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Interviewee : BILLY NAIR (MP) - (1929- )

Interviewer : D Shongwe

Date : 12 July 2002

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DS: Ja, I just wanted to know what was the community that you lived in like; in terms of did they mobilise ...[unclear] or how did they perceive the situation in those days?
BN: Ja, you see at the time; and especially during the course of my brother; during this period I completed, as I said, primary school, started work in 1946 and not far from where I worked, this was in the Red Square in Pine Street, Durban, already there were massive, you know, rallies taking place. It took place at what is called the Red Square. You see the Nicol Square, it's called now the Nicol Square Garage. It's a massive structure, four or five stories high. That was actually a vacant ground and the Indian Congress held regular meetings there and during that period the Indian Congress led a campaign against what is called the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act. The government wanted to segregate Indians, take away their land, remove them from so-called white areas and get them into what they called Indian areas. Now, in return for this, the Indians were told [that] they'd get representation in parliament, that is, whites will represent them in. I think there were three Indian representatives but who will be representing them will be whites. The Indian Congress totally this law. It was this, incidentally, this was brought by not the Nationalist Government but by the Smuts government in 1946. So already I grew up, I matured during this period. By attending these meetings, a number were students, my fellow students and I every evening these mass rallies except for weekends, used to take place in the evenings, that is during the course of the week, come out at weekends during the day. Now then, in 1947 India, you know, got its independence and this, of course, also stimulated, you know, Indian resistance against these oppressive laws where the government was now trying to make - use us as either stooges or to win us over surreptitiously onto the side of the government. This was totally rejected and on the other - also, this is very important, in 1947 both the Indian and African Congresses, Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker of the Indian Congress and Dr. Xuma the President of the African National Congress, at the time he was president. They got together and they decided that the destiny of the Indian and African people was one; which had to unite and struggle jointly; and this happened during the course of the Passive Resistance campaign against the Smuts, you know, the Bill that he was introducing in order to win over the Indian people. Now the resistance began against this, there were thousands of Indian Passive Resisters who got imprisonment; went; defied the laws of the country; for instance sat in a vacant block in Gale Street, you know, and which was a white area and because they were in a white area and they were seated there overnight and decided to pitch a tent and just stayed there for a few hours. They were arrested and imprisoned for that. There were thousands of them. There were also Indians who crossed the borders between Natal and the Transvaal. Every Indian who went into the Transvaal had to have a permit. If you did not have a permit to cross into the Transvaal you were immediately arrested. So the passive resisters also defied that law. Went into the Transvaal without a permit and voluntarily courted imprisonment. There were thousands of them, as I said, between 1946 and 1948 who went into prison, defying the government's laws, actually challenging the government, refusing to accept the - you could say, the so-called half a loaf, accept something that was actually a fraud. Now we, I together with my fellow students and a number of them were moulded during this period into also resisting, so not that - I didn't go into prison but I wanted to know more about the struggle. Read all the documents; was inspired by what: you take this Chittagong Armoury Raiders in Bangladesh at the time; it's Bangladesh today; Bengal at the time; students who actually got together and defied the British government. They took arms, fought them. Now these are the books at that time, I think 1947, also Kaplani Dutt, who actually wrote the book. It's available, you must look at the - it's a little booklet which was really inspirational and as a matter of fact she called it the Chittagong Armoury Raiders and her name was Kalpani Dutt. She was sentenced; a number of them were sentenced to death. She, of course, was sentenced in 1929 or 1930 and only came out of prison in 1947 when India got independence. She was really an inspiration. She, and of course, other students. So India's struggle also impacted on the struggle of the Indian people here. It also impacted on the struggle of the African people. You will find the African people were also inspired, tremendously. Not only in South Africa. No, no, throughout Africa and Nkrumah of Ghana and in other, in Tanzania Julius Nyerere, were all inspired by that struggle and it accelerated the struggle for independence and freedom from oppression of the British, the foreigner, in Africa as well. Now this is history, but now we, I personally grew up, in that milieu, in that atmosphere, and of course, we worked; slowly I was dragged into this, you know, I'll tell you just now.
DS: Okay.
BN: Obviously you've got questions?
DS: Ja, I just want to ...
BN: Sorry, I go astray.
