About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Anatomy of the Problems of the National Liberation Struggle in South Africa

The various phases of the development of social changes do not lend themselves to fixing a precise date as to when they begin or end.

From the tiny enclave in the Cape the white settlers moved to occupy the entire country. The land grabbing resulted in military conflicts between the indigenous black people and the whites who had advanced northwards from the Cape of Good Hope. For a period stretching over one hundred years from 1779, when the first clash between the amaXhosa and British imperial troops took place in the Eastern Cape, to the last of the wars of dispossession in 1889-1890, the process of dispossessing Africans of their land been met with resistance all along the line.

The last war of dispossession had been preceded by an event that marked a qualitative change in the form the struggle was to take. In 1853 the British government granted responsible government to the Cape Colony. The right to the franchise was granted to all males, irrespective of their colour or race, who were in possession of certain qualifications. The granting of responsible government and of the right to the franchise pointed irrevocably to two courses - firstly, that the white man was going to remain permanently in South Africa; and secondly, that the African was not to engage in a long, drawn-out constitutional struggle for the attainment of equal political rights with the white man. The registered black voters sought to increase their numbers with a view to influencing legislation in their favour in Parliament, while white political parties by 1887, notably the Afrikaner Bond under the leadership of Jan Hofmeyr, sought to make the African vote ineffective by checking the increase in numbers of African and Coloured voters by introducing legislation to tamper with the existing qualifications. For example, land occupied under traditional African tenure was no longer to be regarded as a qualification for the franchise.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the struggle for political rights in the Cape had become so intense that white political parties claimed that the dominant position of the whites was threatened by increasing numbers of black voters. Towards the end of the Wars of Dispossession the national liberation struggle of the blacks against oppression by the whites had already begun. These efforts were not co-ordinated, primarily because there was no unitary administration covering the region that later came to be known as South Africa. But the confrontation that built up over the years was not that simple.

It is to the brief study of the anatomy of the problems in all its interlocking complexity that we must turn to in the subsequent pages of this essay.

The Population Structure

The discovery and exploitation of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1887 brought an influx of capital from Europe to South Africa. Where capital flows from a more developed capitalist economy to a less developed area it is accompanied by its stable mate, namely, labour that has already acquired the technological skills of the former. Thus the development of the mining industry brought investment capital as well as skilled labour largely from Europe. Such imported labour would only form a small nucleus of the labour force required for mining and related operations and the development of the industries.

Large numbers of Afrikaners from the rural areas and Africans from the 'Native Reserves' flowed into the mining areas. It has been estimated that between 1871 and 1895 for every white man who came to the mining fields two or three Africans came.1 In the agricultural sector the developing sugar industry had from its early days experienced a shortage of labour. The owners of the sugar plantations made up the leeway in the demand for labour by importing indentured labour from India.2 Their descendants, who were not bound by the conditions under which their fathers had come, decided to make South Africa their home and their numbers have increased considerably over the last hundred years.

Economic necessity imposed coexistence on black aboriginal groups (Africans and Khoi-khoi especially) as well as slaves in the early days of the white settlement, leading to the emergence of the Coloureds as yet another racial group. At the turn of the century therefore South Africa therefore rested on four distinct racial pillars - the Africans, Coloureds, Europeans and Indians.

Let us briefly look at the social structure of each racial group with a view of obtaining a clear understanding of the problems of the national liberation struggle that flow from such group social structures.

The Marriage of White Capital and White Labour

The opening of the diamond and gold mines introduced a money economy as opposed to African subsistence economy. This dichotomy in the economic field was followed by a social and political dichotomy, which was drawn along the colour line. As in all capitalist societies the white group had differences and sometimes even class clashes such as the Rand Rebellion in 1922.3 But over the years the paramount consideration was the question of colour, to such an extent that all political activities among white political parties concentrated on inculcating in the minds of whites the view that their existence was threatened by the black group, more particularly the Africans.

The drift of unskilled Afrikaners from the farms made the situation worse. If whites were not protected in the labour market they would have to compete with Africans in a market that was progressively becoming over-supplied. The unskilled white labourer sought shelter behind his skin colour, setting the pattern for the economic-political development of the country. This attitude found expression in the agreement between Jan Hofmeyr and Cecil Rhodes, even though they belonged to political parties that purported to hold differing viewpoints. The two argued that 'the African tribesmen [were] barbarous people who should be prevented from obtaining a foothold in the political systems of the colonies and the Republics'.4

The pattern that took shape during the early stages of the mining operation crystallised and hardened over the years. After Union in 1910 the various governments systematically passed legislation that provided for the existence of two opposing camps facing each other across the colour line. Although the white working class was in theory willing to advance the interests of the African workers, in practice it was only willing to a point. The representatives of capital, by contrast, would resist the demands of white workers to a point short of a clash between the two white classes. In practice the two white classes observed the maintenance of a certain equilibrium, which ensured that whites stood and acted as a group vis-à-vis the blacks, especially the Africans.

