History of South Africa

Segregation, 1910-48

Building the Legal Structure of Racial Discrimination

Several pieces of legislation marked the establishment of the Union of South Africa as a state in which racial discrimination received official sanction. The Native Labour Regulation Act (No. 15) of 1911 made it a criminal offense for Africans, but not for whites, to break a labor contract. The Dutch Reformed Church Act of 1911 prohibited Africans from becoming full members of the church. The Mines and Works Act (No. 12) of 1911 legitimized the long-term mining practice by which whites monopolized skilled jobs by effectively restricting Africans to semi-skilled and unskilled labor in the mines. Most important, the Natives Land Act (No. 27) of 1913 separated South Africa into areas in which either blacks or whites could own freehold land: blacks, constituting two-thirds of the population, were restricted to 7.5 percent of the land; whites, making up one-fifth of the population, were given 92.5 percent. The act also stated that Africans could live outside their own lands only if employed as laborers by whites. In particular, it made illegal the common practice of having Africans work as sharecroppers on farms in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Formation of the African National Congress, 1912

Milner's pro-white policies followed by the discriminatory legislation enacted by the Union of South Africa engendered considerable resistance from blacks and led to the formation and growth of new political bodies. In 1902 coloureds in Cape Town had formed the African Political Organisation to represent the interests of "educated . . . Coloured people." Abdullah Abdurahman, a Scottish-trained doctor, became president of the organization in 1904, and, by stressing the political discrimination to which coloureds were subjected, he had built it into a vital body with 20,000 members by 1910. Mohandas Gandhi began a passive resistance campaign against the pass laws in 1906, leading Indians in Natal and the Transvaal (they were legally prohibited from living in or entering the Orange Free State) in demonstrations and organizing stop-work protests that won the support of thousands of people. Numerous meetings were held by Africans, coloureds, and Indians to protest the whites-only nature of the constitutional discussions that took place in 1908 to 1909. These activities culminated in March 1909 in a South African Native Convention, which called for a constitution giving "full and equal rights" for all blacks, coloureds, and Indians.

But it was opposition to the Natives Land Act, preliminary drafts of which were debated in 1911, that led to the formation in 1912 of the most significant organization, the South African Native National Congress (renamed the African National Congress [ANC] in 1923). Several hundred members of South Africa's educated African elite met at Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912, and established a national organization to protest racial discrimination and to appeal for equal treatment before the law. The founding president was John L. Dube, a minister and schoolteacher who had studied in the United States and who had been strongly influenced by Booker T. Washington. Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, a lawyer with degrees from Columbia University and Oxford University and a prime mover in organizing the meeting to establish the congress, was appointed treasurer. Solomon T. Plaatje, a court translator, author, and newspaper editor who had worked in Kimberley and Johannesburg, became secretary general. The meeting opened and closed with the singing of the hymn "Nkosi sikelel'i Afrika" ("God Bless Africa"), which had been composed at the end of the nineteenth century by a Xhosa poet.

The congress was moderate in composition, tone, and practice. Its founders were men who felt that British rule had brought considerable benefits, especially Christianity, education, and the rule of law, but who also considered that their careers as teachers, lawyers, and court translators were hindered by the racial discrimination so endemic in South Africa. They called not for an end to British rule but for respect for the concept of equality for all, irrespective of color. They respected "traditional" authorities in African societies and made chiefs and kings office-holders as of right within the congress. They believed that they could best achieve their aims by dialogue with the British. As John Dube said, the congress pursued a policy of "hopeful reliance on the sense of common justice and love of freedom so innate in the British character." Such reliance, however, proved unfounded. When the congress sent a deputation to London in 1914 to protest the Natives Land Act, the colonial secretary informed them that there was nothing that he could do. Members of another deputation that went to London in 1919 were received sympathetically by Prime Minister Lloyd George, but they were also told that their problems would have to be resolved in South Africa by the South African government.

World War I and Afrikaner Nationalism

In August 1914, Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, amid much controversy, took South Africa into World War I on the side of the British. Botha and Smuts considered that South Africa, as a British dominion, had no choice in the matter, and they sent troops to conquer the German protectorate of South-West Africa (present-day Namibia, mandated by the League of Nations to South Africa following World War I). More soldiers, including a corps of coloured volunteers, were later sent to fight in German East Africa and in France. Many Afrikaners felt no loyalty to Britain and opposed going to war with Germany, which had aided them during the South African War. An attempted coup against Botha's government in September was aborted when one of the leaders, an Afrikaner hero from the South African War, was killed by police. An armed uprising of nearly 10,000 men in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal later in the year, led by another war hero, was crushed by Botha's forces.

