The Indians

Members of the South African community

Members of the South African Indian community, some in traditional dress.

The Indians in South Africa had long lived under the shadow of government policy that considered them as aliens against whom it was legitimate to discriminate. In one of their exchanges, Jan Smuts told Gandhi bluntly, ‘Your civilisation is different from ours. Ours must not be overwhelmed by yours. That is why we must go in for legislation which must in effect put disabilities on you.’ Yet the government did not have a free hand. Commonwealth ties, pressure by the government in India and the Indian Agent in South Africa, and after 1945 the United Nations, together with local Indian protests and resistance, all put pressure on successive governments. The result was a policy towards Indians that was confusing and contradictory, and satisfied no one.

Indian sugar cane workers

Indian sugar cane workers

The government’s ideal solution would have been wholesale repatriation, but in the early 1920s an average of only 2 500 Indians left per year. At that point there were some 141 000 Indians living in Natal and 15 000 in the Transvaal. To placate the voters the Smuts government intended to segregate Indian trade and landownership, but he refused to give the Natal provincial government its way when it passed an ordinance abolishing the Indian municipal franchise. After 1924 the new Pact government passed the ordinance into law. The Indians were now completely disenfranchised.

In 1927 Dr D.F. Malan, on behalf of the Pact government, unexpectedly signed the Cape Town Agreement with the government of India. It offered some hope to Indians, although it was decidedly ambiguous. On the one hand, the Union government undertook to introduce a scheme of assisted emigration to India; on the other, it committed itself to settle the Indian question in a manner that ‘would safeguard the maintenance of Western standards of life in South Africa by just and legitimate means’.

It stated that the Union government ‘like every civilised Government’ had the duty to take all viable steps ‘for the upliftment of every section of their permanent population’. It further asserted that the ‘considerable section of the Indian community who will remain part of the permanent population should not be allowed to lag behind other sections of the population’.

To give effect to ‘upliftment’, the government undertook to launch an inquiry into the ‘admittedly grave situation’ of Indian education and to improve the facilities for Indians at the South African Native College in Fort Hare. It also would investigate housing and sanitary conditions in Durban.

A young indian woman

A young Indian woman with a necklace made from the gold coins with which workers were at one stage paid.

Critics pointed out that in signing the agreement Dr Malan implicitly made the promise of upliftment conditional on growing numbers of Indians leaving. The latter did not happen, and discrimination continued but it was no longer possible to state categorically, as Malan did in 1922, that the Indians were an alien element. Using gaps in the law and the contradictions in the system of oppression, the Indians managed to take what chances there were. G.H. Calpin in his book Indians in South Africa, published in 1949, noted:

Indians in South Africa often wonder whether it is not a disadvantage to be British subjects. They still feel, however, that to be British subjects in South Africa is preferable to being British subjects in India. Indeed after the Cape Town Agreement they settled down with a sense of security they had never before enjoyed . . . Some might have very vague ideas of what constituted Western standards of life, and the European example was not always good, but there was no doubt of their willingness no acquire the qualifications set for them and meet the demands made on them.

Two Indian workers assisting a white welder

Two Indian workers assist a white welder, photographed in December 1948. Blacks were not allowed to take on skilled work and the law forbade them to operate steam-powered vehicles.

Education played a major role in the efforts at upliftment and private Indian initiatives formed an extraordinary part of the progress that was made as a result of education and training. Christian missionaries had started the first school for Indians in 1869, but schools established by the Indian community soon exceeded the number of mission schools. It was the Indian community that provided the local funds for their schools under the grants-in-aid system – unlike the coloured and black communities who relied on churches and missionary societies, and the whites who received their education virtually free from the state.

In the first half of the twentieth century four-fifths of the Indian schools in Natal were state-aided but the Indian community provided the sites and building for the schools. It was strong community support that made possible the establishment in 1930 of Sastri College, the first Indian high school in Natal. A large donation by Hajee M.L. Sultan went a long way to the founding of a technical college.

