A year after the end of the European war, in August l919, General Botha who had been Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa since its inception in 1910, died. General Smuts who had been out of the country for three and a half years, serving on Lloyd George's 'Imperial War Cabinet' and representing South Africa at Versailles and the establishment of the League of Nations, returned as Prime Minister.
Like the rest of the capitalist world, South Africa was in the grip of the post-war economic crisis. Radical ideas and actions given impetus by the October Revolution were spreading among the various strata of the population. The African National Congress had begun a new drive to arouse the people against oppression. The lCU (Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union) had started its eventful history with a strike of dockers at Cape Town and historic strikes of African miners and municipal workers had broken out on the Rand. The white workers, too, were fighting back against the moves of the employers and their government to cut their living standards.
The reaction of the government was one of ruthless repression. Smuts's orders to the police were 'Don't hesitate to shoot.' A series of bloody massacres followed.
ln October 1920 Samuel Masabalala the leader of the ICU in Port Elizabeth was arrested, and a great crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the police station to demand his release. The police opened fire. Twenty-three people were killed and 123 wounded.
In May 1921, at Bulhoek, an African location near Queenstown in the Cape Province, an African separatist Church ('The Israelites') had set up their headquarters, and rejected a police demand that they disperse.
A massive military force armed with modern weapons (they numbered 800 compared with 500 'Israelites') was sent to Bulhoek. They opened fire against the 'enemy'--some of whom were said to have had assegais and knobkerries. 'When the firing was over 163 Israelites lay dead and 129 lay wounded on the field. Casualties on the government side amounted to one trooper wounded and one horse killed.' (W. K. Hancock: Smuts, Vol 11 p. 89). The Bulhoek massacre aroused a storm of protest. The ANC denounced it as 'a pogrom.' The Communist Party in Cape Town issued a leaflet headed: 'MURDER! MURDER! MURDER! THE BULHOEK MASSACRE.' for which three of the leaders (W. Dryburgh, D. Dryburgh and W. Harrisson) were arrested and charged with issuing an 'offensive, rebellious and libellous lampoon '.
At about the same time a horrified world learnt of Smuts's ruthless suppression of the alleged 'Bondelswarts rebellion' in Namibia (South West Africa). This Coloured community, which had valiantly resisted German domination, protested against the League of Nations decision to hand over the country as a 'mandate' to be administered by the Union of South Africa. They demanded self-determination and independence.
A virtual state of war was declared against this small people. Bombing planes were brought from Pretoria. They raided on Sunday, 29 May 1922 and the following day killing men, women and children, cattle and sheep. The Bondelswarts continued to fight a guerilla war into June, but the air power, artillery, modern machine guns and rifles of the enemy overpowered them. The official casualties were given (apart from women and children) as Bondelswarts: 150 men killed in action; government forces: 2.
The world post-war economic crisis of the twenties had begun to hit the British and South African monopoly bourgeoisie in their most sensitive point and stronghold - the goldmines. In 1919 they were selling gold on the world market for 130s. per fine ounce. In November 1921 the price fell to 104s, and in December to 95s. The Chamber of Mines, seeking to avoid a fall in their profits, or a closing of the low-grade mines which the higher price had made it profitable to open, resolved upon a policy of lowering labour costs. It was impossible to reduce any further the miserable pay of the African miners, forced to work at rates below subsistence level. They were paying twice as much in total to white workers numbering a fraction of the Africans. The 1921 figures were:
|Number Employed||Annual Wage|
Chamber of Mines: 32nd Annual Report, pp 219-221
The Chamber accordingly decided to cut the cost of white labour by reducing the proportion of white to black workers, transferring some semi-skilled jobs to Africans at lower rates of pay.
In protest the miners came out on what developed into a general strike involving the entire white working class of the Witwatersrand, with far-reaching political demands and consequences. The South African Industrial Federation accused the Smuts government o 'backing the present attack of the employers on the white workers, and called on workers to back the Labour and Nationalist Parties. The strike was to continue for three months, involving bloody clashes between the workers and the military forces. On 9 March Smuts issued mobilisation orders for the Active Citizen Force, and declared martial law, asserting that the country was faced by 'an insurrection'.
The bourgeois press called it 'the Red Revolt.' Smuts told his Parliament (19 March 1923) that 'the aim of the Rand Revolutionaries was to establish a sort of Soviet Republic'.
It was nothing of the sort. The organised white miners were striking against the introduction of 'unqualified' (i.e. African) workers into certain skilled jobs which they had hitherto monopolised.
The workers, mindful of Smuts's liking for violence to suppress strikes, formed 'commandos' for self-defence, but most of the generals were Afrikaner nationalists. The commandos were set up essentially for peaceful picketing and maintaining discipline among the strikers. The truth is that Smuts deliberately provoked a showdown. It was not until the proclamation of martial law and the massive intervention of troops as strike-breakers that clashes took place between the workers and the armed forces of the state.
The fighting was brief and bloody. The state armed forces used bombing aircraft, artillery, tanks, armoured trains, machine guns and rifles before the commandos were defeated and the strike broken. The subsequent 'Martial Law Commission of Enquiry' reported that 153 had been killed (including 43 soldiers and 29 policemen,) and 687 injured (including 176 soldiers and 115 police.) The white trade unionists (in The Story of a Crime issued by The Transvaal Strike Legal Defence Committee in 1924) later estimated the losses as 'over 250 lives and thousands wounded.' Over 1,000 strikers and their leaders, including all the Communist leaders, were arrested. Four workers were sentenced to death for alleged murders committed during the strike. Three of them, Long, Hull and Lewis, were executed on 17 November. They marched to the gallows singing 'The Red Flag.' Among the martyrs of labour who died on active service were many Communists and other socialist militants, including two members of the Council of Action - the true vanguard of the strike movement - P. Fisher and H. Spendriff.
