‘Political Repression and Social Discrimination Against Negroes in South Africa’ by Albert Nzula from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 12. December, 1933.

Workers at the Brooks Mine.

Albert Nzula was the first Black General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, serving between 1929-1932. He died in Moscow in 1934.

‘Political Repression and Social Discrimination Against Negroes in South Africa’ by Albert Nzula from The Communist. Vol. 12 No. 12. December, 1933.

The natives in South Africa, in addition to being the subjects of the most ruinous economic exploitation at the hands of the Anglo-Boer imperialists, are the victims of the most ruthless political repression and monstrous social discrimination imaginable. South Africa has been called “the most anti-Negro country in the world”. This statement is no exaggeration. The national oppression of the natives of South Africa is one of the basic prerequisites for their economic exploitation, a phenomenon which the cynical and brutal Nationalist Hertzog government is not ashamed to proclaim from the housetops in reply to the hypocritical and timid protests of the South African Smuts Party against extreme measures and unnecessary repressive laws. The natives are denied the most elementary rights that even bourgeois “democracy” entitles them to. The key- note of South African legislation is its anti-native working class character and the battle-cry of every politician, labor, Nationalist or South African Party (imperialist)— “We shall make South Africa a white man’s country,” by which is meant that they are determined and willing tools to continue the enslavement of the natives in the interests of the imperialists, however much they may disagree on other minor questions. Thus, the natives during the course of a century have witnessed their increasing deprivation of the most elementary human rights, with the sanction of the laws and conventions of South Africa, a country which never tires of boasting about its being the only representative of “Western civilization” in Africa, the only “civilization” worth while.

If we examine the character of this “civilization” in its practical application we shall discover a system which, for cruel suppression and barbarous robbery, is unparalleled in any country. We know that, for instance, the development of imperialism (capitalism) in all countries has always led to the expropriation and enslavement of the peasantry. We shall not discuss with what thoroughness this has been carried out in South Africa unless to affirm the fact. What is interesting is what country can show such a cynical law in its brutality as the Natives Land Act of 1913.

The bourgeoisie in other countries is always at pains to show that the peasantry lose their land and are poverty-stricken because they are thriftless and backward. The Natives Land Act of 1913 lays down a principle which prohibits any native from leasing land or share-farming in any “European areas”. (“European areas” rep- resent 90 per cent of all the land, leaving 10 per cent to the natives who represent 75 per cent of the whole population of South Africa.)

This racial discriminatory Act became law in spite of the universal and indignant protests of the whole native population. Significant also of the great extent of open and unashamed chauvinism in South Africa is the fact that this law was sponsored by the South African Party which boasts liberal traditions, the party of General Smuts, the philosopher (quack) who lies to the world that the Africans under his beneficent rule, in contrast to the Belgian policy of depopulation, are “a happy, care-free, dancing and singing race”, As a direct consequence of this South African Party law we have what is known in South African history as the “Bulhock Massacre of 1920”. A party of natives had been in occupation of land at Bulhock near Queenstown for years and rightly claimed their right to it when General Smuts himself ordered them to leave it without saying how the loss they would suffer by such action would be made good. Naturally they refused to obey any such order and in consequence Smuts sent troops to evict them. In the clash, more than 200 unarmed natives were shot down by machine guns.

“Bulhock Massacre of 1920”

As to the general effects of this iniquitous racial law, the native writer, Sol. T. Plaatje, gives a harrowing though timid account of the sufferings it entailed, in his book, Native Life in South Africa, published a few years after the law came into effect. The act led to wholesale evictions of native tenant farmers, their families and stock. In those days one witnessed the endless spectacle of native families with their stock and goods, trekking across the country in a futile search for new tenancies. Hundreds of their stock perished and the owners were forced to engage themselves to European landlords and plantation owners on the slave terms prevailing today.

