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International Socialist Review, Spring 1964


Franz J.T. Lee

Imperialist Hypocrisy in South Africa


Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.2, Spring 1964, pp.49-51.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


FROM the publicity, one could conclude that in the West no struggle of an oppressed people receives so much sympathy as the non-white liberation movement in the Republic of South Africa. The West German press, for example, is surprisingly unanimous in its condemnation of the barbaric “apartheid” policy of the Afrikaander nationalists. And yet the sympathy is nowhere so insincere as in this case. The press persistently conceals the consequences that would result from abolishment of the apartheid system.

The racial discrimination policy is intended to secure more than the political predominance of the white “Herrenvolk” – the supporters and members of Verwoerd’s Nationalist party. It is the indispensable basis for the slave system of the white farmers and the phenomenal profits of mining and other industries. Only when this is understood does the question of liberating the non-white population in the police states of Malan, Strijdom, and Verwoerd come into proper focus.

The liberation of the Africans in South Africa is impossible without liquidating the present economic system. Those who oppose apartheid without acknowledging the need for a radical transformation of the South African society commit a serious error unless their sympathy is feigned.

Nowhere is it as clear as in the Republic of South Africa that capitalism depends on the exploitation and the oppression of the toiling masses. If we leave aside the white proletariat, which has been bought off by wages second only to those of the United States, the secret of this capitalist system is revealed by a difference in skin color.

The Labor Reservoir

Of the blacks, forming the overwhelming majority of the South African population, nearly seventy-five per cent live outside the cities, that is, 8,250,000 out of 11,000,000. Of these again, 3,000,000 work practically under slave conditions on the white farms; while the rest, 5,250,000, must struggle to keep body and soul together in the so-called Reserves – and future “Bantustans” (the present “independent” Transkei being the first) – which comprise only 13.7 per cent of the total land area of South Africa.

According to the 1913 Land Act and its 1945 Amendment “no African is allowed to possess, buy, or sell land anywhere in South Africa” (Art. 25, Sec. 6). The Africans can only stay on – and cultivate – land in the Reserves. Thus 20 per cent of the population – mainly white farmers – own 86.3 per cent of the land. Still more accurately expressed: average white holdings are 177 morgan of land; black, only 2.5 morgan. Even among white farmers the land is not equally distributed, since 63 per cent possess 12 per cent of the total land area; 27 per cent possess 32 per cent; and 10 per cent possess 55 per cent.

As the Africans in the Reserves have no modern agricultural implements, their economic status grows worse year by year. The primitive methods of their forefathers were economically supportable when the Africans still had the whole of Southern Africa to themselves. As a result of the ten “Wars of Dispossession” – so-called Kaffir Wars (in South African and even international history books), ranging from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century – the Africans were forced into the “Native Reserves” of South Africa and the three “British Protectorates” which, climatically and economically, are far from the best areas. Thus pastoral farming and animal-drawn ploughs became uncompetitive. On top of this, heavy taxation was imposed on the Africans; the poll tax, for example, is raised whenever the demand for cheap labor increases. Other taxes are the “Union Tax” and the “Bantu Authorities Tax.”

It was not only the ravenous expansionist drive ‘ of the whites that led to expulsion of the native peoples from their ancestral lands. A system was developed to force them to accept low-paid jobs outside their “labor concentration camps” – the Reserves (the Transkei, Zululand, Zeerust and Sekukuniland being the largest). Dispossession transformed independent African farmers into “squatters” – having no legal title to land originally belonging to them – tenants and migratory laborers on white farms; and drove others through hunger, poverty, and heavy taxes to the industrial towns and mines in search of work. The “Border Industries project” of today shifts industries nearer to the Reserves, but the system and its compulsions remain fundamentally unchanged.

A Brutal System

The social and judicial position of the African farm laborer is inconceivably bad. Working sixty hours and more a week, he often earns scarcely enough to clothe and feed himself in meager fashion. He is legally subjugated to a system that parallels if it does not surpass slavery in brutality.

The 1932 South African Law on Contract Labor, for example, provides that an African, living on the farm of his master, cannot leave unless he can produce an identification document signed by his employer. He cannot take a new job unless he can produce a document, signed by his previous employer, stating that in the coming time he has no duties to perform and is thus discharged from work. The law further provides that a labor service contract applies automatically to the African’s children between the ages of 10 and 18, without their approval. They are subject to punishment, including “flogging.”

The pass laws are chiefly designed to channel cheap labor to the mines, farms, and industries. The pass, which is compulsory for all African men and women, town and country dwellers, from the age of 15, contains the following:

From the above, it becomes quite clear that the pass system is designed to control and enslave the African. The result is that not only the Africans in the Reserves but also the farm workers, if they succeed in getting away from their masters, swarm into the towns and mines for employment – exactly in accordance with government plans.

