South Africa: White domination and Black resistance (1881-1948)
Updated February 2011
The discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West led to annexation of the territory by Britian in 1871; by 1880 diamonds had overtaken wool as the Cape's major export by value and they became a major source of revenue for the Cape government (Newbury 1989, 11, 13, 18; Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 21). The diamond fields attracted adventurers from Britain, Europe and USA as well as African migrant workers from across eastern seaboard and stimulated agricultural market production in the region (Newbury 1989, 19).
Profits generated from the diamond fields provided the capital to develop the gold mining industry after gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1885; profits from the mining industry in turn were reinvested in finance and industry, driving economic growth and economic diversification (Lewis 1990, 29-30; Makhura 1995, 258; Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 21). The developments in the interior stimulated the rollout of rail infrastructure so that by 1892 the Witwatersrand was connected with Cape Town and by 1895 with Delgoa Bay; by 1910 an extensive network covering South Africa had been laid out (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 21; Jones 1996; Spoornet 2007).
Gold provided the ZAR with the revenue required to subjugate the remaining independent chiefdoms and develop its governmental infrastructure, but also presented the threat of the Boers being swamped by foreign immigrants and attempts by President Kruger to resist settlers' demands for the franchise led to conflict (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 21, 22; Makhura 1995, 258, 261, 266). In the Orange Free State and the ZAR the franchise was restricted to Boers and Africans were subjected to labour tribute, cattle extractions, taxation and land alienation (Makhura 1995, 259; Morton 1992, 112; Malkin 2008, 91).
In Natal a system of indirect rule through chiefs was implemented, Africans were restricted to "native reserves" to free up land for occupation by White farmers and heavy taxes were imposed to secure wage labour (Malkin 2008, 30, 91; McClendon 2004, 342, 343, 356; Etherington 1978, 9). In 1864 the Legislative Council effectively restricted the franchise to the small minority of White settlers in the Colony so that by 1909 only 150 Indians and six Africans qualified to vote out of a total electorate of 24 000 voters (Evans & Philips 2001, 94, 97).
In the Cape liberal notions of incorporating and assimilating Africans culturally and politically gave way to a Social Darwinism that believed that "it was only a matter of time before 'the lower races, those whom we designate as savages, must disappear from the face of the earth'" (Parry 1983, 380; Beinart 2001, 71). Under Prime Minister Cecil John Rhodes, in 1887 and 1892, the Legislative Council adopted legislation to reduce African enfranchisement by raising property qualifications and adding a literacy test (Parry 1983, 384; Malkin 2008, 25, 26). Administrative control over Africans was tightened through local government structures dominated by traditional authorities and to coerse Africans to take up wage labour employment in mining and commercial farming (Malkin 2008, 91; Parry 1983, 380, 385-387).
African resistance continued in various forms. Instances include the Ndzundza Ndebele rebellion of 1882, that of the Bagananwa in 1894 and the Bhambada Rebellion of 1906 (Makhura 1995, 259, 263, 267; Beinart 2001, 97-99, 101). New directions were taken by the educated African elite with the founding of the first African political group in the Eastern Cape, Imbumba ya Manyama (Union of the Blacks) in the 1880s, which articulated an African identity that transcended tribalism, and the formation of the first African separationist Church of Africa in 1898 by the Rev PJ Mzimba (Williams 1970, 373, 381). Strategies to push Africans into wage labour in the Cape and Natal through taxation payable in cash were not initially successful for many peasants proved to be resilient and flexible by adopting innovations such as plows and wagons, crop diversification and market production that generated the cash needed to pay taxes and purchase capital and consumer goods; migrant labour was thus a short term resort to raise funds for bride-wealth, to purchase capital goods to expand agricultural production or purchase guns to repel White intrusions (Beinart 2001, 22-25; Lewis 1984, 1, 2, 12-14, 22-24; Etherington 1978, 2-4, 6).
From 1860 onwards, as a result of labour shortages, Indians were imported as indentured labourers to work the sugar fields of Natal, half of whom elected to remain there, and these were followed by traders and merchants so that by 1910 there were about 152 000 Indians in South Africa (Malkin 2008, 117, 120, 121). After gaining self government in 1893 White settlers in Natal began hedging the Indian community about with discriminatory legislation as did the ZAR and the Oragne Free State (Malkin 2008, 121-125). From 1894 Mohandas Gandhi began organizing Indian communities to engae in campaigns of passive resistance that wrung concessions from the authorities (Malkin 2008, 128-132).