The South African bourgeoisie, faced with the greatest and most universal crisis of capitalism in history, is howling about the “drift of the natives into the towns”, while shutting its eyes willfully to the causes that have given rise to and inevitably must encourage this tendency. The question of unemployment in South Africa has assumed huge proportions today, especially amongst the native workers. The government pretends that the unemployment amongst natives is caused by the drift of the starving native peasantry into the industrial areas and therefore where the natives are concerned all that is necessary is to invoke vagrancy laws against the unemployed, instead of relief. In order to guarantee a sufficient labor supply the imperialists found it necessary not merely to expropriate and reduce native land holdings, but to tax them. All natives in the Union of South Africa are subject to the payment of annual personal (or poll) tax of one pound regardless of their income, and also a hut or dwelling tax of 10 shillings, i.e., ten shillings per annum in the case of natives in the Reserves or native territories. The white population is exempt from any such taxation. Thus, we find that in a population of about 5% million natives, the very poorest strata in South African society, 1,184,241 are taxpayers. All men of 18 years of age or over are liable to taxation. No exemptions, or very few, are granted, and though the law formally exempts old men, indigents, chronic invalids, etc., in practice their relatives pay the tax.

Thus we have the case of the majority of white farmers paying neither income tax nor any other direct tax, while their native laborers are burdened with high taxes. To quote one of the reporters on the government Native Economic Commission:

“In the Transkei [a native reserve or territory] a European [i.e., White] farmer with a 2,000 or 3,000 morgen farm [a morgen is equal to 2 1-9 acres] who does not pay income tax, escapes direct taxation, whereas a native with a 2 or 3 morgen plot, or even no plot at all, pays 20 shillings, and if he has a hut [dwelling] not less than 30 shillings a year in direct taxation.

“In the town and on the diamond diggings, the anomalies of the difference in the systems of taxation applied to Natives on the one hand and to the other races on the other hand, are even more glaring. There will be living side by side in a slum, Europeans, Coloureds, Asiatics, and Natives, all equally poor, but only the Natives pay direct taxation, the amount in many towns and on the diggings often being the whole of a month’s total wages in cash or kind.” (See p. 225 Report of Native Economic Commission, 1930-1932.)

Why the last case, the case of the slum dwellers, should be more glaring as an instance of inequality than the case of a white farmer employing tens of natives who pay tax while he escapes, the reporter does not explain, and cannot explain because of his bourgeois approach to the question.

This taxation has had the effect, intended and conscious, of driving the natives in the reserves to labor in the mines, the shops and farms of the imperialists. The South African bourgeoisie cannot hope to solve the question of native unemployment today by merely driving them back into the reserves, without giving them much more land and altogether abolishing the taxes that they have to pay. And this is just precisely what neither the Hertzog nor the Smuts governments will do. On the contrary, only in September of this year, they sent punitive expeditions equipped with military planes, machine guns, bombs and armored cars to collect the taxes from the revolting Ovambo tribes in South West Africa, who cannot and will not pay these unjust exactions. So much for land taxation under the “beneficent rule” of Hertzog and Smuts.

One of the main arguments that the apologists of imperialism use to fool the white workers and uninformed public, even the colonial masses themselves, is the “civilizing mission”—that the black mass is the “white man’s burden”, which history has forced upon them against their will and inclinations. The English imperialists call it “trusteeship” and mouth the most sickening hypocritical stuff on all and every occasion on this, their mission in Africa. And yet, what are the facts? Let us take the question of education. Owing to the utter neglect of a “civilized” government like South Africa in the question of taking a census of the native population, it is not always easy to arrive at the facts vital to the presentation of a correct picture relating to the question of native education. But a conservative estimate of the number of native children of school age by the government-appointed Native Economic Commission places the figure at 1,373,000. The government provides in the most niggardly fashion for the education of only 283,000 or 20 per cent of the total number. This means that the great majority of native children are denied all education. When we remember that the government in 1926, on introducing the personal tax on Cape natives who had until then been paying only the hut tax, had given the excuse that the revenue derived from it would be used to provide for native education, we shall realize just how shallow and false the claims of the imperialists to educating the backward natives are. Only one-fifth of this tax money ever finds its way into the Native Development (education) Fund. An examination of the kind of education provided reveals uglier facts. Of the 283,000 children attending school only one-half of one per cent ever reach the higher classes, i.e., above standard VI. The education in the lower standards is not worth speaking of. Only one university college, under-staffed and badly equipped, ignoring the teaching of the natural, physical and mechanical sciences, but concentrating on theology and idealistic philosophy, is allowed the natives, Indians and Coloreds, while the European children have access to numerous colleges, universities and technical schools from which the natives, Indians and Coloreds are banned on grounds of color.

