Democracy in South Africa

Daily Reading for July 21 • Albert John Luthuli, Prophetic Witness in South Africa, 1967

The main thing is that the government and the people should be democratic to the core. It is relatively unimportant who is in the government. I am not opposed to the present government because it is white. I am only opposed to it because it is undemocratic and repressive. I do not cherish such expressions as “the all-black government,” “the African majority.” I like to speak about “a democratic majority,” which should be a non-racial majority, and so could be multi-racial or not.

My idea is a non-racial government consisting of the best men—merit rather than color counting. The political parties in the country should also reflect the multi-racial nature of the country. Parties, basically, should arise from a community of interests, rather than from a similarity of color. If the electorate puts on a one-color government that should be accidental, and not purposeful. Appeals to racialism at elections will be an offense in law. . . .

The position in South Africa is such that a white hobo in the street and an 18-year-old youth is equated politically—if not in all respects—as being above a non-white educated person. What a ridiculous disparity! I stress that the question of “color” and “swamping” will not be relative in the South Africa I think of—a South Africa that is a non-racial democracy. No doubt, initially, as a result of the unfortunate historical developments which stressed divisions into color and with the state having previously legislated racially, people have become color conscious. This might not be wiped off in one day. People should not be blamed in the beginning for thinking in racial categories, but this will be discouraged by law and by a process of re-education in all spheres and avenues of life. State policies and practices should not take account of those who persist to think and act on the basis of racialism.

I stress, all discriminatory laws will be removed from the statute book and civil liberties extended to all without qualification. As stated earlier, fundamental human rights will be guaranteed by the constitution. Individual freedom will be fully respected, and will be basic. . . . I realize that a state such as I visualize—a democratic social welfare state—cannot be born in one day. But it will be the paramount task of the government to bring it about and advance it without crippling industry, commerce, farming and education.

From “What I Would Do If I Were Prime Minister” by Albert John Luthuli, in Ebony (February 1962).

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