Smuts had broken the strike. Put he had aroused a storm of hatred against his government and the imperialist forces behind him, which was to sweep him from office at the next election.
The 1922 strike faced the Communists with complex problems. They had campaigned for years against racialism and for unity of the workers, black and white.
The issue upon which the Chamber of Mines had precipitated the strike was the very one most certain to split the workers and rouse antagonism on both sides. Nor - though the Chamber's motive was merely to make bigger profits by more intensive exploitation of black labour - could it be denied that the colour bar was in itself indefensible.
The Communist Party in issuing a Manifesto offering its assistance to the Strike Committee, felt it necessary to add that it did so 'without necessarily identifying itself with every slogan heard in the strike . . . convinced that essentially this is a fight against the capitalist class'. The reservation was clearly related to the slogan 'for a White South Africa' frequently used by the strikers. Bill Andrews, the most prominent of the militants, had written to a friend when the strike broke out, 'My private opinion is that it will inevitably be lost; it is . . . impossible for the white workers in South Africa permanently to keep the natives out of any form of industry they are capable of undertaking'
Yet the Party could not take a detached view. The great majority of its members were within the existing movement of white labour; they felt they could not stand aside from a major clash between their fellow-workers and the major imperialist concentration in the country, backed by the hated Smuts government. The Party and its members, though a small minority of the workers, set an example of militancy throughout the strike; they were a strong influence on the Council of Action which, when the right-wingers of the Industrial Federation wavered and were on the point of surrender, virtually took over the leadership at a crucial stage.
It was above all the Communist Party which ceaselessly hammered home to the strikers that the enemy was the Chamber of Mines and the government, not their African fellow-workers.
Yet at no stage did the Party, absorbed in the stormy progress of the strike, turn its attention to the African workers who remained in their compounds and continued operating the mines. It did not propose that they be given skilled work at equal rates of pay; nor did it advance demands around which they could organise. These omissions cannot be ascribed only to the objective conditions, but also to the inadequate theoretical analysis made at the time.
The Party was bitterly disappointed in the results and consequences of the strike. Despite the sacrifices and heroism of the Communists, it was not to them but to the chauvinist Labour and' Nationalist Parties that the white workers turned, in their anger and bitterness against Smuts and his Party, which went down to defeat in the next election.
Many trade union militants left the Communist Party, to throw their weight behind the Labour-Nationalist Party alliance. Ivon Jones, who though in the last pangs of his fatal illness had continued to follow closely the fortunes of the movement from his sanitorium in Yalta. wrote in his last letter (to W. H. Andrews, l3 April 1924): 'We have lost the trade unionists . . . As a cold matter of fact there is no room for a C.P. in white South Africa except as the watchdog of the native . . .'
The white workers were able to win, through their voting rights, the demands they had been unable to assert through militant strike action. That too was a Pyrrhic victory. As the Communist Party was to comment looking back on the events of 1922 with the experience of forty years:
If 1922 was the higher water mark of white labour in South Africa, it was also its greatest and decisive defeat as a force independent of the bourgeoisie. As the more far-sighted of the I.S.L. leaders had foreseen, there was no sort of future for a labour movement on this sort of parasitical basis. From 1922 onwards, the purely 'white' labour movement in this country was transformed step by step into an emasculated adjunct of the boss class, exchanging their independence for concessions and privileges, the price of their support for white imperialism in its brutal oppression and exploitation of the African people. (After Forty Years, SACP, 1961.)
Parallel with the decline of the established unions, mainly of skilled white workers which had hitherto constituted the 'labour movement', the early twenties witnessed the spectacular growth of a new type of workers' organisation, the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (the ICU).
The ICU was founded as a national organisation at a national conference of African trade unions held at Bloemfontein in 1920, with the support of the African National Congress and the Communist Party. Prime movers were Clements Kadalie, who had organised the ICU in the Cape from l919, when it organised an effective strike among the dockers, and Selby Msimang, pioneer of working class organisation in the ANC
Without the advantage of voting rights, and with the labour and other laws heavily weighted against them, the African and Coloured workers and farm labourers made spectacular advances in organisation under the banner of the ICU As at Port Elizabeth, the ICU more than once faced violence from police and white hooligans. In 1925 at Bloemfontein there were five deaths among about 60 casualties in one such clash. Its leaders frequently faced imprisonment and deportation. Nevertheless, the ICU grew into a massive force in a very short period of time, spreading from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London to Natal, inland to the Free State and the Transvaal, and even beyond the Union's borders to Namibia, Rhodesia, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Hardly a town or dorp but had its ICU branch.
The general secretary, Clements Kadalie came to the Cape from Malawi in 1918. A mission-trained teacher, he had no knowledge or experience of the trade union and labour movement, and could speak no African language used in South Africa. He depended a great deal upon the enthusiastic support and assistance of experienced trade unionists and others, many of them Communists. Already in 1917 the ISL had started the Industrial Workers' of Africa (IWA) as an all-in 'general union'. The IWA worked closely with the ICU from the start and soon merged with it. Communists such as E. J. Khaile, J. La Guma, John Gomas, and de Norman helped to build the ICU in a few years from a few hundred members in Cape Town to a massive organisation numbering a quarter of a million members and with an income estimated at £15,000 a year.