The progress of the natives in the field of education—and it is insignificant—has been achieved in spite of and in direct opposition to the policy of the Anglo-Boer imperialists. The control of education is also a subject which rouses the greatest dissatisfaction of the native people. The missionaries, those faithful tools of imperialism, are in charge of all native education from the lowest to the highest, either directly or indirectly. Thus the schools are nothing but missionary agencies whose aims are to produce a humble, god-fearing, docile servant for capitalist exploitation. The spineless character and unimaginable docility of the South African native intellectual is standing proof that the missionaries have not neglected and are not neglecting their job.

Health regulations and administration, sanitation, housing and vital statistics are also fair gauges of a State which claims to be civilized. The “slum areas”, i.e., working class districts of the industrial cities of Johannesburg, Capetown, Durban, Kimberley, etc., with their ramshackle tin shanties and overcrowded, unsanitary, badly lighted (candles and kerosene lamps are in the majority of cases the only means at the disposal of the inhabitants) medieval buildings are not only a disgrace to civilization, but a mockery of all human decency. And yet those are the only places to which the natives have access. Segregation laws decree one part of a city white and another part black to the enrichment of parasitic and wholly useless landlords. There are no reliable statistics on this question, also the fault of our “civilized” government, but a few cases will show how the health of the native masses is being taken care of by the Hertzogs and Smutses. During February, March and April this year there was an outbreak of a malaria epidemic in Natal and Zulu- land which swept 4,000 natives into their graves, entirely owing to the callous neglect of the Nationalist Government of Hertzog and Pirow, who had been warned many months previously by their own specialists to take preventive measures—to drain malarial swamps and to distribute quinine. These measures were taken only in the case of the rich white farmers. The result for the native peasants was disastrous.

According to official estimates the requirements of the natives. in the field of medical attention call for a force of 900 trained medical men and yet the actual supply is less than a dozen doctors. A great deal of agitation around the question of establishing a medical school for natives in South Africa has been in progress during the past five or six years. The Carnegie Fund offered to supply the necessary buildings and equipment but the Hertzog government would have nothing to do with it. What can the intentions of the Hertzog and Pirow government be? To see the natives die a slow death from diseases which are the direct consequences of their eco- nomic enslavement and exploitation.

SACP, 1927. Nzula standing back row, far left.

So far, we have only been dealing with the effects of the South African system of national oppression and exploitation as it affects the whole population, and that very inadequately. It must be remembered that in all this, the greatest sufferers and the people who feel the full weight of this monstrous oppression are the native workers and poor toiling masses. It is they who come into closest contact with and experience this hellish suppression. And for them it was and is meant. The intolerable conditions under which he works have made the native worker the most “dangerous” element for the imperialists in South African society. The imperialists recognize this fact, but recognizing it they proceed, by the very measures they adopt to overcome it, to intensify and accentuate it a hundred- fold by means of pass laws, color bar laws, low wages, and all kinds of anti-working class legislation.

What are the pass laws, what is their purpose, these documents which the native workers call “badges of slavery”? In order to control the movements of their wage-slaves who are always ready to seize every opportunity to escape from their bondage, the imperialists have introduced a system of registration which requires the native worker in the cities (which for the purpose of this law are called “labor districts”) to carry around on his person a document or documents of identification with his full history and fingerprints, which he must produce on demand from an officer of the law. This document is called a Service Contract and the native who breaks it is liable to criminal prosecution. This means that it is illegal for native workers to strike and all native workers who go on strike are liable to prosecution under the Masters’ and Servants’ Act (Pass Laws).

This is only one aspect of the pass system. A native writer, Henry D. Tyamzashe, has given a brief but excellent summary and characterization of the diverse and numerous passes that the native is required to carry about on his person by law:

British soldier gets his photo taken. Durban, 1920.

1. Identification (Natal)—This has to be carried by all natives in Natal for identification. It is a monthly document for which two shillings are paid per month.

2. Traveling Pass—Carried by all male natives wishing to travel; in the case of rail a native has to produce it before a ticket is issued to him. Certain ticket issuers will demand also his poll tax receipt. Thus the native is often embarrassed, and does not know what form of “pass” is actually required before he may travel.