“A Constant and Abundant Supply”

That the mass migration of cheap black labor to the industrial areas was not merely the result of the operation of the laws of the labor market was confirmed at a government conference as early as 1897. To keep the wage level desirably low, an essential for high profits, it was explained that “a constant and abundant supply of native workers is necessary.”

Appropriate laws, high taxation of peasants, and an ingenious recruiting system assure a constant flow of cheap African labor to the mines and industries from the labor reservoirs. Since 1936, some 400,000 blacks have been employed alongside 40,000 whites in the gold mines. These Africans are hired as unskilled laborers. Better positions at higher wages are forbidden by law. This is intended to preserve for whites, even as wage workers, their privileged position in society.

The Job Reservation Act (Clause 77 of the Industrial Conciliation Act, 1924, now newly amended in Determination No. 13 of May 9, 1963) reserves specific jobs in various industries exclusively for whites. The worst paid jobs, the hard dirty work, are left for the Africans.

Mr. J.N. le Roux, South African Minister of Agriculture, expressed the official view as follows:

“We should not give the Natives an academic education. If we do this, we shall be burdened with a number of academically trained Europeans and non-Europeans, and who is going to do the manual labour in this country? ... I am in thorough agreement with the view ... that to a great extent he [the Native] must be the labourer in this country.” (Hansard, Vol.11, 1945.)

The African, being a constant migrant worker, contracted as a rule for 9 to 18 months at a stretch, is refused normal status by the whites as “laborer” or “employee.” He is thus officially discriminated as a “tribal native” (see Article 36 of the Law of 1937). The African lives virtually with one foot in his place of employment and the other in the Reserve. In this way it is difficult for Africans to organize trade unions or to become experts in a specific field. Moreover their whole family life is destroyed.

Staggering Difference in Wages

The abyss between the wages of the white and black workers has widened over the years, as the following table [1] from the gold mining industry shows:



per head

(in $)


per head

(in $)




































1. Annual Report of South African Department
of Mines
, 1953, Pretoria. Pages 44, 50 and 56.

Besides mining, the manufacturing industry also absorbs more and more cheap African labor.

ACCOMMODATIONS for the black masses, streaming into the towns and industrial areas, are unspeakable. The recruited Africans are separated according to tribe and race. They live far from the white “suburbs” in jail like barracks and locations. From these areas they are transported daily to their jobs by means of busses – at fares they can scarcely pay. Their living standards, in any case low enough, have worsened lately. A commission established in 1954 “to raise the living standard of the African,” proved that in the machine industry around Johannesburg the weekly wages of the African worker from 1950 to 1954 remained unchanged and that cost-of-living increments rose from $1.68 to only $2.16 a month. In the building and commercial industries it was not much better. At the same time, between 1950 and 1954, however, the price of mealie-meal – the staple food of the African – went up 63 per cent and meat 58 per cent. It should also be noted that in 1950 the average family income of the African wage earner equalled 72 per cent of the “minimum level necessary for existence” as calculated by social scientists in South Africa. By 1954 this figure had sunk to 63 per cent.

Mrs. Joy de Gruchy, a social scientist of the South African Institute of Racial Relations, said the following:

“The income of each African family of five persons in Johannesburg is on the average 20 per cent under the minimum level for a normal and moderate existence. Fifty to 75 per cent of all the African families in Johannesburg earn less than the amount which the ‘existence-minimum’ demands. Millions of Africans suffer from hunger, while they are forced to save for schooling of their children, for medical and burial services, and even for insurance. Even when the wife works, an African family in Johannesburg has an average monthly income of 19 pounds sterling and 10 shillings.” (Weser Kurier, German newspaper, April 6, 1960.)

Another German newspaper Die Welt published the following on January 5, 1960:

“Every third non-white child in South Africa dies because of undernourishment before it is one year old. Many of the remaining ones perish before they are four years old.”

Nobel Prize winner Albert Luthuli, in his book Let My People Go, states:

“Whites in South Africa rank fourth in the world’s standard of living when sixty per cent of the Africans live below the bread line. Most of the rest are just above it.” (Page 182, Fontana paperback edition.)

Profit Bonanza

In spite of the relatively progressive industrialization of the country, there are no trade unions worthy of the name among the African workers. A law passed in 1937 defined trade unions as “unions of employees.” Since African workers are denied the status of “employees” no legal basis exists for the formation of recognized trade unions. Only unregistered African workers’ unions are allowed. The African worker is forbidden by law to strike (see Law of 1953, No. 48, Article 18), hence these unions are useless in practice. The enormous profits made at the expense of the exploited Africans are indicated by the following examples:

  1. From 1870 to 1934, the South African diamond mining industry on an invested capital of 20,000,000 pounds sterling paid out more than 80,000,000 pounds sterling in net dividends.
  2. The gold mining industry from 1886 to 1945 on a deposit capital of 200,000,000 pounds sterling paid out 479,000,000 pounds sterling in net dividends.

