South African history can legitimately be described as the story of how Europeans defeated, robbed and ruled the indigenous people for the enrichment of Europeans. A basic fact about South African history is the emergence of white domination and supremacy, that is, the overall power-structure of the whites and its master servant relationship as between white and black. This development was the necessary result of imperialist expansion, colonial conquest, white domination and capitalist exploitation.
The original inhabitants of South Africa comprised four groups. The Khoi-Khoi were pastoral people who depended on their cattle and sheep for subsistence. A second group, the San, or Abatwa, lived entirely by hunting and food-gathering. These two groups occupied the coastal region stretching from the Keiskamma River to the Cape Point, northward along the Atlantic coast, past the Olifants River. The eastern sea-board, occupied by the Nguni, was contiguous with that of the Khoisan, stretching from Delagoa Bay to the North, to Algoa Bay in the South. A last group, the Sotho, originally occupied the entire territory north of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. The Nguni and Sotho were economically more advanced than the Khoisan in that they practised agriculture.
The first white settlers in South Africa were led by Jan Van Riebeeck, representative of the Dutch East India Company(DEIC). They landed in 1652 at what is today called Cape Town. Van Riebeeck was succeeded by Simon van der Stel, under whose rule the expansion of the Cape Settlement was encouraged, and the first attempt was made to officially make the Cape a permanent Dutch settlement. The Khoisan stubbornly and fiercely resisted the Dutch invasion of their land. The conflict led to the first frontier war from 1658 to 1660 which ended in the defeat of the Khoisan. Under the leadership of Gonnema they continued to fight the Dutch intermittently for more than ten years before they were finally defeated. Further north, the same pattern of European invasion and encroachment, with the consequent resistance and eventual defeat of the Nguni and Sotho was executed with calculated bloodiness. The crushing of the Bambatha Rebellionin Natal in 1906 signalled the end of an era of military and violent resistance by black people against dispossession and oppression in South Africa.
In the peace negotiations which followed at the Cape in October 1699 the new Dutch owners made it clear that might was right ant that power laid in the barrel of a gun. The Dutch had won the Cape through military conquest. At the time of the British occupation of the Cape in 1806, the once proud Khoisan were a disintegrate mass, scattered from Table Mountain to the Orange (Great) River in the north. Their conquest and dispossession was complete and the 'benevolent' British era opened with the emancipation of the Khoisan through Ordinance 50 of 1828. The British policy of emancipation of slaves was the policy of the rising bourgeois class in England which having acquired the basic means of production as its private property, was now busy appropriating the fruits of the workers labour. It was this same policy which set the indigenes of the Cape free to labour for the new settler class. In this way many Khoisan had become labourers on the farms of these settlers. Many others still demonstrated resistance in wandering, cattle thefts and oblivion in the Western habit of drinking liquor, taught them by their European masters. A very large group of dispossessed Khoisan sought safety or escapism in the many mission stations founded in the process of conquest.
In 1870 a Bishop Gray bought about 800 hectares of land near Malmesbury in the Swartland. The land was left in trust to the Bishopric of Cape Town and the Anglican mission station of Abbotsdale was founded, named after Abbott, a bishop in Cape Town in 1877. In May 1877 two boards were established at Abbotsdale: a Church Board whose main concern was religious affairs and a Board of Supervisors ('Opsieners') which had to act as policemen, maintaining law and order. The congregation selected both boards annually, at Easter.
The land at Abbotsdale was divided on a one-family-one-erf principle. Each erf measured about 100 yards by 30 yards (approximately 91 metres by 27 metres) on which a brick building or house could be erected. Erfholders paid 1 pound on becoming an erfholder and 15 shillings annually for rent. In addition, erfholders had to 'donate' 15 shillings to the church, St Michael's and All Angels, and 5 shillings to the school, every year. By 1881 there were about 150 erfholders out of a population of more than 200 families. Until about 1880 the people of Abbotsdale can be described as small peasants, holding the land in perpetuity and providing their own means of subsistence. Special application could be made for additional erven, for which no fee was paid, for the purpose of practising agriculture. Abbotsdalers grew their own vegetables, fruit, wheat and corn and owned cattle (mostly goats). In order to pay the rental and donations erfholders had to earn money. This was procured either by trading or by wage-labour. Traders sold fruit and vegetables. A popular sale product was oats which was easy to harvest and which was always in demand by racehorse owners in Malmesbury and Cape Town. Abbotsdalers were not keen to work for White people and were proud to be independent Coloureds and owners of Abbotsdale. Many activities were carried out communally viz. the use of water (which was 'brak' and had to be boiled before consumption), collecting firewood and the use of commonage for grazing and livestock.