DS: No, it's fine. I just want to find out, the impact of the Asiatic Land Tenure Act which was passed by apartheid government by then - I just want to know the direct impact on you?
BN: Now as I was telling you, my dear, the direct impact - one is that I became part and parcel of the Congress Movement. Not that I went into prison for this during 1946 and 1948, those was the years of Passive Resistance, but I became active in that I joined political classes during this period and began to study the politics of Congress. Firstly, these were classes that were led by, conducted by members of the Communist Party. Now I began to imbibe communism through reading literature of Marx, Lenin and others. Marx I was unable to understand at the time, it took me many years. It was only on Robben Island that after I got my economics I was able to understand Marx. But at the time there were teachers. So I decided to groom myself politically; and roundabout the late '40s and the '50s I said no, I had to give up working in the normal way; working for an employer because I worked in that shop and worked part time as a bookkeeper; then worked during the weekends to keep up the family to ensure that I supplemented their income and then although poor and did not manage, I decided to give up working for an employer and became full time political activist, and in 1950 or 1951 I became a full time trade unionist. I worked for a dairy, you know, in Durban, earned - it was a princely sum, 24 pounds a month and I worked there only for six months but while I was there, I organised the Natal Dairy Workers' Union and the employers came about to know about this, not only did I organise the workers in that particular place but organised them in all other dairies as well and it soon spread throughout Durban. Indian and African workers, in the main, were members of the Natal Dairy Workers' Union and I became, got fired, first. I got fired from the firm within six months. So the family suffered a great deal in that 24 pounds a month at that time, it was quite, you know, a tidy sum and notwithstanding that I then became full time secretary of the Dairy Workers' Union in 1951 and earned only six pounds a month. Seriously, six pounds a month. It made quite a dent in our income and I had to rely on my mother for bus fares, even for food. So in fact, travel -we used to travel by bus at the time, there was no such thing as a car of your own, and so on. So all this was costly and my lunch and upkeep and so on came largely from my mother, just the food and travel expenses used to just exhaust that six pounds that I earned. Now - or why and then, working in - in fact I knew nothing about trade unionism, I had to accelerate, work day and night to organise workers. You remember at the time, you had the rickshaw, you didn't have trucks to deliver milk and so on, you had what you called a rickshaw pushers or pullers who used to actually deliver milk and these were the workers that were organised. It was tough but we got more organisers, began to accelerate the organisation and we won concessions at the time from the employers but it meant an uphill battle. But soon thereafter, my good colleagues who were communists, who were trade unionists for years before me in the '30s and '40s, they got banned in 1950 in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act. They were not immediately banned, by the way, the Suppression of Communism Act was passed in 1950, but my colleagues were banned in 1953 and they had sixteen trade unionists, three of them were all banned more or less at the same time and they were secretaries and organisers of sixteen trade unions. I had to immediately take over those sixteen unions and you will just imagine; then we had to move into a bigger office and there were thousands of workers to be organized; it meant working round the clock, day and night; from organising the factories; travelling out; holding meetings and so on; having committee meetings; general meetings etc, every weekend and for sixteen unions. It was an impossibility but you had to do it and gradually of course, we got people, functionaries trained, organisers trained, it meant working, and of course, those who were banned, forced to resign and so on, also helped in training our people, all done illegally, they had to work under cover and that's how we were able to establish an infrastructure so that we could continue with the organisation, you know, of the workers. Okay, my dear, in case you want to ask some questions?
DS: Okay, earlier on you said you were arrested. I just want to - can you please tell us or expand on that? When and how, why you were arrested?
BN: Ja, now I - you see I'll be jumping the gun.
DS: Okay.