Despite the Cape Town Agreement, discrimination continued. The Durban City Council passed an ordinance denying Indians the right to purchase land the municipality owned.

Municipalities refused to issue trading licenses. The civilised labour policy was used to reduce the number of Indians employed on the railways from 3 000 in 1920 to 500 in the decade after the Pact government came to power. In the Transvaal the policy was a jigsaw puzzle making it very difficult for Indians to know where, outside their own ‘locations’, they could live, trade and own property. Yet despite the obstacles they could progress, particularly in Natal where Indians could own property anywhere from the early 1940s.

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Coloureds: between white and black

A yard in Vrededorp, Johannesburg

A yard in Vrededorp, Johannesburg, where many of Afrikaner workers lived in the 1930s. Many of the Afrikaner girls in employment supported their families and had a tough time making ends meet, often living in a back yard. E.S. (Solly) Sachs, who was secretary of the Garment Workers’ Union, thought that the living conditions of some of the young Afrikaner women in Johannesburg were among the worst in the world.

The coloured community was a diverse one with, at the one end, farm labourers, domestic servants and unskilled labourers in the towns, who were generally poorly paid. At the other end were a very small stratum of skilled labourers and a small smattering of professionals, who were mostly teachers. Those who managed to urbanise after the emancipation of the slaves saw education as the major escape route from poverty.

Church and mission schools carried almost all the responsibility for coloured education. Although it had a non-racial constitution, the Cape Colony comprehensively discriminated against people on class grounds. In 1865 the government established non-denominational schools, funding them on a pound-for-pound basis. As a result these schools were financially much better off. Due to the poverty of the coloured people very few could afford them. The non-denominational schools became predominantly white, while almost all coloured and black children went to mission schools, which were free or asked only low fees. By 1885 only 2% of mission school children were in standards higher than Standard Four. Since the schools were free or demanded only low fees and received little state funding, the quality of education suffered. Nevertheless, by the 1890s coloured and black children outpaced whites in the drive to get education. Segregated education continued, and by the time of Union there were only three non-denominational schools for coloured students in the Cape Town area.

For coloured people the demand was not so much integrated schools but equal state spending on white and coloured schools and compulsory education for all. In both respects they were rebuffed. In 1905 the Progressives under Leander Starr Jameson in the Cape Colony introduced compulsory and free education only for whites. Despairing of attaining equality, in 1922 a body of coloured teachers asked for a state subsidy of at least half the sum white children received. The South African Party government rejected the appeal, stating that it first had to attend to whites and that coloured people would have to wait their turn.

Workers in the multiracial textile industry

Workers in the multiracial textile industry. A girl, aged eighteen, who supported a family of eight on a wage of £1 2s 6d a week, told a researcher: ‘We have to struggle very hard to keep the home going . . . Often when I come home I feel as if I am too tired even to lift anything.’ The rules for sick leave and pregnancy were harsh. Trade union leader Solly Sachs, who succeeded in organising white and coloured women in a non-racial union, made real gains for his members. Some leaders of the Afrikaner Broederbond in Johannesburg tried to organise these women on a racial basis. A trade unionist condemned their heavy- handed approach; they told women in industry that they ‘worshipped’ them, but young girls in the slums of the big cities wanted assistance in fi nding work and protection against exploitation, not worship. Communist activists also targeted Afrikaner workers. As one communist leader exclaimed: ‘We must win Afrikanerdom for our side . . . It must be taught to choose between Communism and poor white-ism.’

Other heavy blows fell in the first ten years of Union. The economic status of the coloured community was undermined by a number of laws designed to favour whites over blacks in the competition for employment. One of the most blatantly discriminatory laws was the 1911 Mines and Works Act that reserved a wide range of skilled and semi-skilled categories of labour in mining and industry for whites.