All legislation since 1910 has been passed to entrench the position of whites as a group, and to undermine the position of blacks as a group. A year after the formation of the Union, Parliament passed two acts - the Native Labour Regulations Act (No. 15 of 1911), which imposed restraints on the movement of Africans, and the Mines and Works Act (No. 12 of 1911), which entrenched the principle of the colour bar in industry and had already been used by a Transvaal Ordinance (No. 17 of 1907). This Act prescribed two elements, which were to be crucial to maintaining a privileged position and high salaries for the white mine workers. The first element prohibited Africans from performing certain categories of work, for example, blasting - a crude colour bar provision. The second element specified a ratio of African mineworkers to white workers of 2:1. These two acts laid the foundation not only for similar legislation in subsequent years, but also for an attitude of superiority on the part of the whites towards Africans. This government-sponsored superiority of the white man over the black man became encased in tradition and expressed itself in all walks of life, in insulting acts, in a belittling of his mentality and in humiliating practices towards Africans. Every white child, every African child is nurtured in this atmosphere. Willingly he is expected to take his stand on his side of the colour line and play his role in the black-white group relationship over which he has had no more choice than characters in a Greek tragedy. The race-god as represented by the government carves his fate.

Two years later the Union government passed the notorious Land Act of 1913. In terms of the Act the confined areas to which Africans had been driven by the end of the Wars of Dispossession were regarded as scheduled areas outside of which Africans could not own land. The Native Trust and Land Act of 1936 vested land in scheduled and leased areas in a Native Trust administered by the government. This put an end to freehold ownership of landed property. The land area set aside for the occupation of 15 669 498 Africans compared with 3 750 655 whites5 was 37 500 000 acres after all released areas would have been made available6 - this out of the total area for South Africa of 302 000 000 acres.7 It is a matter of no consequence to the government whether Africans have lived together with their families in the areas claimed to be the home of the whites. Legally they are foreigners in that area in South Africa outside the 'Native Reserves'.

In 1922 the government passed the Natives (Urban Areas) Act which consolidated the various forms of pass laws whose implementation has subjected the Africans to some of the worst forms of degradation and humiliation. Since then there have been several amendments to the Act aimed at tightening the restrictions on the movement of Africans. The crowning refinement was the passing of influx control regulations, which regulate the entry of Africans into urban areas and the use of the labour bureau to distribute African labour amongst the various sectors of the economy. The recent setting up of Regional Boards to control employment of Africans in each region is a crude and naked method of oppression and exploitation of Africans in the interests of whites.

The first piece of industrial legislation providing machinery for consultation between employers and employees deliberately left out the African worker. This was the Industrial Conciliation Act No. 11 of 1924, as amended. The fact that liberal white trade unions took up the case of African workers at meetings of the Industrial Councils made the African worker feel that he had to show gratitude, with knees and cupped hands, to his white fellow workers for any small gains, while the white worker felt that he had done the African worker a good turn, for which appreciation was to be expected. Instead of allowing African workers to participate in the machinery of collective bargaining, the government passed the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act, No. 48 of 1953. This Act provides for works committees administered by government officials. This arrangement was intended to divorce the African worker from the mainstream of the labour movement. In the meantime a new Industrial Conciliation Act was passed in 1956. In addition to the discriminatory provisions of previous legislation it included the principle of job reservation, that is, special jobs reserved for whites.8 It also introduced the principle of compulsory racial segregation in trade unions. Thus also affected Coloured and Indian workers.

Francis Wilson sums up the effect of the two elements incorporated in the 1956 Industrial Conciliation Act thus: 'The effect of reservation is to prevent blacks moving into the skilled labour pool which is kept small ... causing skilled (white) wages to be higher than they would otherwise be; the effect of the ratio is to create a joint demand where the demand for blacks creates demands on the supply of whites'.9

An illustration of the wide gap between the salaries of whites and blacks (mainly Africans) on the mines is reflected in the figures:




Average number in service during Dec. 1974:

37 255

318 243

Total salaries/wages earned during 1974:

R257 331 000

R202 875 000

Dividends declared: R565 830 000.


The figures speak for themselves.

Furthermore, the government passed the Mines and Works Amendment Act, No. 25 of 1926, popularly known as the Colour Bar Act. In 1925 the Wage Act was passed, which provided for setting up a Wage Board to make recommendations on minimum wages for unskilled workers who fell outside the scope of the Industrial Conciliation Act, and this virtually meant African workers only. In practice the Wage Board has been more concerned with protecting margins of profit than with effecting increases in the wages of unskilled workers.

