History of South Africa

Industrialization and Imperialism, 1870-1910

The Mineral Revolution

Mineral discoveries in the 1860s, the 1870s, and the 1880s had an enormous impact on southern Africa. Diamonds were initially identified in 1867 in an area adjoining the confluence of the Vaal and the Orange rivers, just north of the Cape Colony, although it was not until 1869 to 1870 that finds were sufficient to attract a "rush" of several thousand fortune hunters. The British government, attracted by the prospect of mineral wealth, quickly annexed the diamond fields, repudiating the claims of the Voortrekker republics to the area. Four mines were developed, and the town of Kimberley was established. The town grew quickly and became the largest urban society in the interior of southern Africa in the 1870s and the 1880s. Although the mines were worked initially by small-scale claims-holders, the economics of diamond production and marketing soon led to consolidation. Within two decades of the first diamond find, the industry was essentially controlled by one monopolistic company--Cecil Rhodes's De Beers Consolidated Mines.

The diamond industry became the key to the economic fortunes of the Cape Colony by providing the single largest source of export earnings, as well as by fueling development throughout the colony. Whereas the Cape's exports in 1870 had been worth little more than 2,000,000, with wool providing the bulk of earnings, by the end of the century the value of exports had risen to more than 15,000,000, with diamonds alone accounting for 4,000,000. There was also substantial growth in population, much of it from immigration. As a result, there were close to 400,000 resident Europeans in the Cape Colony by 1900, twice the number who had lived there in 1865.

Gold soon eclipsed diamonds in importance. Africans had mined gold for centuries at Mapungubwe (in South Africa, on the border with Zimbabwe) and later at the successor state of Great Zimbabwe, and they had traded with Arabs and Portuguese on the east coast of Africa. In the 1860s and the 1870s, Europeans made a number of small finds of their own, but the major development took place in 1886 when potentially enormous deposits of gold were found on the Witwatersrand (literally, "Ridge of White Waters" in Afrikaans, commonly shortened to Rand) near present-day Johannesburg. English-speaking businessmen who had made their fortunes in the diamond industry quickly bought up all the auriferous claims and established a series of large gold-mining companies that were to dominate the industry well into the twentieth century.

Rhodes, who had succeeded in monopolizing the diamond industry, was much less successful on the Rand, where his companies proved to be poorer producers than those of his competitors. In the 1890s, he sought to compensate for his lackluster performance by carving out a personal empire in present-day Zimbabwe, original site of the fifteenth-century gold industry of Great Zimbabwe. There he ruled the Ndebele and the Shona people through his British South Africa Company.

Although beset by a number of technological problems in its early days, gold mining on the Rand grew rapidly, with output increasing from 80,000 in 1887 to nearly 8,000,000, or one-fifth of the world's gold production, in 1895. By the end of the century, more than 60,000,000 of capital had been invested in the gold industry, most of it by European investors, who thereby continued the pattern developed at Kimberley that southern Africa received more foreign investment than the rest of Africa combined. The gold mines employed 100,000 African laborers, five times as many as did the diamond mines, and drew these men from throughout southern Africa, although most came from Portuguese-ruled areas of Mozambique. Johannesburg, the newly established hub of this industry, had a population of 75,000 Europeans by the end of the century, which made it the largest city in southern Africa.

Africans and Industrialization

African Enterprise
Africans participated actively in the new industrial economy. Thousands came to Kimberley in the early 1870s, some to obtain diamond claims, the majority to seek jobs in the mines and thereby to acquire the cash that would enable them to rebuild cattle herds depleted by drought, disease, and Boer raids. In the early 1870s, an average of 50,000 men a year migrated to work in the mines, usually for two to three months, returning home with guns purchased in Kimberley, as well as cattle and cash. Many who lived in the area of the diamond finds chose to sell agricultural surpluses, rather than their labor, and to invest their considerable profits in increasing production for the growing urban market. African farmers in British Basutoland (the British protectorate established in Lesotho), the Cape, and Natal also greatly expanded their production of foodstuffs to meet rising demand throughout southern Africa, and out of this development emerged a relatively prosperous peasantry supplying the new towns of the interior as well as the coastal ports. The growth of Kimberley and other towns also provided new economic opportunities for coloureds, many of whom were skilled tradesmen, and for Indians, who, once they had completed their contracts on the sugar plantations, established shops selling goods to African customers.