The 1921 Juvenile Affairs Act set up mechanisms for the placement of white youths into suitable employment while the Apprenticeship Act of 1922 put apprenticeships beyond the reach of the vast majority of coloured youths by stipulating a Standard Six pass as a minimum qualification for entry as an apprentice in 41 trades. It was an educational entry level that only a handful of coloured schools met, but that fell within the minimum educational standard set for white schools. The 1925 Wage Act, a pillar of the ‘civilised labour’ policy, subverted the ability of coloured labour to undercut white wage demands by setting high minimum-wage levels in key industries.

By the early 1930s the coloured community was marked by deepening poverty and growing political despondency. Because by far the greater part of this social group consisted of farm workers and a downtrodden urban proletariat, the Great Depression took a disproportionate toll in economic hardship. Additionally, coloured people, including the educated strata, suffered severe disadvantage in the workplace as a result of the Pact government’s ‘civilised labour’ policy – despite promises that they would benefit from it by being included in the definition of ‘civilised’ and be protected from black competition along with whites.

A white skin became a better recommendation for a job than ability. Poor whites began displacing significant numbers of skilled and semi-skilled workers who were not white, especially in the public sector. Better-qualified coloured school-leavers found it progressively difficult to obtain suitable employment. The politicised coloured elite that aspired to acceptance within the dominant society was dealt a body blow in 1930 when only white women were enfranchised.

The immediate effect of this legislation was to reduce the coloured vote from 12.3% of the electorate to 6.7%. The Women’s Enfranchisement Act of 1930 represented an about-face on the part of Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog. Throughout the latter half of the 1920s he had tried to entice coloured voters into supporting the National Party with the prospect of a ‘New Deal’ that would give them economic and political, but not social, equality with whites. This act was but the latest development in a decades long trend of the erosion of coloured civil rights.

Coloured political organisation

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The First Black Challenges

Land hunger and labour demands prompted Africans during the 1920s and 1930s to take to Zionism or Ethiopianism in great numbers. In 1921 there were some 50 000 adherents of Zionist or Ethiopian bodies, out of a total of 1.3 million African Christian converts. By 1936 their numbers had jumped to over a million, the vast majority of whom were in the countryside.

One of the instigators of the aggressive expression of apartheid, which was allied to Afrikaner nationalism and originated in the 1930s in the DRC of the Orange Free State, was the missionary leader J.G. Strydom (no relation to the later prime minister). He was a truculent nationalist who believed that only the most aggressive evangelisation of blacks could save the Afrikaner ‘volk and fatherland’ from egalitarian notions propagated among blacks by communists and English-speaking missionaries. In 1935, the Union-wide DRC adopted as its official Mission Policy a more moderate version of apartheid; it hoped that the policy, which called upon whites to make significant sacrifices for blacks’ advance, would win the support of blacks as well as international public opinion.

Both the Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking missionaries continued to influence the government’s racial policy and the resistance to it beyond 1948, (See, The post-1948 influence of missionaries).

The hopes for black education

Urban life

Black farm workers

A crisis in the reserves

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A New Spiritual Force

The school at the Moravian missionary station Elim

The school at the Moravian missionary station Elim in the southwestern Cape. German missionaries belonging to the Moravian Church tended to establish stations like Elim and Genadendal in the west and Shiloh, Goshen and Engotini in the east among communities whose traditional culture had been disrupted or destroyed. The missionaries established ‘closed settlements’ under the paternalist control of the missionaries, who emphasised discipline, literacy and the acquisition of artisan skills. By the 1930s this discipline was beginning to break down as the forces of industrialisation and secularisation impacted on the stations. Many of the converts continued to live on the station, but found work as artisans in the neighborhood.

Missionary efforts continued steadily in the course of the nineteenth century, bringing about not only a large increase in converts, but also a major expansion of literacy. The colonial states had left the education of black and coloured children to churches and missionary societies. Protestant missionaries remained key players in racial politics in South Africa deep into the twentieth century.

