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Fourth International, July 1940



African Slaves of Imperialism


From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 3, July 1940, pp. 75–78.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE NEGRO in the United States knows little about the Bantu in South Africa, but the Bantu knows still less about his black brother in the New World. There are many reasons for this. The South African natives are, incredible as it may sound, much more oppressed than the American Negroes. There is no daily press in the native language, and even if there were, only a tiny minority could afford to buy it, and not many more could read it, for education is deliberately denied to a great majority of the Bantu. The backwardness of life in the Reserves (the so-called native territories) is artificially maintained, the conditions in the mine compounds are prison conditions, and the black workers on the white men’s farms are slaves in all but name. And in any case all the information about the American Negro that the Bantu gets in “his” weeklies (all of course belonging to an imperialist publishing concern) is about the successes of Joe Louis or Paul Robeson, with an occasional article in this strain:

“Within forty-five years of his emancipation he had risen to the highest level that America could afford its inhabitants. Negro development is now at par with that of other sections of the American community.”

The problems confronting the Negro in the States and the Bantu in South Africa are the same. Compare the urbanised Bantu to the lowest strata of the Negro in the North, and the rural Bantu to the Negro in the South, and you have the essence of these problems.

Let us look first of all at the statistical aspect of the Bantu problem. The latest census of 1936 gives the population of the Union of South Africa as 9,588,665, made up of 6,597,241 Bantu, 2,003,512 Europeans, 767,984 mixed Colored, and 219,928 Asiatics. Of the Europeans 1,307,000 live in urban areas and 696,000 in rural areas. Of the Bantu 1,150,000 live in urban areas (town locations) and 5,448,000 in rural areas. (The scope of this article does not permit us to deal with the other non-Europeans.) If we consider the million urban Bantu as permanent or casual workers, domestic servants and some petty-bourgeois, we are left with nearly 5½ million peasants. But most of these peasants are without land. According to statistics 3 million of them are crammed into the Reserves, and the remainder are altogether landless, living as farm laborers, labor tenants and squatters on the European-owned farms. The actual position becomes clear when we place beside these figures the corresponding distribution of land. Out of the total area of 143 million morgen [1] the Europeans have seized 126 million, and the Bantu are left with 17 million, which is partly individual property and partly in communal tribal ownership. While the density of the rural population in the Union is 14.07 per square mile, in the Transkei (Reserves) it is 71.46 per square mile. Today the Reserves are denuded territories in which only the women, children and old people live, because at any one time 60 per cent of all able-bodied men are absent, either in the mines or on the farms of the white men. The Reserves export only one commodity – labor power.

Comparison: Bantu and Negro in South

The Negro reader will find nothing new in an article on the struggles of the Bantu. He need only turn to his South to find all the familiar features – slavery, peonage, segregation, color barriers, and terror against the blacks. In both countries the life of a black man is worth next to nothing. The periodical lynchings may attract more attention and arouse more “liberal” indignation than the periodical shootings in South Africa, but there is no essential difference between them. They arise from the same cause – the black man’s helpless position; they are both intended to teach the “Nigger” or the “Kaffir” where his place is; and in both cases the results are the same – the black man loses his life, and the white assailant escapes with a fine of a few dollars or a few pounds. Class justice is class justice, whether it is in Alabama or in Vereeniging. Aren’t they both democratic states? Haven’t we the same western capitalist civilization?

Slavery is supposed to have been abolished in South Africa as far back as 1834. But it still exists, though it is not becoming to say so, as the Speaker in Parliament remarked. You may call it “adscripti glebae.” It doesn’t sound so bad. But in spite of the industrial revolution that has taken place since the Great Trek, in spite of the discovery of gold and diamonds, in spite of the Boer War, in which feudalism was defeated by capitalism, the Voortrekker who refused to accept the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1834 is still the major force confronting the Bantu in South Africa. The gigantic centenary celebrations of the Voortrekkers, lasting a whole year (1938), show how the decaying, cowardly capitalism of the 20th century is ready, here as elsewhere, for any foul compromise with feudalism at the expense of the exploited and oppressed.

Policy of Segregation

The history of South Africa since 1834 is the history of struggles and rotten compromises between capitalism and feudalism, in which the Bantu were invariably the pawns, for the struggles centered chiefly around the question of cheap native labor. It may be briefly characterized as the history of Segregation. The question of Segregation, more than any other question, has dominated the political arena and exercised the ingenuity of white South Africa. The term has various meanings, depending on the economic interests of the several social strata of the population. Some would like to have it both ways, to have their cake and eat it; they would like to have a “pure white South Africa” and at the same time to live on the labor of the black man.

