In South Africa since 1948 the tide of. political events has been with the Nationalists. During the 12 years since that time, under three leaders—Malan, Strijdom, and now, Verwoerd—they have consolidated and strengthened their hold on the reins of Government. Since that time, against the hostility of the world’s press and against the indignation of even the least liberally minded person, they have exerted political power with arrogant confidence and militancy.
A single word has dominated all political discussion related to South Africa since 1948—Apartheid. Nationalists didn’t invent the word, but in a political context they gave it a new meaning. In theory at least, the Nationalists are the architects and dedicated builders of Apartheid.
Yet even Nationalists have seen their , “cause” in various ways; to Strijdom, it had been a heaven-inspired dedication, the only political means through which the whites of South Africa could “survive.” Mr. Verwoerd, the present Prime Minister, has attempted to hide the crude body of Apartheid under a cloak of sophistication. With the best will in the world, he maintains, policies of integration could never work in South Africa. White and black are in every respect quite antithetical. In terms of race and social custom, morality and values, they each stand as the other’s opposite, and only policies which take these “facts” into consideration are likely to succeed in South Africa. One respects the separate properties of oil and water, he says, but only folly pours them into the same bucket and expects them to mix readily. Mr. Verwoerd appreciates like no other that oil must float on top of water.
The shrewder political observer knows that so-called Apartheid is a vicious and hate-filled lie. It is the rallying call which even in 1960 can muster the whole history and traditions of Afrikaners solidly behind the Nationalists. In Apartheid, Verwoerd and his colleagues have an emotionally-charged word upon which they successfully conduct their political campaigns. Certainly Apartheid was never an honest and practical policy. Nevertheless, pressed by intellectuals of the Nationalist Party, and the weight of their own propaganda, the Government appointed the Tomlinson Commission to recommend a practical way of putting Apartheid into effect. It was to work out a plan for removing eight million Negroes living in white areas into the already over-populated Negro reserves. In 1956 the Commission reported, and as an early start, envisaged that the Government should begin industries in the reserves with an assistance fund of £25 million. In the longer term, they recommended a 10 year plan costing £104 million. Yet even though many Nationalists were critical of the Commission’s report for not going far enough, the Government squashed all its key recommendations as being too costly, drastic and ambitious. ‘
Yet all this does not mean that the Nationalists have not been busy. Even from a liberal reformist standpoint, the Nationalists have shown themselves as one of the world’s most reactionary Governments, struggling hard to hold the clock still, if not to move it back.
The turmoil of South African politics reflects not ’’race conflicts’’ but economic conflicts. Some Nationalist politicians may well feel heroically cast as the guardians of “white survival,” but to translate this into less romantic terms, and to judge them from the real social and economic effects of their policies, they are revealed as the political power of landed interests whose role is to maintain a cheap and abundant supply of labour in farming areas. This has necessarily brought them into conflict with urban industrial capitalists who complain that Nationalist policies are a fetter upon further expansion.
The most important legislation brought in by the Nationalists in recent years has brought about the removal of the Coloured voters from the Electoral Roll and the oppressive Pass laws. Also it included the Group Areas Act and the Bantu Education Act. With the removal of the Coloured voters from the Electoral Roll, the last vestige of democratic participation was taken from all who were not white. With the Bantu Education Act, the Nationalists stopped what formal education was being bestowed upon the Negro population, mainly through Church Schools. They clearly saw this teaching of the “three R’s” as being in the long term adjusted to the needs of a proletariat being slowly integrated into the labour force of a technical community. For decades, but particularly since 1945, the Negroes in South Africa, pushed by their hard conditions as agricultural labourers, have been emigrating to the towns. Seeing in these movements a possible threat to the farmers’ labour supply, the Nationalists, with the Group Areas Act and the Pass laws, have arrested the free mobility that African Negroes once enjoyed. It is now a criminal offence for a Negro to move into an urban area and stay there for longer than 72 hours.
Currently, the Government has brought in legislation to provide for eight “Bantustans.” These will be areas wholly given over to Negro population and, under the administration of the Negroes themselves, claim the Government, adding, of course, that all aspects of policy and the appointment of officials would be subject to government control. The proposals have been variously received. Nationalists claim them as the beginning of the real fulfilment of Apartheid—”a homeland in which the native people can live their own political, economic and cultural lives.” (Johannesburg Star, 16/2/59). The Institute of Race Relations charges the plan with being a means of dividing up the Negroes on reserves and holding them more widely scattered, in smaller units.
Of all the things that they might eventually be, the Bantustans will never add up to Apartheid in practice. The measures do not disturb the millions of Negroes who live outside the reserves and upon whose labour the South African economy has come to depend.
The complaints from capitalists have been many and almost daily a dark shadow of early economic ruin is drawn behind Nationalist policies. To the urban industrialists, so-called Apartheid means high wages to white semi-skilled workers, where Negroes would do the job more enthusiastically for a third the wage. It means enormous additions to industrial overheads especially for the provision of extra buildings and workshops, exits and entrances, toilets, canteens and washing facilities, all politically necessary but economically superfluous. It means only the weakest trickle of capital from abroad, whilst foreign investors, especially Americans, await a complete re-orientation of Government policy. Apartheid places the South African economy in a straight-jacket, whilst industrialists look on in bewildered frustration at seeing a vast reservoir of Negro labour being greedily retained as mere farm labourers.
In the modern world, all this stands as a unique situation born of a unique history. Today the Nationalists may wallow in the nostalgia of Boer tradition, couched as it is in bitter enmity for the Negro and the British, for the Boers suffered greatly from both the once proud Bantu and the more crafty British imperialists. It was the British who first seized from the Boers the Cape for use as a trade route and later, after winning the Boer War, seized the Transvaal and Orange Free State for control over the gold, diamonds and other rich mineral resources. Their anti-British attitudes are still obvious in recent legislation. God Save the Queen is no longer the official South African National Anthem, and many Nationalist leaders are ambitious for a republic.
The Afrikaners themselves are changing. Calvinist to the core, from their lofty tower of Dutch peasant morality, they always viewed money-making as sinful, especially the hungry and avaricious scramble after South African gold and diamonds. But today their agriculture is integrated into a world marketing system and the farmers themselves submit annual returns in which they necessarily calculate their financial return over and above their investment. Moreover, they have sunk money into canning plants and arc participating to an ever greater degree in the South African economy outside agriculture.
As their interests become more outrightly bourgeois, their morality and theology will inevitably adjust itself. At that time, the Nationalists will either have to go or will be forced to change fundamentally their political form. Recently reported splits among the leadership of the Nationalist Party indicate wide divergences in ideology and the possible beginning of a change in outlook. In the long term, one can only think that the class line-up in South Africa will resolve itself into an uncomplicated division between capitalists and workers. When that time arrives, the hate and fanatic prejudices of the Nationalists which rub against the humanist sensitivities of reasonable minded people like salt in an open wound, wilt be swept aside by braver cries of one world, one people, one mutual interest.