The ICU owed much of its popularity to the fact that it never confined itself to immediate economic questions facing the workers of a given industry or region, but boldly tackled the burning political problems agitating the minds of the oppressed people as a whole. The preamble to the ICU constitution evidenced its class conscious and socialist inspiration:
Whereas the interests of the workers and those of the employers are opposed to each other, the former living by selling their labour, receiving for it only part of the wealth they produce; and the latter living by exploiting the labour of the workers; depriving the workers of a part of the product of their labour in the form of profit, no peace can be between the two classes, a struggle must always obtain about the division of the products of human labour until the workers through their industrial organisations take from the capitalist class the means of production, to be owned and controlled by the workers for the benefit of all, instead of for the profit of a few. Under such a system he who does not work, neither shall he eat. The basis of remuneration shall be the principle, from every man according to his abilities, to every man according to his needs.
The ICU reached out to the rural masses, taking up their demand for land and recruiting tens of thousands of peasants, including a number of chiefs.
Following the defeat of the miners, the Smuts government continued its reactionary drive against all sections of the working people.
Contrary to popular belief, especially in Britain, General Smuts was an ardent upholder of white supremacy. In a 1917 address in London, he had laid down the basis of his 'native policy' in terms which would satisfy the most ardent apologist £or apartheid in the present day. He supported 'parallel institutions' . . . 'Instead of mixing up black and white . . . we are now trying to lay down a policy of keeping them apart . . in land ownership, settlement and forms of government . . .' There would be separate areas for blacks 'where they will govern themselves in all their forms of living and developing.'
In 1923, as Minister of Native Affairs, an office which he combined with the Premiership, Smuts introduced the first installment of his plan to implement this apartheid policy - the Native (Urban Areas) Act. This racialist law remains to this day one of the foundation stones of South Africa's structure: it provides that every urban area must segregate Africans in 'locations' (ghettos); regulate the entry of Africans through a registration system; instals autocratic location superintendents whose word is law in these areas; provides for the 'endorsement out' of 'surplus natives' in accordance with the principle that 'the Native should only be allowed to enter urban areas . . . when he is willing to enter and minister to the needs of the white man, and should depart therefrom when he ceases so to minister.'
One of the last measures adopted by the Smuts administration was the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924. It provided legal recognition for trade unions, but the price for this concession was the laying down of cumbersome and protracted proceedings without which strikes would be illegal. By far the worst provision of this law was its definition of the word 'employee' which excluded 'pass-bearing natives' thus making sure that the great majority of the population were excluded from the right to form legally-recognised trade unions. Natal lndians were also excluded, and further anti-lndian measures were under active preparation.
The Smuts-Gandhi Agreement of 1914 had promised that no further discriminatory measures would be taken without consultation with the Indian community. This undertaking was breached by the Transvaal Asiatic Land and Trading Amendment Act of 1919 which united the whole Indian community against it. Previously they had been organised on a provincial basis - the Natal Indian Congress, having been founded in 1894. The first Conference of the South African lndian Congress was held in Cape Town in January 1919.
By 1924, in the face of world-wide opposition, a new major assault on the Indians' rights was under way.
The Smuts government submitted vicious new anti-lndian measures to the House of Assembly. The debate was interrupted by the dissolution of Parliament and the General Election of 1924.
Smuts had become the darling of the British establishment, who had loaded him with honours as a 'great world statesman.' This exalted opinion was hardly shared by his fellow-countrymen, of all races. Even among the white voters the tide was running strongly against him. The South African Party (SAP) lost one by-election after another. In 1922 it had a parliamentary majority of twenty-two. By 1922 it had fallen to thirteen and by 1923 to eleven. By April 1924 it was down to eight. Clearly it could not last long.
Scenting a chance for office, the leaders of the Afrikaner nationalists and the white workers, the Nationalist and Labour Parties, began to sound out measures to unite against the common enemy, and to sink, at least for the time being, their differences. These differences were not so deep as might be supposed.
Since the breach with Andrews and the internationalists in 1915, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Creswell, had moved even more to the Right. The departure of the left wind had relieved Creswell about any inhibitions he may have had about airing his racialist policies of privileges for 'White Labour' and segregation of Africans.
Nor was the Nationalist Party's somewhat half-hearted Republicanism a barrier to co-operation by the Labour Party. In 1915, at a time when most of the white workers were British immigrants they had split the Labour Party as last-ditch defenders of the Empire. By 1922, at any rate in the Transvaal, the majority of the white miners were Afrikaners who had flooded in from the countryside and who cared little for Britain and less for the Empire.(1)
The rapid development of capitalism in the Union was dividing the Afrikaners along class lines. The Land Act and other measures to proletarianise the Africans had benefited a section of the farmers; they produced cash crops for the booming urban centres and became rich men. They had no reason for dissatisfaction with the deal which 'Slim Jannie' Smuts had struck with imperialism. But the same process destroyed the semi-patriarchal, self-contained economy of Boer agriculture. The successful farmers bought out or squeezed out those less successful.
The world depression that followed in 1914-18 war, saw the development of a new phenomenon - the 'poor whites', landless farmers mainly Afrikaners, eking out a living as bywoners or share-croppers, or flocking to the towns to seek work on the mines or in industry, no better off in education or training than the non-whites with whom they competed for jobs, but with the valuable advantage of a 'white' skin - and with it the vote.
These developments provided a mass basis for the Afrikaner nationalist movement, whose political expression was the Nationalist Party (Nasionale Party) headed by another Boer War General, J. B. M. Hertzog.
Typically petty-bourgeois the Nationalist Party vacillated between capital and labour. As the 'small man's party' it demagogically denounced Smuts as a paid agent of the Chamber of Mines and vowed to free South Africa from 'capitalist domination'. The Labour Party's occasional and unconvincing professions of socialism by no means terrified the leaders of nationalist Afrikanerdom in those days. 'Do not let us be afraid of Bolshevism,' Hertzog had told his Party congress (November 1919). 'Bolshevism is the will of the people to be free. Why do people want to suppress and kill Bolshevism? Because national freedom means death to capitalism and imperialism'. And the editor of Die Burger, Hertzog's close associate, Dr. D. F. Malan, was reported at a public meeting at the same period: 'The Bolshevists stand for freedom, just like the Nationalist Party.'
