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Fight, September, 1937


The Colonial Question: Imperialism In South Africa


From FIGHT, September, 1937, Vol.1 No.10, pages11-12. Published by the Marxists Group, UK
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2009 for ETOL.


The recent dealings between the representative of the Government of the Union of South Africa, General Hertzog, and the representative of the British Government, Mr. M. Macdonald, regarding the question of the Protectorates, reported in the bourgeois Press, is an opportunity to raise a number of questions on South Africa which are of interest to the British working class.

First of all, however, about the dispute itself. Popularly speaking, the wealth of South Africa is derived from gold and diamonds. All wealth, however, arises from the application of labour power to the earth’s natural resources. The less the capitalist has to pay for labour power, the more surplus value will he derive from the commodities produced. The natives of South Africa therefore, the Bantu peoples, are forced by the ruthless oppression of insatiable Imperialism to become the wage slaves of the Christian whites. For a long time there was a great shortage in the supply of such labour. The Bantus were not willing to slave either for the mining magnates or for the huge landowners. And naturally, so long as they possessed a bit of land themselves there was no pressing need for them to do so. To remedy this “laziness” on the part of the natives, one of the first acts of the S. African ruling class was to perpetuate a class of landless natives. The Native Land Act of 1913 was passed, which prohibited natives from purchasing any land outside a tiny area, despite the fact that huge tracts of land remained uncultivated. But even this did not achieve the desired result of forcing the natives to work for the whites, and many a native remained on the small Land Reserves who could usefully be exploited. To force them out of the Reserves the Government imposed a Poll Tax of £1 per head per annum, payable in cash. This at last forced the penniless natives to go to the white masters in order to earn the necessary cash to pay the tax.

But although the South African ruling class succeeded in forcing the overwhelming majority of the native male population to work for them, by means of the Land Act and the imposition of taxation, there was still a shortage of labour. This labour shortage has formed the basis of the clash between the mining magnates belonging to the British imperialist section, and the huge landowners, who mostly belong to the Dutch speaking population, known at present as Afrikaanders, who are both struggling for the limited supply of cheap native labour. Politically this clash found expression in the South African Party, representing the interests of the British, and the Nationalist Party representing the interest of the Dutch. General Smuts is the leader of the S.A.P. and General Hertzog the head of the Nationalist Party.

While the Nationalists were in power, from 1924 for about ten years, they naturally passed certain legislation the object of which was to secure a more ample supply of native labour for the huge farmers and plantation owners. The more recent legislation is the Native Service Contract Act, which compels every native working for the farmers to work for his boss a period of 180 days in the year free of charge, a period which does not necessarily have to be consecutive, but could be spread over the whole year; further, that no native is allowed to take on employment elsewhere without the consent of his former employer. In addition the Act gives the employer the right to flog his employees, provided they “appear” to be over eighteen years of age.

The mines, as a consequence of the shortage in the labour supply were forced to recruit part of their labour supply in the adjacent territories, notably Rhodesia and the South African Protectorates. Being outside the control of the Union’s Government, the Protectorates served the interests of the British imperialists exclusively. The Nationalists have, of course, always had an eye on these labour reservoirs, but they were entirely out of their reach.

The world economic crisis changed the South African situation entirely. For the first time in its history there was an adequate supply of labour. Thus the contradictions between the British imperialist group and the Dutch landowning group began to decrease, and eventually resulted in the fusion of the two parties into one single Fusion Party. A new Government was constructed with General Hertzog of the old Nationalist Party as Prime Minister, and General Smuts of the S.A.P. as Deputy-Premier and Minister of Justice.

Now that a general agreement has been reached between the two ruling sections, the question of the Protectorates is not so acute as it was, although it is still far from being settled. Both the South African Chamber of Mines and the landowners, in dealing with this question have more an eye on the future than on the present. What if a shortage of native labour arises again? The former Nationalists want, for this reason, to incorporate the Protectorates into the Union. On the other hand, the former S.A.P.ers, also with an eye on the future, are not in such a hurry to give in. But in all probability the Protectorates will go to the Union.

For the Bantu peoples, incorporation into the Union is the greater of two evils, because it would subject them to the same laws as those under which the South African natives suffer, laws which are the most vicious, the most oppressive of any in the whole African continent.

In a later article we will deal with the actual conditions of the natives in South Africa and with the problems of struggle ahead of them.

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Last updated on 9 March 2009