3. Six Days’ Special Pass (Permit to seek work)—When a native arrives in town to look for work, or leaves services, he is given a six days’ “special” to seek work. After the expiration of this period and failure to get a job, the “special” is again endorsed for another six days. Should he again fail to gain employment he is “ordered” to another area by the police.

The authorities do not care how he gets there. All they care about is that he has to go there or suffer arrest or imprisonment. This is one of the cruelest of the pass laws. [In the present unemployment situation when thousands of native workers have no jobs this regulation has been one of the main restrictions against which the unemployed have directed their attention, and militant demonstrations have forced relaxation in its administration, but not abolition.]

4. Monthly Pass—This is a contract of service. [I have already described its effect, besides which a monthly fee of two shillings has to be paid for it, nominally by the employer, but actually by the native worker—A.N.]

5. Daily Laborers’ Pass—This has to be held by all natives who carry on business. They pay two shillings per month, but the absurdity of the document is that while a native who carries on such private business of his own can issue “special passes” to other natives, he cannot supply himself with a “special pass”!

If he desires to go to another area, or to be out after 9 p.m., he has to apply to the Pass Office for his “special”. Suppose this man is a painter, and is called on Saturday afternoon to do an urgent job, he cannot get away before the Pass Office opens on the following Monday. By then his job has taken wings. Suppose his wife be so unfortunate as to give birth to a child after 9 p.m., he cannot leave his home to call the doctor or the nurse. If he does, he will be arrested and convicted, according to law.

6. Day Special Pass—Every native who wishes to visit an area other than the one in which he resides has to carry a “special pass” stating how long he will be on such a visit.

De Beers Mining Compound housing 5000 workers in Kimberley, South Africa, 1896.

7. Night Special Pass—A native has to carry this if he wants to be out after 9 p.m. The employer can refuse to grant this pass if he likes—as many do—and the worker has either to go at his own risk or go to bed.

8. Trek Pass—This applies almost entirely to farm laborers when they leave one farm or district for another.

9. Location Visitor’s Permit Pass—A native who visits any lo- cation has to get a permit from the Location Superintendent. If this official is against revolutionary organizations he refuses the permit should the visitor be an organizer or member of such bodies.

10. Lodger’s Permit—Natives are allowed to become residents of municipal locations only if they have paid from one shilling and sixpence to two shillings and sixpence per month.

11. Poll Tax Receipt Pass—[I have described this measure; it only remains to mention that this receipt must be produced on nearly all occasions when the other passes are demanded—A.N.]

12. Exemption Pass—This is the “Big Boss” of all passes. It is supposed to exempt the bearer from native law and all other passes, but it does not. Wherever the bearer goes he will still be asked for his pass just as the native who has no such “exemption”.

This monstrous system of continuous surveillance and steady check-up is not merely calculated to control every movement of the native worker, but to harass and “boss” him so continually by a policy of pinpricks as to render him full of despair at his helpless lot. But the imperialists have miscalculated. The pass system enjoys the sustained, universal and active hostility of the workers and toiling masses. This hatred has found expression in heroic struggles for the destruction of the passes, burning them, tearing them up and putting them into bags which have been sent to the Pass Offices, 1929, 1930, 1931, Dingaan’s Day (December 16th, see article by Jackson in Negro Worker, No. 12, December, 1931), are historic events in the struggle of the native masses against the pass laws, in conditions of the most unbridled terror. The government of South Africa has hitherto withstood all these attempts to destroy these hateful passes. The Communist Party of South Africa is linking the struggle for the destruction of the passes with the fight against the whole system of exploitation and national oppression which reigns in South Africa today. The native workers are beginning to realize that the pass laws are just one phase of their oppression, and that not the most oppressive. This realization is drawing them closer to the revolutionary movement.

The imperialists howl that the Communists are inciting the natives to revolt and therefore must be ruthlessly suppressed. Communism cannot be suppressed. The conditions of monstrous oppression and denial of the most elementary rights of the native workers and toiling masses of South Africa call for the immediate strengthening of the revolutionary movement and for a strong Communist Party that will wage a relentless and stubborn fight against imperialism, for national liberation and social emancipation.

There are a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This Communist was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March,1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v12n12-dec-1933-communist.pdf

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