The sensitivity of the Nationalist politicians to the mood of their public had resulted in the steady rise of the Party. Beginning in 1914 with five MP's it became the main opposition party in 1920 with 44 seats, compared with 21 for the Labour Party, and 69 for Smuts and his supporters. In the post-war years of economic depression and political radicalism the Nationalist Party was quite prepared to compete with the Labour Party in 'socialist' demagogy.
Most of the leading figures of the Nationalist and Labour Parties stood prudently away from the strife and bloodshed of the 1922 'Rand Revolt'. But they did express in Parliament their sympathy for the workers' cause and their outrage at the brutal reaction of the government. It came as no surprise to anyone inside or outside the country when, in 1923, Hertzog and Creswell entered into negotiations.
They reached a working agreement on cooperation between the Nationalist and Labour Parties not to split the anti-government vote - i.e. not to put up opposing candidates for election: a decision hailed by Die Burger as the portent of the downfall of Smuts and 'of capitalist domination in South Africa'.
Revulsion against the terrorist actions of the Smuts government, rather than any confidence that the Nationalist - Labour Pact would seriously challenge colonialism or improve their lot, governed the reaction of the democratic organisations towards the Pact. National conferences of the ANC and the ICU both expressed the demand for a 'change of government'.
The Communist Party's reaction to the election pact was one of qualified approval: it had small confidence in either Party. The International (April 27, 1923) called it an 'alliance between bourgeois nationalism and labour imperialism,' but added:
Notwithstanding . . . the obvious insincerity of the whole arrangement we recognise that a general assault on the Smuts-Chamber of Mines Combination must be made.
Whether a purely Nationalist or a Nationalist-Labour government came into office, it continued:
the workers will rapidly discover that the administration of the country will not be materially different to that at the present time. New groupings will inevitably take place. Clever manoeuvring by party leaders and wirepullers cannot for long obscure the essential fact of modern society - the antagonism between the exploiting and the exploited classes. The rank and file of both the Labour and Nationalist parties must sooner or later refuse to follow their bourgeois leaders, and will form a real workers party, not to be side-tracked either by British imperialism nor bourgeois republicanism, but organised, drilled and determined to unceasingly work for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
The confidence in and focus upon the revolutionary potential of the white workers implicit in this passage was not justified by events.
At the 1923 national conference of the Party it had been decided to apply for affiliation to the Labour Party. This decision was taken in the belief that it was in accordance with the policy of the Communist International to work for a united workers' front against the capitalist offensive. Supporters of the motion pointed to the similar decision taken by the Communist Party of Great Britain in regard to the Labour Party in that country. Such an analogy did not take into account the fundamental distinction between the two Parties. The British Labour Party really was, however misled, an organisation of the workers of the country. Its South African counterpart spoke for the privileged white minority of the workers alone and its strategic aim was to consolidate their privileges and their status as a section of the racial oligarchy.
The SA Labour Party rejected the CP application for affiliation, just as after the electoral defeat of Smuts it disregarded the Communists' appeals and warnings and accepted office as junior partners in Hertzog's Coalition Cabinet.(2) So doing it virtually signed its death warrant as a workers' organisation with a policy independent of the capitalist class. The Labour Ministers, Creswell and Boydell, became accomplices in and initiators of a series of vicious racial measures against the non-white majority groups. The Labour Party itself steadily lost the confidence and support of the white workers, split into warring factions under Creswell and W. B. Madeley, and never again featured as a significant independent factor in the politics of White South Africa.
The significance of these events, foreshadowing the absorption of the white workers as junior partners in the racialist establishment, no less than the growth in numbers and militancy of the African working class, strengthened the influence of those within the Communist Party who had long emphasised the priority of work among the indigenous masses.
Many members questioned the weight and emphasis which continued to be given to Communist work among the white workers.
A full-scale debate took place at the third national conference of the Party at the end of 1924. The central issue was a motion that a fresh approach be made to the Labour Party for affiliation.
The leading opponents of this proposal, S. P. Bunting, E. R. Roux and others, were known to be firm advocates of the Party's need to concentrate on work among the Africans. In rejecting the affiliation proposal the Conference implicitly supported their view. A resolution of the Conference declared that the Party
Stresses the prime importance of mass organisation of labour . . . It aims at forwarding the industrial organisation of ALL sections of the workers, especially those hitherto unorganised . . . the problems of the working class can only be solved by a United Front of all workers irrespective of colour.
The terms of the resolution were not new, but the emphasis was. It was a tum in the direction of Party work reflected also in the election of Bunting as Chairman and Roux as Vice-Chairman of the Party. Though it was long before the Party was to generalise the significance of the break with the past in theoretical terms, it was a real turning-point, and resulted in shifts of leadership. The older generation of trade unionists in particular found it difficult to adjust themselves to the emphasis upon work among Africans. Andrews, re-elected by Conference as General Secretary of the Party and editor of The International, resigned from both positions to concentrate on trade union work. He was replaced by Jimmy Shields (1900-1949), a young Scottish comrade who continued in leading positions until his return to Britain in 1927.
In an interview with The Star 127 February 1925) Bill Andrews denied that 'a split over principles existed in the party . . . A difference over tactics had led to his resignation from office'. He 'unequivocally supported the necessity of organising all workers regardless of colour' but 'disagreed with the emphasis and speed with which the new leadership of the Party proposed to tackle the job.'