In addition, the government adopted the Civilised Labour Policy. In 1925 the government passed the Protective Tariffs Act for the establishment of the manufacturing industry. The Civilised Labour Policy fitted in well with this development as it required that no job in protected industry should be given to blacks as long as there were unemployed white workers. This policy helped to wipe out the poor white problem within a decade. In doing so it created a poor black problem which is still with us today.

The path towards enfranchisement of Africans had been strewn with obstacles throughout the years of 'responsible' government in the Cape. After the formation of Union the franchise right was not extended to the other three provinces. It existed in an extremely attenuated form in Natal, and could be withdrawn by a vote of two-thirds of the two Houses of Parliament sitting together. The Native Representation Act, passed in 1936, removed the African voters from the common voters' roll. Under this Act the Africans were represented in the two Houses as a group. When the National Party came to power in 1948 it lost no time in preparing the ground for a complete denial to Africans of a say in Parliament. In 1950 it passed the Bantu Authorities Act, which provided for the setting up of nine ethnic areas in the reserves. These came to be called Bantustans, and government policy laid down that Africans would satisfy their political aspirations in local government activities in the separate ethnic Bantu Authorities. Thus, by 1959, even the limited representation Africans had was discontinued with the repeal of the Natives Representation Act.

Without dealing with the multitude of other special legislation affecting Africans as a group we have traced the course of legislation sufficiently to illustrate, first, how Africans as a group have been denied political rights; secondly, how as a group they are placed at a disadvantage in comparison with the whites; thirdly, how as a group they are denied the right of ownership of land on a freehold tenure basis outside the reserves, and that even there ownership is extremely limited, as such land is vested in the Native Trust.

In the face of such all-embracing denial of rights to all Africans it would appear that every African would without much persuasion join the forces that fight for his rights. However, experience has taught us that to expect this, would be over simplifying matters.

Whatever reasons may be given to explain away this marriage of capital and white labour against members of their class who happen not to be white, the fact is that the white working class has sacrificed an overwhelming section of the working class at the altar of the race-god. They have created a situation in which black and white must stand facing each other at daggers drawn across the colour line.

Non-conforming White Minority Groups

A small minority of whites have not lined up with either the Nat or United Party (UP) policy on blacks. Such individuals have found a home in small political parties or semi-political organisations. The largest of these is the Progressive Party, whose membership was originally open to everyone irrespective of race until the government put an end to racially mixed political parties. Although it is critical of apartheid policies it appears to insist on white leadership and is only prepared to concede political rights and franchise to Africans on a qualification basis. Other white minorities found a home in the Liberal Party, which disbanded after the government passed legislation against racially mixed political parties. The Congress of Democrats (COD), which had without qualification accepted the policy of the Congress movement, as embodied in the Freedom Charter, was banned.11

Then there is the small band of brave women who are members of the Black Sash. It is not a political party. It focuses attention on grave injustices perpetrated in the name of law against Africans. In recent years it has concentrated on taking up individual cases of suffering, especially under the Pass Laws.

Finally there are those whites who are members of the banned South African Communist Party (SACP), which operates illegally. They are not only unreservedly committed to the struggle towards attaining as a long-term aim a classless society in South Africa, but in the short-term fighting side by side with the liberation forces to achieve the goals set out in the Freedom Charter.

The upshot was that a very small minority of whites are prepared to support equal rights for all in South Africa, irrespective of race of colour.

The Coloureds

The Coloureds, numbering 2 018 262, form the third racial group after the whites, who number 3 750 655.12 The Indians are the smallest group, constituting 620 422.

The Coloureds as a group have not yet reached a high level of class stratification. For decades they have provided labour in the manufacturing industry, the building industry and agriculture in the Cape. It is only recently that a merchant class nucleus has begun to emerge through encouragement by the government-sponsored Coloured Investment Corporation. Except for teaching and nursing, the numbers are still small in the other professions, for example, law and medicine.

Like the Africans they enjoyed the right to vote until recently when they were forced to look to the Coloured Representative Council (CRC) for satisfying their political aspirations.

They have been uprooted from town areas proclaimed as white areas under the Group Areas Act. They have been thrown into locations away from the white areas. The difference between them and the Africans is that in the long-run they will own property in these townships. Most workers belong to the trade unions, but as noted above, since 1953 they have been forced to belong to separate trade unions, that is, not mixed with white workers. In certain industries like the textile union, where they constitute the main membership of the union, they look after the interests of the Africans at Industrial Council negotiations.