BN: Okay, now let me tell you. You see, in the course - let me just develop this in sequence. You see, what happens, in the course of the struggle, it was quite a battle organising the workers and fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. That was one. The employers, the bosses, we had to constantly clash with them. That's one. Then you had the government, the Nationalist Government came into power in 1948 - very hostile. It was very hostile to the workers, hostile to Congress, hostile to anything that they said was revolutionary or wanted change or opposed the policy of apartheid of the Nationalist Government. So you had to contend, on the one hand, with the employers, the other is the government. So at every stage, wherever you moved, if you - for instance I'll give you a good - there are thousands of examples. If I go to a factory to hold a meeting, the employer in the first place would not allow me to use the cloakroom, the cloakroom or the hall where you could, where the workers could, meet en masse and I could have a meeting. He wouldn't allow you to enter the factory. So you had to have the meeting outside the factory. You were arrested. I was arrested several times, hundreds of times. The employer simply called the Police to say that I'm illegally holding a meeting in public property, on a railway property or something like that, and they would charge you for holding a meeting on a public property, R5 fine, 5 pounds fine or something of that sort. Or they caution and discharge you. Just to harass you, just to get you into trouble. Now this used to also inspire the workers. Workers were never intimidated, they were inspired by this. There were a number of these workers at that time seriously, African Workers, Indian Workers. African workers, in particular, were earning - you know when I worked in the shop - let me go back - in that shop as a shop assistant, I earned one pound eighteen shillings and seven pence. If you reduce that, one 1pound 87 was my wage per week, that is R2 or R3 - less than R3. Now it's R2.87. That's what I was earning, R2.87. Now you may just imagine what the African workers were earning, they just - you know, they land here in Durban, lived in Cato Manor - from the rural areas into the urban area and there was wholesale exploitation. Mbongeni Ngema was now shouting, screaming through his head, he knows nothing about the struggle, you know, of the workers, of the people at the time. The greatest exploiters were the mine owners who paid the workers a pittance a month, two pounds or one pound a month and they gave them samp or phutu or mealies, boiled mealies and they slept on bunkers, cement bunkers and the gold mines, diamond mines, and all the mineral wealth of this country, came from the super-exploitation of the African worker and he died of pisces disease, you know, he breathed in what, in the mines? Dust! And at the age of 40, 43 or 45 he was dead. Sent back to the farm to die. That is how, you know, you had South Africa growing into - you take Johannesburg or you take all the wealthy areas, Houghton, Clifton, you name it, all of those things, you know, came from the sweat and the blood of the African worker and through the super-exploitation of some diamonds in 1867; gold, 1886 gold was discovered and South Africa takes off. You had all the foreigners coming here, scrambling over, grabbing the land and so on, grabbing the goats, the sheep and whatever, all the animals of the African, took their land away and drove them into the mines as cheap labour. Now, Mbogeni Ngema says Indians are exploiting. Where the hell does he come from? Anyway, that's a different story.
Okay, you see now what I do want to say and let me, to be sure, you have Indians, Africans, Coloureds and Whites, White employers who are all of the same mould, you know? They exploit us; where they get a chance for squeezing, you know, the blood out of you so that they could profit by it, they do it. Now you get that running through the old, the employing class, as a whole, but that doesn't mean every single employer is of the same mould, you know. You have, of course, some of them who are sympathetic, some of them who are genuinely for the welfare of the workers. Like you take, for instance, you have an Afrikaner, Afrikaner farmer, you know, who has got a massive vineyard in the Cape. He has now ceded - he's an Afrikaner - he has ceded his vineyard, a portion of his vineyard to the workers free of charge so that they could run it as a compensation for the valuable service, the faithful service that ran it over the years for him. Now he’s ceded it and he is also turning those grapes into wine for them free of charge and they are marketing it, together. They work for him, they've also got their own vineyard; and this is happening. Now you have also Indians who are good employers but Indians were also rascals who also exploit. They not only exploit the African, they exploit the Indian. I know for a fact over the years and I want to tell you, in the course of my work as a trade unionist, I know. Workers used to be paid their legal minimum standard wages that is in terms of the wage agreements and wage determination, laid down by law. They used to earn it on a Friday. Do you know, on Mondays they had to refund, take a portion of that wage, two pounds or three pounds, you know, and give it back to the employer. They earn it legally on a Friday so that