By the mid-1930s the English-speaking churches and missionary societies would discard the hope that some good could come for blacks out of segregation. They would rally around the common belief of nineteenth-century missionaries that command of the English language and of Western culture and habits were the key to success in a society that was increasingly becoming economically and culturally integrated. Meanwhile, Afrikaner-funded missions would walk further on the road of segregation, stressing the education of blacks in their mother tongue and own culture. But it was only in the 1950s that the English-speaking and Afrikaner churches would come to a parting of the ways.

A challenge to old methods

Missionaries and social activism

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Urbanisation And Change

South African Party election poster

An election poster for the South African Party shows Jan Smuts trying to prevent the Pact alliance plunging the country into chaos. After the Smuts government’s brutal suppression of the mine workers’ strike, the dominant classes were concerned that the new Pact government of Afrikaner nationalists and organised white labour, which had been backed in the 1924 election by elements in the Communist Party and the ANC, would embark on a radical form of populism by cutting ties with the British Empire, heavily taxing the mining corporations, pressing for high wages for white labour, offering unsustainable subsidies for struggling white farmers and cutting back on the limited rights of blacks and coloureds. Except for the latter these fears did not materialise.

Between 1900 and 1930 South Africa had steadily become a more urbanised, integrated, Christianised and Westernised society. In the forefront of cultural change were the English-language missionary societies, which had begun to abandon segregation and were groping towards a common society using English as the linking language. The Afrikaans churches, by contrast, were laying the ideological base for apartheid. The English and the Jewish sections continued to dominate the urban economy, but were forced to abandon their close identification with the Empire and Crown as South Africa made progress towards a sovereign state.

The coloured people saw their hopes of benefiting from the ‘civilised labour’ policy dashed, prompting the educated elite to turn to radical politics. Those bearing the brunt of South Africa’s rapid industrialisation were the poor – black, coloured and white – in the towns and in the rural areas. Missionaries found new fields among impoverished people who had begun their exodus from the reserves and farms. The education they provided to coloured and black children played an increasingly important role in the economy whose base was shifting towards manufacturing where black numbers increased by nearly eight times in the first half of the century. The manufacturing sector increasingly required a stable black and white work force, which lived with their families and became better skilled in order to increase their productivity.

Cape Town in the early 1930s

Cape Town in the early 1930s

While only one-tenth of the black population was urbanised in 1911, this jumped to a third by 1960. By 1946 the black population of Johannesburg stood at 400 000 – double the figure of ten years earlier. The Afrikaners had also urbanised rapidly. By 1890 only some 10 000 lived in towns with a population of more than 2 000. By 1936 some 535 000 Afrikaners, comprising half the ethnic group, were urbanised.

Many of the first generation urbanised Afrikaners were devoid of any suitable labour skills or proper education for the urban economy. Only their skin colour distinguished them from recently urbanised black or coloured people. It was they who were the most visible of the so-called poor whites – a term borrowed from the southern states of the United States. It did not designate a measurable level of poverty but a condition deemed unsuitable for a white person in a white supremacist state. Parliament would consider the poor-white problem the most pressing issue in the early twentieth century.

Selected Population Figures
1904 1930 1950/51
White population 1 117 234 1 801 000 2 641 689
Black population 3 490 291 5 585 000 8 556 390
Total population 5 174 827 8 540 000 12 667 759
Workers in Manufacturing
1916 1930 1959
Whites 39 624 91 024 191 093
Blacks 35 065 90 517 267 070
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People Of Bondage Mixed Liaisons

During the early years, the situation was fluid enough for some children born outside wedlock from unions of non-European parents to be accepted into the European community. The slave Armosyn Claasz gave birth to the children of four different fathers in the Company’s Slave Lodge, some described as halfslag (half-caste), which means that the father was white. Many of these children and their descendants were absorbed into what became prominent Afrikaner families.