Before the introduction of the CRC there were two main anti-government policy organisations that catered for Coloured interests. One was the Coloured People's Congress (CPC), a member of the Congress Alliance. It suffered serious set backs in the late 1950s and the early 1960s as some of its leading members were banned and left the country. The other was the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department (Anti-CAD), an affiliate of NEUM, which disbanded as a result of internal differences. Some of its remnants have found a new home in the African People's Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA).

Two main political parties operate the government machinery. As such, despite protestations to the contrary, they support the government policy in practice. They are the Federal Party and the Labour Party, which vie with each other for the leading position in implementing government policy. While the Labour Party were in opposition, it promised that if it were returned to power it would destroy the CRC from within. When they were returned as the majority party in the last election, like the proverbial atheist, they remained within to enjoy the fruits of office.

The Indians

Of the three black groups, the Indian community has reached the highest degree of class stratification. A clearly defined capitalist class, if still small, has taken shape. By the end of 1973 no less than 800 factories were reported to be owned by Indians.13 The middle class, consisting of 9 per cent professional and executive elements plus the merchant class, is already established as a class distinct from the working class. Those who do not own property constitute 80 per cent of the Indian population.14

Property owners fall into two categories: first, the big property owners who have invested in a number of properties varying from rented houses to blocks of flats and offices. According to information from independent sources this section has not been affected unfavourably by the Groups Areas Act; secondly, small property owners, largely consisting of those who sank years and years of hard-earned savings into building a family home are reported to have suffered heavily as a result of the Group Areas Act. We have no idea what proportion of the property owning class belong to the latter category.

A large majority of the economically active population fall the working class; reportedly, 44 per cent of the population are employed,15 while only 0,6 per cent are unemployed.16

As with other black racial groups, the Indians as a group are denied political rights. The government has created a Department of Indian Affairs headed by a Cabinet Minister. This is the only platform the government has provided for them to air their grievances. Indian workers can belong only to racially separate trade unions if their workers organisations receive government recognition.

Only one political organisation - the South African Indian Congress, a member of the Congress Alliance, specialises in organising Indians for their liberation as a group. Two other political organisations, which absorbed them as members, are the Communist Party (CP) and APDUSA.

It is mainly the capitalist and merchant class that co-operate with the government in making the Indian Council workable. No political party has been set up to implement government policy through the Council. In this respect the Indians have reacted differently from Africans and Coloureds.

With regard to the Indians and Coloureds there is an open and considerable amount of rethinking on the part of the whites as to what their position should be in the face of a widening gap of relations between whites and Africans. From various white quarters there is a growing demand that these two groups be allowed to enjoy political rights with the whites. Edgar H. Brookes and Colin De B. Webb go on to say: 'Natalians of Indian descent are in general strongly in favour of integration from which they have much to gain and little to loose; and the same may be said of the small, depressed and divided Coloured community, which contains many good citizens but lacks acceptable leadership.'17

Even from unexpected sources an alarm is being sounded. Delivering his presidential address to the annual conference of the Natal Agricultural Union, Mr D.C. Sinclair expressed anxiety that an independent black state may be established within the borders of Natal.18 He said: 'The reality of the situation can only be visualised if it is believed that the relations between white and black areas will remain of the highest order. At the other end of the scale they are unimaginable.' To secure the position of the whites Sinclair posed the question: 'Should we not now consider ways and means of involving Indian and Coloured farmers in the province in organised agriculture?' In other words, he is posing the question of integration which, if it applies to Natal, should apply to farmers in all four provinces.

The Africans

The Africans constitute the largest racial group numbering 15 069 498 out of a total population of 21 458 837. There is no capitalist class. The reasons for its absence are largely traceable to the conditions that have necessitated the existence of the national liberation forces, not against foreign oppression, not against class exploitation, but against national oppression by a group of their countrymen who claim superiority on the grounds of race and colour.

The middle class is in the early stages of development, more particularly if we think in terms of the trading class, the medical and the legal profession. The demand to foster the development of a middle class was brought to the fore by the orthodox white liberal thinkers as the struggle for liberation took extra-constitutional forms initiated by the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952. The Nat government, nurtured in the Boer tradition that Die Kaffer moet sy plek hou (the kaffir must keep his place), gradually came to realise the need to use more sophisticated means to maintain the dominant position of the White man. As stated by the late Dr J.G. Strydom: Die witman moet altyd die baas bly (the white man must always remain boss).19

The government set up the Bantu Investment Corporation (BIC) and its subsidiaries like the Xhosa Development Corporation that operate at the ethnic or Bantustan level. If we use the monthly turnover as a gauge, the sizes of these businesses may be classified as follows:20




I One-man-show

R 100 - 800


II Relatively small enterprise

R1 000 - 2 000

R1 540

III Medium sized

R2 500 5 000

R4 040

IV Large

R6 000 30 000

R10 400

The overwhelming majority of those engaged in trading activities operate on a small scale. Even in the case of those that fall in the fourth category, only a small number operate at the higher turnover than the average.