if inspectors and so on come suddenly, they'll check the envelopes, they'll find money, it's perfectly - you know, it's adequate in terms of the law. But on Mondays, the chaps were forced to return a portion of the wages. This is where the employers steal from the workers' pay packet. This happened, Indian employers stealing from Indian workers. So that does not necessarily follow that, as Ngema is claiming, that Indian employees are now exploiting African employers. No, no, no, it's been happening right through across the board. I'll give you another example. A very big bus owner, African, he had, I think, if I recall correctly, over 80 buses at that time. He was the biggest bus owner at that time in the '50s. If any of you lived at that time or, you know, asked any of his workers, bus drivers and conductors what they earned - what they earned, you see, you'll be surprised. Now ask the taxi driver who is working for the taxi boss. He may have five, ten or one taxi but he is working. He starts at two or three in the morning. He is hungry, you know, he is half dying. He used to work around the clock and he is told, you have to bring so much at the end of the day. He works flat out, overloads the taxi and so on so as to get the requisite amount. Does Ngema talk about that? You see, so this is where the problem lies, you know, where you distort the picture and you have a one sided view, a racist view, to now point out at Indians as being the exploiters and forgetting that there are white exploiters. Go now today, look at what the farmers are doing to the Zimbabweans who are coming from Zimbabwe in their thousands, they are running away from Mugabe because the farms are closing down, they are starving, they are coming into South Africa. Look at what the white farmers are doing in the Transvaal, the Northern Transvaal. They are fleecing them because there are thousands of them who are pouring in. They are paying them starvation wages, giving them the bare essentials, mealies and so for food, and making them sleep on the floor etc. etc. etc. Go and see it. Now. Today. What's it, the sixth? What's the date today, you know? Now here you get, right here, in July 2002, you get a situation like that and here this guy is talking a whole lot of rubbish, you know, and painting a distorted picture. Anyway, that's the way. Now let's get back to my story.
Now you had this issue, what we have today is nothing compared to the situation at that time. You had government on the one side squeezing; there were mass removals of Africans; you had here in Durban, Cato Manor, this is where the African lived, all in shanties, it was thousands of people coming from Zululand, you know, all over, pouring into Cato Manor, living in shacks. Then you had Indian, what do call, landowners also exploiting, rent racketeering was going on. Then there was black marketeering where you - if you wanted to buy yeast, yeast which is now about what, 5 cents or 10 cents, I don't know what, a little block of yeast, it used to be 50 cents or R1. Now yeast used to be used for brewing beer. So they squeezed. So you had all of them, Indians who were - Indians also had to pay a black market price for rice, you know, ghee and other things that were scarce. So you had a situation therefore, in the short term where the shop keeper, the land owner, the employer, everyone, where they see an abundance of labour they exploit or on the other hand, when they see there's a shortage of food, they overcharge for that food. Indians wanted rice at that time, in '46 you couldn't get rice. Indians were very fond of having rice as a commodity for weddings and all sorts of functions. Now rice was scarce so black marketeering took place, you know, and they out of the rice squeezed the highest price out of you. So you had these rackets taking place across the board. All racial groups were involved in that. You had an African, if you had he chance, if you take an African employing a domestic worker, it was the same thing. Say okay, I'll give you R10 per day, shut up, you know? Or R20, R30 a week and then the poor worker has no alternative [but] to work for that. Now I went through the same thing, okay?


DS: You may continue.
BN: Now, to follow the chronological order. Following on the what do you call, The Three Doctors’ Pact, in 1947, the Indian and African National Congress, in 1950, conducted a joint protest, nationwide protest against the Suppression of Communism Act which was passed by the government to suppress not necessarily communism but all, you know, manifestations of resistance and opposition to apartheid. So that being so, both the ANC and the Indian Congress, together with the Communist Party and other trade union movement jointly conducted a protest. It was a protest made in May 1950. Following on this you had the Defiance Campaign that was launched in 1952 both by the Indian and African National Congress, that is the South African Indian Congress and the ANC. Now their volunteers for instance the African volunteers or passive resisters or defiers decided not to carry the passes. We sat on the benches, for instance, at the railway stations and so on that were reserved for Whites and now what must be said at the time no parks, gardens and so on that you find around, Blacks were not allowed at all to - you're not allowed there in the park. You had a board for instance which openly said dogs and Blacks are not allowed. Apart