The Origin of Apartheid

In spite of world wide condemnation of the policies of the South African Government, the Nationalist Party, particularly since the end of the last world war, have gone from strength to strength, crowning success with their own bigoted brand of success. This consolidation of the political power of the Afrikaaner pays a perverted tribute to his fanaticism. The Afrikaaner has at last won the Boer War. The tribal complexity of the Afrikaaner, his aggressive unity, his hatred of the Uitlander, must be seen against the economic history of the Boers in South Africa.

From the very first days of landing on the shores of Africa in 1652, the mainly Dutch settlers were an oppressed colonial minority. After having established a strictly Calvinist peasant community at the Cape, they were forbidden by the Dutch Government to allow its use to any ship of a nationality other than Dutch, a restriction that brought them economic hardship. Also, the Dutch Government enforced enactments and imposed taxes that rarely took local conditions into account. With the weakening of the Dutch Government in 1795, the colonists took over the Cape and proclaimed their right to own slaves. This autonomy was short lived, for in 1806 the colony was seized by the British.

During the first years of the 19th century, the Bantu tribesmen began infiltrating into South Africa, and clashes took place between the Boers and the Bantu which led to the first Kaffir War of 1834 in which many Boers were massacred. Also, during this first year, the British Government forbade the Boers to own  the slaves, most of whom they had taken from Asia.

In an effort to once again regain their autonomy, between the years 1834 and 1840 the Boers trekked north and established the Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. But still they had to carry on the wars with the Bantu, and now at the same time they had to fight the British who had declared their occupation of the interior “illegal”. Eventually, the British came to the view that the cost of coercive forces was too high in relation to the return, and in 1852-53, they granted sovereignty to the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

The British Government immediately regretted their decision, for in 1853 gold and diamonds were discovered in the Boer Republics as well as great quantities of other minerals including coal, copper, manganese, chromite and asbestos. The friction between the British and the Boers was again renewed and culminated in the outbreak of the Boer War in which the Boers were “temporarily” defeated.

This is the legacy of violence that history has bequeathed to the modern political situation in South Africa, a tri-partite enmity between Boer, Bantu and British. Its framework was that of economic rivalry and material struggle, the southward expansion of the bantu, the attempts of the Boers to maintain a mainly peasant community, the arrogant imperialism of British commerce. The social cohesion of the Boers, expressed in terms of religion, language and so-called race, became their mode of survival. This was the basis of Afrikaaner nationalism.

But Afrikaaner nationalism is no longer supported by a peasant economy struggling for survival. The Boers themselves are now integrated into capitalist farming, and distribute their products through both national and world markets. Increasingly, this capitalist form of agriculture uses mechanised techniques as well as the technology of a large canning industry. As well as this, Afrikaaners are increasingly involved in industrial capitalism. The further South Africa’s economy develops, the more does Afrikaaner nationalism and apartheid become removed from the economic and historical background in which it was nurtured. Nevertheless, this body of prejudice is established as an ideological force in itself, impinging on the policies of the South African Government, even at a time when it can be shown—especially from the point of view of industry—that it is hindering development.

Apartheid or “separate development” is a bogus and hypocritical political contrivance. It caters for the emotionalism of nationalist nostalgia and is an electoral plank which covers the fears of most white workers. Most of the legislation brought in by the Nationalist Government in the name of “apartheid” is outrightly repressive and in defence of farming interests.

The battle that African workers wage in South Africa is beset by the most intimidating difficulties imaginable. They have no long-standing tradition of organisation. They suffer the “legal” hooliganism of police brutality, even to the extent of being shot down. There is a plentiful supply of cheap labour, making industrial pressure almost impossible, Even those who are employed live so near the borderline of starvation that strike action invokes the greatest hardship. The layout and siting of African townships is arranged to facilitate swift police or military reprisal. The machine gun or even air attack can be easily used without interference to the “white” population. Saracen armoured cars are frequently used to break up assemblies of African workers.

Ironically, the electoral support that maintains nationalist political power is what can only be regarded by tradition as an unholy alliance between voters of both Afrikaaner and British origin. It is political support that arises from the irrational fear of three and a quarter million Europeans in a country which also includes nearly fourteen million Bantu, Asiatics and Coloureds. Just as they were in the past, economic struggles in South Africa continue to be confused by and expressed in terms of “race” and “culture”.

The tortured situation in South Africa is a direct product of its tortured past, but men should learn from their history, not continue to be burdened by it.

Pieter Lawrence

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