Extending European Control
Mineowners struggling to make a profit in the early days of the diamond industry sought, however, to undercut the bargaining strength of the Africans on whom they depended for labor. In 1872 Kimberley's white claimsholders persuaded the British colonial administration to introduce a pass law. This law, the foundation of the twentieth-century South African pass laws, required that all "servants" be in possession of passes that stated whether the holders were legally entitled to work in the city, whether or not they had completed their contractual obligations, and whether they could leave the city. The aim of this law, written in "color-blind" language but enforced against blacks only, was to limit the mobility of migrant workers, who frequently changed employers or left the diamond fields in a constant (and usually successful) attempt to bargain wages upward.

Other restrictions followed the pass law. These included the establishment of special courts to process pass law offenders as rapidly as possible (the basis of segregated courts in the twentieth century), the laying out of special "locations" or ghettos in Kimberley where urban blacks had to live (the basis of municipal segregation practices), and, finally, in 1886 the formation of "closed compounds," fenced and guarded institutions in which all black diamond mine workers had to live for the duration of their labor contracts.

The institutionalization of such discriminatory practices produced in Kimberley the highest rate of incarceration and the lowest living standards for urban blacks in the Cape Colony. It also marked a major turnabout in the British administration of law. The previous official policy that all people irrespective of color be treated equally, while still accepted in legal theory, was now largely ignored in judicial practice. South Africa's first industrial city thus developed into a community in which discrimination became entrenched in the economic and social order, not because of racial antipathies formed on the frontier, but because of the desire for cheap labor.

Because blacks would not put up with such conditions if they could maintain an autonomous existence on their own lands, the British embarked on a large-scale program of conquest in the 1870s and the 1880s. Mine owners argued that if they did not get cheap labor their industries would become unprofitable. White farmers, English- and Dutch-speaking alike, interested in expanding their own production for new urban markets, could not compete with the wages paid at the mines and demanded that blacks be forced to work for them. They argued that if blacks had to pay taxes in cash and that if most of their lands were confiscated, then they would have to seek work on the terms that white employers chose to offer. As a result of such pressures, the British fought wars against the Zulu, the Griqua, the Tswana, the Xhosa, the Pedi, and the Sotho, conquering all but the last. By the middle of the 1880s, the majority of the black African population of South Africa that had still been independent in 1870 had been defeated, the bulk of their lands had been confiscated and given to white settlers, and taxes had been imposed on the people, who were now forced to live on rural "locations." In order to acquire food to survive and to earn cash to pay taxes, blacks now had to migrate to work on the farms, in the mines, and in the towns of newly industrialized South Africa.

African Initiatives
The final quarter of the nineteenth century was marked also by the rise of new forms of political and religious organization as blacks struggled to attain some degree of autonomy in a world that was rapidly becoming colonized. Because the right to vote was based on ownership of property rather than on race in the Cape, blacks could participate in electoral politics, and this they did in increasing numbers in the 1870s and the 1880s, especially in the towns. In 1879 Africans in the eastern Cape formed the Native Educational Association (NEA), the purpose of which was to promote "the improvement and elevation of the native races." This was followed by the establishment of the more overtly political Imbumba Yama Nyama (literally, "hard, solid sinew"), formed in 1882 in Port Elizabeth, which sought to fight for "national rights" for Africans.

In 1884 John Tengo Jabavu, a mission-educated teacher and vice president of the NEA, founded his own newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu (Native Opinion). Jabavu used the newspaper as a forum through which to express African grievances about the pass laws; "location" regulations; the unequal administration of justice; and what were considered "anti-native" laws, such as the one passed in 1887 by the Cape Parliament at Rhodes's behest that raised the property qualification for voters and struck 20,000 Africans off the rolls. Through these organizations and newspapers, and others like them established in the late nineteenth century, Africans protested their unequal treatment, pointing out in particular contradictions between the theory and practice of British colonialism. They called for the eradication of discrimination and for the incorporation of Africans into colonial society on an equal basis with Europeans. By the end of the nineteenth century, after property qualifications had again been raised in 1892, there were only about 8,000 Africans on the Cape's voting roll.

