The overall picture of the Union of South Africa is one of colossal material development and prosperity.
Nature, happily, has bountifully endowed her with rich and varied material resources. These she has exploited most successfully by harnessing skilfully the abundant human resources of her multi-racial society. All her people have contributed, at great sacrifice sometimes, to this phenomenal progress. To add to her fortune, her peoples are descended from sturdy virile stocks. But, unfortunately, an overwhelming majority live under conditions of abject poverty with consequent frustration. They are thus seriously undermined physically and spiritually. General observations, confirmed by studies by experts of repute, reveal the resulting plight of the people. Their much-reduced power of resistance makes them an easy prey to malnutrition and disease. Discriminatory laws injure the Union
The discriminatory policies and laws of successive minority governments of Whites only are responsible for injuring the name and interests of the Union of South Africa. Non-whites are denied by these laws unfettered opportunities of meeting the needs of life in a civilised community.
White rule has followed a suicidal road to secure and maintain White supremacy which Whites see as their only protection from the so-called "tyranny of Black numbers". What a false and mistaken view! Lording it over others, whatever their status, begets resentment and not true and loving loyalty; resistance to domination, and not friendly cooperation.
Minority White rule in the Union has been a tragic failure. It has brought about much strained Black-White relations and a situation that has earned for the Union a bad name in the world and the disdain and censure of truly democratic progressive groups everywhere.
This has prompted some White citizens to band themselves into a private organisation called "The South Africa Foundation", a kind of "Defend the Union League". Some of us also regret the bad name our country is earning, but, unlike the Foundation, hold that the criticism and censure directed against her are basically founded. The Foundation should use its influence and resources to get White South Africa to amend her ways.
True and lasting security lies in Whites establishing friendship with their Black compatriots on the basis of equality and mutual trust and respect, and in giving them a stake in their native land by granting them full and unqualified democratic rights and all civil liberties enjoyed by citizens of a democratic state. All this would give Non-whites a greater sense of being in a great partnership with their White compatriots in shaping the destinies of their common fatherland. White rule united in oppressive measures
Non-whites, under the minority rule of Whites only, have for decades suffered and continue to suffer a repression that not only impoverishes them, but is a most humiliating affront to their person and dignity.
Under the twelve years of National Party Government we have suffered more cruelly than we have ever suffered under any other government since Union. But we should never forget that much of our suffering under baaskap apartheid has its genesis at Union and during the lifetime of the first Union Government under General Botha. For instance, the 1913 Native Land Act, which curtailed the right of Africans to buy land and marked out by law what ought to be permanent Bantu areas, provided a basis for Dr. Verwoerd`s Bantustans.
The Act of the Union, as I will presently show, is the greatest segregation scandal so far as Non-whites are concerned. The National Party Government has merely added to and amplified these laws, but, in doing so, has produced oppressive laws hitherto unmatched in their cruel effects.
The National Convention, 1909, virtually gave birth to Union by the South Africa Act of the same year. This was the big divide, the great segregation Act. Inter alia, it debarred Non-whites from Parliament. It denied those of the Orange Free State, Transvaal and nearly all in Natal franchise rights. In the Cape Province only did a limited number of Non-whites have the vote.
The South Africa Act set the pattern for subsequent discriminatory and unjust laws that have tormented Non-whites since and made them political and social outcasts in their fatherland, the Union of South Africa.
The Non-whites did not take this lying down. In 1912, Africans organised themselves into a national body, the African National Congress, and unambiguously made their demand for full democratic rights, with a franchise on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
The demand has been evaded over the years by giving us ineffective pseudo forms of representation purporting to give us a say in our governance. What we want is to share in the governing of the whole country. We reject the National Party Government plan of Separate Development, a divided South Africa.
The African leaders were never warm about the Representation of Natives Act of 1936 which, however, they accepted in the spirit of "let us put the White man on trial". Subsequent experience convinced, beyond doubt, the African members of the Native Representative Council of its basic uselessness. They boycotted its successive sessions after 1946, and demanded that the Government abolish all discriminatory laws. This led to an impasse that brought about the demise of the Council. The National Party Government which had come into power during the stalemate abolished the Council in 1951.
The Act gave Africans a tenuous ineffectual link with Parliament and was tolerated as merely a symbol and earnest of something better yet to be. About 1946 Indians were given a somewhat similar system to link them with Parliament and the Natal Provincial Council. They boycotted it until it was abolished by the National Party Government.