With the development of a wheat-industry, many Abbotsdalers -men and women - became wage-labourers on white farms. Reaping was done by Scythe and sickle, a process which was labour-intensive and always demanded more labour than was available at the time. Women supplemented the income by doing domestic work in the homes of white families in Malmesbury. The railway line, stretching into the northwest with Calvinia and Namaqualand as its hinterland, was completed in 1870. Work on the railways attracted many Abbotsdale men to Malmesbury. A 'great occasion' for going to Malmesbury was when the men would go to have their wheat milled into flour. This was often coupled with an occasion for socialising and recreating. Liquor consumption was an important aspect of this socialising.
Social stratification emerged at Abbotsdale with the renting of erven. The erfholders became the dominant group in the community. Non-erfholders would either become 'squatters' or 'inwoners' on the land of erfholders or would occupy a piece of land 'illegally'. The Erasmus family was one of the prominent families that dominated the affairs of Abbotsdale. Other well-known family names that formed part of the dominant group included Rinquest, Arendse, Van Harte and Josias.
Albert Erasmus was born in 1815 in Port Nolloth, a little fishing village on the northwest coast of the Cape, near the border of present-day Namibia. It is not clear how he came to settle on the English mission station of Abbotsdale, around 1850. His son Albert (Junior) became an erfholder in 1877. Albert Erasmus (Junior) had two sons and three daughters'. Albert, Samson, Margaret, Janet and Elizabeth. Albert Erasmus worked hard to provide a relatively comfortable living for his family. In December 1885 he appeared in the court of the Church Board on two charges: harvesting on a Sunday and harbouring a woman of "low morals", one Jacoba Louis. To the first charge he pleaded guilty and was fined 7 shillings and sixpence. The second charge was more serious. The communities at Abbotsdale were subject to strict moral codes. Offences regarded as deserving of punishment included for example, use of abusive language especially on 'holy' days such as Easter and Christmas, abuse of liquor and fighting. Adultery was a very serious offence. It was thus no surprise that Albert Erasmus pleaded not guilty. In addition to the seriousness of the charge, Jacoba had already been found guilty of adultery previously. No records could be found of the outcome of this case against Albert. But Jacoba was subsequently given the ultimate sentence when she was exiled from the station. Two years after the court case, Albert was elected to the office of supervisor. His exemplary behaviour as supervisor found an echo in his daughter Elizabeth. It came, as something of a surprise to many, people when Elizabeth married David Gomas, about whose past people at Abbotsdale knew little. Through his marriage to Elizabeth, David Gomas gained some recognition and he became an erfholder in 1908.
From the beginning there seemed to have been a conflict in values and personalities between David and Elizabeth. She was haughty, dogmatically religious and had an iron will; he rebellious, obstinate and a trifle irresponsible. The conflict was aggravated by the birth of Johnny on 8 April 1901 and whom Elizabeth fondly called her "eldest and youngest". For a few years after 1901 the Gomas's lived in the house of Elizabeth's father Albert Erasmus. Elizabeth, especially sensitive to the enunciations of the missionary educated authorities in Church and school, was always careful to observe the rites of religion. All her thoughts were set on work and saving money in order to secure a future for her son while the husband was cracking under the yoke of the new society. He briefly held employment on the railways but was sacked for hurling abuse at his supervisor. It was in the moments of drunkenness that the child experienced trite beast in his father.
