How the Workers are Butchered on the Rand

Putumayo is not such ancient history that one person here and there, with an exceptional memory for grisly tales of barbarity and suf­fering, can with an effort recall something of the facts of that interesting case. The present writer endeavoured to show that the wave of indignation which swept over the land, from the Cabinet Ministers in our immaculate Parliament to the poet (!) (now deceased) who once stirred the nation’s soul with a deathless poem calling upon the British bulldogs to “Hurry Up for Pity Sake !” (the merit of which poem was handsomely acknowledged by it being printed on red cotton handkerchieves and sold at a price within the means of all who had a nose to wipe thereon) might well have been let loose over equally deserving happenings very much nearer home.

That statement did not meet with universal approval. It seemed incredble to some that those smart, jovial, silk-hatted gentlemen who rush to and fro between Park Lane and Throgmorton Street, and who carry so gracefully the knighthoods and honours heaped upon them by the Liberal Government, could ever be guilty, could even fall under suspicion of being guilty, of any such atrocities as those with which those strange-named servants of a British company turned the peaceful Putumayo into a river of blood and tears in a “Devil’s Paradise.”

Recent happenings in South Africa, however, in which British miners, and British soldiers, and British (!) capitalists, and British knights, and the highest of high officers of the British Crown, are concerned, show clearly enough that in all essentials, the “cultured” ones of our Western civilisation are quite aa capable, given the materials, as any Portugese half-breed in the pay of British capital, of creating a “Devil’s Paradise” of their own, with British blood and brawn, on the soil of the British Empire.

All the humbug of that sly old servant of Satan, W. E. Gladstone, who covered his mac­hinations in the interests of the ruling class with a slime of “moral” cant, in which the “wrongs” of the Balkan people quivering un­der the spiked and envenomed heel of “Abdul the Damned” were in particular made to be a mat, jealously guarded and preserved, for him to clean his begrimed boots on, has been, it seems, bequeathed in trust and with compound interest, to the Liberal party. While they are busy fulminating against the “White Slave Trader” at home, they are, with brutal cynicism, crowning the blood-reeking fortunes of South African millionaires with titles. So that the political funds of the “Great Liberal Party” may benefit, they make murder respectable by covering it with the cloak of knighthood. Those who do not know how, and at what cost of working class suffering and misery, these South African fortunes have been amassed, are invited to think over the scanty particulars reproduced from a Press which, under a system, fails to suppress much that they would for the simple reason that sensation (and advertise­ments) is their life’s blood.

“‘However healthy a Transvaal rock-drill man may appear to be on his return to this country,’ Dr. Haldane told the Departmental Committee on Industrial Diseases in 1907, ‘he will probably be dead within a year or two.'” (“Pall Mall Gazette,” 7.7.13.)

“The death rate of one section of the men who mine the gold—the machine men or rock drillers—is over 230 per thousand from one di­sease—miner’s phthisis—alone. Such a death rate from a single occupational disease must be unparalleled in the whole industrial world. It can only be compared with King Leopold’s Congo Free State.
“Speaking before a representative meeting of mining engineers in Johannesburgh in Septem­ber last Mr. Koetze, the Government mining engineer, said : ‘Sooner or later every worker underground in these mines will contract miner’s phthisis.’
“The practical result of commissions of in­quiry have been recommendations that water be used to keep down the dust which causes the disease. These recommendations have been urged upon the mineowners, in each case with the same result—utter callousness and neglect.”

These extracts were written by Dr. G. L. Ugmara, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., and were repro­duced in the “Morning Leader” for December 2, 1911.

“No less than 10,000 people die in these mines every.” (Mr. Merriman.)
“Miners’ phthisis is said to be due to the inhalation of fine dust which arises not merely from rock-drilling without the accompaniment of water, but also from the blasting operations with explosives. Last year more than 1,000 of 3,000 men examined by the Medical Commission were found to have phthisis. No rock-driller could work in the mines for sixteen years and escape it. Death took place as a rule before the age of forty. Here is a table which showed at that time how inevitable is the doom of any man who undertakes this work :—

Years of service> Percentage of men affected
10½ 80
13½ 90
16½ 100 ”

“Daily News.”

“Then all the miners and the population know that the mine owners are responsible in the same way for the death among the Kaffirs, which Mr. Sauer, the Minister for Native Affairs, has characterised, as regards the natives from tropical countries, as little short of murder. There was no need for any limitation in the phrase. The probability is that over 100,000 natives have been killed in the mines since the war.” (Mr. R. L. Outhwaite, M.P., in “Reynolds’s,” 6.7.13.)