In general, the African entrepreneur is isolated from the community. He does not participate in politics and Gillian Hart states the reasons thus: 'Entrepreneurs, particularly those in urban locations, are in an extremely vulnerable position. The intricate maze of legislation provides for the political domestication of the entrepreneur. He dare not be openly militant save within the framework of the apartheid policy'.21

This observation applies equally to medical practitioners and lawyers who live and practice in the urban locations. The plight of the African middle class in particular and the African generally is summed up by Dr D.G.S. Mtimkulu: 'One feels that the urban African is a little too bewildered. He makes very effort to adjust himself to urban living ... But he finds a strong authoritative pressure to obstruct such a change. For instance, in a property owning society he cannot own property; in a society that has grown and prospered by workers organising themselves, his own organisations are restricted'.22

The Chiefs

The position of the chiefs in the earlier days before Africans were brought completely under white rule was similar to that of the feudal aristocracy. Each chief ruled over a given area, which he sought to extend or defend, if there was a threat from outside, as happened in the years of the Wars of Dispossession. Their power began to crack under the military pressure of the British and the Boer forces that were armed with better weapons. Sir Harry Smith illustrated what the imperial forces intended to do with the chiefs in the Eastern Cape.23 He gathered the chiefs at the site of the present King William's Town and ordered a charge of dynamite to be set off under an ox wagon. The wagon was blown to pieces that flew into all directions. Pointing at the scene, he warned them that this was what he would do to them if they persisted in resisting British rule. As subsequent events showed, the advancing whites did not stop short of crushing the power of the chiefs.

In Natal, Sir Arthur Havelock, Governor of Natal in 1887 when Zululand was annexed, said: 'The House of Shaka is a thing of the past, like water that has been spilt'.24 To emphasise the fact that the chiefs had lost all power, Harry Escombe, speaking in support of the Zululand Annexation Bill, added: 'The ruling power of South Africa is the power of the Anglo-Saxon race'.25

This set the tone for what was to happen later. South Africa was to break free of Britain and all power was to be in the hands of the whites. On his return after a period of imprisonment at St. Helena, Dinizulu was employed as a government induna at a salary. Throughout the country chiefs became employees of the government and were used to implement government policy. Dr Vilakazi points out that the Zulus regard their chiefs as 'police boys'. In fact, they also partly serve the functions of a police force and partly the role of a propaganda wing of the Department of Native Affairs.

The Peasants

Although it is known that in every one of the 'Native Reserves' a number of heads of family units hold certificates or, in the case of a few districts in the Transkei and the Ciskei, title deeds issued on pain of paying quit rent, not much information is available. We do not know how many heads of families there are in the reserves, and how many own an arable piece of land as distinct from a residential site. The nearest estimate is that given in the Tomlinson Commission Report, which recommended that 300 000 families in the reserves should be removed in order to give those who remain the opportunity of making a living out of the land without resorting to periodic spells of work elsewhere.26 If we take a family unit to consist, on average, of 6 persons, this amounts to 1 800 000 people. This means that about half the population of the reserves should be removed because there is no arable land available to be allocated to them. For those who remained the report recommended that stabilisation of land must embrace 'dividing the prescribed residential areas into residential plots of fixed size, and the arable land into plough land units of one morgen each'.27 How much of a living can be eked out of farming one morgen28 of dry land in South African climatic conditions? In practice, however, rather than remove people from the reserves to reduce the pressure on the land, the apartheid policy has operated in the opposite direction. People from the urban areas as well as redundant people from the farms have been moved into the reserves. There are more landless people in the reserves than peasants who own some piece of arable land. It is partly from this reserve of labour and partly from the peasants that contract labour is distributed to all sectors of the economy outside the 'Native Reserves'.

It is estimated that at any time of the year, 233 000 migrant labourers are away from the Transkei.29 Yet, in spite of the fact that this labour force voluntarily leaves to find work in areas outside the Transkei, E. Kramer, one of the advisors on economic development of the Transkei, implies that poverty in the area is due to the laziness of the people and suggests that the government take a leaf from Hitler's methods in Nazi Germany. 'Conscripted agricultural service, conscripted land service, was used with practical and very good results by Adolph Hitler in Germany'.30 Yet another of the advisors on economic development of the Transkei, Dr J. Venter, argues that 'The Transkei has an abundance of land.' This statement conflicts with the findings of the Tomlinson Commission and with statistics cited by another contributor, Hobart Houghton, who points out that of the Transkei's 4.5 million morgen 'less than one million is suitable for arable farming".

We have already referred to the conditions to which the African worker is exposed. One of the main incentives to attract entrepreneurs to the Bantustans and the border areas is the availability of trained black labour at lower wages than those paid to unskilled labour in the urban areas.