During his 1685 visit to the Cape, High Commissioner H.A. van Reede prohibited marriages between Europeans and heelslag, or full-blooded slave women (that is, of pure Asian or African origin). He did, however, permit marriages with halfslag women, with the intention of assimilating such half-castes into the European population. Fathers generally would not own up to their liaisons with slaves, and therefore they did not help their children by slave mothers to gain their freedom – a fact of Cape life that Van Reede’s regulations were meant to address.

In the period of Company rule, just over 1 000 ex-slave and native women married free burghers of European descent (and only two male ex-slaves married free women of European descent). When one considers that 65 000 slaves were imported into the Cape and almost an equal number were born into slavery, it is clear that the chances of a slave’s entering the ranks of colonial society were small and highly gendered, and, moreover, that they declined with time as the price of slaves rose. No one could marry a slave: she first had to be manumitted. At the end of the eighteenth century Willem Klomphaan tried to manumit his slave mistress and his two children but died before he could pay the full sum.

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A Framework Of Segregation

Daily life in a migrant hostel

Daily life in a migrant hostel. These miners share their rooms with up to twelve others. Most of their earthly possessions are also stored in their cramped quarters.

The main white political parties still pursued the chimera of ‘a white man’s land’. Black people formed a growing urban presence. By 1912 there were already 420 000 blacks in the towns and cities in the common or ‘white’ area, a third of South Africa’s urban population and 13% of the total black population. Shantytowns were springing up rapidly on the outskirts of the cities. The white municipalities ran these shantytowns in an unplanned way, usually making a profit; the residents themselves got little in return for their rent and taxes. Serious diseases like tuberculosis found an ideal breeding ground in the unsanitary and overcrowded hovels.

Smuts could not square this with his idea of whites acting as the trustees of blacks. He said: ‘The natives have come to our towns unprovided for. They have picked up our diseases, and have found our white civilisation a curse to them . . . The Native question is so large. We know so little about it.’ He believed that proper housing and proper control of blacks in the urban areas was an obligation of the state. If it accepted this obligation, South Africa would remove ‘one of the biggest blots resting on our civilisation’.

In the meantime further segregationist pressures had built up. In 1922 a Transvaal local government commission headed by Colonel C.F. Stallard, one of the most prominent English-speaking segregationists, proposed that blacks were required in the urban areas only to ‘minister to the needs of whites’ and must depart from there when they ‘ceased so to minister’.

F S  Malan

F.S. Malan, a noted Cape liberal whose liberalism was both infused and constrained by the need to curb potential black unrest. He favoured establishing part of the African community permanently in the urban areas. In 1936, while proposing the extension of the qualifi ed franchise in the Cape to the other provinces, he argued: ‘Have one principle for your voter, make the test as high as you like, but when a man comes up to that test, do not differentiate, let him be treated as a full citizen of the country . . . You cannot divide the interests of a people, whether a man is black or brown or white.’

Smuts depended on the judgment of his friend and leading Cape liberal, F.S. Malan, Minister of Mines, who probably had a leading hand in the bills dealing with urban blacks drafted between 1917 and 1923. Malan did not assume that collectively blacks constituted a threat. He had a vision of native ‘villages’ where black people who were ‘civilised could feel at home and develop’. Because of their stake in the status quo they could become a bulwark against labour unrest and political agitation. Meeting an African delegation in 1920, he promised a better deal for regular and ‘reliable’ black workers, better housing and exemptions from the pass laws.

Smuts allowed Malan to speak in these terms because he himself believed in ‘class legislation’. Such laws distinguished between the ‘ordinary native’, who had not yet emerged from ‘barbarism’, and the more ‘advanced’ blacks, who could take control of their own social problems in villages of their own. The Native Urban Areas Bill that the Smuts government submitted to a consultative Native Conference in 1923 envisaged that settled blacks could acquire freehold property. It aimed to improve the administration of black residential areas.

