George Padmore 1938

The Government’s Betrayal of the Protectorates


Source: Controversy, Vol. 2, No. 21, June 1938.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for Marxists.org July 2007.


Public attention is so firmly engaged with Fascist depredations in Abyssinia, Spain, China and South-Eastern Europe that the quieter Fascist tendencies within the British Empire are ignored. None the less, the imperialist leaders of South Africa have plainly indicated that the protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland, and Swaziland are in their view an anomaly, and that they resent this infringement of their sovereignty. For a number of years now General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, has been pressing for their transference to his Government.

The territories, covering 293,420 square miles and a combined native population of nearly a million, offer valuable sources of raw materials and cheap labour. The need for further lands has become acute since General Hertzog’s Native Bill was adopted in 1936, for this commits the South African Government to find about seven million acres to satisfy the land hunger of its native population. The desert of Bechuanaland would help to satisfy this need, while the more fertile areas are being greedily watched by the Boer farmers who wish to confiscate them for agricultural and pastoral purposes. The mining companies of the Transvaal hope to exploit their mineral resources. The mode of “peaceful” annexation having been set by Hitler, the Afrikaners are quite willing to be fashionable with the connivance of the Chamberlain Government.

But these are Protectorates: countries which have not been subdued by conquest, hut which accepted the protection of Great Britain by treaties made through their tribal chiefs in order to escape massacre at the hands of the Boer filibusters and mercenaries of the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes. The Boer and British adventurers employed methods no less savage than Hitler’s or Mussolini’s in “pacifying” the Matabeles. Having accepted the protection and tutelage of the British Imperial Government, the Protectorates, although geographically within South Africa, have remained politically under the control of Whitehall, a fact which has saved them from the terrorism and racial persecution which is the daily lot of the millions of blacks living under the jurisdiction of the Union.

Their own fate, however, is dreadful enough. Every penny is extorted from them in taxes to maintain a bureaucratic administration. In return little or nothing has been done to develop the economic resources of the country or to promote the well-being of the people. Although Bechuanaland is a very large territory, it is chiefly desert; and such lands as claim surface water and are served by railway are in European hands, chiefly the South Africa Company of Unilever. The Bechuana tribes have been left a little over 100,000 square miles out of an area of 275,000 square miles. Primitive agriculture and absence of pasturage make it almost impossible for the natives to produce enough food for themselves. During the frequent droughts they suffer terribly. Pressed by this economic need and the problem of finding tax money, there is a heavy yearly exodus to the Union, where the men labour in the mines and on the farms for starvation wages. The disintegrating effects upon tribal society have been disastrous.

Similar conditions prevail in Basutoland and Swaziland, although within these territories there is land of good cultivable quality. Basutoland can produce very fine grain; Swaziland has good grazing pasture and can produce bananas, sugar, coffee, tea and cotton. But the natives receive no aid in developing these natural resources, and migration from Basutoland to the Rand gold mines absorbs over forty percent of the population, who are permanently absent from their homes seeking money to pay the taxes which are the prime source of the country’s revenue. Every Basuto pays 28s. in poll tax and 25s. for each wife up to a maximum of 75s.

Since their own conditions are sufficiently bad, why do the Protectorate natives look with horror upon the circumstances of those living within Union jurisdiction? Because the Fascist methods which in Europe are reserved for white racial and political minorities, in the Union are perpetrated by a white minority upon a black majority.

General Hertzog has declared that “natives must obey the white man’s law. They are living in a land of the white man. If the native does not obey the white man’s rule he will be forced to obey, even if this has to be carried out by the imposition of more rigorous purtishment or by stricter supervision of the native’s freedom of movement.”

Who said South Afica was a black man’s land? It is easy to be misled when facts are absent. Here are a few which will enlighten. Two million whites have confiscated about 80 percent of the land, leaving something less than 10 percent for nearly seven million natives, who are segregated in Reserves. Every male native pays hut, poll and other taxes amounting to almost 2 yearly. The necessity to find tins money forces the blacks to work for the whites at monthly wages averaging 10s. on the farms and 50s. in the mines, less board allowance. (A month covers thirty working days.) No native may reside on the land of a white man otherwise than as a labourer. He must give 180 days’ work a year to his master, who decides the days on which his slave shall labour, and he spreads them over the whole year to keep the black tied permanently to the farm. The farmer prefers the worker to bring his family, as they must help with the work and are held as hostages if the native runs away. No wages are paid, merely a plot of land is provided for building a hut and raising mealie and kaffir corn. Any breach of the contract by the native is criminally punished. The termination of service is made at the will of the employer, not the native.

The urban native population are lodged in Locations, which contain some of the worst slums in the world. Tuberculosis, dysentery, typhus, syphilis, all flourish and create a high mortality. Natives recruited for the gold mines of the Transvaal have their travelling expenses deducted from their wages, as well as their board. Paid as low as 1s. 6d. a day average, they are housed like cattle in barracks, sleep on concrete floors and are guarded by foremen armed with the sjambok. The Colour Bar Act, passed under pressure from the Labour Party and trade union movement, which exclude black membership, makes it illegal for a native to perform skilled work. It guarantees to white workers a minimum wage of 1 a day. Active protest against their abominable conditions lays the natives open to arrest and banishment without trial for “creating feelings of hostility between Europeans and natives,” as provided by the Riotous Assemblies Act. Racial discrimination is carried into education. The cost of educating a white child is about 25 per annum, and that of a black 2 10s., paid out of direct native taxation.

Africans are forced to carry no fewer than 12 passes : Six Days’ Special; Monthly; Identification; Day Special; Night Special; Location Visitor’s; Lodger’s; Poll tax receipt; Travelling; Daily Labourer’s; Exemption. Their movements are restricted; right to free speech, assembly and press are positively denied to them. They cannot be out after 9 p.m., for curfew laws exist for them. Though bearing the brunt of taxation and other burdens, they have no representation in Government, and in 1936 General Hertzog took away the vote from the Africans in the Cape. These people have been made aliens in their own land!

No great wonder that in 1934 an assembly of chiefs of the Native Advisory Council of Bechuanaland recorded its opposition to transfer. The young men of the Protectorates, particularly the Basutos, have threatened recourse to arms, so determined are they to resist any attempt to hand them over to the Union’s tender mercy. In the light of these protests, the glib talk of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald about not handing over the territories without the consent of the natives is so much hypocritical cant. The “protection” which the British Government is now conferring upon the Aden Protectorate with the aid of bombs is a cue to the methods by which consent may be obtained. The appointment of a Standing Joint Advisory Conference between Great Britain and the Union to study openings in matters affecting the native territories is a move to pave the way for annexation. The Secretary for Native Affairs and two other officers of the Union Government and the Resident Commissioners of the Protectorates, who compose the committee, are not going to find reasons why the transfer should not be made. And unless the British Government seriously contemplated the transfer it would not have set up a Commission to study the basis on which it should take place.

The natives are to be sacrificed to the imperialist appetites of aggressive Afrikaners, unless they are blocked by the sustained protest of the British workers. To remain silent would be to condone the annexation and enslavement of these “independent” African territories, and would be a lasting shame and dishonour to the British workers. It is their duty to show their international solidarity by supporting the struggles of the colonial toiling amasses in resisting Fascism within the Empire. For never let it be forgotten that “Labour with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labour with a black skin is branded.”