation is, as it were, a canker in the body politic, eating deeper and deeper into the vital energies of the people, breeding self-interest, suspicion and animosity, poisoning the new spirit of national consciousness and effectively preventing the development of a national or co-operative spirit.

Another one similar to that is the Indian Advisory Committee on Minorities. They reported –

“By an overwhelming majority we have come to the conclusion that the system of separate elections must be abolished in the near future. In our judgment this system has in the past sharpened communal differences to a dangerous extent and has proved one of the main stumbling-blocks to the development of a healthy national life.”

I can also quote the 1950 Conference of the Federated Dutch Reformed Churches. They found the following:

“The system of direct representation of Natives in the Senate[,] House of Assembly and Provincial Council must be considered a failure. Particularly during the past years the Natives did not evince a high sense of responsibility in appointing their representatives. The system of representation has up to the present been a source of contention between the interests of the Whites and non-Whites. Some Whites do not hesitate from playing up the interests of the two sections against each other. That is the cause of the ever increasing friction and contention between Whites and non-Whites.”

The point here is that they are weighing the communal as against the Common Roll system. Sabra [South African Bureau of Racial Affairs] said the same and just for the record I want to quote it also – 

“Supporters of the integration policy often claim that the granting of a fixed and limited number of representatives in the Europeans’ Parliament should satisfy the Native population without creating any threat to the Europeans’ dominance in the political sphere. Here it must, however, be first asked whether there are any reasonable grounds for presuming that the Native population will or can be satisfied with this type of representation in the long run, representation which clearly discriminates against them. Secondly, if the principle of group representation is adopted, how many representatives are to be granted to the Natives in the Assembly or in the Senate?”

So we can go on quoting one finding after the other of expert commissions which have investigated the feasibility of the two systems, the Common Roll as against the separate roll. Not only that, but in the context of South Africa today we must remember that the non-White wants his rights. How can we justify not giving any rights or privileges to an educated, civilised man? We cannot justify it in the eyes of the non-White; we cannot justify it in the eyes of the world, and we cannot justify it in our own eyes. Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that in the attempt of the hon. the Prime Minister in accepting the Bantustan concept one of the reasons that moved him towards that was the fact that not only were we losing the goodwill of the non-White in South Africa, but we were losing the respect of the outside world. Now there are many people who will say that should that be the case, how long will it be before the Whites are outnumbered on the Common Roll, that political power will go into the hands of the non-Whites. No, I do not wish to see that. All that I want to guarantee for South Africa is that when that day comes, and as sure as I am standing here it will come, no matter what Government is in power, I want to make sure that the people who govern my country must still be civilised people.

Mr. Speaker [Johannes Conradie]: Order! I have granted the hon. member a lot of latitude, but there is a motion on the Order Paper which deals with the political rights of all South African citizens. Most of the arguments the hon. member has used can be used when that motion is under consideration.

Mr. [Harry] Lawrence (Progressive Party): On a point of order, may I point out that the hon. member’s motion deals with a reform of the Constitution. Whereas admittedly the question of the vote is inherent in such a motion, I would urge you allow the usual latitude to be given which is allowed to speakers on a no confidence motion.

Mr. Speaker: No, I think I have given the hon. member a lot of latitude already.

Dr. Steytler: I might mention, too, that these self-same fears of being swamped are being felt by the Whites in other parts of Africa where they already had the Common Roll in practice for a number of years. They have worked out a pattern there which, whether we like it or no, will have to be followed right throughout the African Continent. Now it might well be asked by hon. members what the qualification standards are going to be, and in this regard I would like to tell the House that we have appointed an expert commission.

An Hon. Member: Who are “we”?

Dr. Steytler: The Progressive Party. We have appointed the commission to go into the qualification standards to be laid down.

Mr. Speaker: Order! What has that to do with the motion before the House?

Dr. Steytler: I am coming to that.

Mr. Speaker: But the hon. member must come to it immediately.

Dr. Steytler: One of the reasons why we have no confidence in the Government is the fact that everything the Government does in relation to the non-Whites in South Africa, is done without any consultation whatever except through the Department of Bantu Affairs. We believe that if we have to live together with the non-Whites in South Africa, there is only one basis on which we can do it and that is that we must consult with them.

