George Padmore

Britain’s Black Record

(September 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 45, 10 November 1941, p. 2.
Originally published in New Leader (London), 27 September 1941.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following article is continued from the issue of October 27. Written by George Padmore, internationally known Negro socialist, it is reprinted from the British New Leader, organ of the Independent Labor Party.


Demand For Cheap Labor

The question of Lebensraum for the 60,000 British settlers in Rhodesia was raised about the same time that Hitler was demanding more “living space” for the German Herrenvolk.

And the imperial government was adopting the same appeasement policy with Huggins as with Hitler. While Chamberlain was selling out the Czechs at Munich, a royal commission, headed by Lord Bledisloe, was dispatched to South Africa “to inquire and report into the question of amalgamating the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland.” Fortunately for the blacks, the war intervened before a deal could be fixed up between Whitehall and the imperialists in Southern Rhodesia. The imperial government is afraid that any surrender at this time might incite the natives of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to open rebellion, for the Africans in these countries told Lord Bledisloe and his colleagues that they don’t want to have anything to do with “Fuehrer” Huggins and his fascist regime. Their conditions are already bad enough, but Southern Rhodesia is no better than a glorified concentration camp for Africans.

Meanwhile the problem of meeting the demand for slave labor increases with the war effort. As Northern Rhodesia needs all the labor she can obtain for the Copper Belt, and the South African Union is drawing heavily on Nyasaland and the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, the Southern Rhodesian government is resorting more and more to the use of juvenile labor to meet the agricultural needs of the tobacco planters and other employers.

Rhodesian tobacco and maize are cultivated chiefly by cheap black labor. Africans are paid about 12 shillings six pence per month of 30 working days. Women and children get even less!

Child Labor

There is no colony, with the possible exception of Kenya, where child labor flourishes as in Southern Rhodesia. In passing the Juveniles’ Employment Act, a government spokesman declared that:

“It was in the best interests of the children, as it prevented them becoming vagabonds and waifs exposed to pernicious influences.”

This child labor regulation gives the native commissioner and officers of his department the right to arrange the hiring out of children to white employers for a period not exceeding six months at a time.

The labor regulations also provide for punishment by fines, imprisonment or flogging for any breach of contract. According to Hansard (28-3-39) 1,056 Africans were sentenced to corporal punishment in 1938.

Commenting upon the working of the Juveniles’ Employment Act, the chief native commissioner makes the following interesting observations on the history of child labor in the colony:

“For the past 30 years there has been no lack of voluntary – insistent, even – child labor. Wherever employment is offered, children have been among the first applicants for it ... There is probably no missionary’s home without it. ... The legislation was designed, as its traducers well know, to protect and control the ever-increasing stream of children, to legalize their claims for the wages they earned, and to ensure for the other part that their monthly engagement should not, to their own detriment, be lightly abandoned.”

The commissioner speaks about wages earned by children. Well, let’s examine the general scale of wages paid to adults in Southern Rhodesia.

In view of what I have already said about the regime in relation to the Africans, it will be no surprise to learn that trade unionism is not allowed among natives. The trade union movement in Southern Rhodesia, like the Labor Party, does not admit blacks to membership.

Moreover, the government is hostile to labor organization among Africans. Some years ago, African organizers connected with the Bantu trade union movement in the Union, known as the ICU (Industrial and Commercial Union), attempted to organize the native workers in Southern Rhodesia, but they were arrested and deported. As stated, it is unsafe to form a religious society in Africa much less an industrial organization for the purpose of obtaining higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. Colonial “blimps” consider native trade unionism synonymous with bolshevism!

The working day is usually between 10 to 14 hours. Thirty working days constitute a month. Miners get about 29 shillings 6 pence a month. Imported labor is paid less. Africans from Nyasaland get 25 shillings and those from Northern Rhodesia 18 shillings. They all receive rations – valued at 7 shillings 6 pence per month! Agricultural laborers get less than miners. The wage is 12 shillings 6 pence per month for men; 9 shillings for women, and 5 shillings for children. Some in domestic service only get rations. (A shilling is worth approximately 25 cents; a penny, 2 cents. – Ed.)

Live Like Animals

The Africans live and work under the most appalling social conditions. They live like animals and only a small percentage of them enjoy any sort of protection under social legislation.

Discussing the status of black miners, Lord Hailey in An African Survey (page 674), says:

“Compensation for industrial disability is provided under Ordinance 15 of 1922 as amended by Act 16 of 1930, but it is awarded on a fixed scale which makes no provision for natives drawing but low rates of pay.”

White miners, on the other hand, receive a minimum wage of 20 shillings per day of eight hours, plus free quarters and other social amenities. They are protected by all kinds of social legislation: Workmen’s Compensation Act, Miners’ Phthisis Act., etc., etc. It is no wonder that the white workers in the colonies constitute a labor aristocracy divorced from the life and struggles of colored labor. Imperialism not only exploits in the economic sense, but has succeeded in inciting the white proletariat against the blacks.

To maintain their political and economic domination over the Africans, the settlers are opposed to educating the natives. By keeping them ignorant they seek to justify their own racial superiority and right to rule.

Hitler is pursuing the same policy in Europe. In Poland and Czechoslovakia the Nazis are trying to suppress the national culture of the natives by destroying their schools, colleges and universities and by prescribing the books they may read. Since the African had no institutions of learning to destroy when they stole his land, the Rhodesian Herrenvolk have had it easier than the Nazis. But like the Germans they are determined to keep all “dangerous thoughts” away from the natives.

Last updated on 11.2.2013