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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd of South Africa has decided not to re-apply for membership in the Commonwealth after South Africa becomes a republic on May 31. This decision came as a result of the bitter feeling of other members of the Commonwealth against South Africa's apartheid policy.

So, it would seem to me, even though the British won the Boer War, South Africa is now about to be lost to the Boers who have stubbornly worked their way back into power.

Prime Minister Verwoerd gloomily predicted that this would be "the beginning of the disintegration of the Commonwealth." He said:

"This free association of states cannot hope to survive if, instead of devoting itself to cooperation on matters of common concern, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers are going to continue the practice of interfering in each other's domestic affairs, and if their meetings are to be made the occasion for attacks on fellow members."

It looks as though human rights had to be considered as a question above and beyond domestic affairs. This is a fundamental difference between the Communist philosophy and the democratic. The Communists contend, as does the Prime Minister of South Africa, that human rights are a domestic affair because they have no real belief that a human being and a human personality are important.

An individual in a Communist state takes on importance only as he or she serves the state. Whereas, according to the democratic philosophy, governments are instituted for the good of the people and to serve the people. People have inalienable rights, no matter what their color or creed, simply because every human being has a spark of the divine.

This is the fundamental difference between the Communist and democratic belief, and it is this belief which is at stake when there is insistence anywhere that human rights and freedom are a purely domestic question.

Southern Africa is trying to stem the tide which I think cannot be stemmed. When people once determine that they will be free and the wave spreads, as it has spread in Africa, I do not think that any small area can stand against it.

Of course, for the South Africans this break has many economic connotations which will be serious, and I doubt if even the stubbornness of the Boers can stand up against the wave which is sweeping Africa today.

President Kennedy, in answer to a question at his press conference, made an appeal for the passage of his education bill as it stands without the amendments advocated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He has agreed—after the passage of the bill which would authorize $2,298,000,000 in grants for public elementary and secondary schools—to consider separate bills for loans to private schools, but he does not want these bills tied to the education-aid bill for public schools.

He made a plea for restraint in a church-state controversy, which might impair the country's strength at the present time. Nineteen prominent Protestant and Jewish clergymen and layment issued a joint statement urging all groups to support an aid bill limited to public schools.

There are, of course, constitutional questions which have to be resolved and which are difficult to resolve. There is room for difference of opinion in the program of grants for college scholarships and loans for construction of academic facilities for higher education. If it can be found constitutional to give government loans on a long-term basis to private schools, I think it will be a great help not only to those of one religion but to those of a great number of religions.


(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 17, 1961

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.