History of the Pan-African Congress, George Padmore (editor) 1947

Oppression in South Africa.

October 16th, 1945. Second Session.

Chairman: Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.).

Rapporteurs: Peter Abrahams and Marko Hlubi (Union of South Africa).

Mr. Marko Hlubi (South Africa) described how 2 million white people of English and Dutch descent live by the exploitation and degradation of 8 million coloured people in the Union of South Africa, where the white minority controls 230 million acres of land and the 8 million blacks are squeezed into seven million acres. The whole policy of South African rule is based upon the segregation of the Africans, and all legislation is based upon discrimination. The Africans are deprived of the vote and pay poll and hut taxes amounting to about thirty shillings a year, irrespective of whether they are employed or not. These direct taxes are paid by males from the age of 18 and continue indefinitely, usually until they are 65, if they live to be as old as that. For the conditions of their life gives the Africans a short span of existence. The infant mortality rate is as high as 500 per thousand.

Urbanisation has been growing apace under the impact of industrial development, and the Africans who come into the towns to work are herded into “allocations,” which are nothing more than ghettoes under the supervision of the European authority. Conditions are infamous, and dwellings are nothing more than shanties made out of bits of old packing case lining, flattened kerosene tins, sacking and other odds and ends. Overcrowding is of nightmare proportions, and the darkness, dirt and rubbish among which the Africans live provide hothouse conditions for the growth of disease. Tuberculosis is rampant, and the death rate from this disease as well as dysentery and syphilis, is inordinately high.

Wages in the mines average about 2/3d. a day for African workers, while the average European wage is twenty shillings a day. On the farm black labour earns a cash wage of from 5/- to 10/- a month. There is an ever-present colour bar which prevents the African from under-taking any skilled labour, and places him outside the benefits of industrial and social legislation. He is given no unemployment pay, no old-age pension, and does not qualify for health insurance. Even workers’ compensation is strictly limited, in no case exceeding 60 per cent of the monthly earnings, and then applying only to those earning higher wages.

At the same time the black workers are obliged to pay for their food the same high prices as the Europeans, and the standard of living of the white folk in South Africa is among the highest in the world. They are also subject to criminal prosecution for breach of labour contract, and all Africans coming to the mines are obliged to sign a contract, usually for a period of nine to twelve month. They are also fined for coming late to work.

Nor are the Africans able to get these conditions altered, as they have no union which is recognised by the employers, and the white unions rigidly exclude them. Politically, they are completely frustrated, for the Riotous Assembly Act prevents their meeting to voice protests. The lot of the African in the Union of South Africa is certainly one of the most unhappy in the world, and he calls upon his brothers everywhere to help him to break the bonds which shackle him to the white Herrenvolk masters.

Mr. Peter Abrahams (South Africa) Pan-African Federation, continued the recital of the disabilities under which the majority population of South Africa suffer. He drew especial attention to the Pass Laws, which everywhere in the Union hedge the native in. In addition to their poll and hut tax receipts, which act as passes, there are ten others which the Africans are obliged to carry at one time or another. Passes are needed to leave the reserve to go to town, to travel on the railway, to seek work, to visit another location, to stay out after the nine o’clock curfew hour. The African is also obliged to get a pass to live within a municipal location, to carry on trade. And finally, if he be a teacher or a preacher, he has to get a special pass to show that he is exempted from carrying all the others.

While the African has been alienated from his land and “forced to work, he is not guaranteed employment, and while he pays the bulk of the taxes he is denied the benefits of education. Out of the African population less than 500,000 attend school, and upon them the Government spends about 2 per head. Approximately the same number of European school-children receive education costing the Government more than 25 per head. The increasing number of fines inflicted upon the African for contravention of the numberless restrictions and regulations which hamper his freedom go to swell the revenue. It is a very frequent occurrence for the police to raid the locations and reserves during the night and arrest those who do not instantly produce their tax receipts. They are beaten up, driven into black marias and taken to the lock-up. The next morning they come in droves before the magistrate who hands out fines with a bland impartiality. In fact, the practice has reached such a state that the police have been asked in exercise some discretion in the carrying out of their duties.

These were some of the hard facts, which we must fiercely condemn. We must indict an imperial Government which, after 40 years of Trusteeship, left the native people with but 5% of its number literate, and grit line; poverty, and slave conditions as the common lot.

The theme of other speeches was “Down with Imperialism,” and 100 per cent sympathy and support was expressed to the South African people by representatives from the West Indies and other Colonies. A number of concrete demands were made, which are set out in the Resolution included elsewhere in this pamphlet.