Co-operation does not only mean working together in factories. Co-existence does not only mean having sufficient to eat. It means more than that. It means that people who are ruled by laws must have a say in those laws. That is the reason why we maintain that the consultation which the Nationalist Party had in the past with these people is inadequate, and the only basis on which it can be done is by proper consultation and by giving those people the opportunity to voice their feelings.

It might be said, too, that with our policy the pattern of life that has developed in South Africa, residential separation and social separation, might disappear. I can assure this House that we have gone into this matter, too. We have consulted with people in all walks of life and we have found that that danger does not exist. I would like to refer the House to the position that obtained in South Africa before the Nationalists came into power. Did we have any Group Areas Acts? Did we have an Immorality Act? And yet after 300 years the White man is still a White man. We believe that that position will obtain for all time in South Africa, because it is not a law that guarantees the individual his identity. It is not the Group Areas Act nor the Immorality Act, nor all the other apartheid legislation, that is responsible for the White man maintaining his identity. That is not the responsibility of the State or of a party. It is the responsibility of the individual. It depends depends entirely what value the individual ascribes to his race identity.

In this regard I might mention, too, that all the groups in South Africa are proud to be what they are. Like the White man, the Bantu, the Indian and the Coloured would like to retain their identity. One of the most dangerous signs developing in the country is the development of group nationalism. We have the Bantu developing his own nationalism and that, too, is one of the main reasons that forced the Prime Minister to adopt his policy. You have the nationalism of all the other groups springing up, which sooner or later must clash. We believe that instead of having these various nationalities, races and groups developing their own nationalism, we should substitute for that a common patriotism towards South Africa. You cannot do that on the basis of the Nationalist Party policy. You can only do it when you give recognition to the individual on his merits and not on the colour of his skin. We believe, too, that one of the biggest enemies of South Africa is poverty. We believe that according to the basis of Nationalist Party policy it is an absolute crime after ten years of Nationalist rule that three-quarters of the South African population should still be living below the breadline. We believe that steps should be taken to give the individual the opportunity, which is a right that is his, a right that cannot be alienated, that he should be put into the position to develop his potentialities to the maximum. Therefore we believe that all people in South Africa should be given the opportunity to acquire skills so that they can improve their standard of living, so that they can educate their children, so that they can help to create the buying power of the South African nation. The time is long past where South Africa could afford the luxury of having the potentialities of 13 million of her people lying dormant. The Progressive Party believes that if we want to develop in the way that we can, we must mobilise all our abilities, irrespective of the race or colour of the man. In that regard we believe that the restrictions put on our industry and on labour must be removed. We believe that a man has a right to sell his labour in the best market. (Interjections.) My hon. friends and many of our critics think that should we do that there would be chaos in the industrial centres of the country. I would like to refer the House only to one place, Port Elizabeth, where there never was influx control or pass laws until 1952, and yet it was the one city in which there was no trouble. Also that in Johannesburg after and during the war, despite the influx control and pass laws, parlous conditions developed, and with proper planning, and the stabilisation of labour in the rural areas, with the rehabilitation of the reserves and with proper housing and amenities in the industrial areas, all the so-called chaos will be removed.

We believe, further, that on this basis South Africa has nothing to fear for the future. Should we take all our people with us and give them hope, we need never fear any foreign ideology. It is essential that we should reject the present basis of our policies, because it is our destiny as the biggest nation in Africa that we should maintain our influence right throughout the African Continent. It is inconceivable to us how we can go completely and absolutely contrary to what is happening not only in Africa but right throughout the world. On this basis we can develop into the country that destiny wants us to develop into.

Speaker: Dr Jan van Aswegen Steytler was the Leader of the Progressive Party from 1959 to 1970, and a Member of Parliament between 1953 and 1961.

Disclaimer: The above text is assumed to be in the public domain, as it was recorded in the House of Assembly Debates series published by government. I made use of DW Kruger’s South African Parties and Policies 1910-1960: A select source book (1960), published by Human & Rousseau, for the text. If you own the copyright to this text, please notify the Rational Standard immediately and it will be removed.

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