David eventually left Abbotsdale, wandering around in Moorreesburg, Calvinia, and Bredasdorp, criss-crossing virtually the whole of the Swartland and its hinterland, never to return to Abbotsdale. He was finally to live out his fate in a world created by the very authorities that he so despised, who declared him 'mentally ill' and had him housed at the psychiatric unit of Valkenberg Hospital in Pinelands, where he died in 1943. He had briefly seen his wife and son in the early 1930s for the last time and neither attended his funeral.
Johnny Gomas attended St Michael's and All Angels Mission School where he spent many happy days. In contrast, Elizabeth remained dissatisfied with conditions at 'dry and dusty' Abbotsdale Oom Marthinus Erasmus, a first cousin of Elizabeth's, contends that the thought of her 'eldest and youngest' joining the increasing number of young farmhands, served as a strong motivation for her departure from Abbotsdale. Elizabeth decided to move to Kimberley where prospects for progress seemed much better due to the developing diamond industry. Kimberley, the city of diamonds, had much drawing power: more and better work and educational opportunities for her son.
This city did attract many immigrants in search of wealth. However, for Elizabeth, Kimberley had no such magnetism. On the contrary, what seemed more important to her was not so mud where she was going to, but what she was leaving behind: a dust mission station which provided no prospects for a secure future for her son, and a drunken husband (there was always the possibility that he might return from his wanderings). So, sometime during 1911, mother and son set out in a northbound train for Kimberley, journey which has been characterised by Marthinus Erasmus as ‘a flight'.
The capitalist development of South Africa was founded on primary extractive industries (mining). It relied on a migrant labour force, not totally independent of the land. In the peculiar capitalist development of South Africa, the majority of the working class was not incorporated into the social and political institutions. The form of state in 1910 emerged as a result of the specific processes of class formation and class struggle in which capitalist relations of production were established on a large scale in South Africa. Vast numbers of the colonised oppressed were transformed into wage labourers. However, capital accumulation was critically dependent on the availability of cheap labour and it was this question which explained the subjection of blacks to so many discriminatory measures and to what has been called a "labour repressive system".
Kimberley could claim to have seen the development of South Africa's first industrial community and has indeed been characterised by De Kiewiet as "the cradle" of 20th century worker relations. It was this 'turbulent city' which would eventually unleash the turbulence in the small frame of its latest 'immigrant'. It was here that Gomas would experience the makings of a new society.
Dispossession and conquest promoted the formation of a residential/working class in Kimberley. This class consisted of African migrant workers who were housed in closed, tightly controlled and guarded compounds, as well as a number of Indians, coloureds and a fairly large group of white squatters.
The black population of Kimberley increased from 20 000 to 44000 between 1875 and 1885 and of these less than half were employed in the mines at the height of the mining boom. A census taken on the 7th May 1911 recorded the urban population at 53 643, with blacks accounting for 43 401. By 1905 there were approximately 50 000 black workers at De Beers, the vast majority being contract workers. On average there were never more than fifteen to twenty thousand residential black workers employed on the mines at any one time. This figure had already started to decrease with the monopolisation of the diamond industry, late in the 19th century.
Initially the mining magnates "... lowered labour costs by subjecting their employees to greater levels of discipline and by reducing wage rates. More fundamentally, they sought to mechanize the work process further (thereby cutting the cost of production) and overcome the near-crippling problems of open-cast mining by changing to a system of underground operations". At the same time De Beers"... maintained a large reserve of labour, men whom it could call upon and dismiss at will in accord with the demands of output schedules and sufficient in number to ensure that wage rates (and thus costs) could be kept at a minimum". By 1915 many people were leaving Kimberley, in search of employment elsewhere; and indeed, so did Kimberley's magnates who "... went in search of better investment opportunities elsewhere, largely on the Rand and left the 'city of diamonds', largely bereft of people and of capital, no more than 'a small stagnant town' servicing the needs of the 'big hole'". Those working people who remained, joined the ranks of small tradesmen, independent craftsmen and the growing number of technical, managerial and office workers.