It is from the university professors and students, from the poor whites and from the predicants (clergymen of the Dutch Reformed Church) that the cry comes for complete segregation – ”South Africa must be made safe forever as a white man’s country.” It is those who do not live directly on the profits and super-profits derived from native labor who are demanding that the Bantu be completely segregated, driven out of the country somewhere, north to the Kalahari Desert, where he could “lead his own life and work out his own destiny”! The South African Labour Party, the party of the white labor aristocracy, joins the Stellenbosch professors in this demand for complete segregation, or complete separation, as the party program puts it. The idea has also taken root in certain sections of the Bantu intelligentsia as a logical reaction to the “total absence of any community of interest between black and white.”

On the other hand the industrial capitalists, who need a free labor force and a developed internal market, are opposed to the extension of segregation beyond the social sphere. A white South Africa is all very well, but it must not interfere with the supply of cheap native labor and the accumulation of super-profits.

Midway between these two is the feudal class of the white landowners, who would like to have it both ways. The white farmer hates the Bantu with the hatred of the slave-owner for the slave. He hates his presence on the land, reminding him always of who is the rightful owner. And because he knows that the hatred is mutual, he fears the Bantu. He therefore concentrates all his activities on devising ways and means to keep the “Kaffir” in his place, to perpetuate and ensure the enslavement of the Bantu. The legislation of South Africa since the Union was founded in 1910, and especially during the last five years, the reign of the Fusion Government [2] marks the victory of these feudal landowners, and the capitulation of capitalism in this sphere, or what Hertzog called the “final solution of the native question in South Africa.”

If the extreme segregation policy of the Stellenbosch professors, the predicants of the Dutch Reformed Church, the white Labour Party, etc., has not been adopted, it is not because the majority of the white ruling class think it too extreme – they have no moral objections to the policy of complete extermination adopted by the conquistadors 300 years ago – but because it is Utopian, because life proves it to be impossible. They hate the natives, but they must have him. Without him they cannot work the fields and orchards, the mines and factories. This cheap native labor – it costs next to nothing! – is the foundation of the whole of South African agriculture, the whole of the mining industry (the personnel includes only 10 percent of whites, who are employed as supervisors and skilled workers), 60 percent of industry and 40 percent of transport. Can the capitalists and landowners think of complete segregation when 400,000 native miners receive three-quarters of the amount paid to 47,000 European miners, when some farmers pay a native laborer three shillings per month, and ten shillings per month is considered by them to be a decent wage, worth boasting about in Parliament?

Break-up of Bantu Tribal System

The first invaders could not be satisfied with defeating the Bantu, robbing him of his land and pushing him further north into Reserves, but had to subjugate and enslave him, and compel him to work the land for the benefit of the conquerors. The following generations had to pursue more and more this policy of enslavement to secure cheap native labor, for presently a powerful competitor came into the field. The discovery of diamonds and gold, and the industrial revolution which followed it, the development of railway transport, of coal mining and engineering, upset the pastoral-agricultural economy of South Africa. The resulting rush from the country to the fast-growing towns, and the ever-growing and insatiable demand for cheap native labor threatened the very existence of the white land owners, who until then had been the sole masters and employers of Bantu slave and serf labor. The farmers came into conflict with the mining and industrial capitalists, with whom they have ever since been struggling for control of native labor. The Bantu could no longer be enticed to the farms by the pretense of satisfying his hunger for land, and so other methods had to be adopted to teach him the “dignity of labor.” Taxation proved the most successful, and this was strongly supplemented by the forcing of industrial products on the natives, and by a mighty recruiting system to eliminate individual competition and prevent wages from rising. The results were highly successful for imperialism and the land-owning class. The ruling classes became richer; their standard of living rose higher and higher. On the other hand it resulted in a breaking up of the old Bantu life. The tribal system with all the old Bantu traditions and customs (good and bad) has disintegrated. The Bantu has been uprooted from his old tribal and family life, from his economy, without receiving in compensation any of the benefits of the so-called European system and civilization.

The fast breaking up of tribal life, and the increasing migration of the Bantu from the Reserves and the farms to the towns alarmed the slave-owners. At all costs must the Bantu be kept in subjection and slavery and ignorance. At all costs must he be excluded from town life, from European civilization, from knowledge of the class struggle, from destructive Communism. Back to tribalism, back to the Reserves and farms, to “develop on his own lines.” This became the battle cry of the landowners. Segregation acquired a new meaning.

Hertzog’s Native Policy

Fusion represented a victory for the landowners on the question of native policy. Hertzog had his native Bills ready as early as 1925, but he had to wait for ten years before Fusion gave him the opportunity to see them through. The legislation that was passed during the last four years was not only the crowning of Hertzog’s career (he was rightly celebrated and hailed by the ruling classes as the saviour of white South Africa, the guardian of white civilization), but it also dealt a shattering blow to the old Bantu organizations and leaders, who were leaning on the imperialists and the liberals, and relying on their promises of gradual reforms through the enlightenment of white public opinion. At the same time the attempted resistance of the “left” groupings and the All-African Convention was frustrated by the Stalinists, who at that time were desperately clinging to the People’s Front with the white liberals and the white chauvinistic Labour Party – that same party which complained that Hertzog’s Bills did not go far enough.