Some effort was made to establish African local Councils throughout the Union from 1920. Save in the Transkei, this did not find much acceptance in the rest of the country. This was an experiment by a Smuts Government. But this also failed. The Bantu Authorities Act, which abolished the Native Representative Council, was a National Government effort to carry on the Council system with no pretext of democracy.
The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 is a National Party Government creation. It is nothing but a fraudulent form of local government. Yet it purports to provide Africans with a more effective link with the Government than any before it. It also purports to lead Bantustans to independence. The whole Bantustan business is shrouded in airy statements and specious promises that leave one poised in mid air. One thing the Bantustan plan can never do is to meet the people`s yearnings for democracy, since its machinery has no semblance to democratic forms of government. This phoney form of local government, which will have no link whatsoever with Parliament, abolishes the Native Representatives in Parliament and the Cape Provincial Council as from this year, 1960.
It is pertinent to point out here that the Councils under the 1920 Council system had streaks of democracy in them in that some members of District Councils were elected by the people democratically. The people have no such privilege in the Bantu Authorities System.
At Union the political rights and status of the Coloured people, as that of the Cape African voters, were greatly curtailed. They now find themselves on a Separate Roll to vote for some few Whites to represent them in Parliament and in the Cape Provincial Council.
As in the case of the Cape African voters some members of the National Party Government will not rest until the Coloured people are divorced from Parliament.
The formation of the Union did not only deny Non-whites the right to vote, but since then White rule has been systematically depriving them of what meagre rights they had acquired from Colonial Governments before the Union.
A voteless people, such as we are, will always be victims of oppression by unscrupulous power-hungry men, themselves victims of human selfishness and greed. Economic Strangulation
The economic resources of the Union are geared to promote mainly White welfare and opulence, when the ordinary Non-whites, workers or peasants, are at starvation levels. This is attested to by expert opinion. The peasant suffers from small holdings. On an eight-acre holding the Tomlinson Commission promised a gross income of £120 a year to a hard-working peasant working his plot expertly. Otherwise the Commission says that peasant gross incomes are likely to be £60 a year.
Who can raise a civilised family on £120 a year, let alone £60?
Reserves were overcrowded in 1913 when they were set aside as permanent Native areas. The additional land promised by the Native Land and Trust Act of 1936 has not materially altered the position.
The overcrowding should not surprise us when we recall the arithmetic of the division of the Union into White and Black South Africa. White South Africa with only 3,000,000 Whites has 87 percent of the land, the rest is supposed to be the homeland of 10,000,000 Africans. There is always a permanent 4,000,000 Africans in the Reserves.
A five-acre holding represents the size of an average holding in most Reserves now. The influx control regulations worsen the economic plight of the peasant. They make it difficult for peasants to be part-time farmers, and part-time workers in an urban area. One is merely stating a fact and not defending the evil migrant labour system. That is not the whole of the tragic story of the Reserves. The rehabilitation plans of the Government arbitrarily classify as workers about 60 percent of the Reserve inhabitants.
About the peasants now turned workers: the prospects of being gainfully employed are slim. Officialdom glibly says that they will get employment in industries on the borders of the Reserves. There are few at present and it will be so for a long, long time.
The Reserves are poor depressed areas. Few South Africans realise the serious plight of these areas.
(b) Urban workers
The position of workers in urban areas is no better. It is admitted on all sides, including some employer groups, that wages for workers, particularly African workers, fall far short of meeting the basic needs of an urban worker`s family. Wage Board determination rates or voluntary increases by employers are not substantial increases.
Trade unionism is forbidden by law among African workers. They cannot, therefore, improve their lot by collective bargaining. Strike action is illegal for them.
To add to all this, unemployment, as among Indian and Coloured workers, claims many victims among African workers. It is made endemic by the restrictive influx control regulations.
The exclusion of Africans from the provisions of the Apprenticeship Act denies them gaining technical skills to qualify for skilled work in industry. Some of them somehow acquire the technical skill in the factory. The Industrial Conciliation Act as amended excludes Africans from its operation, and also the traditional conventional colour bar prejudice of most White employers and White employees effectively keeps out Africans from skilled jobs in industry. The result is that there are not many Africans employed as skilled workers. White builders are protected by prohibitions against skilled African builders carrying on their trade in urban areas.