It also meant that a large number of blacks lived and worked outside the mines and these included wage workers in the tow, economy. For Elizabeth, her occupation as domestic worker was very much a continuation of an old life in new, different surroundings. Domestic work was plentiful and she was able to divide her labour among several households in order to afford an education for ha son. The very near future would teach her how different her son's education would be from her great dreams for him. Elizabeth's hopes and ambitions show a parallel with those of thousands of South Africans pushed off the land by the expansion of capital in the countryside and pulled towards the cities and towns. Her industry pride and resoluteness would drive the son to perform well al everything he undertook. Her powerful influence over Gomas has been stressed by one of Gomas's closest friends and at the beginning Elizabeth, with an iron will and hand, managed to contain the restiveness in her son. An attractive woman and devout Christian she declined a hand or two of marriage as well as rejecting an offer by a "swell nigger" to make her rich.
The son attended the St Cyprian's Mission School Perseverance as the Anglican Church hopefully called it. All non-white pupils were grouped together at least until the "1940s after which Africans came to be increasingly separated from coloureds. Enrolment at Perseverance between 1907 and 1915 averaged 240 (9) while the total number of black pupils in Kimberley was 983. The Christian ethos prevailing at Perseverance was manifest in the efforts "to take to the Eurafricans the ministrations d religion ... (and) reading, writing and arithmetic as were taught subserved this dexological aspect of their missionary aims".
The young Gomas was quiet and disciplined, eager to transform himself from a rustic country boy into a presentable am knowledgeable young man. He respected and admired the written word, was keen to perform well and was even a little self-centred "He was always reading," remarked a contemporary disapprovingly.
He had an Indian friend or two in the Malay Camp, then a location for the lower socio-economic groups, and when the Kimberley youth dashed off to the make-shift sportsfield, he would enjoy his solitude, greatly encouraged by Elizabeth. He always shunned sports art physical exercise. He was subsequently confirmed at the St Cyprian's Cathedral, a faithful member of the Anglican community in 1913. But it was Kimberley which would undermine that very influence of mother over son.
Then the First World War broke out and too young to join, he undoubtedly witnessed the scenes of excitement on Market Square where hundreds of blacks went to offer their services to the British Crown. The African National Congress (ANC), which had been formed in 1912 with the main purpose to fight the proposed Land Act of 1913 which gave blacks 7 percent of the land, in 1914 set aside a Special Conference, called in Kimberley, where the evils of the proposed Act would have been discussed, in order to organise volunteers for the war.
The responses of the ANC to the war were not uniform. While people such as J L Dube supported the inclusion of blacks as soldiers, militants such as J J Gumede emphasized the need to keep up criticism of the South African government, despite the war. The educated elite insisted on their right to fight while Article 7 of the South African Defence Force Act of 1912 (Act No. 13 of 1912)"... specified that Africans could be called upon to enroll as non-combatants, but the obligation to do armed service was restricted to persons of European descent ... [But) to cope with unforeseen circumstances, a qualifying clause was added stipulating that the article might be repealed summarily in times of war."
W B Rubusana made a vain offer to raise 5 000 black combatant troops and Sol Plaatjie organised and addressed many meetings during a recruitment campaign in Kimberley. It is in these kinds of actions that the contradictions between 'race' and class in South Africa, became manifest. This is one of the many excellent examples that show how the black petty bourgeoisie in Kimberley - as elsewhere in South Africa - "took on, adopted and developed ideological forms which were predominantly functional to its interest as a class..." The black petty bourgeoisie stand as a class between the dominant relations of production of capitalism, that is, the capital/labour relation, and as such are pulled two ways. Generally, they are a vacillating and reactionary class. At this juncture in the history of the liberation movement the black petty bourgeoisie in Kimberley was pulled towards capital and the powers-that-be. De Beers also always deliberately reinforced their liberal ideology in order to forestall their radicalisation and possible identification with an increasingly militant black working class.
Hundreds of young men left by train for Pretoria excited by the prospect of using guns. Africans constituted almost one-third of the total number (161 000) involved in the South West African and East African campaigns. They were to suffer a rude rebuff; using guns was a 'white man's privilege'; and they ended up brushing mules and driving wagons.