Hertzog’s native policy, which was adopted by Parliament almost without opposition, is embodied in his Native Acts and rests on four corner stones: (1) political segregation, (2) territorial segregation, (3) economic and social segregation, and (4) educational segregation. The first three are secured by the three Acts, the fourth by an administrative measure.

Native Representation Act Destroys Political Rights of Bantu

The purpose of the Native Representation Act was to deprive the Bantu of the last vestiges of political rights that he still enjoyed in the Cape Province from the time when this was a Crown Colony. It is not only the Negro in the States who has a North and a South. Until recently the Bantu also had such a division, although perhaps it was not so sharply defined. Only here the South was the liberal, the North (Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal) the reactionary section. When the four provinces were united to form the Union of South Africa, the more “liberal” policy of the Cape had to give way to the undisguisedly brutal Native policy of the old Boer Republics. At least the theoretical principle of Rhodes – equality for all “civilized” men south of the Equator – came into conflict with the principle of the Boer Republics: “no equality between white and black in State and Church.” Still, up until 1936 the Bantu in the Cape enjoyed some political rights, even if these rights were illusory. He had the right to vote for Parliament and the Provincial Council, provided he had certain educational and property qualifications. But such was the oppression under which the Bantu suffered that out of one and three-quarters million natives only 10,700 had the vote. Yet these 10,700 votes exercised a certain influence in ten or twelve constituencies, and moreover they were a source of inspiration and hope for the Bantu in the other provinces. In addition to the franchise there was the right to buy land, to occupation of property in the towns, etc. It was these rights, together with the resistance of the Municipalities, that wrecked the old Land Act of 1913 and the old Urban Areas Act, and prevented the application of the Pass Laws to the Cape. No uniform segregation policy could be adopted as long as these rights and privileges remained. They had to be removed first, and they were removed by the first of Herzog’s measures, the Native Representation Act, which disfranchised the Bantu in the Cape, giving him instead indirect representation by three Europeans in the lower house and one in the upper house. The natives in the rest of the Union were given three European representatives in the upper house, one for each province. With the fall of this last bastion of the liberal Cape it was then easy to put through the Land Act, the Native Laws Amendent Act, etc. Segregation was complete. No loophole remained by which the Bantu could escape.

The idea behind this policy of “trusteeship” is simple. The Bantu must remain forever a minor. This can be achieved if he is outside of the law, if as a minor he has no political rights, if he has no other means of livelihood except by administering to the needs of the white man, and if he receives an education that is suitable only for a servant. Naturally “he must develop along his own lines,” that is, he must live as little as possible in the towns, where he might be “transformed into a black proletariat” (!), where he might come into contact with dangerous subversive elements and acquire habits alien to a Bantu civilization. The old “beautiful” Bantu customs, the authority of the chiefs in tribal life, must be given full scope – to develop his own Bantu culture!

Bantu Driven from Land and Towns to Reserves

To this end it was imperative that the Bantu should be deprived of all rights and placed as a minor outside the ordinary law of the land. The Representation Act did this. It was necessary to drive all the Bantu still living on the land of their fathers as labor-tenants and squatters off this land. This was done by the Land Act, which provides (a) for a limitation in the number of labor-tenants (no more than five to a farm), with written contracts and fees to be paid for each, (b) for such a prohibitive tax on squatters that in a few years they must disappear, and (c) for an increase in the amount of free labor given by the tenant to the farmer from 90 days in the year to 180 days. The effect of these provisions will be that only laborers will be left on the farms, for when the squatters and labor-tenants who are smoked out from the farms go to the Reserves, they will discover that there is no new land for them. Hunger and taxation will do the rest, and they will be willing to go back to any farmer, even if it is only for a little mealie pap (corn).

The third Act completes the process by driving the Bantu out of the towns and into the Reserves. It gives the Minister for Native Affairs the power to proclaim any town a closed area. The municipality must inform the Native Affairs Department of the number of natives it requires. No native may live in town except on premises where accommodation is provided for him by his master. No native may live in a town location (the usual place where Bantu live) unless he ministers to the white man’s needs. As soon as he loses employment he becomes in the eyes of the law an excess native, who must be “repatriated” back to the Reserves, even if he was born in the town.

Thus in a nutshell the meaning of this segregation policy is to turn back the stream of the natives from the land to the towns, and to transform the Reserves into a huge central recruiting reservoir and distributing center for native labor, with a quota for the towns, a quota for the mines, and the balance for the farms. The pass system, which requires the Bantu to carry on his person a poll-tax receipt, a certificate of labor or contract pass, an exemption pass, besides various special passes allowing him to travel, to be out at night, to work as a casual laborer, etc., will make it impossible for him to choose freely between town labor and farm labor. And the taxation system, which today results in 70,000 natives a year being sent to jail, together with the “modification” of the prison system, will complete the development of the Bantu “on his own lines.”