The budding businessmen, and they are increasing fairly fast, have their difficulties. The main one is lack of adequate capital. Their precarious position is aggravated by the fact that the money market is virtually closed to Africans by law and by the conventional colour bar in Black-White relations. They do not enjoy full trade facilities. It is doubtful whether the under-capitalised Bantu Development Corporation will much help the needy Bantu traders, and they are many. The position is made worse by overtrading already evident in some Reserves.
(d) Farm labourers
What of Native labour tenants on White farms?
They work six months or so for the farmer and are free for the rest of the year. The farmer is obliged to give each family a garden plot and home site and grazing rights for a number of cattle determined by the farmer.
The farmer is not obliged to pay a labour tenant a wage, but most of them pay anything from 10/- to £1.10/- a month. The income of a labour tenant is low like that of a peasant. Their mode of life is alike too. They are generally unsophisticated. An African is most insecure
Non-whites, particularly Africans, live insecure lives. Low incomes and wages have much to do with this insecurity and frustration. The insecurity is aggravated by laws such as the Native Land Act of 1913 that virtually bar him from buying or holding land on lease save from another African.
The right of Africans to purchase land in freehold in an urban area was withdrawn about 1930.
The few Africans who acquired ownership of land are now affected by the Group Areas Act and other laws with like intent and effect.
The National Party Government policy makes Africans working in urban centres temporary workers, and they may remain therein only so long as they are legally employed by some bona fide employer.
In rural areas African freehold lands that are surrounded by White farms are by law "Black spots", which must be vacated by Africans when so ordered by the Government. There are already some areas, especially in Northern Natal, where removals on a large scale are afoot on a Government order.
These removals will involve Africans in heavy financial losses. A similar plight will befall some Indian and Coloured people who bought land in urban areas or have businesses there when they are moved under the Group Areas Act.
What a life we have to live in South Africa! Did you know this?
The position in the Union is that an African is always a tenant of someone: Urban area, Municipal tenant; Rural reserve, State tenant; Private farms, labour tenant or squatter.
Who would feel secure and happy living as a tenant all his life and his descendants likewise? Poorest bearing greater burden for their services
Non-whites in the Union are discriminated against by law and by convention: in wage scales, opportunities, welfare services and public services. This has been so since Union. But there was a noticeable change in the last United Party Government under General Smuts. The services remained differentiated, but there was discernible a desire for administrative unity, with all races falling under one State Department and a gradual increase in grants-in-aid for Non-white services. Now the disparities between the grants for Black and White and in the quality of the services remain wide.
The National Party Government reversed these trends. On their maxim, "Do it yourselves, Bantus", Africans were to assume greater responsibility for paying for their welfare services and public services. Pensions and old age grants were considerably reduced.
In urban areas, houses built under subsidised sub-economic schemes came under the category of economic housing, and called for a higher rental. African taxes were increased considerably. From this year African women are to come under the special Bantu income tax scheme. So the poorest member of the community, the African, is being taxed more by the National Party Government.
Churches and philanthropic bodies, but especially the churches, have contributed much to Non-white welfare services, especially services among Africans.
The policy of the National Party Government is one of discouraging White private voluntary work for and with Africans. It would not be unfair and amiss to say that generally whatever progress Non-whites have made towards civilised living has been despite restrictive government policies and a go-slow by the State and Whites generally (Christian missions excepted) in promoting and aiding our development.
We are here faced with the old problem of human frailty: "Unreasonable human greed against reasonable human needs." Hope for the future
Our situation in the Union may be grim, but is not hopeless. There is still enough goodwill and charitableness among South Africans, Black and White - if only leaders, both Black and White, and the Government would get together to talk over things.
We all desire to see a prosperous and peaceful South Africa. Let us face the future with a determination to work with others of like mind to make our multi-racial Union of South Africa a democracy.
Freedom-loving forces here and outside our borders want to bring freedom to all in our land. We shall have to think and act realistically, if we are to succeed: "Alles sal reg kom mits elkeen sy beste doen. Everything will come right if everybody does his best.
Personally, whatever the difficulties, I see hope only in an undivided democratic South Africa. The difficulties are not insuperable if all concerned would approach them with a spirit of goodwill and realism and an unqualified respect for truth.
From Spottiswoode, Hildegarde (Comp.) South Africa: The Road Ahead. London: Bailey Bros. & Swinfen Ltd., 1960.