Africans sought to bypass what they considered the discriminatory practices of the established Christian churches (which often preached to segregated audiences and seldom promoted Africans within their ranks) by founding separate organizations of their own. Starting in 1884 with Nehemiah Tile, a Thembu (Tembu) Methodist preacher from the eastern Cape who left the Methodists and established the Tembu National Church, Africans built their own churches throughout South Africa. Many of these churches were termed "Ethiopian" by their founders, on the basis of the biblical prophecy "that Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God," and because for centuries an African-run independent Christian church had existed in Ethiopia. A strong influence on these churches in the 1890s and the early 1900s was the United States-based African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which sent missionaries to South Africa and trained many blacks from South Africa at its own institutions in the United States. Members of these independent churches called not so much for the elimination of racial discrimination and inequality as for an "Africa for the Africans," that is, a country ruled by blacks.

British Imperialism and the Afrikaners

Minerals and the Growth of Boer-British Antipathy
British pressures on the Dutch-speaking population of the South African Republic became intense in the aftermath of industrialization. In seizing the diamond fields in 1870, the British had swept aside many Boer land claims. In 1877, fearing a collapse of the South African Republic in the face of defeat by a Pedi army, the British had formally annexed the Boer state, as the Transvaal. They then set about destroying the Pedi to obtain laborers for the Kimberley mines, and they completed the task in 1879. In 1880, however, the Transvaalers rose, and at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881, they defeated a British army. The British then withdrew, leaving the Boers victorious in what they would later call their First War of Independence.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand greatly increased Boer-British tensions. Here was vast mineral wealth beyond British control. Moreover, the president of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger, attempted to lessen his state's long-term dependence on Cape merchants by developing a rail link to Portuguese East Africa. Such a link threatened British commercial interests and revived old fears of the Boers' gaining direct access to the sea and thus to other European powers. At the same time, the mine owners were, without exception, English speakers who exhibited no loyalty to the South African Republic and who did not seek to reinvest their gold profits in the local community. Indeed, they complained bitterly about all attempts to tax the gold industry.

These economic tensions lay at the base of a political issue: the right of English speakers to have the vote. With the rise of the gold industry and the growth of Johannesburg, the South African Republic had been inundated by so many English-speaking immigrants (called uitlanders by the Boers), most of them skilled mine workers, that by the 1890s they constituted a majority of the white male population. The state's constitution limited the vote to males who had lived in the South African Republic for at least seven years, and Kruger feared that expanding the franchise would only enable mine owners to manipulate their workers and to thereby win political power. British mine owners and officials constantly decried Kruger's refusal to extend the franchise. In December 1895, Cecil Rhodes took matters a step further by sending 500 armed men, employees of his British South Africa Company, into the South African Republic under the leadership of Dr. Leander Starr Jameson. Rhodes hoped that the uitlanders would rise and join the invaders to help overthrow Kruger's government. The invasion, however, was a fiasco: Boer commandos disarmed Jameson and his men with little resistance, and the uitlanders took no action. Rhodes resigned the premiership of the Cape Colony in disgrace. The British government denied having advance knowledge of the invasion and claimed that it had no expansionist plans of its own.

Distrusting the mine owners and the British government, Kruger sought to build his country's strength. He engaged in diplomatic relations with Germany, imported arms from Europe, and continued to deny the vote to uitlanders . He also cemented relations with the Orange Free State and sought support from Dutch speakers in the Cape. In these endeavors, he was assisted by a growing sense of Afrikaner identity that had developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This nationalistic identity had emerged clearly in the early 1880s, after the victory of Majuba Hill, when S.J. du Toit, a Dutch Reformed minister in the Cape, had published a newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot (The Afrikaner Patriot), and a book, Die Geskiedenis van ons Land in die Taal van ons Volk (The History of our Land in the Language of our People), which argued that Afrikaners were a distinct people with their own fatherland in South Africa and that they were fulfilling a special mission determined expressly by God. Du Toit had gone on to found a political party in the Cape, the Afrikanerbond, to represent the interests of Dutch speakers. The Jameson Raid and anti-Boer sentiments expressed by gold magnates and British officials further cemented an Afrikaner sense of distinctiveness, which in the 1890s reached across political boundaries to include Dutch speakers in the Cape and the citizens of the Orange Free State as well as the Transvaalers.