Bantu Misleaders, Reformists and Stalinists Smash Militancy

The question will surely be put: Was there no opposition on the part of the Bantu, no support for them on the part of the white workers? At first a strong opposition movement developed among the Bantu masses in the urban areas and in the territories. The All-African Convention that came into being as a result of this movement was in its first session militant, full of will power, unanimity and decisiveness. But by left phraseology and fiery promises to “fight,” the old Bantu misleaders managed to get a mandate from the delegates. And their “fight” consisted in negotiating behind the scenes for some crumbs, which they would show to the next conference as evidence of what they had done for the people. In the meantime they worked hard to sidetrack and break the Convention, which was menacing their own moribund organizations and challenging their leadership. With the help of the old traitors of the working class (the Kadalies and Champions) and the new traitors (the Stalinists) they succeeded in breaking up the All-African Convention.

The Government materially helped to break the opposition by offering a new bribe to the Bantu misleaders, and by holding out a bait for the land-hungry masses. They established a Native Representative Council, with advisory functions only, which was to meet once a year to listen to the Secretary for Native Affairs. This fine bribe was offered to 16 leaders, who got salaries and expenses for doing nothing, and for no responsibility whatsoever. But a much more audacious trick was performed with the bait for the masses – they were offered 7¼ million morgen of new land! And the poor landless Bantu did not realize, and does not realize even today, that the offer was a fake!

The Land Act of 1913 fixed the area of the native Reserves at 10,410,290 morgen. The Land Act of 1936 fixed the area at 17,660,290 morgen. Isn’t it obviously an addition of 7¼ million? The swindle consists in this: the 1913 Act set down a minimum figure for the area of the Reserves, and provided for the setting aside of additional land for native occupation at a later stage. The Government then hoped to evict the natives and reduce the area actually occupied by them to the 10 million figure. But the outcry and revolts that followed the evictions forced the Government to suspend the working of the Act, the more so as the first World War intervened and the assistance of the Bantu was needed. In 1916 the Beaumont Commission found 17,803,455 morgen of land in native occupation, and recommended to include 8,365,744 morgen in the Reserves, adding in its report: “it will be found that most of them (the 8 million morgen) are already occupied by natives and there is not much room for more.” After the war another commission was appointed – the Provincial Commission – but it could not reduce the Beaumont Commission’s proposals below 7,521,233 morgen. The Parliamentary Select Committees fared no better. And because these areas are already in native occupation, the Fusion Government decided to include them as land “still to be bought”! It began to dawn on the Bantu that the promise of new land was a fraud when at the Native Conferences the Government officials could not answer questions as to how much land was still not in native occupation. And when the officials produced a map the delegates found that in point of fact there was no new land. The conference was closed in confusion. Also in parliamentary speeches some undiplomatic members let slip the information that all the land is already in native possession.

Yet this fraud achieved its results for the ruling classes. At the most vital moment it took the wind out of the sails of the opposition. For when the All-African Convention was called upon to defend the Cape franchise, there was many a Bantu delegate who replied: “The Government is going to give us land, and we need the land more than the vote.”

During the three years of agitation, conferences and meetings, when Hertzog’s infamous native policy was receiving legislative sanction, the white workers gave no assistance, not even moral support, to those who were being crushed by their exploiters. The Labour Party gave its full and wholehearted cooperation to the slaveowners and imperialists. The trade unions remained silent. Only those who have no voice either in the political or the economic wing of the movement were sympathetic to the equally voiceless Bantu – the colored and the Indians.

The white worker in South Africa silently accepts the crumbs of super-profits derived from his brother worker with a black skin. The war will change all this.

However dark the present may be for the Negro and the Bantu, however heavy the chains that weigh down the black man both in the “New World” and in “the land of his birth,” the time is not far distant when the black man, together with all the nationally oppressed colonial people and all the exploited workers, will smash his chains and take his destiny in his own hands, contributing his rightful share to the building of a new World Order. Today imperialism is waging another World War. It will be the last one. Tomorrow is ours. The awakening must come and will come. This time the united effort of the exploited workers with the enslaved colonial people will smash all the chains to achieve victory in socialism.

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1. A morgen is equivalent to 21/9 English acres.

2. The Fusion Government resulted fram an alliance between the old Nationalist Party, led by the then Prime Minister, General Hertzog, and the South African Party, led by the present Prime Minister, General Smuts. The Nationalist Party represented the interests of the feudal landowners, while the South African Party represented chiefly the interests of the Chamber of Mines, that is, British Imperialism.

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