Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
SOUTH Africa has the unfortunate distinction of possessing the world's most tangled racial situation. Its 2,500,000 Europeans (whites), themselves divided between Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking people, are far outnumbered by 10,500,000 non-Europeans. More than four-fifths of these are native Africans, or Bantu; and there are also more than 1,000,000 Colored (those of mixed blood), and 250,000 Indians. None of these non-Europeans possesses any significant political power. Nevertheless, the dominant political fact in South Africa today is, as everybody knows, the steady deterioration in the relations between Europeans and non-Europeans.
On the surface, life in the Union is quiet and pleasant. In daily contacts in the urban centers, as well as in the reserves and on European farms, the African is his customary, good-humored self. I have, in fact, rarely met such friendliness and open-handed hospitality as was accorded me in visits to native kraals in the eastern Transvaal. But tension always exists in the large cities, particularly Johannesburg, where there are hundreds of thousands of Africans, many of them "raw" from the reserves. Tsotsi gangs of young ruffians terrorize their own people. Murders of Europeans do occur; housebreaking and minor thefts are frequent. Many people remain calm, but there are others who carry guns, and are afraid to be alone, particularly at night.
Moreover, in urban areas the Africans and the police are in a state of constant hostility; this is aggravated by frequent raids into the native townships outside the cities, and often flares into violence. The three large-scale outbreaks toward the end of 1952 --at Port Elizabeth, East London and Kimberley--were set off by trouble between the police and a few natives. Innocent white people were killed during these outbreaks, including white people who were genuine friends of the natives.
Non-Europeans feel increasingly frustrated and bitter. The political color bar was raised against them when Africans were taken off the common roll in Cape Province in 1936 and placed on a separate roll to elect three Europeans. In their view the Native Representative Council, established in 1936, had become worse than useless as a political instrument even before it was abolished in 1950. It was this absence of constitutional channels, they maintain, which led them to direct action through the defiance campaign of 1952.
The passive resistance by Africans to "unjust" laws, however, was almost a complete failure. Some few Europeans like Patrick Duncan (son of a former Governor-General of the Union) openly ranged themselves on the side of the Africans, but most of them ignored the campaign. Yet there was much to learn from it. Quite apart from the fact that this resistance movement was better organized than any in the past, it gave insight into the thinking of the articulate, still moderate African.
One of the measures on which the campaign was focussed was the Bantu Authorities Act, which aims at reestablishing the authority of the chiefs in the tribes. Some anthropologists maintain that the objective cannot possibly be achieved at this late date. The African National Congress opposes it as directly contrary to its program of developing a national spirit among the Bantu. It also opposes the culling of cattle, not as bad in itself so much as because of the feeling that it avoids the fundamental issue: the need of the Africans for more land. But the strongest opposition is to the complex of pass laws regulating the movements of Africans outside the reserves. The African insists that these often force him to take low paid and unattractive jobs as the only way of getting out of the reserves, and beyond this, he resents the humiliation of being the only non-European obliged to carry a pass.
At any given time, 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 Africans are outside the reserves. The soil of the reserves is badly eroded, through over-grazing by cattle and the ubiquitous goats which strip the last bit of grass from the unprotected land. Since it is quite impossible for these areas to support the native population, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the men are away working in the gold and diamond mines, industry, domestic service, etc. There is, of course, a fairly large detribalized group of Africans who have no footing in the reserves at all. But most Africans who come to the cities or mines do so for periods of service--nine to 15 months in the mines, and less regular terms in other employment--leaving their families in the reserves to till the small plot of land which is a kind of old age insurance.
This practice of migratory labor has struck at the roots of the African's tribal and family institutions and shattered his traditional sanctions of behavior without putting others in their place. Recent surveys show, for instance, that more than 70 percent of African babies in Johannesburg are illegitimate, and 25 percent in a typical area in the reserves. Moreover, there is little chance for Africans to develop a stake in the community outside the reserves. Even those who live permanently outside and have money --and there are a number of them--are prevented by law from buying a house, or from buying land except in certain restricted areas. At the moment, in fact, some of the very few existing African freeholds in Johannesburg are in danger of expropriation to facilitate moving the native townships farther from the city. (Incidentally, the Group Areas Act, which the African National Congress bitterly opposes, makes it possible to expropriate the holdings of any individual or group in order to enforce racial segregation in an area where the Act applies.) Thus there is not only insecurity, but hopelessness. It is hard to find anywhere in the European areas things which minister to the African's own personality, his self-respect, and his sense of responsibility.