As for Gomas, there was hardly time for a carefree, adventurous adolescence. With the relative who helped support them gone to war, Elizabeth was forced to terminate her son's schooling and Gomas was thrown into the ranks of the working class which was increasingly being generated by the developing capitalist system. What options existed in Kimberley for a young, precocious workingclass school leaver? In the locations and townships openings existed in commerce and handicrafts as well as in trades sue fruit and vegetable selling, wagon building, shoemaking and tailoring Gomas's first job was that of 'fruit and vegetable boy' for an Indian tradesman. A few months later he was offered a better opportunity as shop-assistant/grocery-boy over the heads of other 'older more experienced' applicants ostensibly because the owner thought 'he was white'. Shortly afterwards the young Gomas had a brush with petty racism when he was literally kicked out of the shop by fuming owner who had discovered that his mother was a domestic worker (and thus not white). Elizabeth, who would have liked him become a "teacher or something", was nonetheless pleased when he was apprenticed to a tailor's workshop. Clothing and appearances had always been important to her and she painstakingly made suits and silk shirts for her son, sewing them by hand. The son was always immaculately dressed and proudly presented at church services. Photographs of the young Gomas during these years show a handsome, well-dressed man whose appearance must have distinguished him from the average working class child in Kimberley at the time. Elizabeth seemed to have been pleased because, at least, tailoring was 'clean' work.
The notorious instability and seasonality of the tailoring trade has often been written about. For the worker it meant he or she would be laid off at any time, particularly during times when demand was slack. For the employer it meant that lack of orders combined with high rents and a wage bill commensurate with a labour intensive industry, would quickly absorb his capital and put him out of business. While employed, however, tailors in Kimberley seemed to have been relatively well off, earning 5 pounds to 6 pounds for a plain suit. Nevertheless”¦
Gomas entered the tailoring industry, an entrance which at the same time introduced him to politics, an almost organic extension of his pursuit of knowledge and articulate literacy. The tendency of certain occupations to be more radical and prone to strike behaviour has been noted by historians. In Kimberley craftsmen, such as tailors, who generally suffered a share of insecurity of employment, were among the most vocal militants. The twenty-seven new members who enrolled into the International Socialist League, a leftwing splinter group from the White South African Labour Party, in 1919 included some of the tailoring workers at Gordon's as well as at Reid and Brown, two of the bigger tailoring workshops in Kimberley.
During this period of industrialisation in South Africa, Gomas was first eyewitness to and eventually participant in the politics of labour as a tailor. During 1915 he was apprenticed to Myer Gordon Tailors in Jones Street, probably the most famous political street m Kimberley. Here the offices of the major political organisations of the oppressed were housed: the African Political (People's) Organisation (APO), African National Congress (ANC) and later the International Socialist League (ISL) and the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU). It was in this street that Gomas's character and creativity were formed and where he received the rudiments of his political education. Jerry White has demonstrated how a microstudy of one block of buildings in a single epoch of its life can give insight into the wider society of which it is a part. Gomas's experiences inside and outside the workshop give us insight into the labour market, the relationship between workers and between employer and workers; into the structure and dynamics of South African capitalism and the black proletariat. Tailoring in Kimberley was the domain of the descendants of the slaves from India and Malaysia. These skilled artisans were the targets of vehement white racism, probably more because of their Hindu religion than because of any supposed 'racial' characteristics. Tailors also came from the ranks of the immigrant Jews. Jews owned most of the tailoring workshops in Kimberley. The atmosphere at Gordon's Tailors was cordial and relaxed and Gordon even taught his two apprentices, Fred Pienaar and Gomas, lessons in socialism. He was a Russian-Jew who after virtually a lifetime of oppression under Czardom had emigrated to South Africa late in the previous century. But it was as apprenticed tailor that Gomas learnt about the contradictions inherent in South African capitalism: the exploitation of workers, the oppression of black workers, the profit motives of employers and the demands by workers for higher wages and better conditions.
