For the sake of argument

Kick South Africa out of the Commonwealth

TERENCE ROBERTSON December 19 1959
For the sake of argument

Kick South Africa out of the Commonwealth

TERENCE ROBERTSON December 19 1959

Kick South Africa out of the Commonwealth

For the sake of argument


This Commonwealth of ours is like a bland hypocrite who says one thing and does another—because it is expedient to do so. We chant with the West: “No retreat from West Berlin: we will never abandon two million Berliners." Yet we have abandoned for more than a decade eleven million South African natives, also Commonwealth citizens, who are as deprived of human rights as any Jew in Nazi Germany.

South Africa gives constant evidence of possessing all the sins and few of the virtues of democratic government. It claims adherence to parliamentary procedures while misusing them to deny freedoms, to denigrate human dignity and to practice a policy of brutality.

Continental Africa is one of the great prizes awaiting capture by the conflicting ideologies of East and West. In this race. South Africa is a liability not only to the Commonwealth but to the entire Western cause.

“Nothing in common”

Our tolerance of her racial policies has had an adverse effect across the continent where every oppressive act committed by her government results in propaganda harvests for Communism.

Confidence in the Western way of life and in our intentions can be restored throughout Africa by one dramatic step calculated to underscore our firm belief in the dignity and equality of all men— the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth until such times as her people use their votes to throw out the most shameful administration with which an allegedly enlightened community of nations has been yet afflicted.

As the term implies, the Commonwealth consists of supposedly like-minded sovereign states tied together for the common weal. But most of the Commonwealth has nothing in common with the present regime in South Africa;

her presence within our framework only casts doubt on our common integrity.

To be like-minded with South Africa is to progress rapidly backwards to the savagery of the Zulu wars; it means we approve of racial inequality, humiliation of citizens and the right of the state to make mass arrests followed by mass trials in padlocked, ironbarred cages before courts over which the state can exercise supreme authority.

If the Commonwealth is to symbolize anything, each of us must to some extent be the conscience of the rest.

Although I propose throwing South Africa out of the Commonwealth I do so not merely for the sake of argument but through a sense of personal loss—even betrayal. I lived in Durban and Johannesburg for more than four years immediately after World War II. These were good years. South Africa's future loomed ahead as brilliantly as Canada’s today. Under the late Field Marshal Smuts the overwhelming native, Indian and colored populations were being guided slowly but surely toward political emancipation.

There was segregation but there were cracks in the walls of prejudice. Natal was considering granting the franchise to Indians.

1 look back bitterly now, wondering at the swiftness with which the future has vanished from South Africa's horizon, leaving her remote, stagnating and friendless. She alone struggles to stem the tide of pan-African nationalism which all the world recognizes as a legitimate political aspiration. And we, her Commonwealth sisters, remain silent.

If the South African government is permitted to use the heel of the jackboot to sustain "white supremacy,' then we must share the shame of our silence.

The West's intentions in Africa have to be declared unequivocally and quick-

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For the sake of argument

continued from page 8

Couldn’t Canada’s bill of rights cover the whole Commonwealth?”

ly by calling upon South Africa to mend her ways or gel out of the Commonwealth. The initiative should be grasped by a leader enjoying universal respect and prestige.

John Diefenbaker, author of the proposed Canadian bill of rights, could be that man.

As it stands, his bill puts Canada to sea in a sieve through which many of the clauses might well sink into the mud of abuse, misuse, even oblivion. To make the bill of rights watertight. Diefenbaker needs to clean up some of our own legislation on immigration. There is no moral basis for curtailing colored immigration to Canada, especially from the British West Indies. We need population, we need skills. And with a head start of seventeen million whites there is little likelihood of eventual “black supremacy" here. Indeed, any West Indian willing to exchange his idyllic islands for a northern winter should be welcomed.

With the erasure of his discrepancy. Diefenbaker would be in a position to proclaim not only a Canadian bill of rights but a bill designed to found a Commonwealth declaration of human rights. A conference of Commonwealth prime ministers could work out the details in Ottawa under Diefenbakcr's chairmanship and once the majority of member nations had accepted, the minority would be exposed as lacking in ordinary decencies and might thereby be confronted with automatic expulsion.

Drastic action of this sort is long overdue. Our free association of nations covers one fourth of the world in land and people and controls one third of world trade But while we tolerate South Africa among us. the adhesive of interCommonwealth integrity is that much weakened in the eyes of Afro-Asians everywhere.

A declaration sponsored by Prime Minister Diefenbaker could:

► Set down basic human rights by according every citizen of the Commonwealth equal opportunity and freedom from all sectional pressures;

^ Avow' that mankind s right to indivi-

dual dignity cannot be limited by ancient prejudices;

► Restate the right of all people to live and work peacefully without improper interference by the state;

► Proclaim the freedoms to which all citizens are rightfully entitled;

► Spell out in these ways the basic law governing membership of a Commonwealth acknowledging the Queen as its symbolic head.

Under her present regime. South Africa could not become signatory to such a document. She would have to be removed from the community, banished to the wilderness reserved for countries which have tried to turn free human beings into slaves.

If other nations of the Commonwealth should refuse to join in supporting this credo of human rights they should be thrown out too.

It may be argued that such a policy and such a declaration would divide and scatter us. This is facile, indeed. For while the Commonwealth might be reduced in size, our influence and prestige throughout the world would be immeasurably enhanced. And if an act designed to fulfill man’s destiny destroys us, then

there is no reason why we shouldn't be destroyed. Self sacrifice at the altar of humanity might be the Commonwealth's greatest contribution to progressive civilization since the Magna Carta.

I have no doubt that the expulsion of South Africa would strengthen the Commonwealth. We have remained silent in the face of the atrocious behaviour of her government for too long. We cannot continue to wave the banner of tolerance as an excuse for our lack of corrective action. This is simply a jaded device enabling us to escape the need to confront our own moral failure, an expression of futility at having to live with a neighbor we privately despise.

There are elements among us of the Commonwealth, who sneer, carp and snipe in their efforts to liquidate the family for destruction's sake. There are many more, friends and admirers, who would mourn the passing of the Commonwealth. They perceive in our family much to hold and to cherish, much that they covet and would have us sustain, much that we can give to advance and ennoble mankind.

The parliamentary system, judiciaries free from political pressures, opportunity for individual enterprise, rigid codes of professional ethics, right of assembly, freedom of religion, speech and of the printed word — these are but a few of the great institutions which landmark human progress and which stem from empire and Commonwealth endeavour. These are ancient strands of unity among us.

Now there is the opportunity to spell them out again, for Canada to take the lead in transforming the Commonwealth into an integrated haven of non-discrimination, a Commonwealth united by the sinews of integrity and in which justice is done.

For myself I shall always regret that we have as cousins those who can find in such tragic incidents as Little Rock and Notting Hill Gate the ingredients for triumph and scorn. As though such scraps could ever excuse the misery and wretchedness of the forgotten eleven million, ic