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Labor Action, 30 December 1946


An Exclusive Report to Labor Action
from the Land of Smuts

Indian Minority Rejects
South African Ghetto


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 52, 30 December 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We are pleased to print below a contribution from one of our readers in South Africa. It presents in graphic vividness and detail the situation of the Indian minority in South Africa. Our readers may remember that this issue arose recently at the United Nations meetings, where the Indian delegation accused South Africa of practicing racial discrimination against its Indian minority. That self-righteous apostle of democratic phrases and imperialist behavior, Jan Smuts, defended South Africa.

This article is a thorough exposure of the system of racial discrimination which Smuts – often hailed by starry-eyed liberals as a great democrat – defends. Together with another article which appeared three weeks back in Labor Action detailing the conditions of the people in South Africa, we gain a vivid and damning portrait of what life means for those peoples under the rule of imperialist domination.Editor.


The Indian population of South Africa, now numbering some 250,000 people, came to this country in the 1860s as indentured laborers, to work on the sugar plantations of Natal.

They came on the understanding that they would be allowed permanent residence and were guaranteed citizenship rights after their period of indenture had ended. But the imperialist ruling class forgot this guarantee soon enough. In 1895 Indians were disfranchized by the Natal government: inter-provincial immigration was made illegal in 1913. Thus began the series of restrictions whereby the white ruling class intended to force the Indian population into the chains of segregation in which they have imprisoned the African and colored people.

The Indian population is not a homogeneous one, for although the bulk of its 195,000 people in Natal are plantation laborers, most of the 31,000 Indians in the Transvaal, and the 13,000 Indians in the Cape are small hawkers, small traders and merchants.

The Indian people still differ from the bulk of their non-European oppressed brothers by being allowed to own land. Yet even this concession is infinitesimal; in Durban, for example, the huge Indian population owns only 4 per cent of the land. But the following facts illustrate even more clearly the land-ownership by Indians. In 1940, the average property per head owned by Europeans’ was £447.19.9 sterling, and by Indians £43.4.11. Obviously enough, the menace of Indian penetration, conjured up by the ruling class to cloak their segregatory legislation for the Indian people, is a facade to cover their real aims, which are, in time, to deprive the Indian people of all rights whatever.

The Pegging Act of 1943

Until the new Indian Pegging Act of 1943 Indians were allowed to own and occupy property and land in Natal. In the Transvaal too, they were allowed to own land in areas exempted by parliament (naturally the gold-proclaimed areas in the Transvaal were prohibited to them). But the new act restricts them from owning land to a far greater degree than ever before. In the Orange Free State, Indians are allowed neither to enter the province nor to own land there. The ruling class hopes to imprison the Indian people in reserves and locations, as they have done to the African people.

There are, already, at least sixty-five different laws restricting the rights of Indians. These show conclusively the government policy of segregation and deprivation toward the Indian people. The Marketing and Land Occupation Act, 1937, for example, gives the government extraordinary powers to expropriate Indian-owned land in rural areas; the Housing Act, 1934, gives the power of expropriation; the Pegging Act, 1943, restricts their rights of purchase; the Natal Housing Board Ordinance, 1945, consummates the program for residential segregation in that province. Indians have never been allowed to enter municipal libraries, or European hotels or trains or cinemas. The sign “Europeans Only” excludes all Indians from participation in cultural life and from every profession except that of teaching. In all these spheres, segregation is complete.

The Indian merchant is feeling the blows of the predatory ruling class in its effort to exclude him from the sphere of business and land-ownership. The Indian worker has always been the exploited slave of the white ruling class. As the docile and cheap indentured immigrant from India, his slave labor on the sugar plantations of Natal built up the super-profits of the sugar industrialists.

Severity of Plantation Life

Although today less than 4 per cent of the Indian population is employed on the sugar estates, the bulk of workers now being made up of Africans, the 7,500 Indian laborers still on the sugar-plantations are a group as super-exploited and degraded as their African co-laborers. Plantation work in all its severity and harshness is part of their daily lives.

Conditions on the estates are not revealed, but may be gauged from the following facts: “... payment is arranged on the task system, which is widely adopted. Each task consists of 3,000 lbs. of cane, burned, cut, and loaded into trucks: thirty of these tasks constitute a month’s work and earn on the average 2 pounds sterling ...” (Burrows: Indian Life and Labor in Natal) Back-breaking labor and super-exploitation have built up the Natal sugar industry.

The average Indian worker in other employment earns the wretchedly low wage of $6 per week, while rural workers in Natal (9 per cent of the total Indian population in the Union) earn $12 per month.

The Indian workers are not allowed membership in European trade unions, except in a very few unions in Natal, such as the Natal Liquor and Catering Trade Employees Union, which consists of 2,115 Indians and only 392 Europeans. Apprenticeship is discouraged and Indian youths are not allowed to attend technical classes (available for Europeans only), and are thereby automatically excluded from acquiring skilled trades. Thus the white labor policy affects the Indian workers in the same way as it affects the other non-European groups.

Nor are the educational facilities for Indian children better than the facilities for the non-European children as a whole. Education for Indian children is neither compulsory nor free. Only 15.5 per cent of the children receive any education at all. The standard of literacy is extremely low.

The Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act of 1946 makes it impossible for Indians to live in any other than segregated areas, locations where housing and health needs are cynically ignored and neglected by the ruling class. Already the bulk of the Indian homes in Natal are merely shacks, with a family in each room, with terrible repercussions on sanitation, hygiene and health.

Poverty and degradation are the crushing stigmas of Indian life.

