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South African History [Segregation] – Part 5
Government policy in the Union of South Africa did not develop in isolation, but against the backdrop of black political initiatives. Segregation and apartheid took their form as white responses to the increasing participation of Africans in the economic life of the country and the assertion of their political rights.
Despite government efforts to marginalize and reinvigorate traditionalism, blacks were more fully integrated into 20th-century South African urban and industrial society than elsewhere on the continent. An educated elite of clerics, teachers, business people, journalists and businessmen became a major force in black politics.
Mission Christianity and its associated educational institutions deeply influenced African political life, and segregated churches were early vehicles for African political assertion. Experiences from studying abroad and interactions with black people struggling for their rights elsewhere, particularly in Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean, also played an important role. In the early days, a vigorous black press, associated with leading editors such as JT Jabawu, Pixley Seme, Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman, Sol Plaatje, and John Dube, served black reading.
At the same time, African communal struggles to maintain access to rural land posed a powerful challenge to the white state.
Traditional authorities often led popular struggles against intrusive and manipulative policies. Government attempts to control chiefs and select co-conspirators often failed.
Steps towards the formation of a national political organization ‘Rangit’ were made in the second half of the century mainly in the Cape Province by Dr. Abdurahman started by founding the African Political Organization (APO) in 1902. The African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912, however, became the most important black organization uniting traditional authorities and educated African elites for common causes.
In its early days, the ANC was mainly concerned with constitutional protest. Labor terrorism emerged in the wake of World War I and continued into the 1920s.
It included strikes and anti-pass campaigns by women, especially in the Free States, who opposed the extension of the Pass Act to them. The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, led by Clements Kadali, was (despite its name) the first popular, nationwide union representing rural as well as urban blacks. But it was short lived.
The Communist Party, founded in 1921 and since then a force for both non-communalism and trade unionism, has been enduring.
In other segments of the black population as well, organized opposition emerged earlier in the century. Gandhi’s leadership of protests against discriminatory laws spurred the formation of the Provincial Indian Congress.
The South African Native Affairs Commission’s 1905 report laid out the principles of separatist ideology and continued to evolve in response to these economic, social and political pressures. Taking his recommendations into consideration, the first Central Government enacted the Native Native Land Act in 1913. It defined the remnants of Africans’ ancestral lands after conquest for occupation and declared all land purchases or leases outside these reserves illegal.
The reserves (‘motherland’ as they were later called) eventually covered 13% of South Africa’s land surface. Administrative and legal dualism reinforced the division between white citizens and black non-citizens, a division appointed by the governor-general, who was empowered to rule over the country’s African majority as ‘supreme chief’ through administrative decisions and decrees.
The government regulated job color bars, reserved skilled work for whites, and denied African workers the right to organize.
The Native Settlement (Urban Areas) Act, consolidated legislation in 1923, regulated African mobility through urban segregation and consent laws. The Pass Acts were designed to entrap Africans into forced labor and keep them in conditions and wage levels favorable to white employers there and deny them any bargaining power.
In this and other ways, the governments representing the compromises made by the National Convention of 1908 and 1909 to effect the union of English and Afrikaans-speaking whites laid the foundation for apartheid.
However, divisions within the white community remained significant. Afrikaner nationalism grew as a factor in the post-union years.
It was fueled by a rebellion by Africans who broke away from the ruling South African Party in 1914 to form the National Party (NP) and could not reconcile with their decision to join the First World War against Germany. . In part, the NP spoke for Africans impoverished by the Anglo-Boer/South African War and dispossessed from the land by the development of capitalist agriculture.
An Afrikaner underclass was emerging in the cities, who felt uncompetitive in the labor market as white workers demanded wages higher than those paid to blacks.
Soon the issues of the workers came to the fore. In 1920, about 71,000 black miners went on strike to protest the rising cost of living, but the strike was quickly called off by the segregation of the compounds where the migrant workers lived.
Another threat to the government came from the white workers. Migrant white workers with mining experience abroad did much of the skilled and semi-skilled work on the mines. As mine-owners tried to cut costs by using low-paid black labor in semi-skilled jobs, white workers became increasingly militant. These tensions culminated in a bloody and dramatic revolt in the gold fields in 1922, which the Smuts government put down with military force. In 1924, the Smuts regime was overthrown by a coalition government under Herzog, consisting of Afrikaner nationalists and representatives of migrant workers.
The agreement was based on a general suspicion of the dominance of mining capital and a determination to protect the interests of white workers by intensifying discrimination against blacks. Commitment to white-labor policies in government jobs such as the railways and the postal service was intensified, and job color bars were strengthened, one of the main targets of what became known as the ‘poor white problem’.
In 1934, the main white parties came together to combat the local effects of the worldwide depression. This was followed by a new Afrikaner nationalist breakaway led by Dr DF Malan.
In 1936, the United Party further increased white supremacy by removing eligible Africans from the Cape Province from the general electoral roll. Meanwhile Malan’s splintered NP was greatly boosted by the Afrikaner cultural revival led by the secretive white male Afrikaner Broderbond and other cultural organizations during the Wurttecker centenary celebrations (1938) as well as anti-war sentiment from 1939.
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