History is being written in Africa this year and Harvard and Radcliffe students are helping determine how it will read.
Bostonians Allied for South African Resistance, a group which was formed only this year but which is quickly rising to prominence, is an organization with a membership of over 200, many of whom are from Harvard, Radcliffe, and other colleges in the Boston area.
BAFSAR, as it is better known, in the local Boston committee of Americans for South African Resistance (AFSAR). In many ways it aids the large numbers of African men and women who are trying to achieve freedom not by a bitter racial war, but through an organized campaign of nonviolent resistance against South African Jim Crow laws.
Among the sponsors of the national group are: Roger N. Baldwin '04, member of the Overseer's Committee on Economics and Director of the New York branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pearl S. Buck, Dorothy Day, Norman Thomas, Allan Knight Chalmers, author of "The Constant Fire", and George S. Schuyler, author of "Slaves Today," and "Black No More." Among the sponsors of the Boston auxiliary are Pitirim A. Sorokin, professor of Sociology, and Allan M. Butler, professor of Pediatrics.
Civil disobedience is the keynote of the movement. Every week, hundreds of volunteers in South Africa defy the segregation laws and go to jail for it. They cross bridges, enter movie theatres, trains, and restaurants which are "For Europeans only." This campaign is led by the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress. Manilal Gandhi, son of the late Mahatma Gandhi, is currently in jail for disobeying segregation laws.
The educational-financial campaign which BAFSAR is waging for this movement includes leading panel discussions, promoting study groups, selling books and pamphlets dealing with South Africa, writing letters-to-the-editors on a large and systematic scale, scheduling public meetings with prominent speakers, and showing the movie "Cry, the Beloved Country."
Sorokin A Sponsor
Sorokin, defending the non-violence movement, said in an interview, "Non-violent resistance is in my opinion the only form of resistance which any morally responsible person can use against the forces he must fight." He continued, "I not only condemn the policies of Malan South Africa and of all colonial powers--of Britain in Malaya and South Africa, of France in Indo-China and Morocco--but I also say that besides being stupid they are singular by hopeless. They are going against invincible trends of history. These countries, after a few centuries of slumber are reawakening, and although Malan and others may slow them down, there is no one on earth who can stop them."
The nonviolent resistance movement is the first united campaign on a large scale waged by the non-Europeans in South Africa against the laws of segregation. It is the first time there has been any real cooperation between African, Indian, and Colored organizations.
The precedent set by Mahatma Gandhi: through the non-violent movements he led among the Indians was an important source of inspiration for the present movement. The campaign started December 15, 1951 when the African National Congress endorsed the plan for the movement.
The actual action, however, did not start until April 26, 1952. The first group was arrested at 7 a.m. that morning for crossing a railroad bridge reserved for Europeans only. Another group of 50 volunteers were arrested for trying to enter the Boksburg location without permits. A third group of 54 were arrested at 11:30 p.m. that night for violating the curfew regulations. When the police halted them, the leader of the group said, "We are non-violent fighters for freedom. We are going to defy regulations that have kept our fathers in bondage."
Each volunteer takes the following pledge when he joins the movement: "We, the oppressed people of South Africa, hereby solemnly pledge ourselves to carry on a relentless struggle to repeal the unjust laws as laid down in the plan of action of the African National Congress, supported by the South African Indian Congress, the Colored Peoples Organization, and other freedom-loving peoples. We shall do all in our power, to the utmost limits of endurance and sacrifice, to carry out the Congress Call against unjust laws which subject our people to political servility, economic misery and social degradation. From this day forward we, as disciplined men and women, dedicate our lives to the struggle for freedom and fundamental rights."
200 Arrests Weekly
The original plan called for about 200 arrests a week but there have been far more. As of December 16, 1952, the total number of arrests in 37 centers of the Union was 8,057. Some of these volunteers were white people. When arrested, almost all resisters plead guilty and serve the jail sentences. Many are sentenced to caning because the jails are over-crowded.
When Nana Sita, president of the Transvaal Indian Congress, was sentenced to jail, he read a statement to the court: "I have deliberately and willfully committed a breach of the law under which I am charged. This I have done in full knowledge of its implications . . . . I do not plead for mitigation or mercy. I have decided to go to gaol so that my suffering and the suffering of the oppressed people of this land may ultimately bring about the conditions which will make South Africa a happy country for all, regardless of race, colour, or creed."
Malan's Nationalist Party has dismissed the movement as a Communist campaign. However, A. T. Steele, in a dispatch to the New York Herald Tribune, expressed the feeling prevalent among most people who have studied the resistance movement. He said, "There is little doubt that some Communists have infiltrated the passive resistance movement . . . . In any case it is apparent that the great majority of those participating in the movement have no Communist connections."
Hope for Future
George M. Houser, secretary of AFSAR, expresses great hope for the future of the nonviolent resistance movement. "One cannot underestimate the effect that the campaign in South Africa may have on the rest of Africa. If it has any measure of success, it will have importance far beyond the borders of South Africa. It may help to temper the terrorism of the Mau Mau group in Kenya. It will give new hope to nonviolent efforts for independence in West Africa. It could lead to a democratic, pan-African movement for freedom based on nonviolence. This would be of great significance not only for Africa but to the whole world."