Clearly, such gross and brutal exploitation can be maintained, in the long run, only if the oppressed population accepts prevailing conditions as unchangeable or due to “God’s Will” and if they are blocked from political recourse. The ruling classes believe that they have found this magic formula in apartheid.

UNDER this policy, a “white” parliament, representing 3,067,638 whites (1960 census) projects dividing and ruling 10,807,809 Africans (blacks), 1,488,267 Coloreds and 477,414 Asians, mainly Indians. With the socio-economic conditions suffered by the Africans as an example of Herrenvolk’s strategy, the Coloreds and Asians can presage their own future situation. The latest oppressive laws – the Sabotage Act (1962), the General Law Amendment Act known as the “90 Day No Trial Law,” and the Bantu General Law Amendment Act (of 1963) – have worsened the situation by introducing a “reign of terror.” At the same time the revolutionary, democratic and socialistic movements have gained ground, in spite of the setbacks due to mass arrests. One of the most important ones is the National Liberation Front (NLF), a broad anti-South Africa “United Front,” aimed at uniting all the progressive organizations in South Africa and South West Africa and preparing for a militant national struggle to liquidate the present Herrenvolk state.

Foreign capital constitutes a large part of the investments in South Africa. These investments affect the attitude of the West toward the apartheid policy of the South African white nationalists.

Up to 1946 over 750,000,000 pounds sterling had been invested in mining and government loans. By 1953 this figure passed 1,250,000,000 pounds sterling. In other words, after World War II over 500,000,000 pounds sterling were invested in South Africa by capitalists of various countries, chiefly England, America, and France. In 1956, total foreign investments in South Africa were estimated at 1,396,000,000 pounds sterling – the British share was 865,600,000; USA, 171,100,000; other sterling countries 69,800,000. Of Britain’s share, 556,100,000 pounds sterling were in direct investment, and 309,500,000 in portfolio investment. Mining accounted for 164,000,000 of the direct investment and 121,900,000 of the portfolio investment. Hence Britain invested 285,900,000 pounds sterling in mining alone. In 1961 British investors in the mining industries altogether got 18,900,000 pounds sterling in net dividends from South Africa. Today, over 1,000,000,000 pounds sterling of British money is invested in South Africa. Thus Britain’s stake in apartheid is quite clear.

In the United States in 1955 the Department of Commerce encouraged American businessmen to invest in South African concerns. This encouragement was in reality superfluous. By 1955 the $50,000,000 direct private investment of 1943 had increased five times. Also the United States government supported the “Herrenvolk” state with dollars and arms (see below). By the end of 1955 the Exim Bank and the World Bank had invested not less than $330,000,000 in South African concerns, much more than in any other African country.

In the last five years US investments have increased. No wonder that US officials have considered South Africa “a reliable friend,” as Senator Hickenlooper remarked after a trip to South Africa in 1953. Lately in United Nations resolutions, especially concerning diplomatic and trade relations and the banning of arms, one can clearly see how England, the United States, and France, together with a few other countries, show their true colors more and more.

Military Power Increasing

The South African military budget increased by 24,000,000 pounds sterling in 1962, reaching 60,000,000 pounds sterling. Another 20,000,000 pounds sterling were added in 1963. In the current three-year period Britain is supplying South Africa with 90,000,000 pounds sterling of military equipment. In 1962, Imperial Chemical Industries contributed a capital investment of 10,000,000 pounds sterling, plus its considerable technical assistance and knowledge, to build armament factories in South Africa. The United States supplied aircraft and other important weapons. France furnished Mirage jet fighters and air-to-ground missiles. La Carbone, a French armament concern, is setting up a firm in South Africa. Belgium granted South Africa license rights to manufacture the FN automatic rifle, which is standard equipment for NATO troops. West Germany supplied 63 troop carriers. Switzerland authorized the delivery of anti-aircraft guns, pistols, and ammunition to South Africa. The US Ford Motor Company has announced its intention to manufacture automobile engines in South Africa. However, an engine is an engine be it for a car or for a tank. Thus most of the suppliers of arms and ammunition have already secured their business rights inside South Africa and do not need to send arms to South Africa any more. South Africa’s current military spending is greater than the combined military budgets of the politically independent African States.

Foreign investments (from the various countries of the “free world”) contribute not only objectively but subjectively to maintaining and strengthening the regime of terror in the Republic of South Africa. On the one hand they stabilize South African industry, and on the other, new businesses are drawn into practicing the same racial policies even if reluctantly, since they have to obey the South African racial laws.

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