By the end of the war Gomas was an improver, earning 5 pounds per week. He was also doing a lot of private tailoring at home in Newton, having bought a second-hand sewing machine. Extra work was necessitated in view of the arthritis Elizabeth was suffering in her hands, caused by too much washing up and domestic work. But the clothing workers on the Witwatersrand were earning much higher wages while in Cape Town wages were as low as 1 pound 15 shillings for a qualified tailor.
During the war Sam Barlin was sent from Johannesburg by the ISL to organise the mostly coloured clothing workers in Kimberley, who numbered a few hundred. Barlin's presence and work caused much resentment among employers and he was described as "the professional agitator from Johannesburg" who came "to stir up strife in Kimberley". By November 1919 a branch of the Clothing Workers' Industrial Union had been formed in Kimberley with a Mr. Davis as chairman and Fred Pienaar as secretary. While no information pertaining to the struggle that preceded the formation and demands of this organisation survives, The International gives details of the outcome: recognition of shop stewards, a closed shop, officials of the union could enter any shop for inspection, and no victimisation would be allowed. These were followed by pay increases for all unionised clothing workers: a first class tailor was now earning 7 pounds 10 shillings per week; a second class one, 6 pounds (in which category Gomas fell), and with sexual discrimination still very stark, women earned only 3 pounds and 10 shillings. All other clothing workers were given a 25 percent increase in pay. After these demands were met, two firms, Reid and Brown, reneged on the agreement and the workers there, joined by Gordon's Tailors, and then came out on strike. Gomas's first strike lasted three days. It was eventually settled satisfactorily. The Diamond Fields Advertiser (DFA), mouthpiece of big business in Kimberley, which "saw a Bolshevist ghost behind every militant action of workers", was totally disgusted by this 'hostile act' of the workers. Despite the hostility of the DFA to militant workers action, the newspaper's accounts of the development of strikes in Kimberley remain instructive, as the accounts below show.
A few months later Gomas witnessed the strike of 30 horse-drivers employed by Knights Cartage Ltd, which was contracted to the South African Railways and the Municipality of Kimberley. The strike was organised by the coloured Horse Drivers Union of which K C Fredericks was chairman and J C Smuts (namesake of "slim Jannie") the secretary. In a letter to the editor of the DFA, which again blamed Barlin for the strike, Fredericks pointed out that the demand of a 50-70 percent increase in wages reflected the extremely low level of wages received. Two pounds per week was needed to maintain "a bare living". At a meeting between representatives of the Municipality and the strikers, H M Tait, a coloured employee in the City Engineer's Department, advised the strikers "to follow the example of the Europeans, form their association and manage their own affairs, get a good working committee together and they could rely upon receiving every consideration from the Council". Councillor Bishop was lea compromising and wanted it "to sink in" that the Municipality could do with fewer drivers, and even use white scabs to carry on the sanitary services of Kimberley. However, black workers from the railways were first brought in, but when the strikers explained the position they refused to scab and withdrew, leaving their supervise] protesting. After two weeks the striking drivers agreed to "surrender unconditionally" on condition (!) that they be paid the 7 pounds minimum wage, which was granted.
The end of the war saw the increasing misery of the working class; escalating prices and unemployment, with the concomitant rising anger and resentment of workers. This was revealed by life in the three locations, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 and the Malay Camp. In the mining town of Kimberley the predominantly black, migrant proletariat was housed and controlled in closed compounds. The system of control in the compounds showed marked similarities with the control of the locations. The influx of 'natives' was rigidly controlled by the permit system and occupation in the locations showed a downward trend from 1913 onwards.