Following the 1924 conference the Party devoted great efforts to organising the African workers, then being driven in their thousands from the countryside into industry. Under the direction of the Central Committee, members experienced in the trade union field directed their attention towards building African trade unions. Party schools were established in which, under the general direction of the veteran Communist T. W. Thibedi, a drive was launched against illiteracy and ignorance.
A considerable number of African workers and revolutionary intellectuals came into the Party at this time. Many of these recruits
were to play an outstanding role in the future of the liberation movement, the trade union movement and the Party. Among them were Albert Nzula (1906-1933), Moses M. Kotane, J. B. Marks, E. T. Mofutsanyana, Johannes Nkosi, Gana Makabeni, Josie Mpama, and many others.
It was a period in which the Pact Government, with its election promises of 'aiding capitalist domination' was in fact fortifying it, though seeking some concessions for the Afrikaner bourgeoisie. State monopoly capitalist industries developed apace.
As a junior partner in this process, the SA Labour Party succeeded only in discrediting itself.
It was the senior partner, the Nationalist Party, which consolidated its strength and support. This was attained, without any major challenge or confrontation with the dominant power of monopoly capitalism, through a series of ferocious attacks on the living standards and remaining rights of the African, Coloured and Indian people.
Hertzog lost no time. At the end of 1924 he issued a notorious circular instructing all government departments to substitute 'civilised' (i.e., white) workers for others 'wherever practical'. This was designed to shift the burden of unemployment on to the shoulders of the non-white workers, and had the effect of throwing thousands of Africans out of their jobs in the state-owned railways and elsewhere in favour of untrained whites at higher rates of pay.
It was soon followed by Creswell's Wage Act (1925) which applied the same principle of discrimination in pay and employment to privately-owned enterprises, and the 'Colour Bar Act' (Mines and Works Amendment Act, 1926) which made it illegal to employ Africans in a wide variety of skilled and semi-skilled jobs on the mines. In 1927 Parliament adopted the Native Administration Act to tighten up and extend the system of state control over the lives and movements of Africans, place them outside the common law, and convert tribal chiefs into instruments of state policy. This law also made it a crime to 'promote hostility between Natives and Europeans'. In the peculiar terminology of South Africa this was meant to apply not to the customary incitements against African, Coloured and Indian people by white politicians, but to protests against racial discrimination.(3)
The coalition Government also began a fresh attack against the Indian population of South Africa with the object not only of imposing a series of segregationist measures against them, but even expelling them from the country to India. These 'repatriation' and other discriminatory measures met with stiff resistance from the Indian community, and even from the colonial administration of India. They were the subject of a series of 'round-table conferences' between South Africa and India.
A further series of sweeping segregation measures was put forward in the 'Hertzog Bills' (1926). The right of African voters in the Cape Province to vote on the common roll was to be abolished in favour of a 'General Native Council', under the white parliament and the addition of seven 'Native Representatives' to parliament - white men elected by chiefs and other selected Africans. At the same time, the reserve system would be consolidated under rural councils which foreshadowed Verwoerd's 'Bantustans'. A sop was offered to Coloured men who, as a part of this package deal, would be enfranchised in the northern provinces with the same qualifications as in the Cape.
The segregation plan evoked a greater measure of unity among the oppressed peoples of South Africa than ever before. The ANC summoned a National Convention at Bloemfontein (February 1926) which rejected segregation in any form, demanded equal rights for all in the Union's constitution, and decided to boycott 'native conferences' called by the government. The ICU, and the Communist Party likewise uncompromisingly rejected the Hertzog Bills, and the Party called on African organisations to work for a general strike in protest against them.
In June 1926 the first Non-European Convention took place at Kimberley, attended by representatives of the ANC, the APO, and various African welfare, religious and other bodies, as well as, for the first time in such a gathering, the South African Indian Congress.
The Convention rejected 'any policy of differentiation on grounds of colour or race,' and condemned the existing and proposed measures of the Hertzog government. It called for 'closer co-operation among the Non-European sections of South Africa.' The Convention served as a warning signal to the ruling classes. Hertzog's Bills were not proceeded with at that time.
Encouraging as it was, the move towards unity of the forces of resistance and change was not backed up by organisational cohesion and political clarity. Weaknesses in the various movements were seized upon by the enemy, which set to work - with the able assistance of 'liberal' capitalist circles in the country and international social democracy, to disrupt and undermine the people's organisations.
Tragically, their first major success was with the organisation upon which the working people had placed their greatest confidence - the ICU
Right up to the end of 1926, statements in the ICU journal, The Workers' Herald, and pronouncements by its leading spokesman, Kadalie, retained their radical and progressive character. Its outlook was all-African, internationalist and revolutionary. Kadalie's address to the 1925 ICU conference contained this passage: -
'We are aiming at the building up in Africa of a National Labour Organisation of the aboriginals, through which we shall break the wills of white autocracy. We must prevent the exploitation of our people on the mines and on the farms, and obtain increased wages for them. We shall not rest there. We will open the gates of the Houses of legislation, now under the control of white oligarchy, and from this step we shall claim equality of purpose with the white workers of the world to overthrow the capitalist system of Government and usher in a co-operative Commonwealth s)ne, a system of Government which is not foreign to the aboriginal of Africa'. (Quoted in The Workers' Herald, vol. l, no. 14, 15 May, 1925).
Despite rebuffs from the white trade union movement the ICU held firmly to its principle of working class unity.
Yet at the end of 1926, Kadalie suddenly forced a split with the Communists, carried a resolution excluding Party members from holding office in the ICU, and veered sharply towards a policy of 'sensible, moderate' trade unionism, eschewing the radical political content which had drawn Africans to the organisation in their tens of thousands.
The new policy was disastrous. Within the next two years the ICU dwindled and split until virtually nothing was left of this mighty body of organised workers.
