1960s >> 1968 >> no-770-october-1968

Background to Apartheid

The system of Apartheid thought out and applied by the National Party regime in South Africa is a consciously racist one. There is a long history of repressive and discriminatory legislation aimed against the ‘‘non-white’’, and in particular the African population. The National Party under its leaders Hertzog, Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd reduced the limited representation of the none-white population until today it is non-existent.

In an effort to stem the rising nationalist fervour among Africans and prevent the consolidation of opposition forces, as represented by the African and Indian National Congresses, and elements of the “Communist” and Liberal Parties, the government has extended the normal ruling class policy of divide and rule to include actual geographical separation. There have thus been created so-called “Bantustans” which, as a scheme on paper, has been so often used by the hypocritical supporters of Apartheid as a conscience absolver. In fact the “Bantustans” or “Black Homelands” amount to nothing more than a large number of scattered reserves covering about one seventh of South Africa’s territory, much of it of the poorest quality. Claims by the National Party as to the self-governing nature of the reserves are quite false.

The self-set task of the government has been not so much the preservation of the traditional African tribal system as its re-creation. Much of the tribal system was destroyed long ago by military defeat in a series of wars waged against conquest, as well as by the widespread adoption of Christianity. If the government had directed all the resources of the state into a genuine attempt to build up the remnants of the tribal society, it may have halted the clock for a while, but it could not have turned it back. As it was they were unwilling to lose the economic advantage of African farm and factory workers, not to mention personal lackeys. The result has only been to continue and sharpen the internal strife, with the government becoming more desperate and openly repressive in their attempts to safeguard the dominance of the Afrikaner farmer class.

Inevitably the already restricted freedom of speech and press has been removed in an effort to bolster the apartheid regime. Both the African and Indian National Congress that had been so successful in breaking down political apathy among farmers and workers are now banned. One of the most far reaching attacks on democracy made by the government has been the Suppression of Communism Act. The wide definition given to ‘communism’ and the absolute authority given to the Minister has meant its use against any and all opponents of the regime. Govan Mbeki, the author of The Peasants Revolt was detained in solitary confinement for two months under this law before being acquitted of the charge against him. He was only one of many African political organisers to be subjected to this same sort of treatment. Radio and the press are also subject to censorship and the introduction of television is actively resisted by the S. African state.

In the field of education the non-white population is at a serious disadvantage both through the type and amount available, though education for white workers is warped in many spheres, in particular that of race. A large number of distortions appear in the history textbooks provided for both white and non-white pupils. Two myths in particular are widely believed, namely that the Dutch landed in an empty territory, and that clashes with African tribes were always violent, with massacres of innocent unsuspecting whites by the Africans. This is in complete contradiction to the accounts of many early travellers. The addition of “race studies” to many school curricula has been fraught with danger from the very beginning, though perhaps more for what it left out, than for what it included. There is for instance a high percentage of space devoted to “Bantu tribal life in the reserves” but very little to “Bantu in Urban Areas” which has resulted in the whole picture becoming distorted, and most white children left utterly ignorant of the industrial shanties and slums, and the general frustrations suffered by non-white workers.

The policy of Apartheid has been, and continues to be, a definite hindrance to industrial expansion in South Africa. While it has provided a vast supply of cheap unskilled labour, it has ignored the pressures of world competition toward the need for increased technical skill and specialisation. The National Bureau for Educational and Social Research reported in 1962 a shortage of 12 per cent among junior scientists, and 10 per cent among professional engineers without taking account of posts filled by inadequately trained labour. In its annual Economic Review the South African Reserve Bank drew attention to “an insufficient supply of certain classes of skilled manpower. Such shortages were evident, for example, in the building, iron and steel, general engineering and motor industries”. The Minister of Education, forecast a shortage of 1,500 doctors in 1965, and this in a field which has been more open to Africans than other professions. Capitalist groans at this state of affairs have been echoed by the National Developments Foundation of South Africa, as the following speech by Dr. F. Meyer, its President demonstrates:

  Why cannot we increase productivity and bring down the cost of living? Why cannot we modernise our factories? Why cannot we improve or expand our marketing and selling? and hundreds of similar questions you may ask. The answers arc all the same, namely: because we do not have the trained managerial executive and technical manpower to plan, organize and administer these things. The opportunities are there. We can get the money, the materials and the equipment, but we cannot lay our hands on the trained manpower to turn ideas into action.

It may fairly be said that the capitalist class in South Africa are for the most part opposed to the strict apartheid measures that have been applied, even though their representation on the political field, through first the Unionist and later the United Party, has been one of compromise with the numerically predominant Afrikaner Nationalists currently entrenched in the seat of power The more radical Progressive Party and the now dissolved Liberal party forthrightly called for a multi-racial South Africa taking an attitude very similar to that put forward by W. H. Hutt in his The Economics of the Colour Bar published in 1964 — “When we buy a product in the free market we do not ask about the sex, race, nationality or political opinions of the producer. All we are interested in is whether it is good value for money”.

In spite of the ideology of Apartheid and its associated practices, the complete separation of people into tribal and ethnic groupings has proved impossible. With such a closely integrated economic structure, and with all the important harbour facilities, the best arable land, and mineral wealth owned by “white” people, it could not have been otherwise. Hampered as they arc industrialisation and urbanisation continue. in many cases with restrictive employment laws being openly breached. Between 1962 and 1964 the African population of Johannesburg increased from 609,100 to 706,389. Increasing numbers are being recruited through the labour bureaux in the Transkei. The figures are endless, all of them testify to the impossibility of complete separation. They reveal the policy of apartheid as a scheme for the subjection of non-white farmers and workers in the interests of Afrikaner farmers.

That the capitalist class will gain political as well as economic control of South Africa is inevitable. The question remains—when and how. Should the National Party remain in power, unwilling to make any sort of compromise then violence will be the only alternative—a bloody revolt will commence, the result of stifled opinion and pent-up frustrations of years of racism.

Michael Bradley