There can be no escape from such a mass of evidence supplied by the capitalists’ own tools and fellows. Ten thousand victims in a year ! It would take a continent of Putumayos to equal this stupendous crime. When the war was rag­ing we were told that they were “painting the map red,” but never in those days of open and avowed slaughter were such libations of blood poured out to the “Imperial idea” as have been run out, as from a vast broken cask, every year since, to satisfy the blood-thirsty vampires of Park Lane, in the ultra-respectable West End of London.

It is the story of Whitehaven retold in more callous letters. There miners were hurled to death because it would cost their safe and com­fortable masters something to ventilate the mine in accordance with the first clause of their own Mines Act. On the Rand thousands of working-class lives are thrown away annually because it would absorb some of the knighted owners’ profits to spray with water in the process of rock-drilling, and to allow time for the dust to settle after a “blast” before the men returned to the “face.” It is the story of rubber retold, on a scale more in keeping with the dignity of the yellow commodity.

It cannot be pleaded that this wholesale mur­der of black and white is the work of a few of the capitalists alone. It is aided and connived at by the whole master class as such. How the British Government imposed a “hut tax” upon the natives whose land they had stolen, and sent a military force to enforce the payment of the paltry sums that could never pay the expense of collecting them, in order to drive the blacks into the mines to earn the money in which alone the taxes were payable, may not be entirely forgotten by some who do not especially treasure the memory of these curious incidents. It reads and looks and smells remarkably like some of the means resorted to by the “brigands” who cost virtuous England the price of a special commission and a House of Commons inquiry. Ten thousand victims a year ! Oh, the stinking hypocrisy of the howl that greeted the revela­tion of the Peruvian atrocities !

The war which was engineered in order that the mine owners might squeeze another four million pounds profit per annum out of the writhing and quivering carcases of their white and black slaves was the work of a Tory administration, but it was reserved for a Liberal Government to make the Transvaal a “self-governing” colony, in order that they might be able to say when miners were to be butchered on the Rand : “We cannot interfere.” Strange, is it not, that when the Outlanders were supposed to be writhing in agony under the hidignity of be­ing without the franchise, the fact that they were under a foreign Government did not pre­vent the full armed might of the British Empire being used to “see them righted,” but now that these miners are being massacred in cold blood by troops provided and paid by the British Government, under the direction of a high officer of the British Crown, on soil painted red” with the blood of ten thousand British soldiers, nothing can be done because the Transvaal is a self-governing British colony !

I say nothing about the lives lost in the so-called rioting. Where life is held so cheap it seems little enough to make a bother about. But whose estimate of working-class life is it that counts ten thousand workers lives as of less importance than the cost of providing safe conditions for the mining of 40 million pounds worth of gold ? Think of that great army of workers—men of your own class—who must march to death to produce one year’s output of gold from South African mines. Ten thousand of them, black and white. For every million pounds 250 lives. We have been nurtured on grim and hauntihg pictures of the unspeakable Arab slave-caravans, but was ever anything more appalling enacted in all Africa than is en­acted by these silk-hatted brigands of Park Lane, West ?

Fellow workers, very guarded must be the language of the revolutionary who would criti­cise those who engineered a great war in order to grab the mines, who have butchered you on a hundred shambles from Peterloo and Featherstone to Llanelly and the Rand, who waste your lives by raising the loadline of ships, and by refusing to adopt automatic couplings on the railways, who murder you by thousands for the mere cost of ventilating coal mines at home and spraying the dust in the mines of South Africa. To speak too plainly of these things is to ask to be sent to prison, for those who set so little store on your lives have taken every cunning care to so hedge about their victims with laws and armed force that they must die almost unheard. Hence much must be left to the reader’s imagination. But attention is directed to that clause in our Declaration of Principles which declares that the “armed forces of the nation exist only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers”. Its contradiction, in the face of every military action since the war, from Sir George White’s (the “hero” o£ Ladysmith) smashing of the coal por­ters’ strike at Gibraltar to the latest gun-boat demonstration at Leith and cold-blooded butc­hery in the streets of Johannesburgh, is here challenged. It cannot be seriously and truth­fully contradicted.

If this is true, then it is true also that the hope of the workers lies in obtaining control of those armed forces by capturing political power.

That is the way out—the Socialist way. First to deprive the murder class of political control by ceasing to elect them and their Labour allies to Parliament—electing Socialists instead—then by expropriating them and establishing the Socialist Commonwealth. There is no other way.


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