Following a protracted tour of Western Europe in 1927, sponsored by the Amsterdam-based anti-Communist International Federation of Trade Unions, Kadalie returned with a new Constitution, drafted by A. Creech-Jones and other British 'experts,' on the lines of their own TUC This was followed by the arrival of a Scottish 'adviser,' W. Ballinger.
These attempts to transform the ICU from a revolutionary workers' movement failed dismally. One internal split followed another.
A sharp clash developed between Kadalie and the leader of the ICU in Natal, A. G. W. Champion, a man with as strong a character and as marked individualism as Kadalie himself. Natal, under Champion, broke away to form a separate organisation. Ballinger soon decided that the founder himself was unsuitable for his office: a further split took place with rival head-committees under the leadership of Ballinger and Kadalie. E. R. Roux has painfully and vividly described the last chapter of the story:
Secretaries were bolting with cash, the union's furniture was being sold to pay lawyers' fees . . . The events which led up to the final tragedy were full of drama and tragedy. Anarchy prevailed. Individual leaders competed for power. They fought to obtain control of the lCU. And as they fought the ICU vanished before their eyes until there was nothing left to fight over. (Time Longer Than Rope, p. 177.)
Many reasons have been advanced to explain the decline of the ICU: its formless and all-embracing structure, inhibiting close organisation and action on a factory or industrial basis; the weaknesses of Kadalie and other leaders, particularly the tendency to substitute revolutionary platform oratory for mass mobilisation and action; the intrigues of white liberals and the lFTU; Kadalie's fatal rift with the Communist Party and his misguided attempts to transform the organisation from a revolutionary organ of the masses into the sort of respectable and bureaucratic machine which had developed among the white workers and in Britain.
No doubt these were all factors of importance. But they tend to overlook the massive armoury of repression which the white establishment is ready to unleash against any African movement which constitutes a threat to the structure of power and profits. Much of the time and resources of the ICU were absorbed by lengthy court proceedings following the arrest of its officials. ICU meetings were surrounded by intimidation and violence from police and armed white hooligans acting in concert. Even its inner workings were subjected to penetration by informers and provocateurs. The politicians like Creswell and Hertzog, who had been prepared to encourage the ICU when they were in opposition seeking support, turned bitterly hostile when installed in office as administrators of the mine-owners' and landowners' state. The white workers' Trade Union Congress found excuses to reject the ICU's application for affiliation, even though, with Bill Andrews as its general secretary, the TUC itself was at that time under the most progressive leadership it ever had.
Against such formidable opposition the remarkable fact is not the failure but the achievements of the ICU It made the voice of the voiceless and disinherited African masses heard, for once, in the land, including the white newspapers and parliament. It awakened revolutionary national and class consciousness among tens of thousands of African working people in town and country, brought to them their first lessons in organisation and unity. The ICU awakened and mobilised many of the working class cadres of the Congress and trade union movements and the Communist Party for the stern struggles ahead.
It was these cadres who, following the disintegration of the ICU set to work to organise industrial trade unions for African workers on sound and militant lines, and to build up the national liberation movement.
The Communist Party's relationship with the African National Congress improved greatly in this period. J. J. Gumede, Congress president, who had strongly opposed 'Bolshevism' ten years before, had come to appreciate the courageous and principled stand of the Communists. As ANC representative he attended the International Congress of the League Against Imperialism at Brussels, Belgium, in February 1927, together with James la Guma, representing the Communist Party, and Daniel Colraine of the SA Trade Union Congress.
President Gumede told this great international gathering of anti-imperialists, whose delegates included Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Madame Sun Yat-sen of China, of the bitter lot of the enslaved African people. Speaking of communism, he said:
I am happy to say that there are Communists in South Africa. I myself am not one, but it is my experience that the Communist Party is the only party that stands behind us and from which we can expect something.
On his return to South Africa, he repeated the same point in his Presidential report to the ANC annual conference in June 1927. 'Of all political parties,' he said, 'the Communist Party is the only one that honestly and sincerely fights for the oppressed people'.
The conference showed its confidence in Gumede and his militant policies by re-electing him as President-General for a further three-year term of office, with E. J. Khaile, who had been expelled from the ICU for refusing to resign from the CP, as general secretary.
President Gumede visited Moscow in 1927 to attend the tenth anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution. He was deeply impressed by his travels in the Soviet Union. 'I have seen the new world to come, where it has already begun,' he said in Johannesburg. 'I have been to the new Jerusalem'.
The shift in the Party's emphasis had brought a very substantial access of membership, transforming the composition of the Party. From a minority in 1924, African Communists, by 1928, comprised the great majority - 1,600 out of 1,750 members.
This transformation, however, was not adequately reflected in the Party's leadership, policy and perspective. On the proposal of Shields that Africans should be drawn into the leadership, the fifth national conference had elected Makabeni, Khaile and Thibedi to the Central Committee, but the officials were all whites as was the delegation appointed to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in July 1928.
The Congress was a notable one from the South African viewpoint. In addition to surveying international and, especially, colonial problems, it gave specific attention to our own country. This was the first time a discussion on South Africa had featured on a CI. Congress agenda. The discussion had been preceded by talks between the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) and James La Guma, who had represented the CPSA at the celebration of the revolution, the previous November. He reported the gist of those discussions on his return. Subsequently the Party had an opportunity to study a draft resolution of the ECCI on South Africa and to mandate its delegation accordingly. That mandate was one of opposition to the new direction of policy proposed.