A move for segregation between black and white in Kimberley was started after the Black Flag Rebellion of April 12, 1875. This rebellion was started by white diggers who were dissatisfied with the fact that non-whites were permitted to hold claims. The mine-owners felt compelled to make this concession to black diggers in attempts to extirpate the evils of illicit diamond buying. White diggers also used the rebellion to try and oust the government. After the 1878 Griqualand West Rebellion a systematic policy of locations for Africans was pursued. The "self-contained social geography" defined by kinship, church affiliation and occupation which characterised the previous century, was dramatically changed at the beginning of the century. Locations lost their specific ethnic identity and were infiltrated by "outsiders" while the Malay Camp had lost its exclusivity and become "home" to Indians, Africans as well as a large number of white squatters in search of rent-free accommodation. By 1881 the location population stood at 2 380. Figures for Kimberley in 1911 were as follows: white 20 953; non-white 43 401 of which about 70 percent lived in the locations. By the beginning of 1914 figures decreased drastically, to 14 888 and 25 755 respectively. This was largely due to retrenchments in the labour employed on the mines, which forced workers to leave Kimberley and/or join the war. A census taken in the three locations in August 1914 showed that 15 485 persons were living there. On the 4th September of the same year the return was 10117, showing a decrease of 5 368 in three weeks. According to a report by Mr. McDonald, superintendent of Native Locations, this was almost entirely due to repatriation and recruiting efforts. The locations were a classic example of the fate of workers in an industrialising society. To take two aspects of life, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding: in one case 53 adults were sharing eleven small rooms, and four sanitary pails. Housing was inadequate and poor: in 1917, 345 huts in No. 2 location were declared unfit for human habitation and 429 at No. 1. Tuberculosis remained the disease responsible for the highest rate of non-white mortality: 67 in 1910; 94 in 1913; 112 in 1914. The young Gomas was one of the lucky ones who survived an infection of TB albeit with a "weak lung". Their moving to Newton must have contributed to his recovery.
During the influenza epidemic in 1918 the existence of unhygienic dwellings in the locations alarmed the municipal authorities, lest these slums should become a centre from which the disease would spread illness and death in all directions. The full force of the epidemic was felt most severely between 2 October and 4 November 1918. The total number of deaths recorded in Kimberley during that period was 4 483 or 8.85 percent of the population. Subsequent statistics compiled to the 23rd December 1918 placed the death toll at 4 861 or 9.6 percent of the population, much higher than the average of 1.45 percent for the entire population in South Africa. Total deaths in South Africa numbered 300 000.
Van Onselen refers to the "hidden silent" struggle of workers against exploitation in Southern Rhodesian mines. In Kimberley the social war was often open. Criminal activities were the crudest and least successful manifestation of the workers' hostility to the system. "Breaking laws" was a popular, unorganised form of resistance in the locations. Crime has been defined as "behaviour defined by the dominant political group in a society ... (and is) ... linked to the social formation" and, in an examination of the economic, social and intellectual roots of institutions such as reformatories and prisons a thesis has been advanced which makes a direct link between 'crime' and industrial capitalism in South Africa. "A key product of the transition to industrial capitalism was the institutionalization of juvenile offenders in the Cape Colony". (38) The life history of Gomas immediately prior to becoming a statistic in the criminal history of South Africa, presents a fascinating and provocative example of this link between "crime" and capitalist development.
At 18 years of age the quiet, home-bound, bookwormish Gomas was transformed into a rebellious, even defiant young man. He joined the ANC and ICU and ISL during 1919, to the great concern of Elizabeth. Even graver was her concern for his nightly escapades in the Malay Camp. The latter concern certainly had a rational basis. On the night of September 16,1920, Gomas and two friends, James Gilmore and Abraham Lesar, broke into Gordon's Tailors and stole 100 pounds worth of suiting material. A cab-driver, one S T Michael, assisted their get-away and subsequently forfeited his licence. Gomas was arrested on September 17 and while awaiting trial in the Kimberley goal, Gomas and two inmates he had befriended, namely Klaas Blaas and Gilbert Thuys, tried to escape. To the housebreaking and theft charge Gomas pleaded not guilty. Due to insufficient evidence a suspended sentence was imposed on Gomas while Abraham Lesar was acquitted. Pleading guilty to the charge of trying to escape by hammering a hole through the cell wall, Gomas was sentenced to 3 months' hard labour. It was also ordered that the previous suspended sentence become operative. According to a contemporary, Willy Carlse, Gomas continued his political education in goal and on his release in December 1920 expressed his admiration for the "clever people" he met there. While in goal he apparently recruited at least one inmate for the ICU. The incident effectively ended his sojourn in Kimberley. Elizabeth thenceforth; looked towards the South for their salvation.