Relations between Britain and the ZAR deteriorated rapidly and war broke out on 11 October 1899, into which the Orange Free State was drawn by treaty obligations (Williams 2006, 5, 6; Malkin 2008, 8, 34, 36). As a result of the guerrilla warfare strategies adopted by the the Boers and the brutal scorched earth and concentration camp responses of the British, the war was drawn out, bloody and expensive (Williams 2006, 15-17; Malkin 2008, 9, 36, 45). By the end of the war 400 000 British soldiers were deployed in South Africa, 2000 had been killed and 20 000 wounded; 4000 Boer troops were killed 115 000 civilians had been incarcerated in concentration camps where 27 027 perished as a result of callous neglect, as did 16 000 of the 116 000 Africans interned by the British, and millions of South Africans of all races were reduced to penury (Williams 2006, 18; Malkin 2008, 45).
Despite the great suffering experienced the four colonies drew together in a Convention in 1908 that drew up a constitution for a union that was consummated, with the approval of the British Parliament by the South Africa Act of 1909, in 1910 (Williams 2006, 7; Malkin 2008, 68). The Convention, an all male, all White affair, was agreed on securing "the just predominance of the white races [ie Dutch and English]" (Beinart 2001, 89) and differed primarily on what franchise arrangements would best secure this outcome; they arrived at a compromise that left all provinces but the Cape with an unqualified white male franchise, while the Cape retained a colour-blind but heavily qualified franchise that enabled 10% of Coloureds and 5% Africans to vote (Malkin 2008, 22, 74, 98; Evans & Philips 2001, 94. See also Historical franchise arrangements).
The economy of the Union was heavily dependent on foreign trade, particularly on gold, diamonds and agricultural exports and on capital inflows to finance the development of the mining industry and transport infrastructure, but while manufacturing formed less than 7% of national income, financial and banking institutions were relatively well developed (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 23). Infrastructure investment and the war left the Union saddled with a heavy public debt burden of 96% of national income and though the ratio fluctuated it remained high, being 88% in 1945 (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 23, 31). Education levels were low, for the generation of Whites born in 1885 had only eight years of schooling on average and other races less than two (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 23).
Average annual GDP growth was high between 1919-1949 (5% in 1919-1929, 5.8% in 1929-1949. Lewis 1990, 24). The proportion of national income derived from agriculture declined from 17.4% in 1911 to 13% in 1946, while that of manufacturing rose from 6.7% to 21.3% and mining's share fluctuated, but overall declined from a high of 27.1% in 1911 to 11.9% in 1946 (Lewis 1990, 25). The rise in manufacturing reflected considerable diversification of the economy away from primary production and was stimulated by measures taken by succesive governments to encourage import substitution, state investment in steel, electricity and communication services and was further boosted by the dampening effects of the First and Second World Wars on international trade (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 26). Despite this, the economy remained open and was heavily dependent on the import of raw materials for manufacturing and the export of primary products to secure the foreign exchange (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 26). Large scale intervention by the state in agriculture in a variety of ways, however, distorted resource allocation and created economic inefficiencies, the costs of which were born by the taxpayer (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 27, 28).
Between 1911 and 1945 the population of South Africa grew by 2% per year on average; the white population peaked as proportion of total population around 1921 at just under 22% and declined marginally until 1951 when it was 20.9%, while the African proportion rose marginally in the same period from 67.2% to 67.6% (Lewis 1990, 22, 23; Beinart 2001, 353). The ability of whites to maintain their share of the population was due to immigration from Europe, especially the UK (Lewis 1990, 22). Population urbanization, at 25% in 1911, rose steadily to 32% by 1936 and by 1951 reached 43%; Africans lagged other population groups and remained primarily rural, increasing from 13% in 1911 to 27% in 1951 (Beinart 2001, 355). The percentage of national income for Whites was 75% in 1917 and declined marginally to 73.6% by 1946 and, while the share of Coloureds and Indians stagnated, that of Africans improved from 17.9 in 1924 to 20.2% in 1946 (Lewis 1990, 39).
By 1911 about 26% of Africans in the Union were Christians and many had been exposed to varying degrees of missionary education (Elphick 1997, 247). The small but growing educated African elite viewed the South Africa Act as a betrayal, especially since Africans had generally supported the British war effort and many thousands had served in the British army (Malkin 2008, 40). The Mines and Works Act and the Native Labour Regulation Act, passed in 1911, privileged White and Coloured workers by reserving jobs on the mines and railways for them and tightened up the control of African workers in the urban areas through stricter pass regulations (Lipton 1986, 109; Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 29). Thus, from early on it was clear to African intellectuals that political power would be used by Whites to advance their economic position at the expense of Africans.