Who is Against Whom?

From the preceding sections we can draw a number of inferences that enable us to get a clear picture of the problem in the national liberation struggle. Firstly, we must emphasise that the struggle in which the people of this country through their respective organisations are engaged is not one for independence. It is not a struggle of a colonial people seeking to break free of ties that have bound them to the metropolitan power. It is not a struggle against people who have a home to run to when things get hot. It is therefore not a struggle to push the white man out of the country. Rather it is a struggle of the blacks to liberate themselves from the oppression of the white man. It is a struggle which aims at uprooting of the race superiority of the whites and putting in its place a philosophy whose basic tenet is equal rights for all who live in and regard the country as their home, irrespective of race or colour. This is the basic premise.

The overwhelming majority of the whites of all classes and shades of opinion have drawn themselves together and lined themselves up against any advancement of the blacks, especially Africans, to a position that may threaten the superiority of the whites. This creates a serious problem in that the large majority of blacks see all whites as a group as the oppressor, and whites see themselves threatened by blacks. Looked at in this way it becomes a race confrontation in which the extreme poles are the Afrikaners on the side of the whites and the Africans on the side of the blacks.

The task is to get more and more whites to realise the fact that the liberation movement is not against whites as a race, but against oppression by them. The liberation movement needs to devise ways and means, that will which assure both blacks and whites across the colour line that the conflict is not a racial one.

A factor that dissipates the energy of the liberation forces, is the number of black anti-apartheid organisations. In such a situation a spirit of competition must prevail and, as sometimes happens, one organisation directs its criticism at another organisation and less at the common enemy. Such an exercise detracts the attention of the masses from the common enemy. The liberation struggle would be strengthened by the concerted action of organisations committed to a struggle to destroy all forms of racism. Jail conditions have forced political prisoners, who are members of rival organisations to realise the need to act together.

The Nat government has become adept at implementing its racial policies. First it drives wedges between the different racial groups in the country by focusing the attention of each group on what is made out to be of interest to itself. In all its propaganda it bombards the minds of each group with the idea of the uniqueness of the interests of each group as distinct from the overall population of South Africa. Certain sections of each of the three black racial groups have fallen for this. These are the people who co-operate with the government to implement its policy through their respective councils and Bantu Authorities. The excuse such co-operators put forward is that there is nothing they can do in the absence of anything better. As if what they would like to see happen must do so on its own, without any effort and sacrifice on their part. Any other course than co-operation would lead to bloodshed and this they must avoid! Secondly, it drives wedges between the social groups within each racial group by directing the attention of each social group or class to its special interest as distinct from those of the racial group as a whole. The effort of such tactics is to get each social group to disregard the disabilities of the racial group to which it belongs, to say nothing of the other similarly oppressed racial groups. Thus a situation is created in which the upper social groups or classes grasp at opportunities that always appear to be within reach, and if they appear to be receding the fault is not sought in the conditions that stem from the oppression, but in the fact that they do not apply themselves sufficiently.

These tactics have been successful to some extent. The setting up of finance corporations for the respective black racial groups is regarded by these classes as an indication of the sincere intentions of the government to help them along the road to economic success. The Nat government found ready co-operators among the upper strata. The capitalist and middle class among the Indians and Coloureds, consisting of substantial number of merchants, are filling positions in the respective councils provided for under apartheid policies. The government relies largely upon them to make this apartheid machinery workable within each racial group.

Amongst the Africans the government has relied mainly on its servants - the chiefs - in the Bantustans and on merchants in the urban councils. As already indicated, the restrictions under which the merchant class trade acts as a bridle to any political activity, even where their own interests, such as denial of the right to diversify in urban areas, at least until very recently, are affected unfavourably. The inference appears to be that the liberatory forces may not count on them as a group for active support for the time being.

Compared to the total population of each of the three black racial groups the co-operating social groups and classes may be small, but they are articulate and generally occupy positions of importance in social and traditional life. The role they play in implementing government policy creates a real problem for the liberation struggle.

A significant factor is that the professionals from all three black racial groups have not come out actively as co-operators. Medical practitioners and lawyers in the three groups have kept out of the respective councils and the various levels of Bantu authorities except for a very few individuals in the Transkei and Sekhukhuneland (Lebowa). The inference is that this important section of the middle class have up to now refused to be used by the Nat government to further the cause of white supremacy - a factor the liberation forces may do well to study carefully because these professional groups are highly respected in their respective racial groups.

