IN April of last year, the African National Congress of South Africa launched a new campaign, calling for an economic boycott of all South African Nationalist (Government-supporting) firms. The aim of the movement is to hurt the South African Government economically, by hitting the farmers who in the main are Nationalist supporters, and thereby embarrassing the Government into altering their policy of Apartheid. With trade unions frowned upon and strikes by Africans, a criminal offence, non-white South Africans face real problems in putting pressure on Government, and the boycott was decided upon because it was a peaceful way of protesting against the Government’s policies.
From this relatively small beginning, the movement has spread to other countries. In Britain, the campaign to boycott South African goods has been taken up by the Liberal and Labour Parties, the T.U.C. and the Political Committee of the London Co-operative Society. Cooperative shops, however, have been advised by the Co-operative Union not to support the ban. The President of one Co-op. Society seemed to hit the nail on the head when he said that . . .” if the Society did boycott South African goods, their customers would only go to other shops for them.” (The Guardian. 27/1/60.),
Sir de Villiers Graaff, leader of the United (opposition) Party, in answer to the proposed boycott has called it “inadvisable, ineffective, and (it) would have dangerous consequences.” (Times. 4/1/60.) He went on to enumerate the reasons, starting by saying that such action would be regarded as interference with the internal policies of South Africa, leading to great resentment on the part of members of the South African public as a whole. “The question would then be asked,” he continued, “why South Africa should be selected for such treatment when the social systems and policies of many other countries must be equally, if not more, repugnant to British ideas. ‘
The British Press shows considerable sympathy towards the United Party, which they consider to be fairly liberal in its outlook, but the remarks of its leader are no different to those made in an interview by the late Mr. Strijdom. former Prime Minister in the Nationalist Government, on the general subject of Apartheid, in Ed Murrow’s documentary film African Conflict. They were typical remarks of a representative of capitalism or growing capitalism.
Although the boycott movement has gathered a large number of supporters, the movement’s leaders are not under any illusions about the results it might bring. Three of the boycott’s chief supporters in South Africa have admitted that it might hit at South African non-whites first but, they say, the alternative is “. . a bleak prospect of unending discrimination.” (Guardian 8/1/60.) Neither do they think that the Government will change its policies overnight.
It is estimated that some £100m. worth of South African goods are exported to Britain every year. Of this, about £35m. is accounted for by metal imports and diamonds, which are not easily boycotted by individual workers. The remainder, £65m. consists of fresh and tinned fruit (totalling £40m.) and wine, tobacco, sugar, wool and leather making up the balance. (Tribune 29/11/59.) Various estimates have been given of the value of goods which will be lost by the boycott—between £2m. and £6m.
Although the boycott shows the extent of indignation against the South African Government’s policies of brutal suppression of the Africans, it cannot hope to have more than a passing effect on South Africa. For the most part, white workers in South Africa are in a different position to African workers, as they enjoy a much higher standard of living, are apathetic to the lot of the Negro. They have never had it so good, generally speaking, and they are prepared to allow their consciences to rest while their black fellow-workers had never had it so bad.
The Africans form a vast, and mainly untapped, source of labour for the growing capitalism of South Africa. They are one of the most immature proletariats in the world, and their political disadvantages are immense, but they must eventually go through the stages of maturing into class-conscious workers. When they have reached this stage, it won’t be necessary to boycott South African goods in order for them to live dignified, wholesome lives.