In 1912 representatives of various African associations, professionals, intellectuals, churchmen and members of the traditional aristocracy launched the South African Native National Congress (SANNC, renamed the African National Congress, ANC, in 1923) in Bloemfontein, to unite Africans in resistance to racism and exploitation and to engage the South African Party (SAP) government to redress African grievances (Malkin 2008, 98; South African History Online 2006; South African History Online Undateda). The organisation was elitist in composition, liberal in ideology, emphasized obedience to the law and non-confrontationist; it proved to be rather ineffectual since it had no mass base and no strategy by which it could force itself on the attention of the authorities (Malkin 2008, 99; South African History Online Undateda).
The impotence of the SANNC was vividly demonstrated by the passage of the Natives Land Act of 1913, for their representations to the SAP government and to Britain were ignored (Beinart 2001, 57). Though not immediately implemented throughout the country, the Act formalised land alienation by Whites, stripped Africans of land rights outside of the seven percent of land designated as reserves for them and made the substantial class of tenant farmers, share croppers and labourers (estimated at about one third of Africans at that time) on White land vulnerable to increased extractions and arbitrary eviction by farmers, while sharecropping itself was abolished (Beinart 2001, 53-57; Malkin 2008, 82). The implementation of the Act was slow and uneven, but it was increasingly used on farms to undercut the bargaining power of Africans, restrict their mobility and reduce them to servility (Beinart 2001, 58). Many Africans were forced off the land into the overcrowded reserves without access to land and so driven to migrant labour (Malkin 2008, 82). The Native Urban Areas Act was passed in 1923 to create segregated residential areas for Africans, set in place administrative machinery to enable tighter control of Africans through application of pass laws and effect the expulsion of "surplus" Africans from the towns and cities (Malkin 2008, 142, 143; South African History Online 2006).
The entry of South Africa into the First World War in August 1914 on the side of Britain reopened the wounds of the South African War and provoked a rebellion by some Afrikaaners; its ruthless suppression by the SAP government gave fresh impetus to the Afrikaaner nationalism that had emerged in the Cape in the nineteenth century and found its political articulation in the National Party that had been formed in January 1914 (Beinart 2001, 80; Malkin 2008, 113; Du Toit 1970, 540, 541). The movement strove for language equality with English, the upliftment of the substantial class of empoverished (primarily Afrikaans) Whites, a "Christian National" education system and substantive independence of South Africa from Britain (Beinart 2001, 80-82).
The White working class become increasingly militant as a result of the brutal fashion in which the SAP government suppressed the 1913/4 general strike, leading to the founding of the Communist party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1921 (Beinart 2001, 83-84; Innes & Plaut 1978, 56). African migrant workers, following the lead of White workers, became more militant and organised and strikes occurred after the war; a strike of 70 000 mine workers occurred in 1919/20 that was suppressed with troops, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) emerged in 1919 in Cape Town to lead a strike of dock workers in that year (South African History Online 2006; Innes & Plaut 1978, 56). Faced with rising costs and a fixed gold price, mining companies attempted to reduce labour costs through mechanisation and deskilling to replace higher paid skilled White workers with lower paid semi-skilled African workers and White women, which led to labour unrest that culminated the 1922 revolt of White workers on the Witwatersrand that was crushed by Prime Minister Jan Smuts using military force (Innes & Plaut 1978, 56, 58; Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 25).
In 1920 South Africa received South West Africa, which it had seized from the Germans in 1915, as League of Nations Class C Mandate allowing it to administer the territory as if it were a fifth province (History of Nations 2004). An alliance between the Afrikaaner nationalist National Party (NP) and the Labour Party was victorious in the 1924 election and they began implementing measures to advance the position of White workers at the expense of Africans by excluding Africans from employment in the new parastatal corporations and from labour dispute resolution mechanisms while reserving certain categories of work exclusively for whites, but the victory of the mine owners was not reversed and the earnings of white miners deteriorated (Innes & Plaut 1978, 57, 58; Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 25, 29).
The ICU increasingly took on the character of a popularist, even rural, protest movement, peaking in membership at about 100 000 in 1927, but declined rapidly thereafter as a result of regional factionalism, while in some economic sectors white trade unionist activists and the CPSA became involved in unionising African workers, and joint strike action became common; by 1928 the CPSA was calling for a "Native Republic" (Innes & Plaut 1978, 58; Beinart 2001, 104, 105). In response to the new threat, the Native Administration Act of 1927 and the Riotous Assemblies (Amendment) Act of 1930 were passed, giving sweeping powers to the police that were used to assault, imprison and murder workers and activists, so that by 1932 the ICU was destroyed, the CPSA and African trade unions cowered into inactivity and white workers detached from the mainstream of the labour movement (Innes & Plaut 1978, 59).