When the Bantu Authorities Act was passed, there was no intention on the part of the ruling Nats that the Bantustans set up in terms of the Act would one day - all in the short space of 25 years - have imposed upon them sovereign independence. The report of the Tomlinson Commission does not envisage this. Regarding the political responsibilities the government may give to Africans under the apartheid policy, the report states that the Bantustans' 'administrative responsibility can in time be increased to government on a regional basis. Thus they can eventually carry the functions of government in accordance with a system similar to the present system in each of the seven parts of the Bantu areas'.32 There are nine today.

The Bantustans were set up as a form of local government33 intended to be a departure from the Bunga (Council) system while the latter was still permitted to run side by side with the African representation in Parliament. The Nat government sought to revive chieftainship and made it serve under its control and direction the traditional role which it had played before it was crushed towards the close of the nineteenth century. The Nat government wanted the Africans to divert their energies from a struggle for equal political rights. They wanted the Africans now to concentrate on reviving tribal institutions.

When the Bantu Authorities Act was put before the Transkei Bunga, the members of the Bunga saw the Act as giving them scope for increased administrative powers in local affairs and no more than that. This is borne out by the statements from some of the leading members of the Bunga. Harry A. Masebe said: 'I take it that the purpose of the Act is to encourage the black people to integrate themselves to control and administer their own affairs so that all matters concerning them will be handled exclusively by them'.34 C.K. Sakwe added: 'The Bantu Authorities Act is not in opposition to the Bunga'.35 C B Young, a member of the Tomlinson Commission and later secretary of Native Affairs, did not think that the Bantu Authorities Act was much different from the Bunga. In his words there is 'little difference between the functions and duties of a system based on the Bunga as under the Act'.36

Even by the middle of the 1950s J.G. Strydom, the then Prime Minister of South Africa, did not think self-government was a matter 'for today's practical politician'.37 He went further to say of self-government in the Bantustans: 'It will not crop up for generations to come, if you look at the backward state of the Natives. We are dealing with the actual problem as it faces us today. They must remain under the trusteeship of the whites, who are the dominant race. I am not philosophising about what will happen 100 years from now.'38

By the late 1950s statements from the highest government quarters, when pressed about whether they intended complete apartheid, showed significant uncertainty about plans in the future. In the late 1950s De Wet Nel, then Minister of Native Affairs, stated in Parliament: 'Total racial separation was never seriously considered. Apartheid would be implemented under the umbrella of a South African economy.'39

Even in the early 1960s the question of the independence of the Bantustans, as a policy of the Nationalist government, was dismissed. An illustration of this is J. B. Schoeman's answer to the question whether separate development might evolve into independence. His reply was: 'How politically naive that question is! After all history has taught us that the road to independence in our case took more than a full century'.40

In the midst of the policy uncertainties that prevailed at the time H.F. Verwoerd became Prime Minister and stated that apartheid was an ideal to aim at. Even to him it did not appear to be a matter for practical politics. He added: 'if it should happen that in the future they (the Bantustans) progress to a very advanced level, people of those future times will have to consider in what further way their relationships must be organised.'41

Dr W.W.M. Eiselen, one of the main architects of the apartheid policy and for a period appointed Secretary for Native Affairs to implement it, had this to say in an article in Optima, March 1959: 'The utmost degree of autonomy in administrative matters which the Union is likely to be prepared to consider to those areas will stop short of actual surrender of sovereignty by the European trustee and there is therefore no prospect of a federal system with eventual equality among members.'42

Even Dr H.F. Verwoerd, who had held out total apartheid as an ideal, had hastened to lay down the conditions that Africans would be required to fulfil. They would only be granted such autonomy and independence if '[they] have within their power to develop sufficient maturity to assume...the most responsible of functions'.43 Even with this condition fulfilled, it did not follow that autonomy would be granted. No! Instead '[t]he white Parliament would be the final arbiter of what is development, ability and maturity'.44 In other words, advancement in powers of the Bantustans would take place at the instance of the white Parliament, if and when it suited the interests of the whites.

Although Dr Verwoerd had in 1958 seen total apartheid as an ideal to pursue he was shortly thereafter to make a statement which was not in keeping with that ideal. On the question of the desirability of incorporating in the Union the three former British Territories bordering on South Africa, he stated in 1959 that the possibility of incorporating these territories was incompatible with the British policy of granting independence to African territories. As Wilson and Thompson point out, this 'clearly revealed his inability at that time to conceive of full independence for the Bantustans.'45

By 1962 the position had not been stated with any greater clarity. All that Verwoerd said was that '[s]eparate development introduces new institutions and revives fading ones. Because the Transkei has a relatively homogeneous population speaking one language it is natural that it should be the first area selected for the experiment providing semi-autonomy, a status that might be the first step towards ultimate independence.'46

The granting of self-government in 1963 was an experiment. In this way the Nat government placed itself in a position where it could meet criticism from friend and foe alike. To its foes there was the experiment, to its friends it signalled that the experiment might fail and, in any case, 'the white Parliament was the final arbiter' of African ability and maturity.