J B M  Hertzog

J.B.M. Hertzog, who founded the National Party in Bloemfontein in 1913. During his fi rst term as prime minister, from 1924 to 1929, his party laid the foundation of the parastatal sector of South Africa by establishing the corporations Iscor (for steel production) and Escom (as electricity supplier). Along with Jan Smuts, leader of the South African Party, Hert zog formed the United Party, which in 1936 introduced a bill that removed the Cape Africans from the common voters’ roll and doubled the land mass of the reserves.

But white politics had reached the stage where any such improvement would be seen as undermining the claim to a white man’s land. Barry Hertzog spelled out the claim in 1922: ‘The [native] gets his own territory where all rights would be granted to him. He can live in our land, but can demand no rights here. The opposite is also true.’ If blacks could get freehold property, acquiring ‘white man’s land’, they would soon demand ‘the white man’s vote’. And that would be ‘a matter of life and death for white civilisation’.

Smuts caved in and the provision to grant property rights was withdrawn from this bill, which was passed and promulgated as the Native Urban Areas Act. Confronted by an angry delegation from the South African Native National Congress, he pointed to the Bloemfontein location, where no freehold existed, but which was ‘one of the most orderly and best run in the country’.

Black townships remained a neglected stepchild of urban administration. To add insult to injury the Act accepted the formula first developed by the municipality of Durban for funding the townships; its main source of revenue was the proceeds from the sale of sorghum beer to the captive market. The more black people drank, the more funds there would be for housing and other necessities.

The Union constitution of 1909, the Natives Land Act of 1913 and the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 formed the basis of policy towards blacks for the rest of the century. The Natives Land Act was of paramount importance. Because it made no new land available, the reserves quickly became congested and the limited opportunities for individual tenure were further restricted by the strong support for communal tenure in the traditional African system.

Among some of the more liberal whites the belief persisted that with more land blacks would accept the policy. In 1923 Selby Msimang of the African National Congress said that blacks would be happy with territorial segregation if the Natives Land Act granted half of the land in the country for black occupation. But by now every white leader knew that giving half or even a quarter of the land to blacks would have severe political costs. Whites had come to believe that some 90% of South Africa was ‘white man’s land’, and they were less and less inclined to sacrifice any part of it.

A framework for white labour

The Pact government and Afrikaner intrests

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Post-war Crises

In the aftermath of World War I the young South African state entered its most perilous phase. The state’s security services were still weak and divided and the economy was stagnating. Between 1920 and 1932 the gross domestic product declined in monetary terms, with almost no increase in industrial output. The industrial sector and the railways shed jobs. At the same time, largely as a result of the post-South African War baby boom, the number of white youths entering the job market jumped by 50% between 1921 and 1926, compared to the first two decades of the century. White unemployment rose sharply. In Johannesburg alone an estimated 3 000 families lived on the point of starvation. To compound matters, rampant inflation pushed prices up by 50% between 1917 and 1920.

The mines were the flashpoint. Large numbers of immigrant miners had left to return to Europe to fight in World War I, removing an ageing, more conservative element from the labour force. By 1918 Afrikaners formed the majority of white miners in the dangerous underground jobs. They would soon prove to be the most radical force the mines had ever employed. The distance between the workers and the government of the day widened after 1920 when the South African Party (SAP) absorbed the Unionist Party with its strong support of the mining houses. General Jan Smuts, who became prime minister in 1919 after General Louis Botha died in office, struggled to find his feet after a prolonged absence abroad fighting in World War I. He resorted to such tough methods that J.B.M. (Barry) Hertzog said his footsteps ‘dripped with blood’ after he put down the 1922 strike on the Witwatersrand.

Strikes and the Rand uprising of 1922

Bulhoek and Bondelswarts


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People Of Bondage The Quest For Freedom

All slaves yearned for freedom but few managed to escape. They could run away to places where fugitive slaves hid. There were such maroon societies at Faure, Hangklip, and on Table Mountain itself. Several small, stable maroon societies in the colony offered succour to runaway slaves, and these havens survived throughout the period. The 60-slave Hangklip community that lived in a cave lasted for a century, virtually undisturbed until slavery ended in 1834.