The political opposition to Botha's entry into the war was led by J.B.M. Hertzog and his newly formed National Party of South Africa (NP). Hertzog was a former close ally of Botha who had split with the SAP over three issues: he felt that the SAP worked too closely with English mine owners (whom he considered "fortune-hunters"); he thought that only lip-service was being given to the policy of making Dutch equal with English as an official language; and he wanted more done to separate blacks and whites. The National Party was established in January 1914 to take up these issues. Support for the party grew, especially with South African entry into the war, and by 1915 there were branches in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State led by Hertzog and by Tielman Roos, respectively, and in the Cape, where Daniel F. (D.F.) Malan edited the party's newspaper, Die Burger (The Citizen ).

Hertzog and his allies took various steps to strengthen the basis of Afrikaner nationalism. They stressed the richness and importance of Afrikaans rather than Dutch, and supported publication of books and magazines in the former language. They also sought to alleviate the poverty that had become endemic among Afrikaners, many of whom had been driven off the land into the cities in the last decades of the nineteenth century and during the South African War. Because almost all commercial enterprises and banks were run by English speakers, these people had little success in obtaining jobs or loans from such institutions. Many found work as unskilled laborers in the mines, where their color alone assured that they got higher pay than blacks.

Using the concept of helpmekaar (mutual aid), initially adopted to assist the unsuccessful rebels of 1914 and their families, relatively wealthy Afrikaner wine farmers in the western Cape pooled their resources and in 1918 established the South African National Trust Company (Santam) and the South African National Life Assurance Company (Sanlam). These new companies, a credit institution and a life insurance business, respectively, acquired their capital from Afrikaners and invested their funds only with Afrikaners. Also in 1918, another exclusively Afrikaner organization was formed, the Afrikaner Broederbond (later the Broederbond, or Brotherhood--although this literal translation has never been used as a term of reference). This organization, which in 1921 became a secret society, was established by young professionals--teachers, clerks, and ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church--who believed that they, too, needed to act to protect and to celebrate Afrikaner culture.

Conflict in the 1920s

In 1922 the interaction of economic and ethnic factors produced armed conflict among whites. Strikes had been organized by white miners in 1907, 1913, and 1914 over the conditions of labor and the threat of black competition, with the result that mine owners had agreed to reserve some semi-skilled work for whites. In addition, white miners split politically; many of the English-speaking mine workers joined the Labour Party (formed in 1909), while the Afrikaners supported the National Party. Some of the more radical workers left the Labour Party in 1915 to form the International Socialist League of South Africa, which in turn became the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1921.

In the context of postwar depression, the mine owners proposed in 1922 that wages be reduced, that several thousand white semi-skilled and unskilled workers be dismissed, and that the statutory "colour bar" be lifted, thereby enabling the employers to increase the ratio of black workers to white. The white workers, supported by the Labour and National parties, went on strike. With militant Afrikaner nationalists taking a leading role and organizing commandos, the strikers marched through Johannesburg behind banners proclaiming "Workers of the World Unite, and Fight for a White South Africa," occupied fortified positions in the mines, and announced the establishment of a White Workers' Republic. Smuts, prime minister since Botha's death in 1919, struck back with 20,000 troops and with artillery, tanks, and bomber aircraft. In the ensuing conflict, seventy-six strikers were killed, 4,748 were arrested, and eighteen were sentenced to death, of whom only four were hanged.

Smuts won only a temporary victory because in the 1924 general election he was swept out of office by an alliance of the National and Labour parties and was replaced as prime minister by J.B.M. Hertzog. The new government took immediate steps to protect the privileged position of white labor by enacting the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924 and the Wage Act of 1925. The former law gave legal recognition to white trade unions but not to black; the latter enabled the minister of labor to force employers to give preference to the hiring of white workers. In addition, the Mines and Works Amendment Act of 1926 reinforced the color bar in the mining industry. Together, these laws became the cornerstone of what Hertzog termed his "civilised labour" policy. Hertzog also introduced measures to provide whites with greater job opportunities by instituting higher protective tariffs to encourage local manufacturing; by opening up new overseas trade relations, especially with Germany; and by establishing the state-owned South African Iron and Steel Corporation (Iscor). He proposed as well a number of "native bills" to restrict the voting rights of Africans, removed the property qualification for all white voters, and enfranchised white women, thereby more than doubling the number of eligible white voters while reducing black voters to a negligible number. He also introduced legislation replacing Dutch with Afrikaans as an official language.