The African is a good industrial worker--his output compares favorably with that of English or continental workers so long as nothing goes wrong--and he is being drawn increasingly into the Union's factories. The older trades--mining, engineering, building, typographical--still maintain a rigid color bar, enforced more through the attitude of the white trade unions than through legislation. But the newer industries, e.g. textiles, are giving the African opportunities for more skilled positions, though usually at a different wage rate, enforced by regrading the job.
Some people say that the African should let the South African industrial revolution carry his cause for him. But the African leaders are not prepared to wait for such long processes to operate. Moreover, they have moved past the point where concessions like better housing, social services, education and a few more skilled jobs answer their demands. Perhaps these might have satisfied them five years ago. Today, the African leaders are demanding equality, a highly explosive concept in South Africa and one which almost no European is prepared to grant.
A good deal of publicity has been given to two questions: the influence of the Indians on the activities of the Africans, and the influence of the Communists. The government maintains that the Africans have been misled by both. There is, in fact, an effective working arrangement between the leaders of the African National Congress and the Indian National Congress through their Joint Action Committee. African leaders make a great point, however, of the fact that their Congress took the decision to engage in the defiance campaign at least a month before the Indians did so. They also declare that one reason the defiance campaign centered to such an extent in the Eastern Cape and Ciskei areas--where most of the 100,000 members of the Congress live--was because there are no Indians there. At the same time, it is clear that Indians provided a considerable share of the money for the campaign and probably some of the organizing. India was obviously sympathetic to it and was looked to as a leader in United Nations discussion on this subject. Nonetheless, there is still much latent antagonism between Indians and Africans wherever their economic interests conflict, which makes problematic their close collaboration over a long period.
The influence of Communists is still more difficult to determine. There are probably not more than a few hundred Communists in South Africa; relatively few of them were formally identified with the defiance campaign. At the same time, it is quite possible that they helped with advice. (Passive resistance is not, however, a Communist type of action.) Communist lawyers acted for resisters. Nonetheless, it seems clear that agitation by Africans would have taken place without any Communist encouragement, and whether or not the Nationalist Government had come into office. The rigid attitudes of the latter accelerated the process; the advice and aid of Communists may have supported African programs of direct action. But at the root of the matter is the insistence of the educated and half-educated African on having a greater share in the returns of his country. It is significant that much of the recent driving force toward organization and action by the Africans comes less from teachers, who have traditionally provided leadership, than from professional men, and young secondary school graduates who are working in industry. The latter are less ready for compromise than the older generation.
The first stage of the defiance campaign came to an end by January 1953. This was partly because 20 of its leaders, including Moroka (then President of the African National Congress, though now succeeded by ex-chief Luthuli), were convicted of so-called "statutory Communism" under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, that is, of aiming to bring about "political, industrial, social or economic change within the Union . . . by unlawful acts . . . or threat of such acts." Wholesale dismissals after a one-day strike in Port Elizabeth, orders forbidding certain Congress leaders to attend meetings or to travel, and exhaustion of funds all helped to check the campaign. Moreover, the two laws passed early in 1953 which make it possible for the Minister of Justice to declare a state of emergency at his discretion, and to impose heavier penalties, including flogging, both for law-breaking and incitement to law-breaking, are powerful deterrents to direct action.
But the defiance campaign did not fail as a training program. It has long been said that the African is incapable of disciplined or organized action; almost every European in the Union was surprised at the degree to which both were present during this program of passive resistance. Each of the 8,000 or so volunteers took a pledge of non-violence; each was instructed in the kind of treatment he was likely to receive from the magistrate and police. Once he had passed through this experience, the volunteer became not only an active member of the African National Congress but also a member of a "cell" or nucleus of organization in his district. In the Witwatersrand and eastern areas of the Transvaal, and in the native reserves of the Ciskei, this organization remains in existence though it has been forced underground.
There is no reason to suppose that African and Indian leaders have been diverted from their objectives. On the contrary, increasing restrictions have intensified their determination to press ahead toward their ultimate goal of equality. Their most effective means of forcing concessions is through organizing united action by the mass of Africans who form the great unskilled labor force of the Union. At the same time, African and Indian leaders are deeply concerned not to give any excuse to the authorities to use the armed force which would undoubtedly meet any outbreak of non-European violence. Whether they can transmit their plan for large-scale stoppage of work to primitive Africans, or keep such an effort passive, is, of course, a question.
The A.N.C. and I.N.C. now demand a vote on the common roll for all non-Europeans. In the existing primitive state of the great majority of Africans, this demand is obviously unwarranted. Some non-European leaders would probably still be willing to agree to high educational and property qualifications for an African franchise; not surprisingly, however, they insist on securing some direct political influence. But most European South Africans feel that even this opening wedge is too dangerous because of the disparity in numbers between whites and Africans. In fact, Dr. Malan's National Party believes that its substantially increased parliamentary majority in the election of April 1953 provides a mandate to limit still further the rights of non-Europeans outside their own particular areas, if not to put an end to them entirely. Thus one is left with the impression of irresistible forces and immovable objects coming closer to collision.
It is not difficult to understand the attitude of politically articulate non-Europeans in the Union. But it is no less important to understand the viewpoint of the European minority, particularly of the Afrikaners whose Dutch ancestors settled at the Cape 300 years ago and who have never had any other home than South Africa. Strong individualists, the Afrikaners inevitably have developed a deep racial consciousness out of their incessant contact with primitive peoples during the past centuries. And it is natural, too, that they developed what Americans call a "frontier" approach to law and order. One of their own most far-sighted leaders said recently: "The Afrikaner has lived so long in a state of crisis that he does not realize that this current crisis is different from the earlier ones." The Nationalists, in fact, believe that they are using their hard-won experience to cope successfully and constructively with their complicated problems.
The unexpected political success which first brought the present Nationalists into office in 1948 resulted from the appeal of their slogan, "apartheid." This implies both an intensification of the traditional South African policy of racial segregation, and also some self-development of non-Europeans. The "ideal" aspect of apartheid includes the conception of a "Bantustan" in which the African would be able to develop and govern himself as the European does in his own area. To achieve this, and protect white South Africa, an intellectual wing of the Nationalists known as SABRA (South African Bureau of Racial Affairs) and a prominent group in the Dutch Reformed Church advocate complete separation of Europeans and non-Europeans in every sphere of life. This would, of course, entail a complete change both in the average European household in South Africa, and in all phases of the economy, since both depend on cheap non-European labor. Few believe, therefore, that any government will seriously propose such a dislocation of South African life, unless, of course, large scale inter-racial violence made it appear the only alternative to chaos. Even its advocates like Dr. Dönges, the Minister of the Interior, now speak of it as something that will not come about for a century or two. But the myth of "ideal" apartheid provides an aura of righteousness for current segregation policies.
"What distinguishes us from our political opponents," said one of the best-informed of the Nationalists, "is our sense of separate South African nationality." When I asked one of their organizers whether they coached canvassers before they paid their visits, he said indignantly: "We don't need to, they know all about nationalism. They feel it. It is a religion to them." And there is no question but that the Nationalists are a highly disciplined and well-organized party, with much of the discipline self-imposed. At the same time, the remarkable cohesion of the National Party stems from ties which are emotional and rooted in history. The party calls to its support the memory of grievances against British imperialism in the nineteenth century which culminated in the Boer War; the concentration camps for women and children during that war; the bitter experiences of defeat; the way in which their spoken language, Afrikaans, was discriminated against until the 1920's; the long, up-hill struggle to bring the Afrikaner to his present substantial economic position. Most Afrikaners now point with pride to their flourishing language and literature, and to the share their people take in the professions, industry and commerce. They are no longer farmers only. But a surprising degree of insecurity still seems to exist in Nationalist minds, and the slogan "consolidate our gains" is effective.
In another way, the Nationalist Afrikaner, especially of the platteland--the countryside--is conditioned by his past. His ancestors of the Great Trek and thereafter were moulded by the isolation in which they lived; by their struggles with the natives who poured in from the north as the Afrikaner was moving up from the south; by their rigid and uncompromising Calvinism, with its strong overtones of authoritarianism. All these are still potent factors in the Nationalist Afrikaner's attitudes today, partly because tradition still has a powerful hold in the country districts, and partly because most of what he reads springs from these roots.
Finally, every institution in the Nationalist Afrikaner community contributes toward the unity of the whole. The National Party is the political spokesman; economic associations for aiding Afrikaners include the Reddingsdaadbond, which gives advice and makes contacts, and the Volkskas which is a commercial bank; while a wide group of societies, coordinated by the F.A.K. (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge), perform the same mission in the cultural sphere. There is also the Broederbond, variously interpreted as the central directing agency of Afrikaner nationalism or as a cultural society. The very secrecy of its membership and actions tends to promote rumors about its activities, but it may now well be no more than the Nationalists say it is: a body of people who are outstanding in every sphere of life who work together to promote what they consider the best interests of South Africa. What is chiefly important is the general unity of purpose of all these groups and their continuous and intimate contact with the Dutch Reformed Church, the Nationalist-inclined schools, and the Nationalist press. Many people belong, or have belonged, to several or almost all of the groups: Dr. Malan, for example, was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and subsequently the first editor of Die Burger, the outstanding Nationalist newspaper. When the party claims to speak for nationalistic Afrikanerdom, it does so with a double justification: its political leaders are closely in touch with those in every sphere of Nationalist Afrikaner activity and, in addition, it is followed with almost blind fervor just because it is the political organ of the community.
Even so, all Afrikaners are not within the party; the United Party includes a considerable number of them among its supporters and has Afrikaans-speaking members of Parliament. Though Afrikaners outnumber English-speaking South Africans by three to two, the Nationalists have never won a majority of the votes in any election, including that of 1953. Even in the Free State, the home of Nationalism, a substantial group of Afrikaners continues to vote U.P. even though it may entail real personal sacrifices of influence and even position.
The United Party's strength--as also its weakness--is the wide variety of groups it embraces: those speaking both English and Afrikaans; liberals and conservatives; Christians and Jews. It gained its present name through the fusion of the parties of General Smuts and General Hertzog in 1934, but it inherits honestly the tradition of unity established by South Africa's great leader, General Botha, in his first Cabinet after the Act of Union in 1910. The United Party is the great hope of those who believe --as did Botha, Smuts, and, especially after 1933, Hertzog--that the country must be built on both the English and the Afrikaner traditions. The Nationalists, on the other hand, though quite ready to admit English-speaking people to their party, will do so only on their own terms.
It is generally said that there is no economic base to South African politics. This is not quite true, though economic interest is far less influential in determining party allegiances in South Africa than in countries like Australia or Great Britain. Nonetheless, it is significant that among the adherents to the United Party are the most prominent business, commercial, industrial and mining interests in the country, the prosperous English-speaking section, and a substantial number of well-to-do Afrikaner farmers. The Nationalists depend mainly on the rural areas (outside Natal), which are heavily over-represented in electoral districts, and on the semi-skilled Europeans who work on the railways, in the mines, and publicly-owned industries like Iscor (iron and steel), and in lower administrative jobs. The latter groups have not only benefited from Nationalist policies, but feel most acutely the economic pressure of the non-Europeans and thus strongly support policies which are aimed at holding them down.
Though the United Party has never developed a sense of inner cohesion comparable to that of the Nationalist Party, it did build a highly efficient organization in the last weeks of the 1953 election campaign. If due allowance is made for the 18 uncontested seats won by the United Party and the returns for its ally, the Labor Party--a small group composed mainly of intellectuals--the opposition polled nearly 75,000 more votes than did the Nationalists. Yet the latter gained a parliamentary majority of 29 seats. This paradoxical result stems from two factors, neither of which is likely to be reversed in the foreseeable future: the heavy over-representation of rural areas, and the solid concentrations of United Party supporters in the big cities and Natal. Equally discouraging for the electoral future of the U.P. is the relatively greater increase in total Nationalist vote since 1948.
A few weeks after the defeat of the United Party in the 1953 elections, two new parties were founded: the Liberals, and the Union Federal Party. The former, under the leadership of a brilliant woman deputy, Mrs. Margaret Ballinger, who has served as a native representative since 1938, and two outstanding writers, Alan Paton and Leo Marquard, is the first party in South Africa's history to make "equal rights for all educated men," including votes on the common roll, a plank in its program. As of the moment, its support comes from intellectuals and professional people in the cities; it has no mass following. The Union Federal Party, led by Senator Heaton Nicholls, formerly leader of the United Party in the Senate, brings together some liberals formerly prominent in the Torch Commando movement with a group centered in Natal which is particularly concerned to safeguard provincial autonomy. Since Natal includes almost all the Indians in the Union, as well as a huge, largely tribalized African population, the liberalism of the Union Federal Party is strictly qualified. The party program, however, does include votes on a communal roll for Indians, who at present have no political channels, and holds out an ultimate hope of votes on the common roll for highly educated non-Europeans.
No doubt aware of the strains within the United Party, the Nationalists, on the very morrow of their 1953 electoral victory, appealed for the support of 12 to 13 members of the Opposition in their renewed efforts to make political apartheid complete by taking the Colored off the common roll in Cape Province, the only place such a right exists. They proposed to put these voters on a separate roll to elect four European representatives in Parliament. The Nationalists had been balked by the Appeal Court in 1952 in their attempts to achieve this change through a simple parliamentary majority, and sought the two-thirds majority necessary to amend an entrenched clause. Despite original signs of wavering, U.P. discipline (reinforced by an active concern in U.P. constituencies) brought about the defeat of the amendment. Dr. Malan then switched to a bill designed to change the composition of the Appeal Court. By this time, sharp personal rivalries within the United Party and criticism of its leader, Mr. Strauss, precipitated a crisis resulting in the expulsion from the party caucus of four intransigent members, including the leader of the party in the Transvaal, Bailey Bekker. On the appeal of the "rebels," the Nationalists agreed to hold the bill affecting the courts in suspension, while making another attempt to achieve their ends through constitutional means. A select committee was set up to study the matter, in preparation for the next session of Parliament in January 1954; and the United Party (but not the Labor Party) has accepted representation on this committee.
In view of the Nationalists' emphasis on volkswil and on the supremacy of parliament over the courts, it may be asked why they are persisting in their long efforts to find a constitutional means of taking the Colored off the common roll. Certainly this procedure contradicts the too-loose accusations that Dr. Malan is a dictator. Such charges overlook the fact that the National Party has always stood for parliamentary action, and during World War II bitterly fought the conceptions of a one-party state advanced by the Ossewa Brandwag, a militant Afrikaner organization. The National Party will not consciously violate the constitutional framework within which it operates. (In this regard, it must be remembered that the Nationalists believed in 1951 that they had a legal right to take the Colored off the common roll by majority action, even though in earlier times many of their leaders had affirmed a moral obligation not to do so.) At the same time, the Nationalists do not follow the English idea of parliamentarianism in which the government looks on itself as the representative of the whole people, not merely of its own party. They feel justified in passing controversial measures whether or not they conform to traditional patterns of civil rights or parliamentary restraint.
A reason for special scrupulousness by the Nationalists at the present time is that the constitutional question is the one on which English South Africans have the strongest feeling. The Torch Commando sprang into existence in 1951 when the Nationalists first proposed taking the Colored off the common roll by a procedure outside that specified by the Act of Union. This association of ex-servicemen, with its torchlight processions and meetings, helped arouse the political consciousness of English South Africans, who have in the past tended to preoccupy themselves with business and professional life. The English voted solidly for the United Party in the 1953 election. Always outnumbered three to two by the Afrikaners, the English South African faces the likelihood of seeing the gap widen further, since immigration from the United Kingdom is now a mere trickle, while the Afrikaner birth rate is considerably higher than their own. But the Nationalists are not satisfied to depend on their numbers for their political power. They would like gradually to persuade the English in South Africa that their only hope of political influence lies in associating themselves with the Nationalist Afrikaners. They see this objective in long-range terms, and it has influenced them to soft-pedal the republican issue on which the English--especially in Natal--feel strongly. For the same reason, they do not want to alienate the English South Africans by violating constitutional safeguards.
The right-wing members of the U.P. hold to the principle of apartheid no less than do the Nationalists. But there is also a hesitant but fundamental liberalism in many adherents of the United Party who are trying to bring their ideas and feelings on race relations abreast of contemporary thought in other parts of the world. All the major organs of the party strongly support its present leader, and the United Party might yet emerge with a constructive alternative to the Nationalists in the all-important field of native policy. Here, the party's close relations with the mines and secondary industry offer an opportunity not open to any other political party, for no liberalism, however modified, can become effective--particularly in a country like South Africa where history and color consciousness work so strongly against it--unless it has a natural economic base. But unless the party can unite on some basis of principle it may disintegrate. Then its right wing might make a permanent alliance with the Nationalists, giving Dr. Malan a two-thirds majority in parliament, with all that that involves.
While public attention concentrates upon the constitutional crisis, the Nationalists are rapidly implementing their program of apartheid. In the 1953 midyear session of Parliament, the Nationalists passed the Bantu Education Act, the Native Labor Act and the Separate Amenities Act. They are also moving ahead with the implementation of the Group Areas Act--the cornerstone of their residential apartheid policies--and the Bantu Authorities Act.
The Separate Amenities Act legalizes unequal amenities for Europeans and non-Europeans in trains, buses, waiting-rooms and other public places. This is the legal endorsement of a long-existing situation which had been brought into question by a judicial decision that an African could not be punished for using a railway waiting-room reserved for Europeans if the facilities available to him were not comparable. Potentially more far-reaching are the two other recent Acts which affect native education and the African worker. Under the former, all except higher education is transferred from the provinces to the central government, and from the Ministry of Education in the latter to the Ministry of Native Affairs, which is strongly imbued with the philosophy of apartheid. Local control of education is being transferred to tribal authorities in place of missions which, be it noted, are largely responsible for enabling perhaps 40 percent of Union Africans to receive at least some primary education. The missions receive grants from the government to pay their teachers and provide equipment, but these subsidies are now made specifically dependent on the approval of the Minister of Native Affairs. None of these provisions is necessarily restrictive, but educated Africans fear that the real purpose of the Act is to bolster what they look on as outworn tribal traditions and practices rather than to aid the African to learn about the liberalizing elements of Western civilization. No one who has visited native schools in South Africa can be quite happy about their over-emphasis on academic subjects. Nonetheless, any development which limits the opportunities of Africans to prepare themselves for higher education and the professions strikes at the roots of their advancement.
The Native Labor Act not only reaffirms that African trade unions are without legal recognition, and that strikes by Africans are illegal, but also sets up a complicated hierarchy of channels for the settlement of disputes which leave African workers with almost no direct influence. Regional mediation boards are to have African members working under a white chairman, but the Minister of Labor is chiefly advised on African labor matters by an all-white Central Native Labor Board appointed by himself. Wage settlements for Africans may be made by the Wage Board without evidence being received from African trade unions. Despite the protests of the native representatives and the Labor Party (which has recently shown a new liberalism in native affairs), the Act substantially curbs even the limited influence still left to the small group of African trade unions. Henceforth government will settle their concerns. Thus in two crucial areas--education and industrial organization--the Nationalists are going ahead with apartheid in ways bitterly opposed by articulate non-European opinion.
Can apartheid succeed? In practice, success would mean that the close working together of Europeans and non-Europeans in the economic sphere went side by side with their separate development in all other aspects of life. It would mean that the support of the non-Europeans would ultimately have to be gained for these policies. The Nationalists recognize that they have embarked on a long and difficult road which involves reversing trends in non-European development which are already well-established. But they have faith in the righteousness of their cause. They believe, and sincerely, that strict residential segregation, a rigid color bar in industry, a complete and permanent exclusion from voting on the common roll with Europeans, and hard repressive measures in case of outbreaks by non-Europeans, offer the best hope of maintaining peace and order in South Africa. They ask the outside world to refrain from passing judgment, and to permit European South Africa to cope with its racial problems in its own way.
Yet what the Nationalist Afrikaner seems not yet to have realized is that his own understandable nationalism is creating counter-nationalism among English-speaking South Africans and, more dangerously, among the non-Europeans. His own history seems to provide the most forceful illustration that nationalism is stronger than any effort that can be made to repress it. It will be a classical tragedy if the very attempts of the Afrikaner Nationalists to safeguard the position of the white minority in South Africa bring upon them the disasters which a more far-seeing policy of conciliation might have avoided.