“The total income of Indians in Natal is assessed at between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 pounds sterling or 1/10½ a day per head. Although the percentage of income spent on food is high, malnutrition is rife and many do not receive a sufficient quantity of food ...” (Aiyar: Conflict of Races in South Africa)

The health of the Indian masses, especially in Natal, is poor. The death rate for 1941 was 13.11 per 1,000 in Natal alone. Chest diseases, particularly pneumonia and tuberculosis are the main causes of death, showing succinctly enough that poverty, lack of decent clothing and bad diet are the main causes.

The new act of 1945 (called the Ghetto Act by the Indian people), shows definitely the future of segregation and degradation that the ruling class and all white parties hold out for the Indian masses. All sections vie with each other to insert new segregatory laws against them in the Union’s Constitution. Indians have been denied parliamentary provincial and municipal votes on the Common Roll in all but the Cape province, where they were allowed restricted franchise rights. But with the passing of the new Ghetto Act all hopes of Indians ever attaining the franchise were ground to dust.

Indians will be represented under the new act, like the African people, by two European Senators and three European M.P.’s and two members on the Natal provincial council. There will be a separate voters roll for them, based on educational and property qualifications higher than those demanded of any other group.

The ruling class has changed its tactics with regard to the Indian people. Formerly they covered their real aims with laudatory phrases. Now they come out for open oppression. They used to speak in the words of Senator Clarkson (Minister of the Interior) : “... the Indians are national citizens of the Union and as such are deserving of all the rights enjoyed by the European population ...” (Address to Durban City Council.) But for the benefit of the wider European public they stated: “... the Indians have never yet been accepted as a permanent part of our population ... Ultimate repatriation has never yet been abandoned by the Union of South Africa which confined the Indians to Natal ...” (H. Abrahamson, United Party M. P. Natal Witness: Aug. 24, 1943)

Today, however, the inroads of the ruling class into the last remaining hopes of the Indian people are naked and ruthless. Their policy is clear – deprivation of all remaining privileges and thrusting the Indian masses into the merciless chains of the Color-Bar, segregation and servitude.

Indian People Resist New Act

But the Indian people are resisting this new vicious attack. Even the conservative leadership of the South African Indian Congress has been forced to reject the new Ghetto Act in toto, and has refused to cooperate with the government in implementing it. The spirit of resistance permeates the Indian masses and is firing them to sacrifice themselves in the struggle against the act.

But the Indian leadership, consisting of “Stalinist-Gandhiists” and fellow-travelling merchants is draining the resistance energy of the masses. Instead of calling and working for a united front of all three oppressed non-European groups in the Union (African, Colored, Indian), and cementing them into a broad-sweeping unity movement for complete national liberation and full democratic rights for all, the Stalinist traitors deceive the Indian masses with the false Gandhiist slogans of passive resistance, with appeals to the robber United Nations, with looking to “Mother India,” herself shackled by Imperialism, for aid.

Over 1,400 Indian youths, students, women and workers have already courageously and willingly allowed themselves to be arrested and imprisoned for 1–3 months for trespassing on municipal land, where the passive resisters squat every evening. In the course of the struggle they have had to endure the most rigorous prison conditions and the brutality of the police, the naked hostility of the vast majority of the whites and the hooliganism of white hoodlums.

But this campaign is used by the leadership of the Natal Indian Congress and the Passive Resistance Councils of Natal and Transvaal to divert the furious spirit of resistance amongst the Indian masses. This spirit of resistance could be turned, by a really revolutionary leadership, into the channels of a real mass movement, drawing. in all the non-European oppressed, but the Stalinist poisoned leadership has turned the energy of the Indian masses into an isolated struggle cursed with all the Gandhiist principles of “salvation through individual suffering.”

Whole Setup at Stake

But the struggle against the new assaults on the existence of the Indian people can and will only call into question the whole barbaric regime of color-bar despotism, of segregation, which Smuts and his government and opposition impose on the non-European masses. This is the regime that Smuts, the great world statesman who drafted the sugary preamble to the United Nations Charter, who is the screeching defender of white Christian civilization, upholds so callously in that place where callousness and robbery have reached new heights – the UNO.

It is only on the basis of this regime of terror, violence and color discrimination and racial oppression that a Smuts can strut the world stage with his hypocritical idealism and abominable lies. Every time he mouths his hollow ideals about fundamental human rights and the greatness of democracy he and his masters spit upon them in South Africa. Thus is expressed the nature of modern imperialist statesmanship.

The basic and fundamental task in South Africa, the first essential step to be taken in the direction of mass struggle, which is the only way of fighting back victoriously against the arrogant imperialist slave-drivers, is to awaken the fury of the non-European masses as a whole. The non-European people, and especially the super-oppressed and super-exploited African toilers who constitute the bulk of the non-Europeans in the Union, must be driven into a mass political opposition against the white ruling class. A national liberation movement of non-European oppressed must be mobilized, with the African masses as its spinal column.

This can be achieved only by exposing the treacherous policy of the Communist (Stalinist) Party, which is leading the Indian and African national organizations into the narrow and dangerous swamps of isolated struggle and which is using the groaning and suffering non-European peoples in the Kremlin’s interests of embarrassing British imperialism.

Only the Trotskyists in South Africa have advocated this vital political and historical necessity of forming a broad non-European, movement. This is the only means whereby the non-European masses of South Africa, feeling the bludgeon blows of imperialism on their existence, will find the means of liberation from imperialism and its segregation shackles. Only in this way will the fight for full equality, full democratic rights and liberties be won.

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