from that, you were not allowed to sit also on benches, at the bus stops, at the railway stations or in any public places at all. What we did in 1952 we defied all these laws. We went to the railway station for instance. I was part of the first batch of the resisters here. It was led by Dr Naicker, the President of the Indian Congress, here in Durban. There were 21 of us. We sat on a bench, on benches that were reserved for Whites only at the Berea railway station. We were all arrested immediately, taken and because we decided, we pleaded guilty and they sentenced us all to a month's imprisonment and similarly a number of, you know, of other forms of resistance, for instance the curfew. No African can walk in the streets of Durban or in any centre, you know, of the city anywhere in South Africa after 7 o'clock in the evening. So Africans, therefore, in their hundreds or twenties or thirties, they had to be all volunteers, registered by the Congress before they took part in the Defiance Campaign. They walked through the streets highly disciplined, not causing any problems whatsoever to anyone and were all immediately arrested for defying the curfew regulations. They refused to carry a pass, that was famously called the "dompas" and they were charged for not carrying, you know, a valid document or the "dompas" and they were also sentenced. So you had the Defiance Campaign, thousands of volunteers throughout South Africa, African and Indian in the main, and of course, you had some Whites and also Coloureds who took part in that campaign and it was a resounding success. It openly defied the government, which was becoming terribly, terribly hostile at all levels. Let me give you a picture of that. Thousands of people were removed, you could say not thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions if you accumulatively take the number throughout South Africa. Large numbers of people were removed from where they were staying for all their lives and marched out of there, into no-man's land, into vacant plots of land over rocks and boulders. They didn't care, the government just simply started the removal scheme. Then you had for the Indians and Coloureds in the main the Group Areas Act. That was passed in 1950 and in terms of which they began to create what are called Group Areas. Indians were moved from, you take here in Durban, Seaview, Hilary, Belair, you take all from central Durban, Berea, Greyville, you know, the AK block in Greyville, cleared out. Thousands were simply just kicked out and then you get townships like Chatsworth, you know, and Phoenix and so on developed. So Africans, they shunted you off to what do you call KwaMashu, and so on. Then they declared - the irony of it all, Indian owned land, which was largely now occupied by Africans in Cato Manor, they declared it a White area and Africans were now removed in their thousands from Cato Manor and that is where you get KwaMashu, you know, established. So you had mass removals of people. You get - there was no such thing as Soweto before, you had Sharpeville, you had a number of areas in - Africans had their own homes also. They were removed en mass and that is where you get the creation of Soweto, Attridgeville, Mamelodi in the Transvaal. Then you have Guguletu, Nyanga, Langa and what now, all developed, people just shunted in the tens of thousands. Then Coloureds, the same thing happened in District Six in the Cape. Thousands and thousands of Coloureds were taken out of District Six because it was in proximity, it was right in the centre of town. They were all cleaned out, thrown out, and that is where you get Manenberg, Elsies River, you know, and so on, developed there. So you had mass removals of people, millions of people were removed in terms of various laws. You get a law called "locations in the sky". Now that meant any African who was living in a building, you know, right at the topmost, say in a hotel or instance, where the workers, you know, were permitted to stay. Right on the, say it's the 14th storey or 15th storey, right on the uppermost. You see, they stayed there. They had to be cleaned out too. Lifts were reserved for Whites only. Queues, Black and White queues. African in one queue - you take a post office. You stood in your own queue. Blacks, all in all, it could extend right out into the street, ja. Right into the street. To hell with anyone, you stand. And the White queues, the three or four of them, no one's standing there at all. Similarly with the banks, and so on. If you got in the lift, if you were lucky you got into a goods lift at the back. Right at the back, at the side door on the side of the building, you had a goods lift. But, as for getting into the passenger lift, forget it, you could never get in there. So you see parks, gardens, if you go into a plane, if you're booked in a plane from Durban to Johannesburg, the four or five seats at the back were reserved for Blacks - African, Indian, Coloured. If those were full and the rest of the plane was empty, good, bad luck, you take the next one. Similarly with the train. You go from Durban to Johannesburg, the coach immediately behind the engine, that was the coach reserved for Africans, Indians and Coloureds and it was steam engined, you know, trains at the time. There was no electric units. So the smoke from there when they feed in the coal into the engine, the smoke from there, especially when the