The other route to freedom was through manumission and becoming a free black. Freedom was not a right conferred by the state, but a favour granted within the household. Manumitted people were termed vrijzwarten, free blacks, even if descended from a European parent. The manumission regulations were framed more in cultural than legal terms. The ability to understand, speak and write Dutch headed the established list of manumission requirements.

From 1715 to 1791 the Council of Policy received a total of 1 075 manumission requests, of which only 81 involved Company slaves. The manumission rate in the colony was low, indeed extremely low. The average per year was only 0.165% of the slave force. The figure for Brazil and Peru was six times higher than that at the Cape. The fact that the proportion of the free population at the Cape remained very small in the 1820s and 1830s, except in Cape Town, had momentous consequences for future race relations. Virtually all people who were desperately poor and had no status were black; all the richer people were white. An association between whiteness and success arose.

Freed male slaves at the Cape began their freedom with a combination of formidable disadvantages. Among these were prejudice, poverty, the inability to obtain credit, and also the extreme difficulty of obtaining gainful employment. Free blacks were excluded from most occupations as early as 1727. Burgher councillors even forbade free blacks to sell such pathetic sundries as ‘toast and cakes’ on the streets. Many were forced to turn to the precarious occupation of fishing the most dangerous waters of the South Atlantic. Although some freed slaves had to be helped by the poor fund of the Church, most found succour among the sympathetic free black Muslim community, many of whom owned slaves themselves and were regular manumitters.



 Population of the Cape Colony
Year  European free burghers Burghers’ slaves  Free blacks
1670 125 52 13
1690 788 381 48
1730 2 540 4 037 221
1770 7 736 8 200 352
1798 c. 20 000 25 754 c. 1 700


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World War 1

When war broke out in Europe in 1914 the British government requested Louis Botha’s government to invade German South West Africa and to seize Swakopmund, Lüderitzbucht and the radio station at Windhoek. Botha, supported by Smuts and others, was in favour of agreeing to the British proposal. Four Afrikaner cabinet ministers opposed a South African expedition against German South West Africa, inter alia on the grounds that it was undesirable to test the loyalty of Afrikaners to the extent of becoming embroiled in a war on behalf of the British Empire. When Parliament sat in September of that year, Botha gained an overwhelming majority of 91 votes to 12.

The SANNC, which was holding its annual conference at Bloemfontein at the beginning of August, passed a resolution of loyalty to the empire and promised to suspend public criticism of the Union government for the duration of hostilities. Not all members of the SANNC agreed with that stance. J.T. Gumede considered it essential that the Union government should continue to be criticised. After the war Albert Nzula, who was then a member of the SA Communist Party, maintained that the decision of the SANNC to remain loyal to the empire during World War I was the ‘first act of betrayal’ by the ‘chiefs and petit bourgeois native good boys’, which weakened the ‘liberationist struggles of the native people’.

At a meeting at Marabastad near Pretoria in the last week of August, addressed by the local native commissioner to influence black opinion, Transvaal SANNC leader S.M. Makgatho stated that he had read in a newspaper that Botha had informed Britain he could not spare men to assist the imperial war effort because ‘he had to be ready to deal with the natives in this country’. Although no cable to this effect had in fact been sent to London, some members of the government had expressed such views in cabinet. Even the British Secretary of State for the Colonies initially had reservations about recalling the imperial troops from the Union because of his fears of African unrest. Makgatho went on to protest as follows:

You shall not slander us before the Throne of King George for he is our King as well as yours. We too live under the Union Jack and we are proud of it and we are as ready to fight for it today as any white man in the land.

An Afrikaner rebelion

In the vortex

The war’s aftermath

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