In looking back on the years in Kimberley we get a clear impression of Gomas's attitude to the political organisations at this embryonic stage of his political consciousness. Kimberley offered four organisation options by 1919: the ANC, APO, ISL and the ICU. The APO leadership was articulate and eloquent. They were the professionals - the teachers and doctors - and they formulated the programmes of the APO. The organisation did not look to industrial workers but rather to the petty bourgeoisie to secure a better place for coloureds, despite its initial emphasis on the need to organise trade unions, soon after it was formed. Above all its primary concern with the question of education as against questions of labour appeared remote from the hard reality of working class misery, particularly highlighted after the war. Thus its support still came from the elitist, upper echelons of the coloureds, and its debates at all its conferences reflected the interests of the elite. Gomas subsequently joined the ANC most probably because of its approval of militancy at the time as seen in its support of the strikes of 1919. By identifying with a liberal ideology the black petty bourgeoisie became increasingly divorced from a militant black working class. According to Bonner the petty bourgeoisie as a class holds, economically, an intermediate position between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the more separated a class is from the dominant relations and the less developed its 'class instinct', the more the resolution of the crisis takes place on the ideological level. In Kimberley, as elsewhere in South Africa, the interests of the black petty bourgeoisie coincided with those of the working class who aspired to the ranks of the former. This served to cohere the two classes and made ideological co-option possible and even necessary. According to Bonner, the black petty bourgeoisie in a 'colonial racist society' is fundamentally different from that in the developed capitalist world. In the peculiar development of South African capitalism the black petty bourgeoisie generally found avenues of upward mobility blocked. The "stunted and repressed" nature of this group made its identification with the militant working class always possible. To counteract precisely this tendency, deliberate efforts were made by De Beers in Kimberley to foster an alliance with the black elite.
The post-war period provided a conjuncture of circumstances (wages, cost of living, unemployment) which served to drive the black petty bourgeoisie and the working class together. The former class found opportunities for employment in the civil service and formal commerce increasingly being closed to them and it is in this context that the radicalisation of the ANC leadership, for example, must be understood. By 1919 the ISL had moved into Kimberley, having discovered "a great awakening of industrial solidarity among the Coloured workers, who form such a large portion of the community here". According to Fred Pienaar (Jnr) both his father and "probably boeta Johnny" were amongst the 27 coloureds that enrolled as new members of the ISL in December. Given Gomas's age and inexperience, it is likely that it was more the mood in the ISL than its ideas that he embraced: its anti-war stance, its bold language and idealism. He certainly had no clear idea of method or strategy, or even a clear idea of a future society. But he was attracted to active and bold methods. Thus, when the ANC, or part of it, supported the railway workers' strike of 1918-19, Gomas decided to join. At 18 years of age he was the youngest member of the ANC. With a pro-strike and militant policy the ANC could become an appropriate vehicle for the emancipation of the oppressed workers. The ANC, as well as the other organisations of the oppressed, was faced with a ruling class on the strategic offensive. During this period the few African rights recognised in South Africa were rapidly eroded. The South Africa Act of 1910 not only barred the Cape Franchise from the other three provinces, but also barred blacks from sitting in Parliament; the Land Act of 1913 offered, Africans the choice of returning to the reserves or becoming labour tenants or seeking employment in the towns or on the mines; the 1917 Native Administration Bill proposed a separate set of institutions for Africans and the eventual replacement of the Cape Franchise. Although the bill did not become law until 1937, it did lead to more agitation by the ANC, and when these actions failed to impress the rulers at home, the organisation hoped Britain would notice and make redress.
Shortly before his goal sentence Gomas had joined the ICU, apparently following the example set by the older Fred Pienaar. The ten years in Kimberley had transformed Gomas from a child into an adult and had also converted him to a rebel with a cause, even it the road ahead was not yet clear to him. There must have been still much confusion in his mind and he was not sure what should be done.