train takes off fills your coach. Now the five or six coaches that follow that, all reserved for Whites. They could be practically empty, no Blacks could get into those coaches, you know? You can only - this coach that is, when full, was the only one that was, if it were full, bad luck you could not get into the other coaches. Same was the position with the trams, the trains, the double-decker buses, there were a few seats at the back reserved for you and that was it. So you had, therefore, wholesale discrimination. Now come to the workforce, the workers. Workers - no African, Indian and Coloured could get skilled worked. No one can tell me stories about that. Skilled work was reserved for Whites only in terms of the law. The law was passed, Job Reservation Act was passed, you had the Industrial Colour Bar before that, all sorts of things where there were categories of employment closed to Blacks altogether, irrespective of your qualifications. I wanted to do, me personally, I wanted to do chartered accountancy at the time to become a C.A. Impossible. They blocked me. That was in 1950, ja. Well, unfortunately I do not have the documents. A whole series of letters, you know, and a lawyer was helping me out, he wrote letters on my behalf to become a C.A. They just put a block, they say if you get articles you can, mm? No one will article you and that's it, you see? So you had this. If you wanted to become a printer you could never become, you know, an operator of a machine, for instance, on a typo machine, printer or anything. So you are blocked. So the key thing was they could never in the same way as I was not allowed to article myself to a Chartered Accountant, the same principle applied here. They'll tell you you cannot become an apprentice, assuming that you want to become an artisan, mechanic or typo assistant or something, you cannot become an artisan. They wouldn't register you. The union also, trade unions at that time, White unions controlled by - would never register you as an artisan, as an apprentice. The end result was you were blocked. You take the University of Natal. You had what is called here a University of Natal, a “non-european” block just here, in Lancers Road and only operated at night. Blacks cannot enter the Natal University. Yes. And that was it. So you had the Black component, African, Indians and Coloureds, studying at night, and they were lectured to or lecturers came from the university but who would work at night and that was where you got your education, your university education. So, if at best, you wanted to advance your studies and so on, you get out of the country or you go to Forte Hare. That was open. Now this is what it was. So this is a picture that you must, what do you call, must be imprinted in your mind so as to appreciate the resistance, the struggle. The struggle took various forms throughout this period. The Defiance Campaign I mentioned earlier in 1946 to 1948, the Passive Resistance campaign. Then in 1955, we had what do you call the Congress of People; the ANC; the Indian Congress; the Coloured Peoples Organisation; the South African Congress of Democrats, which is a White body and the South African Congress of Trade Unions jointly. There are five organisations that, collectively led by the ANC, decided to call a Congress of the People and the people sent delegates from throughout the country; they formulated the demands which must be incorporated in which was the - later on became known as the Freedom Charter. Now these demands were then incorporated and on - in 1955, June 26th, on June 26th 1955 the Freedom Charter, you know, was adopted in Kliptown. I spoke there at the Congress of the People. In fact there were two of us. Ben Chauke is also a member of parliament now and he moved and I seconded and spoke on a clause relating to that the wealth of the country must belong to the people and that was the clause. Now after the adoption of the Charter of course, there was a raid that took all the documents including the placards and banners which said "soup without meat" or "ladies toilet here". They took every single document. There were 3000 delegates present there at the open air conference. They waited until we adopted the Charter and on the 26th June, that evening, they raided, they stripped us of everything, they took all the documentation from the Congress of People. The following year; 1956 on the 6th December; I recall it clearly; they arrested us all; 156 of us. All the Congress leaders were arrested and we were all charged for high treason. It was Chief Luthuli, Professor Mathews, the whole lot of us, Drs Dadoo, Naicker, the lot. All of us were charged for high treason and that case lasted four years from 1956 to 1960. They bottled us up. Trial took place in what was famously called the Drill Hill in Johannesburg. For eighteen months it lasted, thereafter we were committed for a trial. Of course the number was reduced from original 156 to 91 and we were then taken to Pretoria and, ultimately, after a long battle, we won the case. The case was - the State wanted to actually bottle us up, thinking that the struggle will die out, they'll keep us there. We were all on bail, charged, we had to come to Court, sit there. They brought in all sorts of evidence that we were plotting to overthrow the State by force and by violence and they brought thugs, gangsters, everyone. Every conceivable racketeer you could