One of the main proposals of the ECCI was summed up in the slogan for South Africa - 'an Independent Native Republic - with full guarantees for minority groups - as a stage towards a workers' and peasants government'. To a large extent discussion of this question has tended to concentrate on the formulation of this slogan itself, without regard to the profound theoretical issues that were involved and which were debated at the Congress. Yet m their arguments against the CI approach the South African delegation, consisting of Sidney and Rebecca Bunting and Eddie Roux, brought out quite clearly the fundamental differences which existed between the international movement and its South African section.
These differences were not confined to a pragmatic assessment of the suitability of a particular slogan considered as a formula. They went to the heart of the ideological approach to the colonial and national question. Arguing the case for his Central Committee, S. P. Bunting as head of the delegation criticised the frequent practice of the CI in its documents of referring to the 'proletariat' of the capitalist countries and the 'masses' in the colonies. He contended that the distinction was incorrect, revealing a misunderstanding of the multi-class alliance required in the national-liberation struggle, and wrongly counterpoising this to 'the class struggle'. The CPSA delegation insisted that class, not national, issues were uppermost in South Africa. 'Nationalist revolt' in Bunting's words, had 'not been on the part of the black workers but of the Dutch nationalists.' He agreed with the practical demands proposed by the Executive, for land for the Africans, equal rights and abolition of racial laws and land, but maintained that 'class struggle is more capable of accomplishing the same tasks'. 'The ANC is a moribund body,' he declared. 'The Communist Party itself is the actual or potential leader of the native national movement'.
These arguments, reflecting as they did the majority view of the CPSA's Central Committee at that time, were not acceptable to the Congress. The view was upheld that 'the national question, based on the agrarian question, lies at the foundation of the revolution in South Africa'.
The 1928 Congress of the Comintern summed up the majority opinion of the Parties in its thesis on 'The Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies'. A section of this thesis discussed the position in the Union of South Africa. Here, it declared Africans. who constitute the majority of the population, are being expropriated from the land by the white colonists and by the state, are deprived of political rights and freedom of movement, are subjected to the most brutal forms of racial and class oppression, and suffer simultaneously from pre-capitalist and capitalist methods of exploitation and oppression.
Noting that the Communist Party had 'achieved definite successes ' among African workers, the resolution enjoined it to struggle still more energetically for complete equality of rights, the abolition of special regulations and laws directed against Africans, and for confiscation of the land of the landlords.
In its trade union work the Party was called upon to organise African workers and 'struggle by all methods against racial prejudice in the ranks of the white workers and to eradicate entirely such prejudices from its own ranks'.
The Party must determinedly and consistently put forward the creation of an independent native republic, with simultaneous guarantees for the rights of the white minority, and struggle in deeds for its realisation.
This brief resolution was not, nor was it intended to be, a detailed analysis of the South African situation. But it did pinpoint and stress the very weaknesses in the work and propaganda of the Party until then, and the erroneous position expounded by its delegation at the Congress.
A more thorough explanation and elaboration of the viewpoint of the international communist movement was embodied in a special resolution on 'the South African Question' adopted by the Executive Committee of the CI later in the year, published hl December 1928 and reproduced in Appendix V of the present volume.
No doubt many of the facts and formulations of this document need bringing up to date. But taken all in all it is a remarkable Marxist-Leninist appraisal of the fundamental structure of the character of South African society, whose aptness and relevance has been vindicated rather than made obsolete by the passage of time. Its emphasis on the 'colonial type of the country', on the 'united white front for the exploitation of the native population', between British imperialism and the white South African bourgeoisie. foreshadow the Programme adopted by the South African Communist Party in 1962 with the benefit of thirty-years experience and study.
As a disciplined section of the Communist International, the Party in South Africa formally endorsed its decisions. At its seventh annual conference in 1929, the CPSA adopted a new programme approving the CI policy, though not without a good deal of opposition. The conference elected an executive with Bunting as chairman and including Albert Nzula as organiser and Johannes Nkosi. Elected as secretary was D. C. Wolton, a journalist from England, who had supported the Comintern's policy throughout and was sharply critical of the attitude of Bunting and others.
Nevertheless, both were appointed Party candidates in the general election of 1929, Wolton for the Cape Flats and Bunting for the rural constituency of Tembuland, Transkei. Bunting's election campaign was a stormy one. Shadowed day and night by police, his meetings violently smashed up more than once by white hooligans, he and his agent, Gana Makebeni were faced with more than a dozen prosecutions. His reasoned and militant appeal to the rural African voters made a deep impression. Nevertheless intimidation had done its work. Both Communist candidates were defeated. Wolton left for a visit abroad after the election. He was succeeded by Albert Nzula, the first African to hold the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party.
The Nationalist Party won the 1929 election with an absolute majority of MP's in the white parliament, at a time when the capitalist world was entering a period of acute economic crisis.
Hertzog's recipe for the depression, unemployment and unrest was a new round of attacks on the voteless masses. He had won the election on a 'Black Menace' manifesto more extreme in chauvinism than ever. Its first effects were a race riot by whites in Durban, following a boycott of the municipal beerhall by Africans. On 17 June 1929, hooligans attacked the offices of the Natal ICU, a breakaway organisation led by A. W. G. Champion. The Africans fought back, and eight people were killed and 108 wounded when police joined the white rioters.
Oswald Pirow, Hertzog's Minister of Justice, (later an outspoken admirer of Hitler) followed up with a melodramatic show of force, marching police armed with machine guns and tear gas, in a massive tax-collecting raid on Durban Africans. He announced a 'Communist conspiracy' and brought in a new law - an amended version of the Riotous Assemblies Act - giving himself draconic powers to ban meetings and deport people from one area to another.
At the same time a renewed drive was made to oust Africans and other non-whites from their jobs to make way for the growing army of 'poor white' unemployed. When the workers protested against this and the Pirow law they were met with further repression and racial incitement. A series of protest meetings were called by the Communist Party on 16 December 1929. The meeting at Potchefstroom, addressed by J. B. Marks and Edwin Mofutsanyana, was disrupted by a gang of white hooligans, one of whom fired at the platform, fatally wounding a local comrade, Hermanus Lethebe.