Rhodes, together with his fellow gold mining magnates and the British government (in the persons of Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, and Alfred Milner, high commissioner in South Africa), continued to denounce Kruger and his government. Rhodes and his peers called attention to what they considered rampant official corruption while also complaining that taxes were too high and that black labor was too expensive (because of perceived favoritism by the government regarding the labor needs of Afrikaner farmers). Chamberlain had concluded by the second half of the 1890s that the British needed to take direct action to contain Afrikaner power, and he had at first used diplomatic channels to pressure Kruger, although with little success. Milner pointed out what he considered the appalling condition of British subjects in the South African Republic, where, without the vote, they were, he argued, "kept permanently in the position of helots." In 1899 Milner advised Chamberlain that he considered the case for British intervention "overwhelming." Ignoring attempts by Kruger to reach a compromise, Chamberlain in September 1899 issued an ultimatum requiring that Kruger enfranchise British residents of the South African Republic. At the same time, Chamberlain sent troop reinforcements from Britain to the Cape. Kruger, certain that the British were bent on war, took the initiative and, allied with the Orange Free State, declared war on the British in October 1899.

The South African War
The South African War (1899-1902), fought by the British to establish their hegemony in South Africa and by the Afrikaners to defend their autonomy, lasted three years and caused enormous suffering. Ninety thousand Afrikaners fought against a British army that eventually approached 500,000 men, most from Britain but including large numbers of volunteers also from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Approximately 30,000 Africans were also employed as soldiers by the British, while thousands more labored as transport workers. Kruger's forces, taking advantage of initial superiority in numbers (before the British regulars arrived) and of surprise, won a number of victories at the beginning of the war. In 1900, however, British forces overwhelmed the Boers, took Bloemfontein (capital of the Orange Free State), Johannesburg, and Pretoria (capital of the South African Republic), and forced Kruger into exile. Resistance continued, however, in the countryside, where the Boers fought a ferocious guerrilla war. The British ultimately succeeded in breaking this resistance, but only by adopting a scorched-earth policy. In 1901 and 1902, the British torched more than 30,000 farms in the South African Republic and the Orange Free State and placed all the Afrikaner women and children in concentration camps, where, because of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, more than 25,000 perished.

Peace was finally concluded at the town of Vereeniging on May 21, 1902. Milner, who drew up the terms, intended that Afrikaner power should be broken forever. He required that the Boers hand over all their arms and agree to the incorporation of their territories into the British empire as the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. However, he made one significant concession to Boer sentiments by agreeing that the franchise would not be extended to Africans throughout South Africa (they had no vote in the Boer republics) until the local white population could decide that issue themselves. Since Milner himself believed that "political equality" of blacks and whites was "impossible" and that South Africa was really a white man's country in which the role of blacks should essentially be limited to that of "well-treated" labor, the concession was not a large one for him to make.

Milner's Peace
Milner sought to consolidate the military victory by adopting three policies. He planned to encourage large numbers to emigrate from Britain so that English speakers would attain a numerical majority among South Africa's white population. He wanted to institute policies of denationalization and of anglicization so that Afrikaners would lose their sense of a separate identity and would assimilate into British culture. To ensure the successful implementation of both policies, he intended to rule South Africa directly without local representation.

Milner also believed that the successful development of a loyal colonial society rested above all on ensuring the profitability of the gold industry even if that meant great strains for the African population. To that end, he sought to address the postwar labor needs of the gold mines by strictly enforcing pass laws in the cities and by collecting taxes from Africans in the countryside.