think about as witnesses in that case. They even dug up a fellow who was originally the Minister of Justice and he was a famous fascist, Oswald Pirow. He was Minister of Justice under Hertzog in the '20s - in the '30s but he was a brilliant lawyer, he was a Q.C. So he had retired as a farmer and so on. They brought him out virtually out of his grave, you know, he was pretty old, to lead the case for the State. So he led the entire team, the State team, notwithstanding all that, they lost the case. We won. But then the State went on a massive repressive campaign, you know, and we, of course, hit back and not with violence, always peaceful, but the State used violence against us. There were boycotts, the potato boycott I was referring to - Bethal. The crimes that were committed against the people there in Bethal were horrific. Scores, if not hundreds, of our people over years were whipped to death and buried there. Skulls and skeletons were actually discovered, you know, in the farms -workers who resisted and so on the farm - because of brutalities. They were, what do you call, whipped to death and when this was revealed we decided to launch a potato boycott in 1959, and then of course, there were other boycotts over a whole lot of things. Mass marches, defiance, etc. etc. General strikes, we had many throughout the '40s, throughout the '50s. So it gripped the country, and we were now mobilising the masses, and they came out hitting us with force. In 1960 the discussion began and in 1961, you know, we decided to launch, to actually establish, to let me say this - to hit back the State with violence. That's when uMkhonto weSizwe was formed and in 1961, on the 16th December, uMkhonto weSizwe was launched. The first violent attacks, in an organised way, were now launched against the State. It left us with no alternative. All our peaceful, non-violent methods were met with violence on the part of the State, leaving us with only one alternative, to hit back with force. Now of course, we ensured; and we were hell bent; even in our declaration on the 16th December; that we were not to take life. Although we said in our slogan “life for a life" you know, we of course didn't use - we didn't use violence with the object of taking, you know, taking lives. This came later as the momentum, you know, as the struggle sharpened. Then of course, there was that - lives were taken. Now the State - let me say this, in 1955 after the Charter was adopted, the State was openly invited by the ANC and the Congress Alliance, “look, let's sit and discuss". What they did, they rejected it outright. No discussion, nothing. We have to adhere to the dictates of the State or - what they did, they hit back with the charge of high treason. They charged us for high treason. That was the State's answer. Said oh, you adhere to the Charter? We'll fix you up. You'll have not meetings, nothing. No discussion and then they started the whole repressive action. In 1960, before the launch of uMkhonto weSizwe, they declared a state of emergency because the country was in a grip of this, who had them, you know, not completely on the same carpet, as it were, but the country was gripped by mass action, you know, and it was being shaken and the State hit back by declaring a state of emergency and thousands of us were locked up in March 1960. This was when the Sharpeville, you know, massacre takes place and the pass burning action takes place led by the ANC and you had a number of factors, you know, culminating in resistance and State reaction by the declaring a state of emergency and locking us all up. We all - I was also in jail, many thousands of others. All the entire leadership of Congress was behind bars. So when we came out, after this emergency lasted five months, when the emergency was over all of us were immediately - decided on - the ANC, by the way, was banned. The Pan Africanist Congress was also banned and a number of other organisations were banned in terms of the law, that is Suppression of Communist Act where they listed a number of organisations. So the ANC then goes underground and decides to launch ANC together with the other Congresses, launch uMkhonto. Now the interesting one was Chief Luthuli, was the first Nobel Peace Prize winner in Africa, you know? He received the Nobel Peace Prize and he returned to South Africa on the 16th December. Now they gave him ten days - actually, they expected him to stay permanently overseas.
DS: What year was that?
BN: 1960.
DS: Okay.
BN: And it was on the 16th we decided to time this launch of uMkhonto.
DS: Oh, okay.
BN: Not in his absence - but he had to return. So he returned on the 16th December 1960, and when he landed in Durban, he landed at about 7 or 8 o'clock that evening from Johannesburg and he drove with a convoy to Groutville, that's where he stayed in Stanger, and exactly at about 9 that night, we then launched uMkhono throughout South Africa. We then hit at the Coloured Affairs Department, Indian Affairs Department and the Bantu Affairs Department. These were the three, you know, different components dividing the people, you know and we hit, we bombed all those three departments, three buildings that night and of course there was nationwide, what do you call, bombardment taking place.
DS: Okay.
BN: Railway lines, this, that and the other. Now it results in - of course we carried out the battle from 1961 to 1963, when we were all arrested.