The Afrikaaner nationalists were able to quickly attain their initial objectives: Dutch was replaced with Afrikaans as an official language in 1925, the Imperial Conference 1926 was used to obtain Dominion status for South Africa that was then used as a springboard for legislating substantive independence from Britain, a South African flag was adopted in 1928 in place of the Union Jack and Die Stem was played alongside God Save the Queen from 1934 onwards (Beinart 2001, 114, 115). They worked diligently at reducing the significance of the non-White franchise; in 1930 all franchise qualifications for adult White men in the Cape (but not for other groups) were abolished and all adult White women in the Union were given the vote, but no women of colour (Beinart 2001, 115, 116).
South Africa recovered quickly from the Great Depression, after abandoning the gold standard in 1930, and it entered into a period of higher economic growth, driven primarily by a substantially higher gold price, but cheap African labour (real wages remained between 1911 and 1962), international price deflation and government unemployment handouts and subsidies also played a role (Fedderke & Simkins 2006, 25, 27, 30; Innes & Plaut 1978, 58). The high gold price made significant taxation of the mining industry possible for the first time and gold revenue rose from 6% of total state revenue in 1925 to 30% in 1933, thus enabling spending on unemployed White workers, on White farmers affected by the collapse of commodity prices and on subsidies to industries affected by the depression possible (Beinart 2001, 118, 119; Innes & Plaut 1978, 58). Rapidly expanding industry as a result of inward industrialisation led to increased work opportunities for Whites and reduced poverty amongst them substantially (Beinart 2001, 118, 119).
The crisis created by the depression, the attainment of the main Afrikaaner nationalist objectives and the substantial agreement between the NP and the SAP over race issues, facilitated their unification as the South African United National Party (called the United Party or UP) in 1934 and the breakaway Purified National Party (GNP), which aimed at obtaining a republic, fared poorly in elections of 1938 (Beinart 2001, 117). In 1936 the UP used wielded its overwhelming majority to amend the entrenched franchise clauses in the constitution and removed African's from the common voters' roll in the Cape, placing them on a separate roll that elected three white MPs and four white senators to Parliament and established a advisory Native Representative Council for the Union that had no powers (Malkin 2008, 143; Evans & Philips 2001, 91).
Segregation was further advanced by the passage of the Development Trust and Land Act later in the year that enabled the transfer of further land to Africans (which eventually rose to 13% of South Africa's territory), but empowered the dispossession of African farmers of land they owned privately and increased further the power of white farmers in negotiating tenancy arrangements (Beinart 2001, 123, 124; South African history Online 2006). Furthermore, labour law amendments enforced the segregation of trade unions, in 1937 Africans were prohibited from acquiring land in the urban areas without the consent of the Governor-General and the operation of the pass laws were extended to women (South African history Online 2006).
Parliament's decision to take South Africa into the Second World War on the side of Britain reopened the wounds of 1899 and 1914 and split the government, the United Party and the Afrikaaner people (Beinart 2001, 121). The war greatly accelerated industrial expansion and diversification and population urbanisation, especially that of Africans (Beinart 2001, 130). With large sections of the White male population away fighting, and rapidly expanding labour needs, the increasingly important manufacturing sector for pressed for a settled rather than migrant African labour force; the UP government began to relax the implementation of the pass laws, attempted to win Africans over to the war effort and to take seriously for the first time the possibility of a permanently settled African urban population with all the attendant social and political implications (Beinart 2001, 129, 130). The CPSA organised the African Mineworkers Union (AMU) in 1941 and other unions for African workers emerged and expanded rapidly; in 1946 the AMU launched the largest and most prolonged strike experienced in South Africa hitherto, but Smuts suppressed the strike with soldiers and the AMU was suppressed (Beinart 2001, 131). Social protest reemerged during the War in the form of bus boycotts and squatter movements and the ANC, reinvigorated by the formation of the militant ANC Youth Wing in 1946, became increasingly orientated towards more radical mass action (Beinart 2001, 132-134).
Radical Afrikaaner organisations emerged during the war that mobilised nationalists across the country, the Reunited National Party (HNP; the GNP plus defectors from the UP) made gains in the 1943 election and concern spread amongst Whites in the post-war period that the openness that had been permitted had undermined White power and security (Beinart 2001, 121; Dubow 1992, 211, 216). By exploiting these fears the HNP and its ally the Afrikaaner Party narrowly won the election of 1948 by campaigning on the slogan "apartheid ("seperateness"), obtaining between them 55.7% of the seats in the House of Assembly with only 41.6% of the votes as a result of the peculiarities of the South African single member plurality system (Nohlen et al 1999, 818, 831, 836).
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