An interview with Mr. A.W.G. Champion

TitleAn interview with Mr. A.W.G. Champion
Resource TypeInterviews

The following is an interview with Mr. Champion conducted in 1964 by Mr. Stanley Trapido, Lecturer at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Oxford.

S. Trapido: Mr. Champion, why do you think the ICU was so strong in Natal?

A. Champion: The reason was that the native workers and those who were on the rural farms under European farmers, as well as those in the native reserves were suffering under many harsh restrictive regulations. In Durban, for example, a native had to submit to the dipping process; he had to be dipped like a beast. Also, when you visited Durban you had to buy a permit to allow you to be there. Therefore when the ICU came, we had to challenge these regulations, these byelaws. In many cases we were successful.

S. Trapido: How did you go about organizing the ICU in Durban and Natal?

A. Champion: We established, branches in every magisterial district of Natal and Zululand. The head office was in Durban, and we had offices in Pietermaritzburg, Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Dundee Vryheid and Eshowe. All these offices had a branch committee the officials of which were paid from the subscriptions of two shillings a month for a male worker and one shilling a month for a female worker. We had to retain lawyers in every one of these towns to take matters to court. When a native worker who was our member was dismissed without any valid reason, we demanded notice for a month or six months. One interesting case we had was in the sugar plantations where they recruited labour for six months. Sometimes the employers would not pay these people for at least three or four months. There was a case against an employer where the judges decided that once you have broken the terms of contract by not paying your employee monthly, this person has a legal right to demand the total amount of money for six months. We forced this employer to pay all his recruited labour for the next three or four months without any worker having done service. We were disliked. This is how we increased our membership by leaps and bounds.

S. Trapido: Do you think that the fact that most of the members of the ICU were Zulus, or that Natal was the only place where Zulus lived, had an effect on the member­ship of the ICU? Would you say it was stronger than other provinces?

A. Champion: I don't think that that was the reason. Also, I don't think we were stronger in Natal than in any other province. We had members here in Natal who were Indians, Coloureds and Basutos. But it was the first time our natives were organized in the pro­vince of Natal. The effects of harsh restrictive administration provided a sort of fertile soil, unexplored by any other organisation.

S. Trapido: Would you say that the ICU was primarily a trade union organisation, or do you think it was a political organisation as well?

A. Champion: It is not a question of thinking, it was, in terms of its constitution, a trade union organisation. But like all other trade union organisations, it did deal with politics. You find it even today among the sports; they are dealing with matters that concern politics.

S. Trapido: Why do you think the ICU declined in the 1930s?

A. Champion: Firstly, there was a difference of opinion between myself and Mr. Kadalie, my chief. I submitted to conference that we should turn to buying land for our members, because most of our members on the farms became wanderers. Even in the native re­serves classes of people were bred who were not wanted. Mr. Kada­lie did not see eye to eye with me. Then he left for overseas to attend a conference at Amsterdam International, and when he came back he found that there was trouble between the government and me. There had been rioting in Durban, bloodshed. I was in the bad books of the government, so much so that in 1930 I was served with a notice by the Minister of Justice, Advocate Pirow. This gave an opportunity to our enemies to exploit the situation by forming a multiplicity of craft organisations, which was contrary to our organisation because we wanted everybody to come into one union. That caused the decline of the ICU terribly.

E. Trapido: How did the ICU organise agricultural workers?

A. Champion: We organised people who were squatters, people who make their living by ploughing the land and who give money - part labour - to their employers. The employers, that is the farmers, exploited these people to such an extent that they' joined the ICU. They got their membership tickets from their nearest town. Take for example Dundee. Dundee town is surrounded by a farming commu­nity, most of whom were members of the Agricultural Union. Our members used to come into town to bring their complaints. We took many farmers who were members of the Agricultural Union to court. This is how we organised the agricultural workers' union under the ICU. It is interesting to note that the Agricultural Union once sent a letter to me, inviting me to address their conference, but when I disclosed that I was not a European, nor a Coloured, but that I was a pure Zulu, I received a letter saying that they had not known that I was a native and that their constitution did not allow a native to address their conference.

S. Trapido: Mr. Champion, what was the relationship between the ICU and the African National Congress (ANC) - if there was, in fact any relationship between the two organisations?

A. Champion: There was no formal relationship, but the officers of the ICU as well as other members were allowed to join the ANC in their own areas. For example, I became the Minister of Labour of the ANC at the time when the Rev. Z. Mahabane, J. Gumede and Dr. Xuma were the presidents. I had the qualification of knowing everything about trade unions and about workers throughout the Union. So in order that the Congress be kept informed about industrial questions which affected the natives as e whole, they appointed me as Minister of Labour.

S. Trapido: Was there ever any conflict between the two organisations?

A. Champion: there was never, any conflict, except that the ANC was in the good books of the government of the day and the ICU was never in the good books of any government. Before General Hertzog took over the government, he was friendly towards Mr. Clements Kadalie's organisation, the ICU, to the extent that he helped him organise the native workers. However, the moment he took over the government, as Prime Minister, he turned a somer­sault. The ICU forced him to dissolve the government in order to reform his Cabinet without Mr. Madeley the Minister of Labour.

Taken from:

  • South African Labour Bulletin : September-October, 1974, Vol.1, No.6.