Relations between Africans and Europeans were increasingly strained as Milner's policies were implemented. Pressures in Natal were particularly severe. Most of Zululand had been annexed to Natal in 1897, a decade after approximately one-third of Zululand had been incorporated into the South African Republic. These strains erupted into violence in 1905, when a Zulu chief, Bambatha, invoking the memory of King Shaka, led an armed uprising. British firepower was too great, however, and in 1906 Bambatha and several thousand of his followers were killed in central Natal. His was the last armed struggle against colonial rule.

Despite opposition from local whites, who feared the addition of yet another racial group to their community, Milner also supported the gold magnates' plans to import large numbers of indentured Chinese laborers to work in the mines. The first men arrived in 1904, and by 1906 there were 50,000 Chinese at work, comprising one-third of the gold mines' labor force.

Milner's belief expressed before the war that blacks and whites could never be recognized as equal in South Africa received official sanction in 1905 with the final report of the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC). The British had gone to war in 1899 stating their abhorrence of the racially discriminatory policies adopted in the Afrikaner republics and because of such sentiments had received the active support of thousands of Africans. Between 1903 and 1905, the SANAC commissioners looked into the question of developing a common "native policy" for all of South Africa. Despite the testimony of numerous members of the educated African elite decrying discriminatory policies, the commissioners concluded that there should be no political equality between blacks and whites, that separate voters' rolls should be established, and that territorial separation was advisable for the races.

Yet none of Milner's policies met with real success. The gold industry, burdened with the costs of rebuilding after the devastation of the war, produced only limited profits, and South Africa continued to be economically depressed for much of the first decade of the twentieth century. Few immigrants were attracted by such poor prospects, and fewer than 1,200 British settler families came, less than one-eighth of the number Milner had hoped for. His denationalization policy was a complete failure. Indeed, Afrikaners, already imbued with a sense of collective suffering by their nineteenth-century experiences at the hands of British imperialists, were even more united after the South African War (which they termed the Second War of Independence). They celebrated their language, Afrikaans, and demonstrated its beauty in an outpouring of poetry. They set up their own schools, insisting that their children should be taught in Afrikaans and not be limited to the English-only instruction of government schools. In addition, they established new political parties to push for self-government: Oranje Unie (Orange Union) formed by Abraham Fischer and General James "Barry" Munnik (J.B.M.) Hertzog in the Orange River Colony and Het Volk (The People) founded by General Louis Botha and Jan C. Smuts in the Transvaal. The greatest blow to Milner's plans, however, came in 1905 with the victory of the Liberal Party in the British general election and the formation of a government led by men who had opposed the scorched-earth policy in the South African War as no more than "methods of barbarism."

Formation of the Union of South Africa, 1910

Accepting the fact that English speakers would never constitute a majority in white South Africa, the Liberal government sought to come to terms with the Afrikaner majority. In 1907 the British granted limited self-government to both the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and in subsequent elections, Het Volk and the Oranje Unie swept to victory. In the following year, the South African Party (SAP), led by an English-speaking critic of British imperialism and dependent on the support of the Afrikaner Bond, came to power in the Cape Colony. Reassured by the readiness of Het Volk's leaders, Botha and Smuts, to assist the gold-mining industry in obtaining larger supplies of cheap black labor (although without the Chinese workers who were repatriated in 1908) and in repressing militant white miners (who protested conditions of labor and job competition from blacks), the British government encouraged negotiations in South Africa among white representatives of the four self-governing colonies with the aim of establishing a single state.

Negotiations held in 1908 and in 1909 produced a constitution that embodied three fundamental principles: South Africa would adopt the Westminster style of government and would become a unitary state in which political power would be won by a simple majority and in which parliament would be sovereign; the question of voting rights for blacks would be left up to each of the four self-governing colonies to decide for itself (the Cape and Natal based their franchise on a property qualification; the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal denied all blacks the vote); and both English and Dutch would be official languages. The constitution also provided for future incorporation of the British-governed territories of Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana), Basutoland (present-day Lesotho), and Swaziland into the union.

In May 1910, Louis Botha became the first prime minister of the newly established Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire, and Jan Smuts became his deputy. Just eight years earlier, both men had been generals in Kruger's army; now, through the SAP, they governed a country of 4 million Africans, 500,000 coloureds, 150,000 Indians, and 1,275,000 whites.

South Africa History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress