South African politics

an introduction using internet resources

Allison Drew
Department of Politics
University of York


Contents


 


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Contents


 
 
Introduction, aims and objectives
Research tools on the world wide web
The "new" South Africa
South Africa: a brief historical overview
The Union of South Africa: repression and resistance, 1910-1920
Workers' struggles
The great depression
The second world war and the beginnings of apartheid
Protest and resistance in towns, 1950s and 1960s
Protest and resistance in the countryside, 1950s and 1960s
The upsurge of resistance in the 1970s and 1980s
The transition to democracy
The state and the new political system
Economic inequality and distribution
Women's rights and violence against women
Historical memories and identities


Introduction, aims and objectives

The exponential growth of the internet was heralded, in the 1990s, as revolutionizing the production and dissemination of information. Some people saw the internet as a means of democratizing access to knowledge. For people concerned with African development, it seemed to offer the possibility of leapfrogging over the technology gap that separates Africa from advanced industrialized countries. However, the initial optimism about the internet's potential to provide an enormous and ever-expanding body of publicly available knowledge has had to come to terms with material and social obstacles.

Of particular significance for the study of South African politics is the fact that access to the internet - both for users and for organizations seeking to promote themselves in the public arena - reflects differential access to economic and technological resources, both in South Africa and internationally. In his article on “New scenarios on Africa, African Studies and the Internet”, Peter Limb (p. 7) points out that although “South Africa, the most industrialized African country, is also the most connected, with an estimated 2.5 million Internet users in mid-2001”, problems of internet access are still acute. Despite South Africa’s relatively “high levels of electrification (greatly extended since 1994)", Limb notes, "isolation and low literacy levels continue to pose problems in connecting rural people to the Internet”.

A large political party like the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s leading political party today, has more resources and greater capacity to disseminate information about its programme, its achievements and its history, than smaller and lesser known political organizations. Such disparities in wealth and resources have multiple implications. The fact that organizations  have varying capacities to create and to disseminate information about themselves, inevitably influences our perceptions. By virtue of their greater capacities to disseminate material about their activities, the influence and accomplishments of larger organizations may appear exaggerated.

Another concern with internet use for research purposes flows from the very ease with which material can be placed on the web. How can we discriminate between scholarly, research material and material that may reflect the partisan interests of particular groups?

Despite these caveats, the internet offers a fascinating array of material about South African politics. This course provides a brief introduction to South African politics and political history using internet-based resources. It introduces students both to the types of internet resources that are available on this topic and to their use. Students can develop research skills using the web through simple web-based exercises.
 
 

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Research tools on the world wide web

There are a large number of research tools relevant to the study of South African politics. Search engines allow you to search for information using key words. Google is an excellent search engine. Try going to the Google search engine, typing in "South African politics" and see what happens. You can search for more specific items by typing in a person's name, a book title or more specialized key words. Some other useful search engines are: On-line newspapers are an excellent source of information. The Daily Mail & Guardian, the on-line version of the South African weekly newspaper, Mail & Guardian, is an excellent source of information, as is the Daily Mail & Guardian Archives. The World Press Online is a handy source for South African newspapers. Other South African newspapers on-line include: Numerous South African libraries and archives have on-line facilities, including the National Library of South Africa and the National Archives of South Africa. Other on-line libraries and databases include: The International Labour Organization and Amnesty International may also be very useful. XRefer is an excellent reference tool for identifying people and historical events.

A number of specialized web sites have a South Africa focus. South African politics, culture & society lists South African news and reference sources, organizations and institutions, universities and related educational institutions and archives.

H-SAfrica is an invaluable resource that allows you to follow discussions on South African issues, reviews books and provides information about journals and conferences on South and Southern African issues. Through its discussion logs you can search for queries and responses on specialized subjects. H-SAfrica is part of the H-Net Humanities and Social Sciences Online. H-Net also has a Gateway to African Studies, which includes H-SAfrica and many other Africa-related internet discussion sites.

The ANC has put a number of books on the web, which are broadly sympathetic to the ANC and the Congress movement.

For guidelines for citing bibliographic material from the internet see A brief citation guide for internet sources in history and the humanities.
 

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The “new” South Africa

The achievement of universal franchise and the first non-racial elections of April 1994 were historic victories after many decades of struggle.  The African National Congress (ANC), the largest political party within the broad-based national liberation movement, won 62.6% of the national vote. It formed the majority party in a Government of National Unity. But the new government faced the mammoth legacies of apartheid.

Of a population then estimated at between 40 and 43.5 million, about 45% lived in houses, 7% in hostels, 14% in huts, 17% in outbuildings and 15% in shacks. Overall unemployment was conservatively estimated at close to 30% and African unemployment, at over 35%.  The gulf between the wealthiest and the poorest was extraordinary: in 1994 there was, for example, a 40-fold income gap between the 48,872 rands per month earned by the average company director in South Africa and the1,161 rands earned by the average worker. The educational system was racially skewed.  About 30% of the population was illiterate, with more than half of the student population dropping out of both primary and secondary school.  Health services in many areas were non-existent.  In metropolitan areas there was one doctor for every 700 people; in the former bantustans, many of which had experienced a virtual collapse of infrastructure and social services, there was one doctor for every 10,000 to 30,000 people.

Despite some progress, these great social disparities remain. South Africa also faces other massive problems, including AIDS, violence against women and crime, as well as the challenge of building a democracy in a country that has a legacy of authoritarianism. Many of the problems that South Africa faces today have long-term historical roots. This course considers contemporary South African politics through the lens of the past. It looks at key issues and problems, such as the nature of the post-apartheid political system, economic inequality, violence against women, changing identities and the reconstruction of society. It seeks to understand these issues and problems through an examination of South Africa's history over the twentieth century, focussing on the development and demise of apartheid and on its legacies.
 

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South Africa: a brief historical overview

The first European settlement in this part of Africa was established at the Cape in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company, leading to the destruction of the indigenous Khoisan pastoralist society. The British took control of the Cape Colony in 1806, leading, by the 1830s, to an exodus of the Dutch colonists, known as Afrikaners, north and east. The Voortrekkers, as they were called, arrived in the Transvaal in 1836, defeated the Ndebele people and in 1857 established the South African Republic. Voortrekkers also founded the Orange Free State in 1854, and over the next decades fought a series of wars against the indigenous African societies in the interior of the country. Similarly, in 1837 Voortrekkers inaugurated the Republic of Natalia but in 1843 Britain annexed Port Natal and then colonized the region and fought a series of military battles with the Zulus.
The landing of Jan van Riebeeck by Charles Bell
South African Library

The Zaamenkomst Panel, Maclear District, Southern Drakensberg - on display in the South African Museum
The rock painting on the left, probably painted during the past 200 years, comes from the Drakensberg region of South Africa. It is representative in style of much San art. The socioeconomic basis of the pre-capitalist Khoisan and other African societies, based on pastoralism and shifting cultivation, was destroyed by two inter-related processes. The first was the gradual extension of merchant capital through trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second was the expansion of the frontier through the century-long series of wars between British and Boers moving north and east, and Africans. These wars of conquest brought many African peoples, such as the Basutos and the Zulus, into the capitalist system.

The mineral discoveries of the late nineteenth century led to further social and economic upheavals. Diamonds were discovered in 1867; by 1870 there were an estimated 10,000 diamond diggers. Africans had traded in gold from the region for centuries; in 1871, however, a white man “discovered” gold in the Eastern Transvaal. That supply was soon exhausted. However, in 1886 another deposit - with seemingly endless supplies of gold - was located at Langlaagte in the Transvaal. British workers came to South Africa, attracted by new opportunities. Simon Dagut's article, "'Introduced to South Africa on the backs of sable gentry': British migrants' first experience of the colonial racial order, 1850s-1890s" discusses the perceptions of British migrants to South Africa in these years. The gold discoveries precipitated the rapid development of the mining industry and further military struggles, culminating in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, in which Britain defeated the South African Republic and Orange Free State. See a map of South Africa from1885.

But British capitalist interests faced the critical problem of securing a labour force. The problem of labour scarcity had bedevilled colonial authorities, large landowners and Afrikaner or Boer pastoralists throughout the nineteenth century. The social historian W. M. MacMillan noted that an official report of 1876 asked the Government of the Cape Colony “to survey mankind from China to Peru, in the hope of creating a class of cheap labourers who will thankfully accept the position of helots and not be troubled with the inconvenient ambition of bettering their condition”.

Following the mineral discoveries, both the colonial state and the capitalist mining magnates made various attempts to induce and coerce labour. As elsewhere in Africa, colonial law and taxation were used to great effect. Finally, they settled on a policy that combined the colonial reserve system, in which African ownership and occupation of land was restricted to specified areas, with the use of migrant labour. African men worked as migrant mine workers on contracts for periods up to eleven months per year. They could not travel freely but had to carry passes giving them authorization by their employers to travel to and from work. Most African women remained in the reserves. The burden of rural agriculture fell increasingly on their shoulders. At that time, most African women did not have to carry passes.

British imperialism's quest for diamonds and gold set off a chain of reactions throughout South Africa and the entire Southern African region. Spurred by the needs of rapidly expanding urban and industrial areas on the Witwatersrand, black and white cultivators alike were pressured to produce for the market in order to retain their hold on the land. Small cultivators lost their access to land in the face of intense competition and land speculation. However, this followed a distinctly racial pattern, reflecting the hierarchies of the pre-existing colonial conquest society.

The Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902), in which the British brutally vanquished the Afrikaners, intensified Boer vulnerability to capitalist penetration, strengthening Afrikaner national identity against British imperialism. Huge numbers of Afrikaner women and children starved to death in concentration camps; the survivors were typically unable to start over in their old rural occupations and drifted to unemployment in towns.

After the war, the rural sector came more firmly into the capitalist orbit, stimulating the growth of a market in land. A post-war boom was accompanied by overtrading, overspeculation, and overextension of mercantile credit, and the depression of 1904-8, with its fall in agricultural prices, saw an increase in rural indebtedness and land alienation, especially to foreign owners. These years accelerated the impoverishment of rural Afrikaners, pushing many more into towns.

Black South Africans were affected very differently. The Western Cape wheat farms and vineyards had a tradition of slave labour dating from the seventeenth century, and Natal sugar plantations imported indentured Indian labour from the 1860s. In the Eastern Cape, servile and migrant labour worked the wool and ostrich farms; elsewhere in the Cape, small-scale cultivators were pushed into migrant mine labour. In the interior of the country, blacks laboured on capitalist farms as squatters and tenants. From the 1870s, a series of laws had curtailed African squatting on white farms. Nonetheless, while Afrikaner cultivators, known as bywoners, rapidly lost their hold on the land, African cultivators gripped the soil tenaciously. In the late nineteenth century capitalist farmers and landowners on the Southern Highveld depended on sharecropping and tenant labour for commercial production.

Thousands of black South Africans were imprisoned in British concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war. But black cultivators were not always as devastated by the war as Afrikaners. The post-war years sometimes found them in a position of relative economic strength vis-a-vis bywoners and landowners. Black labour tenants were often more productive than white cultivators. Consequently, landowners often preferred black tenants and sharecroppers. This fuelled the racial animosities of rural white South Africans.

Exercise:
The Anglo-Boer war has generated much debate. Initially, historians saw the war as a struggle between the British and the Afrikaners, and the role of black South Africans was marginalized and neglected. Subsequent research has revised this image. The centenary of the Anglo-Boer war in 1999 also sparked much discussion about the portrayal of the war. Some of these discussions can be found in the discussion logs of H-SAfrica. On 3 February 2000 H-SAfrica reprinted an article by Linda Vergnani called "Rethinking the Boer War" from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Can you find this article?

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The Union of South Africa: repression and resistance, 1910-1920

South African society in the early-twentieth century was one in which national identity was in a state of flux. "There is no cohesion or common bond among the people such as one finds, for example, in New Zealand", remarked the Scottish socialist James Keir Hardie when he visited the country in 1907. "Each Colony is jealous of its neighbour, and fights for its own hand without regard to the interest of South Africa as a whole". The pre-colonial African societies had only recently been militarily conquered, and there was as yet no broad sense of African identity. The overwhelmingly rural African population still thought of themselves as Zulus, Xhosas, and Ndebeles, amongst others. Only in 1912 was the first African political organization that transcended tribal identity formed - the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), precursor to the ANC. By contrast, Afrikaners might have seen themselves as of Africa, yet they refused to consider the political incorporation of blacks. The British defeat of Afrikaners in the Anglo-Boer War hardened Afrikaners' resentment of foreigners and, particularly, of British imperialism. And immigrants from Britain saw themselves as part of the British Empire.

The next few years saw sweeping political changes. The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 - an amalgamation of two British colonies and two Boer Republics - with the former Boer General Louis Botha, its new Prime Minister. In anticipation, in 1909 a Native Convention was held in Bloemfontein to discuss the implications for Africans, while plans for a unified Labour Party were laid in 1908 and 1909. The South African Labour Party was officially launched as the first national-level political party in January 1910. This called for the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, to be controlled by a Democratic State in the interests of the whole community”. But by "community" it meant white people, and it called for the separation of black and white people “as far as possible”.

In this climate, the SANNC was formally launched in January 1912 as a federated body of African organizations. Membership in the SANNC was open to African men over eighteen who could pay the annual membership fee; significantly, women could not be full voting members but were given auxiliary membership through the Bantu Women's National League. This was formed in 1913 as an outgrowth of the women's anti-pass protests that began that year in the Orange Free State. It was led by the indomitable Charlotte Maxeke, who had studied at Wilberforce University in the United States and was the first African woman from South Africa to receive a BA degree.


Delegation from the South African Native National Congress that went to
England in 1914 to convey the objections of the African people to the 1913 Land Act
Back Row (L-R) - Walter Rubusana, Saul Nsane; Front Row - Thomas Mapikela, John Dube, Sol T Plaatje

Black South Africans had hoped that the new Union of South Africa would ensure that the qualified franchise available to black men in the Cape Colony (and to a lesser extent in Natal) would be extended to black South Africans across the union. This was not to be. As part of its compromise with the recently defeated Afrikaner republics, which were now incorporated in the new union, each province was allowed to maintain its own regulations covering black South Africans. And only a few years later - in 1913 - the government passed its first major assault on African rights - the 1913 Land Act. This catalysed African political activity. The SANNC passed a resolution against the Native land acts. In 1914 the SANNC sent a delegation to England to protest against the Land Act, but to no avail. Two years later, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, general secretary of the SANNC, published a significant study of African conditions in South Africa, entitled Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion.

Exercises:

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Workers' struggles

The 1910s saw a great upsurge in working class activity in South Africa. The Land Act precipitated mass evictions of Africans, frequently hitting the more prosperous, stock-owning tenants the hardest. The evictions pushed more people into the reserves, causing overcrowding and making income from migrant labour increasingly necessary for survival in the reserves. As the supply of black mine labour increased and stabilized, this increased the anxiety of white mineworkers. Black mineworkers began engaging in strikes and boycotts. Black dockworkers formed the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union in 1919, led by Clements Kadalie, and this spread like wildfire across the country over the next several years.

People of Indian descent were also protesting against repressive laws. Led by Mohandas Gandhi, who spent nearly twenty years in South Africa, the first major Indian satyagraha campaign occurred in 1906, in protest against compulsory passes for Indians in Transvaal. In 1914 a spate of protests by Indians took place. There were strikes by Indian workers in the Newcastle coal mines, Indian indentured workers and Indian workers on sugar plantations, and in railways, factories and service industries.

During the first world war, white labour was in a strong bargaining position due to the exodus of many of the British. In 1914 the Chamber of Mines granted recognition to the South African Industrial Federation, marking the entry of industrial as opposed to craft-based trade unionism on the mines. Cheaper, unskilled Afrikaners replaced British workers who left for the war. By the war's end, 80% of underground white mine workers were South African-born Afrikaners. In 1918, still feeling the scarcity of skilled workers, the Chamber of Mines conceded a Status Quo Agreement, retaining the prevailing ratio of white to black mine labour and ceasing the replacement of whites by blacks in specified jobs.

Over the next few years a series of protests shook South Africa. Black peasants squatting on land at Bulhoek, in the Eastern Cape were massacred by government forces in May 1921, and in May 1922 peasants at Bondelswart refused to pay taxes. A series of strikes on the mines by black and white workers shook the mining industry. The year 1920 saw a massive strike of black mineworkers, and 1922 saw a white miners’ strike, which became known as the Rand Revolt.

South Africa was hard hit by the global recession that followed the post-war inflationary boom. The world market price for South African agricultural commodities fell, and between 1920 and 1922 the premium gold price dropped significantly. As the recession deepened, the Chamber of Mines sought to cut its labour costs by abrogating the Status Quo Agreement. It announced its decision to restructure underground work and to cut the wages and the numbers of white workers, estimating a retrenchment of 2,000 white workers.

Fearing that the actual retrenchment of white workers could reach 10,000, trade union leaders saw this as a prelude to either driving down white wages to the level of black workers or eliminating the higher paid white workers from the mines altogether. White workers went on strike in January 1922, their protest culminating in March 1922 with the Rand Revolt. This was crushed by the state, leaving the white trade union movement in a state of despair and disarray.

But the white electorate used its vote to protest against the brutality of the Smuts government. In June 1924 a Pact Government formed by the Labour Party and the National Party was elected on a programme of white - or “civilized” - labour policies. The Pact government continued the onslaught against black rights, repressing the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union and the ANC in the Western Cape.

Reading:

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The great depression

May 1933 saw the election of a coalition government formed by the National and South African Parties and led by General J. B. M. Hertzog as Prime Minister and Jan Smuts as deputy; in December 1934 the two parties merged to form the United South African National Party. The Fusion government, as it was known, came face to face with the effects of the Great Depression. This had hit South Africa at full force when speculation over whether it would follow Britain off the gold standard precipitated a flight of capital. Urban and rural whites struggled against unemployment and poverty as the Depression swept rural Afrikaners off the farms and into the cities. Small-scale Afrikaner farmers lost their land and took up factory work, or sent family members - often daughters - to town to stave off complete proletarianization. In towns, they came into direct competition with black workers, who were also streaming in from the reserves. Afrikaner women and African men were the newest members of the urban industrial workforce. But urban white workers were economically ravaged in the 1930s. In 1932 the Carnegie Commission published the findings of its study of poor whites - a joint project financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the South African government and the Dutch Reformed Church. The government's response was to implement a programme of state-led job creation for whites.

By contrast, the Fusion government stepped up its attack on black rights. In May 1935 the government tabled two bills in Parliament: the Representation of Natives Bill and the Native Trust and Land Bill. Known as the Hertzog Bills, the first bill curtailed the Cape African franchise and called for the creation of a Natives Representative Council (NRC) with solely advisory status on so-called Native issues, while the second reaffirmed the restricting of African landholding rights to scheduled areas.

The ANC had become virtually defunct under the conservative leadership of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and the ICU was in a state of decay and fragmentation, despite some localised support in Natal. Hence, political activists formed new organizations, such as the All African Convention, the National Liberation League and the Non-European United Front.

Reading:
Jack Simons and Ray Simons discuss the events of  the1930s, including the depression and the rise of fascism, in their book, Class and Colour in South Africa. What do you think of their account of these years?

Exercise:
Two recent biographical studies, Seme by Richard Rive and Tim Couzens and "Clements Kadalie (April 1896-28 November 1951): champion of the African worker" by Donal Brody reflect the efforts of historians to reconstruct marginalised or lost lives after finding personal papers or archival materials. These two studies highlight the difference between primary and secondary historical and political material. Compare these studies. Can you find other biographical material about Pixley ka Isaka Seme or Clements Kadalie on the web?
 

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The second world war and the beginnings of apartheid

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, many of the black South Africans who followed international politics were broadly sympathetic to the struggle against fascism. But generally they were not prepared to fight for democracy in another continent while they lacked democratic rights at home. Most blacks, in fact, were indifferent to the war. The South African Parliament, itself, was deeply divided in its response to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in September 1939; ultimately, South Africa's declaration of war against Germany, supported by a thin Parliamentary majority, reflected its position within the British Empire. The white electorate was sharply divided in its sympathies and antipathies. The government needed the compliance of black South Africans in order to develop the war economy.

The war years spurred rapid industrial development and urbanization, especially on the Witwatersrand, which became the most volatile centre of black working class activity. African women's rate of urbanization now surpassed that of African men, indicating the non-viability of subsistence production in the reserves and turning the urban African population into a more stable settled one. This pattern of urbanization was reflected in the composition of the industrial workforce. African workers were a growing presence in primary and secondary industry. The increasing proportion of Africans in private manufacturing from the 1930s was parallelled by the decline of whites, many of whom first moved into state enterprises and later left for the war. Against this backdrop, Smuts' famous 1942 “retreat from segregation” speech and the relaxation of pass law enforcement were seen as signalling the possibility of political liberalisation.

Any hopes of political liberalisation for black South Africans were dashed in 1943. Preparations for the general election in May 1943 unleashed a backlash against the temporary relaxation of segregationist and racist policies as the competition between the United Party and the Nationalists intensified. The small number of liberals who styled themselves as friends of the "natives" - notably Margaret Ballinger in the House of Assembly and Edgar Brookes in the Senate - found themselves increasingly sidelined. In 1943 the government rescinded its suspension of influx control and renewed its assaults on the remaining political rights of Coloureds and Indians. This inspired a resurgence of black political activity and a host of grass-roots initiatives about transportation and living and working conditions.

A new and radicalized generation of political leaders sought either to revitalize existing organizations such as the ANC and the AAC or to establish new organizations. Activists in the ANC pushed for the formation of the Congress Youth League, which published the Youth League Manifesto in 1944. The AAC aligned itself with the Anti-CAD movement, an organization formed to oppose the Coloured Affairs Department that the government formed to attack Coloured rights. The AAC, the Anti-CAD other organizations formed a federal body called the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM). Previous appeals to the white government and attempts by both blacks and a very small number of whites to reform the political system from within had failed. The continued disenfranchisement of black people and the mounting political repression led to debates about methods of struggle, including the use of strikes and boycotts. The NEUM published the Ten Point Programme, a list of democratic demands to be achieved on the basis of non-collaboration with the racial system.
 
The war years saw an upsurge in trade union organization and strike activity culminating in the 1946 African mine workers' strike, which was brutally squashed by the government. For two assessments on the strike, which are sympathetic to the strikers, see The African Miners' Strike of 1946, by M. P. Naicker (1976) and "A Distant Clap of Thunder". Fortieth Anniversary of the 1946 Mine Strike. A Salute by the South African Communist Party to South Africa's Black Mine Workers (1986).
 

 Migrant workers in a mining compound
Photographed by Eli Weinberg

The end of the second World War brought a transient peace. By 1947 the war-time Allies were well on their way to becoming implacable enemies. The World War was replaced by a Cold War of ideological battles and localized but virulent military conflicts. The United States emerged as the leading world power and the dominant Western protagonist in the alliance against the Soviet Union. Across much of the globe, the Cold War became a pretext to attack the left.

The South African government fought its own Cold War against its domestic critics. In May 1948 the National Party won the national elections by a slim parliamentary majority over the United Party. It had fought on a platform of preserving white power. White working class support and white electoral support for the National Party had been boosted by fears of the militancy symbolised by the 1946 African mine workers' strike. A central debate concerned the migrant labour system, and whether it should be maintained so that Africans would effectively be prevented from large-scale permanent settlement in towns or whether a stable urban African proletariat should be allowed to develop. The Fagan Commission, whose recommendations were supported by the United Party, argued for the latter, although it still believed in social and political segregation. The Sauer report, however, argued for the complete separation of black and white and that Africans should develop along their "own lines" and be permitted in cities on a temporary basis only. Its findings were endorsed by the newly-elected Nationalist government.

Although some of the leaders of the ANC and the AAC still entertained hopes of uniting the organizations in the interests of broader African unity, black politics became increasingly polarised in two blocs: one led by the ANC and its allies; the other, the NEUM, including the AAC, the Anti-CAD and other affiliates. The apparent line of division between these two blocs was the question of the boycott of racial institutions. Yet, the ANC adopted the Congress Youth League's pro-boycott Programme of Action in 1949, the same year that unity talks between the ANC and the AAC ground to a halt, allegedly over incompatible positions on the boycott.

Reading:
See Ivan Evans, Bureaucracy and race: native administration in South Africa, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1997. This book examines the role of the Department of Native Affairs in the South African bureaucracy during the early years of apartheid.

Exercise:
The Congress Youth League published the Youth League Manifesto in 1944 and the Programme of Action in 1949. Compare these two documents. How do they differ?
 
 

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Protest and resistance in towns, 1950s and 1960s

After its marginal electoral victory, the National Party passed a series of laws which codified separate racial development and suppressed political dissent. In 1950 and 1951 racial classification was tightened through the Population Registration Act, segregation was sharpened through the Group Areas Act and, as with the qualified African franchise years earlier, the Coloured vote was neutralised through the Separate Registration of Voters' Bill. Discriminatory laws targeted the small numbers of black businesses and property owners, and urban Africans and freeholders were resettled in townships. Influx controls, labour bureaux and restrictions on African trade unions curtailed the strength of the urban African working class.

Nonetheless, these repressive measures did not succeed in stopping political protest. On the Witwatersrand and in the Eastern Cape, the ANC, the South African Indian Congress and other allied groups launched a Defiance Campaign against six unjust laws. For insight into the perspectives of Congress leaders during this period see the exchange of correspondence between the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, and the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa between 21 January and 20 February 1952.

The Defiance Campaign received wide publicity in the press. Drum was a lively and popular illustrated magazine founded at the beginning of the 1950s under the editorship of Anthony Sampson. Its contributors included Peter Abrahams, Alex La Guma, Peter Magubane, Es’kia Mphahlele, Richard Rive and Can Themba, amongst others. Drum published several pieces on the Defiance Campaign, including "'We defy': Ten Thousand volunteers protest against 'unjust laws'" by Nelson Mandela in August 1952 and "The Story of Defiance" in October 1952. The ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People's Organisation, the South African Congress of Democrats and the South African Congress of Trade Union formalized their relationship by establishing the Congress Alliance. In  June1955 the Congress Alliance assembled at a Congress of the People in Kliptown and adopted the The Freedom Charter. The Congress Alliance organized several anti-pass demonstrations in the late 1950s. See, for example, "The Struggle Against Passes" (December 1956). Tensions mounted within the ANC regarding the organization of the Defiance Campaign, the visible role of whites in the Congress Alliance and allegations of undemocratic practices. In 1959 an Africanist group broke from the ANC and formed the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, led by Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

The 1950s saw an upsurge of activity by women in towns and in rural areas, who continued to organize both against the government’s renewed efforts to impose passes on them and against the pass system generally. In April 1954 women of the Congress Alliance founded the Federation of South African Women, which put forward a Women's Charter - a list of demands for women's rights. On 9 August 1956, women assembled at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to present an anti-pass petition to the Prime Minister entitled "The Demand of the Women of South Africa for the Withdrawal of Passes for Women and the Repeal of the Pass Laws". The 9th of August is today celebrated as Women's Day in South Africa in commemoration of this event. The Federation of South African Women and the ANC Women's League also organized together against passes. See, for instance, "Repeal the Pass Laws..." a flyer issued by these two organization on 13 June 1957. Elizabeth S. Schmidt offers an account of women's struggles in the 1950s against the government's attempts to impose passes on them in Now you have touched the women (March 1983).

Exercise:
The NEUM's Ten Point Programme was adopted in 1943, and the Congress Alliance's Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955. Compare these two documents. In what ways are they similar, and how do they differ?
 

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Protest and resistance in the countryside, 1950s and 1960s

The post-war years also saw increased government intervention in the reserves. The Betterment Proclamation of 1939 had ostensibly aimed to stabilise the economic deterioration of the reserves in order to ensure their viability for a permanent class of migrant labourers. The 1945 Rehabilitation Scheme, implemented after the war, resettled people into newly constructed villages where afforestation and soil conservation programmes would be implemented. In effect, the Scheme aimed to create reserve-based proletarian settlements for the families of migrant labourers and to impede the development of an urban African working class. The 1951 Bantu Authorities Act empowered Tribal Authorities to control the black labour supply at the reserve end of the urban-rural nexus. The Act laid the foundations for the future bantustan system. While curtailing popular electoral participation and prohibiting unauthorised public meetings of more than ten, it expanded and consolidated the powers of chiefs, whose legitimacy thereafter declined as they became direct symbols of the oppressive state. The increasing state repression in the reserves catalysed waves of rural protests from the 1940s until the early 1960s.

Several prominent black activists were involved in these rural struggles. These include Alpheus Maliba, a migrant worker-activist and a member of the ANC and Communist Party.  He organized in Zoutpansberg, in the Northern Transvaal, where the state first began implementing its Betterment act. Maliba wrote several political pamphlets based on his experiences organizing against state intervention, including The Conditions of the Venda People (1939).
 
A map of the Transkei, South Africa, 1978
Leading activists also organized in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape, which saw a number of rural protests and uprisings in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Isaac Bangani Tabata, born near the farming community of Queenstown, was a member of the Non-European Unity Movement and the All African Convention. He organized in the Transkei, and in 1945 he published a pamphlet called The Rehabilitation Scheme: “A New Fraud” , which argued that land hunger was the root of the problem in the reserves. Activists in the Cape African Teachers Association, which was affiliated to the All African Convention, also lectured on the problems of the Rehabilitation Scheme. In 1955 the executive members of the Cape African Teachers Association were dismissed from their teaching jobs in retaliation against their struggle against Bantu Education, and in the late 1950s the association’s influence declined.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Govan Mbeki was another Transkeian political activist. A member of the Communist Party and the ANC, in the early 1940s he was secretary of the Transkei Voters' Association, and from 1943 to 1948 he was general secretary of the Transkei Organized Bodies. His views on conditions in the Transkei and on rural struggles there can be found in his book, South Africa: the Peasants' Revolt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964). Local revolts in the Transkei culminated with the Pondoland uprising in 1960.
 
 
 
The Pondoland uprising  - 
photographed by Eli Weinberg

The urban and rural protests of the 1950s converged in 1960. In March 1960 police shot and killed many unarmed demonstrators at a Pan-Africanist Congress anti-pass campaign in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging in the Transvaal. This mobilized protests around the country. In the Western Cape protesters at Langa, a black township near Cape Town, marched to Parliament, led by Philip Kgosana. Many of the demonstrators from Langa were migrant workers from the Transkei, where the Pondoland uprising was unfolding.

In order to stop these massive protests the South African government imposed a state of emergency. Many organizations and activists were banned; many political activists went into exile. The next years saw a turn to underground armed struggle by the ANC, the PAC and other groups. By 1964 the state had arrested the first wave of activists connected with armed struggle. Many activists were arrested and sent to Robben Island and other prisons around the country over the next decades.

Reading:
For an overview of this period see Toward Robben Island. The Rivonia Trial. By Thomas Karis and Gail M. Gerhart in From Protest to Challenge, Vol. 3, 1977.

Exercises:

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The upsurge of resistance in the 1970s and 1980s

The 1960s was the decade of “grand apartheid”. Along with the banning of political organizations and leaders, there was an increase in police expenditure and repression. The prison population rose faster than the general population growth rate, and by 1970 the prison population was twice what it had been in 1960.
 
This was also a decade of massive resettlement of the African population. Government policies aimed at the reversal of African urbanization and attempted to restructure the African urban workforce into one composed mainly of migrant labour. The population of the bantustans or so-called black homelands increased by 70 per cent in the 1960s, and two-thirds of African townships declined in size. The bantustan system combined repression with co-optation, allowing some limited opportunities for an African middle class. The government unveiled its policy of "independence" for the bantustans.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

In the late 1960s, young people, especially students, began to challenge this state of affairs. The South African Student Organisation was formed in July 1969 by black students dissatisfied with the paternalism of the white-dominated National Union of South African Students. A black consciousness movement began to develop, with Steve Biko as one of its principal spirits. Central to black consciousness were the ideas of black self-confidence and self-reliance and of the rejection of racial structures, such as the bantustans.

Black resistance to apartheid stepped up in the 1970s. In 1973 workers in Durban, Natal held a general strike that changed the course of trade union development. Several years later, on 16 June 1976, school children in Soweto began a protest against the forced imposition of the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction. This protest became a year-long uprising that transformed politics in the country.

The government used a two-prong strategy of repression and reform. In 1979 the Wiehahn Commission recommended the recognition of black trade unions and the Riekert Commission proposed a reform of the pass system. In the early 1980s the government proposed its “New Deal”, which included a Tricameral Parliament for whites, Coloureds and Indians - to the exclusion of Africans. These measures fuelled the development of mass protest politics based on the rejection of sectional identities imposed by the government and the rise of the labour movement.

In 1985 the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was launched. The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) was also established in these years. The United Democratic Front emerged as the largest umbrella organization within the liberation movement but smaller bodies, such as the National Forum, were also formed. Popular protest mounted in the 1980s, culminating in 1985 with the Vaal uprising. This took took place against a backdrop of domestic economic recession beginning in 1982 and of political transformations in the Southern African region. Angola and Mozambique had gained independence through armed struggle against Portugal in the mid-1970s, and Zimbabwe became independent in 1980.
 
A photographic exhibition entitled Imperial Ghetto by Omar Badsha, born in 1945 in Durban, captures scenes of daily life in a South African ghetto in the turbulent 1980s.
 
 
 
 
 

Metal and Allied Workers Union
May Day Celebrations
Curries Fountain, Durban, 1986
Photographed by Omar Badsha

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The transition to democracy

Any assessment of South Africa's transition to democracy needs to bear in mind the complex interplay between international and domestic politics and between economic and political factors. Although the South African transition represented a victory after decades of struggle for the majority of the country's population, the timing of the transition no doubt reflected the transformed international terrain that occurred with the winding down of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. Supporters of apartheid could no longer point to the spectre of a Communist threat in Southern Africa.

The willingness of the National Party government to negotiate no doubt reflected economic considerations as well. During most of the twentieth century, South Africa’s position in the world economy was based on exports of primary products, especially gold; imports of capital goods and technology; and  net receipts of indirect portfolio investment and direct foreign investment from multinational corporations. But in the 1970s, and especially after the 1973 oil shock, the South African economy began experiencing serious problems. The gross domestic product growth rate fell from 6% in the 1960s to 1.8% in 1980s to -1.1% in the early 1990s. In 1985 South Africa became a net exporter of capital. The economy suffered from high rates of capital flight and low rates of private investment leading to a decline in international competitiveness. This led to chronic balance of payments difficulties and very high unemployment.

Apartheid policies were responsible for these problems and for the ensuing political unrest that they triggered. High military expenditures (for regional and domestic use) fuelled the budget deficit. In 1972 the National Party government sought an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of 1.24 billion rands. This IMF loan imposed structural adjustment - deflationary policies, tight monetary policies and increased interest rates to encourage savings. Consumer subsidies were frozen, and the poor were hurt as a result of increased taxation. All these factors led to a decline in living standards by the mid-1980s, which fuelled the popular uprisings of those years.

Thus, the democratic transition occurred at a time when the economy had worsened steadily over the previous two decades. Economic problems at the time of the transition included:

During the early 1990s, when negotiations were taking place, these problems worsened. The mining industry shed 30% of its workforce between 1987 and 1995, and manufacturing was stagnant. The formal economy shrank and both the informal economy and the criminal economy grew. In 1993 the interim government, known as the Transitional Executive Council, which included ANC, approached the IMF for an $850 million five-year loan, and it signed a letter of intent to conform to IMF stipulations about economic liberalization. This caused great controversy in South Africa.

Negotiations broke down on several occasions. The ANC leadership was criticized both by youth and by organizations such as the Pan Africanist Congress, the Azanian Peoples Organization and socialist groups. They claimed that the ANC had conceded too much to the National Party, particularly the concessions to white civil servants known as the "sunset clauses". Critics believed that the interim government could have negotiated with the IMF for less stringent conditions. These debates are on-going today, in the controversy between the ANC, COSATU and leftists over state-led development or privatization.

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The state and the new political system

Although the South African Constitution promulgates a parliamentary system that enshrines democratic rights, post-apartheid South Africa lacks a strong democratic tradition. Not only were the apartheid system and the earlier colonial governments extremely authoritarian. As well, the political repression faced by organizations in the liberation movement, especially during the years of banning, made it difficult for them to practice democracy within their own ranks. Decisions often had to be made quickly. Leaders could be arrested without warning. Information could not be widely disseminated because of the possibility of spies. All of those factors hampered the development of democratic practices and accountability within political organizations. South Africa’s new democracy has been characterized as a “dominant party system” because of the ANC’s dominant role in the electoral system. Phil Mtimkulu discusses this issue in his article, “One party domination, transformation and democracy: critical challenges facing the African National Congress (ANC) in the new millenium”. However, organizations such as the Parliamentary Monitoring Group work to strengthen civil society by monitoring Parliament and ensuring that information about Parliament is accessible to the public.

South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 were characterized by euphoria and a very high electoral turnout. Popular expectations of the new government were very high. However, the second national elections in 1999 had a lower turnout. This may reflect a growing sense of apathy now that democracy has been achieved. It may also reflect other factors such as:

Regional and local politics have a more troubled record. Regional politics are heavily influenced by patron-client relations. A 1995 poll reported significantly less public trust in provincial rather than national government, and turnouts in local elections have been far lower than in national elections, even though it is local government that must deal directly with the problem of redistribution of resources at the community level.

The ANC came to power through the forging of a very broad coalition, which included the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). The long-term tensions in this alliance have recently become acute. COSATU is very critical of ANC's neo-liberal agenda, preferring the populist agenda of the Reconstruction and Development Programme or RDP. A recent article in the Mail & Guardian reports that "Cosatu wants RDP back on alliance agenda". The ANC is increasingly critical of left-wing critics, both within and without the alliance, as its recent document, Briefing notes on the alliance, indicates.

The ANC also made important concessions to traditional authorities, such as chiefs, in order to get their political support in the early 1990s. Traditional authorities have been very effective in negotiating for their own interests in the constitution and in the law.  In rural areas, which often lack the most rudimentary infrastructure, local government officials lack adequate resources to carry out their responsibilities. By contrast, chiefs or traditional authorities may be more effective in satisfying social expectations than local elected officials. According to Lungisile Ntsebeza, in his paper on "Land Tenure Reform in South Africa: an example from the Eastern Cape Province", this reflects a tension in the new constitution between individual rights and powers accorded to chiefs in rural areas. This,  argues Ntsebeza, raises serious questions about the nature of democracy in rural areas.

Exercises:

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Economic inequality and distribution

Some fundamental questions arise from a study of the South African economy: The ANC-led government came to power on a programme entitled The Reconstruction and Development Programme: A Policy Framework (RDP). COSATU played a significant role in the early drafting of this programme, which aimed to reconstruct the economy and alleviate poverty by: The RDP was a populist programme that aimed to involve and empower ordinary people by involving them in development projects. But it was open to different interpretations. Leftists emphasized the importance of state intervention in the economy to promote redistribution and economic reconstruction. By contrast, the government saw its own role as one of facilitating, rather than leading, development.

The RDP has had accomplishments in the areas of health care provision, housing, road construction in rural areas, water installation and electrification. Nonetheless, the pace of development has been extremely slow. Housing and land redistribution are acute social problems that are becoming increasingly politicized. The RDP’s success has been impeded by inefficient rural councils and a lack of community consultation, meaning that many development initiatives do not adequately reflect local needs. Instead there is bureaucracy, corruption and poor planning, particularly in regards to housing. Since 1996 the ANC has moved away from the populist orientation of the RDP, which has been marginalized and upstaged by another programme called Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy  (GEAR). Implemented in 1998, GEAR has been widely criticized, especially by trade union activists, both for its having been drafted in secret, without consultation, and for its neo-liberal approach. COSATU, favouring a return to the RDP, is very critical of the government's privatization programme, as a recent article in the Mail & Guardian entitled "Govt is breaking promise, say unions" suggests. Michael J. Meyer's article, “Globalisation: An issue of contestation and struggle in South Africa”, assesses the political implications of privatization.

South Africa remains one of world’s most unequal countries. The inequality between rich and poor has increased greatly since 1975. Approximately 51.2% of the total national income goes to richest top 10% of the population, while less than 3.9% income goes to the poorest 40%. These economic disparities correspond broadly but not completely with racial and ethnic divisions. The International Labour Organization suggests that there has been a decline in racial inequality measured along economic lines. In 1980, for example, inter-racial inequality constituted 65% of general earnings inequality; by 1993 this had dropped to 42%.

Since 1994 there has been further restructuring of South Africa’s class structure. The proportion of whites classified as poor has risen. In 1993 less than 0.5% of whites lived in poverty, compared to 54% of Africans, 25% of coloureds and 8% of Asians. Amongst the African population a more highly differentiated class structure is evolving: there is now a tiny African bourgeoisie and an African middle class. Nonetheless, one needs to question how stable the African middle class is. Although South Africa has seen a redistribution of wealth since 1994, the poorest 40% of population, who are largely rural and women, remain extremely marginalised.

Reading:

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Women's rights and violence against women

The framing of South Africa's post-apartheid constitution provided a window of opportunity to enshrine codes for women's rights and for gender equality. This opportunity encouraged an array of women's groups and in turn facilitated developments in the South African women's movement. At the national level of formal politics, South Africa has made striking progress in the election of women to high office, in the formulation of gender equality guidelines and programmes and in the establishment of a Commission on Gender Equality. President Mbeki's appointment of women Cabinet members and his stated commitment to combatting violence against women augur well for the future. The gains for women at the level of parliamentary politics are particularly notable given that South Africa has many of the features which are conventionally believed to pose barriers to women's participation in parliament: inadequate health care provisions, religious and cultural stereotypes and constraints, educational inequalities and other systemic constraints.

However, at the regional and local levels and particularly in informal political and social relations, enormous problems remain. Culturally, attitudes that women are second-class citizens abound. The continuing power of traditional authorities has problematic implications for women’s rights, especially in rural areas. The Commission on Gender Equality and other organizations concerned with gender argue that since customary practices are entrenched in many aspects of South African society, the aim should be to reform them through the representation of women in traditional institutions, as the abolition of traditional authorities would not be feasible. See, for instance, the report on “Traditional Courts” co-authored by the Commission on Gender Equality.

South Africa is reported to have the highest occurrence of rape and the most brutal sexual violence in the world, with violent gang rape on the increase, especially in areas dominated by gangs and organized crime networks. Coupled with the fact that South Africa has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV infection in the world, these violent sexual assaults on women and children constitute a national crisis. Social analysts are striving to explain the dramatic escalation of violence against women and children.

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Historical memories and identities

South Africa has undergone a transition from a society in which the dominant political struggle revolved around a binary opposition between a racial state and an oppressed majority that lacked political rights. This transition is reflected in the changed relationship between the state and society - from one of opposition to one in which society recognizes the state as legitimate. Nonetheless, the relationship between the state and society is in a state of flux and is being contested from varying points of view.

Firstly, there is a struggle about historical memories and about reinterpreting the past in the new South Africa. All South Africans have the responsibility of coming to terms with their own pasts. This means their contribution to or benefit from the old order, in some cases, and their resistance to the old order, in others. See, for instance, the debate between Xolela Mangcu and Gerald Shaw on whether white South Africans should accept responsibility for apartheid.

A critical example concerns the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was one arena where this issue came to the fore. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered amnesty for political crimes committed during the apartheid era if the parties involved accepted responsibility for their actions by publicly acknowledging them. Some critics of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission contend that its methods of collecting information about the apartheid era lacked accuracy. Others claim that its value lay in bringing into the public domain the stories of many people who had been victimized and silenced. Still others claim that the Commission was too lenient in regards to those who committed crimes against humanity in the name of apartheid. Perhaps there is an inherent and unresolvable contradiction between the goals of truth and of reconciliation.

Winners write history, and they do so in a way that marginalises the losers. Just as the Afrikaner-dominated state created its own historical myths, the ANC as a dominant political party, may seek to promote a teleological view of its own accession to power as a natural progression of justice over oppression. It may portray its own history in a manner that marginalises other political groups who played a role in the liberation movement. Relationships between the ANC, now the dominant political party, and other organizations of the liberation movement are uncertain, and the future of the Tripartite Alliance is unclear. The relationship between organized workers, the state and capital is being contested, as Makhudu Sefara indicates in “Workers Suffer for Cosatu's 'Marriage'”.

Another debate concerns the question of identity. Over the last century the state attempted - and succeeded - in fostering sectional identities: European, African, Coloured and Indian. During the liberation struggle, political activists tried to move beyond these narrow identities. They hoped that Africans, Coloureds and Indians could seek common ground as a disenfranchised black majority. Since 1994, however, there has been much questioning over identities. While Nelson Mandela referred to the “rainbow nation” Thabo Mbeki now speaks of an “African renaissance”. These slogans embody different conceptions of national identity. There has been a resurgence of ethnic and religious identities in the new South Africa. There is also an intense debate over who is an African, whether this is defined in an inclusive or exclusive sense, and what it means to be South African.

Reading:
June Bam, “Negotiating history, truth and reconciliation and globalisation: An analysis of the suppression of historical consciousness in South African schools as case study”, Mots Pluriels, no. 13, April 2000.
 
 

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