The Communist Party worked hard to rally the masses against the new reactionary offensive. The Party journal, renamed Umsebenzi (in Zulu and Xhosa: 'The Worker') and carrying articles in several African languages, was reaching a bigger circulation than ever. Vigorous steps to build ANC and Party branches and African trade unions in various parts of the country were taken by militants such as Nzula, Kotane and Marks in the Transvaal, Nkosi in Durban, Dambuza in Bloemfontein, Gomas, Ngudlane, Ndobe and Tonjeni in the Western Cape.
In 1930, the Communist Party issued a call for a united front campaign against the pass laws, designed to culminate in the burning of passes throughout the country on Dingane's Day, December 16: the anniversary of the battle between Zulu and Boer at Blood River.
Unfortunately, the call fell on deaf ears. Kadalie countered the Party's call with an appeal for a.'national day of prayer' instead of a day of struggle.
The African National Congress, too, had entered a period of temporary regression. The retiring President, Gumede opened its April 1930 national conference with a rousing appeal for militancy. He denounced imperialism and called on Africans to rally against any attack on the Soviet Union 'the only real friend of all subjected races.' He called on Congress to organise the people to fight for 'equal economic, social and political rights', for 'a South African Native Republic with equal rights for all, and free from all foreign and local domination. '
The call met with a warm response from militants and workers at the conference. But right-wing conservative elements had been organising against Gumede. They packed the conference and carried the day. Mahabane, Dube Selope Thema and other advocates of 'moderate' policies, secured the defeat of Gumede's candidature for re-election as President and the return of an executive, headed by Dr. Seme, by then advanced in years, and dominated by compromisers. Anxious to woo the South African Party - then in opposition, and promising opposition to Hertzog's anti-African measures - the ANC Ieaders rejected the call for united action with the Communists.
Nevertheless the Communist Party continued alone with its Dingane's Day demonstrations. The greatest of these was in Durban, where in the-face of fierce repression, the Party had made great strides under the leadership of Johannes Nkosi.
At this demonstration Johannes Nkosi was murdered by the South African police, together with three other African workers attending the demonstration. At the inquest seven witnesses swore that they had seen the chief constable shoot at Nkosi, who was arrested and then stabbed and beaten to death by the police. No policeman was ever tried or punished for this bloody crime.
Johannes Nkosi, born in 1905, was already a seasoned veteran of the trade union movement and the workers' struggle when he joined the Communist Party in 1926. Already, at the age of 19 he had taken part in the strike against the pass laws, led by the ANC Coming to Johannesburg from the countryside, he had found work as a domestic servant ('kitchen-boy' in white South African terminology) which led A. Nzula to head his last tribute to him with the words of Lenin: 'Every cook must learn to be an administrator'. Nzula wrote:
An uncompromising fighter, he died as he lived, fearless and conscious of the great fight in which he was engaged, as his final message, short but characteristic shows. The message addressed, in Zulu: 'To the Workers of South Africa: Never, under the sun has a nation been so shackled with the chains of slavery. We are not even allowed to voice our opinion on the state of affairs in our Motherland. Why not awake and stand on our feet? Men, women and young women, we must support organisations that fight for our freedom'. A thousand Africans must take the place of Nkosi. Let his cowardly murderers know that the African Giant is awakening and nothing will stop his progress.
Long live the name of Nkosi!
Long live a Free Africa!
Following the Dingane's Day Murders, the Hertzog-Pirow government unleashed a storm of terror and repression in Durban and other Natal towns. The working class movement throughout the country was subjected to an unprecedented wave of repression.
Nevertheless the Communist Party, at a time when the national liberation movement was at a low ebb, courageously maintained its stand during the early thirties.
Unemployment was rising steeply as a result of the world depression, and the Party was in the vanguard of the movement to organise jobless workers to demand bread and 'work or wages'. May Day 1931 saw a rare example of united action by black and white workers in Johannesburg. A demonstration estimated at 2,000 Africans and 1,000 white workers, led by comrade I. Diamond, marched together through the city streets to the Rand Club, venue of the millionaires. There they marched in and demanded to be served with food. Violent fighting with the police followed, and Diamond was arrested and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment.
Another Reef town, Germiston, was also the scene of violent repression in 1932, when J. B. Marks was 'nominated' by the Communist Party as its candidate for Parliament. Naturally, as an African, Marks was not eligible to stand, but the Party used the occasion to dramatise the injustice of the whites-only constitution. It was made the occasion for a militant campaign for democratic rights and immediate demands such as the abolition of poll tax and lodgers' permits on Africans. Communists were arrested for 'incitement to racial hostility,' and repeated attacks on Party meetings were made by armed police and local white hooligans. Few leading and active Communists escaped imprisonment at that period, even though the Party enjoyed formal legality.
Unfortunately the thirties were also a period when the Communist Party itself was torn by internal strife of a sort which seriously undermined its strength and influence without truly enlightening its path.
1. In February 1922 mass meetings of strikers on the East Rand and in Johannesburg carried enthusiastic resolutions calling on the Nationalist and Labour Parties to end 'the domination of the Chamber of Mines and other financiers' and 'proclaim a South African Republic.'
2. WIth 63 seats against 53 for the SAP, the Nationalist Party needed the backing of the 18 Labour members for a stable majority. It therefore offered the SALP two seats in an eight-man Cabinet.
3. The first victims were three Cape Town Communists, S. Silwana, J. Gomas and B. Ndobe, jailed for a protest against the shooting of an African by a white policeman.