The Bantustans has created a problem in that it threatened to drive wedges between Africans and would have retarded the struggle for liberation. But the new development whereby the Nat government imposes independence on Bantustans at such times as suits the programme of the National Party poses a much more serious problem to the liberation forces than the role the Bantustans were to play originally. The question that arises is: What has precipitated this step and in what respect is it intended to operate in the interests of white supremacy?

If we recall that the announcement to ask for independence within two to five years came from Kaiser Matanzima after the parliamentary session of 1974 and that independence was scheduled to take place within two years rather than five, then one might ask, notwithstanding the possibility that independence of the Bantustans might have been an item in the programme of the National Party: What was the immediate cause for the Nat government to impose independence on the Bantustans?

The decision came hard on the heels of the independence of the former Portuguese colonies in Africa. To the government, Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe had constituted a buffer partly against infiltration of units of the liberation forces trained abroad into South Africa, and partly against possible military attacks from the north. The collapse of Portuguese dictatorship and the current action of the liberation forces in Zimbabwe have forced the Nat government to create a new buffer behind which race-inspired white South Africa hopes to take cover. The Bantustans must now be the new buffer. They must be given something that gives them a stake in apartheid in the name of defending their own territories. According to announcements by Kaiser Matanzima and spokesmen for the Nationalist government, the parties are to enter into agreements for mutual military assistance.

The problem facing the liberation forces takes on two forms. First, independent Bantustans will not tolerate the operation of liberation forces, whether those operations are to mount propaganda or to organise military activities against white South Africa. The Bantustans will join hands with the white supremacists against the liberation forces. The Bantustans will be indebted to the apartheid policies of the Nats for their new status.

Secondly, if one Bantustan after another is declared independent and a large number of Africans outside the Bantustans are forced to accept the citizenship of one or other of the Bantustans, then the liberation forces must accept the fact that the Coloured and Indian racial groups will be open to intensified wooing and promises by the white supremacists. We have referred to increasing demands by yet uncoordinated sections of white public opinion to draw the Indian and Coloured racial groups closer to the whites. The inference is clear: strengthen the whites in the event of a physical conflict between the whites and Africans. What the propagators of this idea have in mind is that political, economic and social rights should be extended to the Coloureds and Indians on an equal basis to the whites. This would give them a stake in the joint defence of a vested interest in race superiority.

In terms of relative population figures the propagators of the integration idea are seeking to obtain a balance between the proposed integrated group on the one hand and the Africans on the other. In 1970 the white population was 3 750 000 with an annual growth rate of 1,92 per cent. The whites would be expected to be 4 million in 1980. If the Coloureds and Indians were integrated this would increase the number of those who have a stake in apartheid by almost four million by 1980.

It may be expected that as the struggle for liberation intensifies the volume of white public opinion pressing for integration of Coloureds and Indians will increase considerably. In the South African situation it is easy to whip up fears of one racial group or another. The liberation forces must face the fact that certain sections of the minority black racial groups fear a rampant African nationalism. A programmed campaign in which the aims of the liberation struggle are painstakingly explained seems to be called for to dispel this fear.


In our discussion we have dealt with the problems the government has created in order to obstruct the progress the liberation forces. For instance, we do not refer to the activities of the Security Branch or to the fact that the major liberation organisations are banned. These are instruments the government uses to frustrate the liberation forces and make government policy unacceptable to the people. It is the function of the liberation forces to seek improved methods to circumvent these operational problems.

The serious problems are those which are in-built in the social and class structure of each oppressed racial group, whether these are of government making or a natural development of society that the government seeks to harness. There is a continuing struggle between the National Party government and the liberation forces to enlist the loyalty and support of all sections of the oppressed people. But a fact the liberatory forces have to face is that the struggle for liberation is still confined to words rather than action. In this regard, government propaganda, backed by financial inducements, will gain the support of a significant section of the upper social and class strata among blacks.

The government's decision to grant independence to the Bantustans, starting with the Transkei, is a problem that will exist as long as opposition to apartheid is confined to talking only. When the struggle against apartheid assumes sharper forms, when words are supported by physical action, most of the problems will be reduced and, in some cases, may be turned into problems for the oppressor. Only then will the force of the words of Marshall Campbell be appreciated: 'No country can prosper when the largest section of its people has no say in the government of its people'.47 In the spirit of Karl Marx's famous slogan, the oppressed people of South Africa must unite, for they have nothing to lose but their chains of oppression. As such unity is forged in the day-to-day struggle against apartheid, the eyes of Africans, Coloureds and Indians will be turned to Parliament, where they are destined to have a say side by side with the whites.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.