Black opposition to these measures took a variety of forms, the most important of which was the growth of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). The ICU had been established in 1919 as a trade union for coloured dockworkers in Cape Town by Clements Kadalie, a mission-educated African from Nyasaland (present-day Malawi). Kadalie's organization grew enormously in the 1920s, in rural as well as in urban areas, as it tapped the great discontent that blacks already felt for the segregationist policies of Botha and Smuts and their increased disturbance over Hertzog's "civilised labour" legislation. ICU organizers, often men with links to the independent African churches who had little time for the overly "moderate" policies of the ANC and who were strongly influenced by the back-to-Africa movement of Marcus Garvey, galvanized mass support with calls for an immediate end to discrimination and to colonial rule. By 1928 the ICU's claimed membership, predominantly rural-based, had grown to between 150,000 and 200,000 Africans, 15,000 coloureds, and 250 whites, making it a far larger political body than the ANC. Yet the organization soon collapsed, brought down by the contradiction between the near-millennial expectations of its followers and the refusal of Hertzog's government to offer any concessions, and by the inability of blacks to force the government to change any of its policies. By the end of the 1920s, only a few regional branches of the ICU remained, and Kadalie was no longer at the head of the organization.

The Great Depression and the 1930s

The onset of the Great Depression brought about considerable political change. Hertzog, whose National Party had won the 1929 election alone, after splitting with the Labour Party, received much of the blame for the devastating economic impact of the depression. Fearing electoral defeat in the next election (1934), he sought a partnership with his former opponent, Jan Smuts, and the latter's South African Party. In 1933 Hertzog and Smuts made an alliance, and in the following year they merged their two parties to form the United South African National Party, also known as the United Party (UP). Hertzog and Smuts then won the general election; Hertzog continued as prime minister and Smuts became his deputy. Many Afrikaners criticized Hertzog's move, especially because they considered Smuts to be an opponent of Afrikaner nationalism who was too closely allied with the English mine owners; under the leadership of D.F. Malan and the Broederbond, they split away to form their own political party, the Purified National Party.

Malan built his political appeal by stressing the particular sufferings of the Afrikaner people. Their economic problems had become especially evident during the depression, when the Carnegie Commission on Poor Whites had concluded in 1931 that nearly one-third of Afrikaners lived as paupers, whereas few English-speaking whites lived below the poverty line. To deal with this problem, Malan and his allies in the Broederbond encouraged the development of an Afrikaner economic movement. The Volkskas (People's Bank) was founded in 1934; and exclusively Afrikaner trade unions, which espoused a Christian-National ethic combining devout Calvinism with ethnic nationalism, were established at the same time. In subsequent years, the Broederbond worked closely with Sanlam/Santam to pool whatever wealth was available and to invest it in new economic opportunities for the volk (people). Malan and his allies also drew attention to the past sufferings of the Afrikaner people by organizing a commemorative reenactment in 1938 of the Great Trek. Ox-wagon parades through the country culminated in a festival held in Pretoria on December 16, the exact day on which, 100 years earlier, the Zulu had been defeated at the Battle of Blood River. A massive Voortrekker Monument, replete with friezes depicting the heroism of the Voortrekkers and the treachery of the Africans, was officially opened while Malan made a speech in which he said that it was the duty of Afrikaners "to make South Africa a white man's land."

Hertzog and Smuts, while rejecting the ethnic nationalism of Malan, hardly differed with him in their policies toward blacks. In the mid-1930s, the United Party government introduced legislation to remove Africans from the common voters' roll in the Cape, to limit them to electing white representatives to Parliament, and to create a Natives Representative Council that had advisory powers only (Representation of Natives Act [No. 12] of 1936). The government increased the amount of land set aside for blacks from 7.5 percent to 13 percent of South Africa, but confirmed the policy that the country should always be segregated unequally by race (the Native Trust and Land Act [No. 18] of 1936) and enforced even stricter regulation of the pass laws (the Native Laws Amendment Act of 1937). In response to growing anti-Semitic sentiments among Afrikaners--usually directed at the mine owners, many of whom were Jewish--the government introduced legislation to prevent the immigration of Jews into South Africa (the Aliens Act [No. 1] of 1937). The same law also prohibited the entry of any immigrant who could not quickly assimilate into the white population.

Organized black responses to these measures were muted. The ANC, under the conservative leadership of Pixley Seme since 1930, concentrated on advising Africans to try to better themselves and to respect their chiefs rather than engaging in an active condemnation of Hertzog's policies. Membership in the congress fell to a few thousand. In December 1935, some ANC members, dissatisfied with this approach, together with representatives of Indian and coloured political organizations, met in Bloemfontein and formed the All-African Convention (AAC) to protest the proposed new laws as well as segregation in general. But even this organization, composed largely of members of the black professional class along with church leaders and students, avoided the confrontational approach of the ICU. The AAC leaders stressed their loyalty to South Africa and to Britain and called yet again for the British Parliament to intervene to ameliorate the condition of blacks.

The Impact of World War II

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 proved a divisive factor in the white community. Smuts favored entry into the war on the side of the British. Hertzog supported neutrality. Many of Malan's supporters wanted to enter the war on Germany's side. German National Socialism, with its emphasis on the racial superiority of Germanic peoples, its anti-Semitism, and its use of state socialism to benefit the "master race," had garnered many Afrikaner admirers in the 1930s. A neo-Nazi Greyshirt organization had been formed in 1933 that drew increasing support, especially among rural Afrikaners, in the late 1930s. In 1938 Afrikaners participating in the commemoration of the Great Trek had established the Ossewabrandwag (Oxwagon Sentinel) as a paramilitary organization aimed at inculcating a "love for fatherland" and at instituting, by armed force if necessary, an Afrikaner-controlled republic in South Africa. By the end of the decade, the Ossewabrandwag claimed a membership of 250,000 out of a total Afrikaner population of a little more than 1 million. Oswald Pirow, Hertzog's minister of defense until the end of 1939, formed a movement within the National Party called the New Order, a fascist program for remaking South African society along Nazi lines. Smuts prevailed, however, winning the support of a majority of the cabinet and becoming prime minister. Hertzog resigned and joined with Malan in forming the Herenigde (Reunited) National Party (HNP). South Africa sent troops to fight on the British side in North Africa and in Europe. In South Africa, several thousand members of the Ossewabrandwag, including a future prime minister, John Vorster, were interned for antiwar activities.

Economically and socially, the war had a profound effect. While gold continued to be the most important industry, providing two-thirds of South Africa's revenues and three-quarters of its export earnings, manufacturing grew enormously to meet wartime demands. Between 1939 and 1945, the number of people employed in manufacturing, many of them African women, rose 60 percent. Urbanization increased rapidly: the number of African town dwellers almost doubled. By 1946 there were more Africans in South Africa's towns and cities than there were whites. Many of these blacks lived in squatter communities established on the outskirts of major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Such developments, although necessary for war production, contradicted the segregationist ideology that blacks should live in their rural locations and not become permanent urban residents.

More unsettling still to the segregationists was the development of new black organizations that demanded official recognition of their existence and better treatment of their members. In Johannesburg, for example, James Mpanza proclaimed himself king of his Orlando squatter encampment, set up his own system of local government and taxation, and established the Sofasonke ("We shall all die together") Party. Urban black workers, demanding higher wages and better working conditions, also formed their own trade unions and engaged in a rash of strikes throughout the early 1940s. By 1946 the Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU), formed in 1941, claimed 158,000 members organized in 119 unions. The most important of these new trade unions was the African Mineworkers Union (AMWU), which by 1944 claimed a membership of 25,000. In 1946 the AMWU struck for higher wages in the gold mines and succeeded in getting 60,000 men to stop work. The strike was crushed by police actions that left twelve dead, but it demonstrated the potential strength of organized black workers in challenging the cheap labor system.

The 1948 Election

Smuts's governing United Party and Malan's HNP went into the 1948 general election campaign on opposing platforms. The United Party based its platform on the report of the Native Laws Commission chaired by Judge Henry Fagan. The Fagan commission argued that because of the influx of Africans into the cities and because of the impoverishment of the African reserves, total segregation was impossible. Although it did not recommend social or political integration, the commission suggested that African labor should be stabilized in the cities, where the needs of industrial and commercial operations were greatest. The HNP's platform, based on a report by Paul Sauer, argued to the contrary, that only total separation of the races would prevent a move toward equality and the eventual overwhelming of white society by black.

The HNP stated that Africans should be viewed as only temporary dwellers in the cities and should be forced periodically to return to the countryside to meet the labor needs of farmers (primarily Afrikaners). In addition, the HNP platform declared that Africans should develop political bodies in "their true fatherland," the African reserves, and should have no form of parliamentary representation in South Africa.

Malan also called for the prohibition of mixed marriages, for the banning of black trade unions, and for stricter enforcement of job reservation. Running on this platform of apartheid, as it was termed for the first time, Malan and the HNP, benefiting from the weight given to rural electorates, defeated Smuts and the United Party. The HNP won a majority of the seats contested but only a minority of the votes cast. The HNP became the government and, renamed the National Party (NP), ruled South Africa until 1994.

South Africa History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress