The women's suffrage movement

Question: Do you favour votes for all women, irrespective of colour

Answer: As a woman, sir, yes… but as a South African born person, I feel that it would be wiser if we gave the vote to the European woman only’ (from The Report of the Select Committee on the Enfranchisement of Women, SC12-1929:51)


Women's suffrage was a minor but persistent issue in white politics between 1892, when a motion calling for a qualified franchise for women was defeated in the Cape House of Assembly, and 1930, the year when a racially exclusive Act of Parliament finally enfranchised all white women over the age of 18.1 For the 4 000 or so members of the national women's suffrage body, the Women's Enfranchisement Association of the Union (WEAU), it was the culmination of many years of uphill work. White women had finally won their political majority and, the suffragists expected, would now take their rightful place as equals with men in political life.

It was a victory predicated on racial domination. It was not simply that black women were excluded from the vote. The enfranchisement of white women formed part of a much larger strategy of attack by General Hertzog and the ruling National Party on already enfranchised black male voters in the Cape Province. In the Cape, in contrast to the unambiguous whites-only policies of the three northern provinces, a formally non-racial but qualified franchise prevailed. Here, the number of black men who met certain statutory educational and property qualifications were entitled to vote alongside their white counterparts, and this privilege had, after much wrangling, been specifically protected in the Union constitution of 1909: a two thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament sitting together was required to amend it. A major political goal of Hertzog's government after it came to power in 1924 was to sweep away these rights and establish the unadulterated white supremacy of the northern provinces throughout the country. Thwarted in his efforts to abolish the Cape franchise outright, in the late 1920s Hertzog turned to women’s suffrage to launch what Henry Burton, a former South African Party cabinet minister, described as a 'flank attack' on the 'fortress of the Cape franchise' (Molteno, 1959: 7). Less than 20 per cent of the Cape electorate in 1929, black voters amounted in 1931, once white women had been enfranchised, to just under 11 per cent of voters in the Cape and less than 5 per cent of the electorate nationally (Walker, 1979:109).

The whites-only WEAU cooperated with the attack. Until the mid-1920s its policy was to secure the vote for women on the same terms as for men - that is, for white women only in the northern province and for those women who would meet the existing franchise qualifications in the Cape. The reach of its non-racialism was thus extremely limited, but even this came under fire. In the 1920s, under pressure to clarify its stance, the WEAU began to backtrack as self-interest and loyalty to the ruling white group became paramount consider. 'We know in our hearts we shall not get all that we ask, but we are very anxious for the half-loaf,' said Lady Rose Innes of the WE 1926. 'The other may come' (SC12-26: 17). Most suffragists resented having their own enfranchisement delayed by the haggling over Cape franchise and ultimately identified themselves with the government's segregationist policies. In the long years of struggle leading up to the 1930 debate, white self-interest in the WEAU had never been seriously challenged by its commitment to women's rights anyway since most members' understanding of 'women' did not extended women of other racial groups. Sex loyalty stopped at the heavily guarded boundaries of white privilege.

In black politics before World War Two women's suffrage was barely an issue at all. Relationships between the sexes were not on the agenda. They were sheltered from critique behind the sustained assault of white power on black living standards and political status and the further bulwark of the ideology of male superiority-female subordination within black society. The widespread assumption that politics was properly a male preserve went unchallenged while black leaders concentrated on more urgent matters. The overriding concern of political organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC), formed in 1912, a year after the WEAU was to defend the limited voting rights African people still enjoyed in the Cape against the rising tide of white segregationism. For most black politicians, campaigning to extend the franchise was beyond the bounds of feasible politics at that time. Campaigning to extended it to women, who were not even recognized as full members ANC, was even more of an irrelevancy compared to the central issue

-not till 1943 were women granted full membership, with voting rights, in the organisation.2 A similar preoccupation with the prevailing politics of racial power characterized the South African Indian Congress and African People's Organisation (APO). This is not to say that black women were politically invisible. The vigorous campaign against municipal pass laws and permits for women, which began in the Orange Free State in 1913 and spread to the Rand, indicated that African women could be roused to public demonstration over certain issues.3 Also in 1913, numbers of Indian women participated in the successful passive resistance campaign against a Supreme Court ruling which had invalidated the legal on the standing of marriages performed according to Hindu or Moslem religious rites (see chapter 6). Protests by African women in Natal in the late 1920s and on the Rand in the 1930s and 1940s, over a government crackdown on the home brewing of beer, were further evidence of black women's readiness to mobilise around issues that affected them and their families directly.

When measured against the political suppression of black people as whole, however, as well as the traumatic dislocation of black social and economic life in the early twentieth century, the question of votes for women shrank into insignificance. For the average woman toiling to survive in the reserves and rural areas or in the burgeoning locations and shantytowns of the urban areas, it was far too abstract and narrow a demand. The handful of middle-class black women who recognised that women were discriminated against as a sex and who consciously challenged the assumption of politics as a male preserve, still identified themselves with the overall programme for black advancement espoused by male-dominated organisations. For them women’s rights could not be separated from black rights; they formed only one strand in a much larger campaign for equality.

The operation of colour consciousness in the suffrage campaign is very clear. More difficult to measure is the operation of class interests. Certainly class was a factor. The WEAU was made up largely of middle-class women who were campaigning for all the privileges of their ass denied them by virtue of their sex. The Cape franchise, the source of much of the controversy in the suffrage campaign and the rallying point for African nationalists, was itself based on class-bound qualifications of property and of education - and the suffragists' ' proposal to apply it to white women in the Cape was, in fact, attacked by white populists. For the most part, however, their class interest were not called into the open. Race and class-consciousness converged, with the language of racial domination assuming ideological primacy. Supremacy, black dispossession - it is impossible to discuss the history of women's suffrage in South Africa without becomingcaught up in the racially charged struggle for control over resources and power. Overtly and covertly, this dictated much of the programme and the conduct of the movement before 1930, as well as attitudes towards the campaign then and since. In as much as the women's suffrage movement has been critically analysed, this is the perspective from which it has most often been viewed - subsequent commentators reflecting the same preoccupation with the ordering of relations between black and white and, to a lesser extent, property and labour, as most of the actors in the suffrage movement itself. Yet the history of the women's suffrage movement also has much to say about the politics of gender in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the suffrage debates spanning the forty-odd years of the movement it is possible to trace significant shifts in the dominant ideology of gender - that espoused by the white ruling class. These in turn related to a reformulation of women's roles in an industrializing age in which greater numbers of women were being drawn into wage labour, educational opportunities for women were expanding and the extended patriarchal family of the rural areas was being challenged by the new and unsettled conditions of South Africa’s fast-growing towns and cities. The progress of the suffrage camp was a particularly visible measure of the adjustment in attitudes towards women that took place in this time. By 1930 motherhood no longer seen as incompatible with political equality, female virtue was no longer coterminous with staying at home all one's life. The tight controls on women's independent standing of pre-industrial white society had loosened considerably.

Yet if the suffrage movement has something to tell us about changes in the organisation of gender in the first part of the twentieth century it also has much to say about continuity in the fundamental assumptions about women's role and nature. The granting of formal political equality to white women did not represent a revolution in male -female relations, not even within the white family. The principle of supreme male authority over the household, though less secure rooted than in the nineteenth century, was not overthrown. The persistence of the underlying principles of gender organisation, in time of economic and social change, is a basic theme of this chapter So too is the lack of commitment to any transcendent sex loyalty o the part of women - their primary identification lying with their own community, class and colour. Even among white women, ethnic loyalty to their own language group took first place, proving a major obstacle to the establishment of an organisation representative of both English and Afrikaner suffragists.

The discussion is organised in three main sections. After a brief look at the organisation of gender in settler society, the chapter outlines history of the suffrage campaign and the underlying developments in the economic and social order. Thereafter it looks at the ideological underpinnings of the campaign, noting the shift in emphasis from a preoccupation with the proper ordering of gender relations to that of are relations to that of race relations on the part of the ruling class.


The Boer tradition

The political culture that developed in the white settler societies of southern African was a thoroughly male one. From the earliest days of Dutch settlement at the Cape, government was seen as unquestionably a male responsibility. Settler society rested on a military foundation and war was the province of men. Throughout the eighteenth century there were fewer white women than men at the Cape, and competition amongst men for control over the fertility and sexuality of these women was fierce. Marriage and submission to the authority of their husbands, the supervision of the household, the bearing of children and the inculcation of the norms and values of their society into the next generation - these were the unquestioned duties of white women. If any justification of male political power were ever required, the Bible abounded with texts that confirmed it as fundamental to the God-ordained nature of the world.

The Boers took their guns, their Bibles and their large families into the polities they established in the interior. Yet although the place of Boer women was centred on the domestic, this did not mean they were unproductive members of society, or that they were excluded from community affairs. Farm and homestead, in which women's labour played an important part, formed the basis of the simple pastoral economy of Boer society. The feminine virtues emphasized on the frontier were not the passivity, modesty and decorativeness favoured in the Victorian drawing-room of metropolitan England. As elaborated in more detail by Brink in chapter 11, women needed to be strong and resourceful and played an important part in holding Boer society together. Spies notes 'a strong Afrikaner tradition of women's involvement in communal life and political affairs, although they were not accorded formal rights' (1980:162).

Thus it is not that surprising that the first recorded claim for political rights for women in South Africa was made by a group of Voortrekker women in Natal in 1843. A deputation of these women scandalized Henry Cloete, British High Commissioner to Natal, by declaring: 'that in consideration of the Battles in which they had been engaged with their husbands, they had obtained a promise that they would be entitled to a voice in all matters concerning the state of this country. That they had claimed this privilege, and although now repelled by the Volksraad, they had been deputed to express their fixed determination never to yield to British authority …quoted in Van Rensburg, 1966: 111). The women's claim for a 'voice can be compared to developments in other nineteenth-century frontier societies where women's political rights were recognised long before they were conceded in the capitals of Europe. The first place where women were enfranchised above the local level was the American state of Wyoming, where women got the vote in 1869. This was followed by the enfranchisement of women at a national level in New Zealand in 1893 and Australia in 1902 (UNESCO, 1964). The exigencies of frontier life could create favourable conditions for the abandoning of gender stereotypes about women's capabilities and exclusively domestic preoccupations.

In South Africa, however, nothing came of the 1843 claim. Despite the historical precedent thus set, the suffrage movement that developed from the late nineteenth century drew its inspiration not from the conditions of frontier life but from the conditions of early South African capitalism and the example of the metropolitan, especially the English, suffragists. Its leaders were not rural or Afrikaner, but characteristically middle-class, urban and English-speaking. An ambiguous motion of the Transvaal Volksraad did go so far as to confer burgherreg (citizenship) on the wives of all burghers of the Republic in 1855, but there is no record of these women ever utilizing the vote. While continuing to wield considerable authority in the community, most Dutch, Afrikaans-speaking women were content to exercise their power indirectly, without questioning the principle of male hegemony until well into the twentieth century. The hold of the Dutch Reformed Church, with its fundamentalist reading of the Bible and rigid adherence to patriarchal ideology, remained a strongly conservative force, strenuously opposed to more liberal attitudes women's public role in the Afrikaner community. So too did nationalist ideology, which, in a way reminiscent of later black nationalist movements, subordinated sectional demands within the community to the overriding struggle of the Afrikaner people against British imperialism.

The British legacy

The British, for their part, brought to southern Africa a sex-gender system that was also based on the putatively innate and unambiguous differences between men and women. The development of industrial capitalism in Britain during the eighteenth century was characterized by a fundamental shift in the social function of the home and family away from its earlier importance as a site of production, to a primarily, of reproduction and consumption. This separation between what became the essentially private domain of the home, which was the proper realm of women, and the public domain of productive work and politics, the realm of men, was basic to the organisation of gender relations in Britain in the nineteenth century. In Britain in the age of Darwin, the theological justification for patriarchy favoured by the Boers played a less prominent role than naturalist ones, however. As described by McClintock (chapter 4), the sexual division of labour was seen as grounded in biologically conditioned differences in aptitude and temperament between men and women - though God did remain useful as the supreme arbiter of the British patriarchal order.

The fact that working-class women formed a significant proportion of the industrial labour force did not challenge the fundamentals of this formulation. 'At the present day, when probably more than half the world's most laborious and ill-paid labour is still performed by women ... it is somewhat difficult to reply with gravity to the assertion "let women be content to be the divine child bearer and ask no more ‘’commented Olive Schreiner ironically in Woman and Labour 1911:81). Gender ideology was, however, riddled with precisely such lass-blinkered doublethink. Female employment did not weaken women's reproductive obligations as wives and mothers, although the growing participation of women in wage labour did necessitate adjustments in its operation. Rather, their new responsibilities as wage-workers were simply added onto the old - doublethink flowing smoothly into the double shift - while in factory and office, gender biologism rationalized the channelling of women into certain sex-stereotyped areas of work, such as in the food and clothing industries or teaching profession, and justified lower wages for female workers.

The industrial revolution did, however, create the conditions in which feminist movement to improve the social, economic, legal no political position of women could take root. The vicious exploitation of workers under early industrial capitalism, the appalling living conditions in working-class slums, which spawned not only physical disease but also social disease such as prostitution and alcoholism, spurred workers and middle-class sympathisers to agitate for reform. The suffrage movements that developed in the industrial world in the second half of the nineteenth century were originally linked closely to the major social and political reform movements of that time, in which middle-class women played an active part -temperance, prison reform, 'rescue work' among prostitutes, and, specially important in the United States, the anti-slavery campaign (Rowbotham, 1973; H. M. Lewis, 1949). In many respects these campaigns were infused with the sexual morality and gender ideology of the Victorian middle class, in which feminine modesty, domesticity and sexual purity were extolled. Yet in engaging in this work women reformers were forced to confront their societies' prejudices and prohibitions against female involvement in public life and thus to challenge in their own lives many of the social conventions that inspired them. Thus women campaigning against slavery in the United States 'found that in so doing they had to defend their right to do so, this leading to demands for their own political and legal emancipation' (T. H. Lewis, 1949:36). The vote became seen not only as a means to a reformist end, but also as a way of enhancing women’s status in society. The first society formed specifically to campaign for votes for women in England was established in 1867. Two years later a National Women's Suffrage Union was founded in the United States.

Gender and race relations in South Africa

In South Africa an organised challenge to women's subordinate status was slower to surface. Early-nineteenth-century ideas about female domesticity and submission to male authority were brought to the region by British settlers and adapted to the particular conditions of South African colonial life. Most women who immigrated to South Africa from Britain in the nineteenth century were not headed for a life of indolence. Like their Boer counterparts, the wives and daughters of the early settlers on the Eastern Cape frontier and in Natal were expected to pull their weight in housework and also farmwork.

She should know how to cook and bake and get up linen; she should be able upon a pinch to clean and place in order the sleeping and dwelling rooms of the house, and she should be well-skilled in the use of the needle. She ought to have energy enough to teach and rule the Kafirs entrusted with indoor occupations. Besides all this, she should have the temperament, and bodily strength which will enable her to find pleasure in these household engagements. The delicately nurtured lady, who can do none of these things, should on no account be transplanted to what must necessarily prove to her a sadly ungenial soil. Thus Robert Mann, Superintendent of Education in Natal between 1858 and 1870 (quoted in Beall, 1982:109-10). Also permeating British women's reproductive responsibilities in the colonies was the task producing healthy babies and raising loyal subjects for the Empire.

Many British women who immigrated to South Africa during the middle and latter part of the nineteenth century came alone, as governesses or domestic servants, from a lower middle-class or working-class background (Cock, 1980). They saw immigration as a route to social advancement, benefiting from the relative shortage of white women to marry out of service and settle quickly into membership of the ruling racial elite. In this process the contours of their gender-defined subordination were altered by the infusion into their SOCIAL relationships of a racially defined hierarchy of status and power, that elevated white women into a position of privilege and authority over blacks, both men and women. Much of the burden of white women's reproductive work was lessened by the presence of a vast underclass of black servants, male and female, to whom more and more of the onerous housework and child-care was directed (see chapter 3). White women's role in running the household became a supervisory one. A similar pattern of white female 'rule' over 'the Kafirs entrusted with indoor occupation' applied in the Boer household. In the private domain of the white household, a distinctive patterning of gender and race relations developed, in which the institution of black domestic service played a critical part. The white home became the arena in which white children were socialised not only into their gender roles, is little men and little women, but also into their roles as members of the ruling group. While relationships between white mistress and black servant were characterised by a certain enforced intimacy, the social gulf between the two was enormous. In the home whites learned that blacks were 'other'. The racial attitudes reproduced daily in domestic setting white women took into the world with them, and into movements such as the suffrage campaign. At the same time, white women's role as wives and mothers took on a new symbolic significance in the context of white supremacy - white women were custodians of 'civilised values', icons to the ideology of racial superiority, to be revered, protected and firmly controlled by their men. White male control over their sexuality took on added dimension of racial hegemony. In her thesis on the political economy of colonial Natal, Beall quotes an extract from the 1913 Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire into Assaults on Women, which brings out this point clearly: 'Violated chastity, especially where the offender is a male of inferior race, is keenly felt amongst white people as an reparable wrong to the victim and her relatives and an outrage upon the white race...' (1982:133-1).

The origins of the South African suffrage movement

As in Europe, the movement to enfranchise women in South Africa took root and grew in the unsettled conditions surrounding the transition to industrial capitalism. While the ideology of female domesticity was never seriously in question during this time, the profound transformation of the region as a result of the opening up of, first, the diamond and, later, the gold mines compelled certain readjustments in the organisation of gender (and other) relationships in society. This did not happen overnight, but with time the spread of capitalist relations of production into the furthest reaches of the region affect attitudes towards women at all levels of society.

As in Europe, although more slowly and on a smaller scale, the economic role of women began to expand beyond the overwhelmingly domestic, and to require redefinition. Although the mining industry in South Africa developed on the backs of male labour, the rapid development of commerce and secondary industry that followed in its wake drew directly on women as an additional source of labour, with important consequences for their economic standing as well as their perceptions of the world. While this process did not get under way fully until after World War One, already in the late nineteenth century new occupations were opening up for women in the towns, especially for young, unmarried white women with some education, Thus in the Cape Colony between 1891 and 1904 the number of women of all races employed in the professional category increased from 4 925 to 8 886. Of these, 83,1 percent in 1891 and 82,6 percent in 1904 were white (G19 -1905:320-1; these figures have been adjusted to exclude from account the African territories annexed to the Cape after 1891).

Teaching was already a predominantly female profession. In 1891 almost 75 per cent of white teachers in the Cape were women, and as the demand for skilled labour increased, so the regional need for more women to train as teachers grew (ibid.: cxiv). In the period 1891-1904 the number of women working in Textile Fabrics, in Dress, and in Fibrous Materials' in the Cape also increased, from 4 727 (of whom 3 671 were white) to 6 326 (of whom 5 177 were white), while the 1904 Cape census notes a 'striking' increase in the proportion of white females in the category of 'Shorthand Writer, Typist, Reporter'. None in 1891, they accounted for a remarkable 85,23 percent of this category of workers in 1904 (ibid.).

During this time opportunities for higher education for white women began to expand beyond the private tutoring and finishing schools for the daughters of the wealthy. The first university college, to allow women to enrol officially in its classes was the South African College in Cape Town which, in 1886, nearly 60 years after its establishment, opened its chemistry department to women on a trial basis for one year, before throwing open all its courses the following year (E. A. Walker, 1929: 72). Many women graduates were destined for marriage or for 'womanly' professions such as teaching - indeed, it has been argued that in the United States the expansion of tertiary education for women must be seen in relation to the need for more teachers in an expanding economy (Simmons, 1976) - but a tiny number of women now began knocking on the doors of previously men-only professions such as law and medicine. At the same time, the rapid growth of towns from the late nineteenth century introduced unsettling changes in all spheres of social life. Over time the patriarchal family of the rural areas (both black and white) underwent significant modification. The full history of this complex and uneven process has yet to be written, but certain of its components can be identified. Young wage-earners were no longer as economically dependent on their fathers as before; the extended family household of several generations made way for smaller, less uniform units, while the ideological norm of the two-generation nuclear family began to predominate. In the towns a new and more cosmopolitan culture emerged. The European immigrants streaming into the country in search of jobs and riches brought with them new ideas about relationships between rich and poor, men and women, its and children, which fed into the ideological ferment. The influence of European and especially British social movements and on South African intellectual life became stronger.

All this was beginning to apply pressure to the established organisation of relationships between the sexes, not only at work but in the home and family too. As early as 1883 Olive Schreiner's novel The story of an African Farm raised a storm wherever it was read because of its outspoken criticism of women's subordinate status in society. I'm sorry you don't care for the position of women,' stated Lyndall, a central character in the book, on one occasion;'... it is the only thing about which I think or feel much' (1883:197). Although Schreiner later distanced herself from the WEAU, because of the narrow and racist policies it adopted, she was an important source of inspiration for the South African suffrage movement, both through her writings and as a founding member of a Women's Enfranchisement League in the Cape in 1907 (Walker, 1979:19-21).

The immediate impact of these developments on social attitudes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries should, however, not be exaggerated; they were, rather, small pointers to what was to come. While a few radical thinkers dared to question old certitudes, they operated in a climate still very hostile to any suggestion of greater female emancipation. The 1904 Cape census concluded its discussion ON the extent to which 'married women of the European Race are employed in occupations which are likely to interfere with the proper performance of home duties' on a cautiously congratulatory note: very few married or widowed women were thus engaged, it noted, the figures pointing to a 'not unsatisfactory state of affairs' (G19-1905: cxiv). In 1892 an attempt to introduce an amendment to the Franchise and Ballot Act in the Cape, to extend the franchise to suitably qualified men, was roundly defeated in the legislature. J. X. Merriman, archconservative on the issue of women's rights, drew cheers and laughter with a speech which mixed folk sayings and Scripture to condemn the proposal out of hand. Citing a 'good old Dutch proverb', he cautioned that 'women's counsel and brandy are two capital things but you must use them very cautiously', and invoked 'God Almighty [who] had made the sexes separate' (Cape Debates, 1892: 254). Many of the themes of subsequent suffrage debates surfaced at this opening round in the discussion. Merriman also argued that 'in the last resource' men were duty-bound to take up arms to defend the country, and at times of war, women's counsel was brushed aside (ibid.). The Act itself raised the required property and education qualifications for male voters in the Cape and was introduced It prevent the 'swamping' of the voters' roll by black voters with the incorporation of the Transkeian Territories to the Cape. J. M. Orpen, who proposed the women's suffrage amendment, based much of the argument on the need to increase the 'civilised vote' by bringing ii women of property and 'mental development'. The fundamental idea of our franchise was the representation of property, of wealth, he pointed out - so to exclude women on the grounds of their sex was 'to subvert the very principle of representation' (ibid.: 253). In his speech whiteness, civilisation and property blurred into each other. The injustice done to white women by denying them the vote was exacerbated by the subversion of the proper racial hierarchy as a result of the inclusion of black men: 'Imagine a gentleman visiting some lady who was, say, managing a farm ... and telling her that they had made provision for her own coloured servants in the franchise of the Colony, but that she alone - who possessed the whole farm - was excluded' (ibid.: 252).

Orpen also pointed to developments in other parts of the world where women's suffrage was making its way and condemned the 'brutal assertion of the inferiority of women' - if women were the weaker sex, then that was all the more reason why they should seek protective legislation through the vote (ibid. 253).


In South Africa the first organisation formally to espouse women’s suffrage was the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCT), which was founded in 1889 to campaign against the trade in alcoholic beverages. Six years after its establishment it set up a Franchise Department because members had come to the conclusion that until women had the vote and thus exercised some political leverage over male legislators, their temperance campaign would be ignored. As in Britain, the first organised advocates of women's suffrage in South Africa were thus middle-class reformers, imbued with a strong sense of Christian duty and women's higher moral purpose. For them I vote was a means to an end which was not, in the first instance connected to the status of women. The WCTU was to remain important component of the suffrage movement, imparting its particular flavour of Christian reformism and sobriety to the subsequent campaign.

Women's organisations formed specifically around the issue of the suffrage first appeared in the early years of the twentieth century. The first Women's Enfranchisement League (WEL) in the country was established in Durban in 1902, the work primarily of an English couple, the Ancketills, who had emigrated to Natal in 1896 and quickly become active in labour and other progressive organisations in the colony. Following the establishment of the Durban WEL, suffrage societies were founded in all the major and several of the smaller TOWNS - Port Elizabeth (1905), Cape Town (1907), Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein (1908), Pietermaritzburg (1910) and Kimberley, Grahamstown, East London and Somerset East in 1911.

In the years after the Anglo-Boer War, however, the status of women in general and women's suffrage in particular remained side issues in white politics, completely overshadowed by the events lading up to the political union of the four British colonies in 1910. In 1907 a motion calling on the Cape House of Assembly to recognise that 'the time has come when the welfare of the people of the Cape of Good Hope will be most effectually conserved by conferring on women the privilege of voting' was soundly defeated by 66 votes to 24. For the most part it was a lighthearted debate. Once again J. X. Merriman drew cheers, laughter and applause in opposing the motion rousing one legislator to protest indignantly at the injustice being done to women in making them the subject of such merriment (Cape Debates, 1907: 95-8).

Women's suffrage was raised, but only very briefly, at the National Convention. While controversy over the franchise raged at the convention, its concern was the status of the black voters of the Cape in the future Union of South Africa, not that of women. In December 1908 Prime Minister Moor of Natal moved that provision be made in the new constitution for the enfranchisement of women of 'European descent' - significantly, the first reference to women's suffrage on a national platform was in racially exclusive terms (Minutes of the National Convention, 1911:133). Subsequently a Cape delegate, Colonel Stanford, moved to protect the Cape franchise by proposing that the words 'of European descent' be deleted (ibid.: 142-3). However, after the Christmas recess all discussion on women's suffrage ceased. Colonel Stanford's amendment had opened up 'new and alarming vistas to some of those present', wrote a contemporary commentator, and 'the advocates of Female Suffrage were brought to see the wisdom of leaving the question to Parliament' (Walton, 1912:306).

The only white political organisations actively to espouse women's suffrage at this stage were a number of small, left-wing labour parties and debating societies on the fringes of the political establishment. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a flurry of trade-union and socialist activity amongst white workers in the urban centres, much of it organised by British immigrants. Women's suffrage was part of the package of ideas for political reform that these activists had brought with them. In 1910 these tiny left-wing organisations came together to form the South African Labour Party, which for many years was the only party in the South African parliament to include women's suffrage as part of its official platform. In the early years the white labour movement's support for women's suffrage confirmed the fears of the establishment that the enfranchisement of women was a dangerous proposal, part of a larger revolutionary onslaught on the existing order of society. Ultimately, however, the significance of this alliance was minor. The larger political sympathies of most suffragists were moderate: they wanted women to be incorporated into, not to overthrow, the status quo. A comparison can be made with developments in other industrial countries, such as Britain, the United States and Germany, where over time the organised suffrage movement tended to diverge from more radical trade-union and socialist organisations and espouse essentially reformist rather than revolutionary politics. Those feminists were socialists took their feminism into socialist organisations, rather than their socialism into narrowly feminist structures such as the suffrage societies.

There were, furthermore, very strict limitations to the radicalism of the South African Labour Party. It was a staunchly segregationist body, dedicated only to the cause of white workers in the struggle against capital. Black workers, in their numbers, the cheapness of their labour and the alienness of their culture, it perceived as a dangerous threat. In this regard it merely confirmed the racial prejudices already embedded in the thinking of most suffragists. The WEAU welcomed its support on the suffrage issue, concurred its racism, but left its socialist ideas alone. The WEAU: establishment and direction The establishment of the Union or South Africa paved the way for the local Enfranchisement Leagues scattered across the country form a national body In 1911 the WEAU held its inaugural conference in Durban. Mindful of the bitter debates within the white community over the Cape franchise, the new organisation adopted a pragmatic non-confrontational approach to the issue of black eligibility for vote, one that accepted the parameters of the compromise already hammered out at the National Convention and would, it was hoped appeal to as broad a section of whites as possible. Its aim was to work on 'non-sectarian, non-partisan lines', its objective to win the vote women on 'the same terms as it is or may be granted to men' (Cross 1913: 306).

Responses to its formation ranged from indifference to hostility. Two public meetings held in conjunction with the conference were poorly attended while the Natal Mercury commented sourly in an editorial: We hope the women suffragists have enjoyed their picnic in Durban, but we do not think the political effect of their visit can be rewarded their endeavours, and we cannot pretend that we have any regrets at their non-success' (20.10.1911). For the next 29 years this organisation led the campaign to enfranchise women. Never a large Movement, it grew in fits and starts to encompass 38 local leagues around the country by 1921. What the total membership of its affiliates was is difficult to say - not only are figures hard to come by, but many local leagues were often dormant or very inactive for long stretches of time. Woman's Outlook, the Association's monthly magazine from 1912 to 1922, estimated national membership at about 4 000 in 1918 September 1918: 7) and there is little reason to believe that this figure would have increased much by 1930. In later years paid-up membership was not an accurate reflection of support for either the WEAU which secured 54 500 signatures for a petition in 1921) or for the principle of women's suffrage, which during the 1920s began to gain w adherents among women who, for ideological reasons, would not identify themselves with the WEAU. Nevertheless, it is clear that the latter's organizational strength was always very limited. Communications between head office and branch organisations were poor, funds very limited and much of the workload fell on a few, hard-working members of the national executive.

The WEAU was, as has already been mentioned, exclusively white, predominantly English-speaking and urban, and thoroughly middle-class. Biographical information about its members is sketchy, but the available information on office-bearers confirms that they were women of standing - educated, civic-minded, many of them moving the same social circles as the male legislators they wished to influence (Walker, 1979: 102-3). It does not appear to have been a particularly youthful organisation - its leadership, certainly, compromised older women rather than students and youngsters. Its first president, Mrs. E. Macintosh, a child at the time of the diamond rush, studied at the Huguenot Seminary in Wellington in the Cape, was married to a merchant and, in addition to the WEAU, was also active in the WCTU, the Guild of Loyal Women and the Empire League. Its second president, who held the position from 1916 till the WEAU disbanded after 1930, was Lady Steel, wife of a baronet and daughter of a minister, who included membership of the Maritzburg Croquet Club in her activities. Another prominent member, Julia Solly, born in 1862, was the daughter of an English university chancellor, had herself gone to university in England, was married to an engineer and farmer in the Western Cape, and was active in numerous organisations including the WCTU, the National Council of Women, the Federation for the Abolition of State Regulation of Vice, and the Association for the Advancement of the Sciences. More unusual a member was Petronella van Heerden, one of the few Afrikaner women to join the WEAU. A child during the Anglo-Boer War, she had battled with her family to win permission to study medicine in Holland before and during World War One, finally qualifying as a gynaecologist and setting up practice as one of the first Afrikaans-speaking female doctors, in Harrismith. Of fourteen prominent members on whom reasonably detailed biographies have been pieced together, at least seven are known to have had middle-class jobs of their own - admittedly a very small and not necessarily representative sample but suggestive of the relationship between women's economic independence and their commitment to women's rights issues. Three of these women were teachers or headmistresses; one was a farmer, one a botanist, one a journalist, and one (Van Heerden) a gynaecologist. Nine of the fourteen were married, with children (ibid.).

The establishment character of the WEAU shaped its programme and its politics. From the start it eschewed the confrontationist tactics adopted by Emily Pankhurst's suffragettes in England in favour of law-abiding methods such as petitions, public meetings, letters to the press and lobbying parliamentary support. The WEAU was, in fact, anxious to distance itself from the militant English suffragettes, whose campaigns received considerable, uniformly disapproving coverage in South African newspapers. It was by demonstrating their respectability and reasonableness that South African women could best persuade men of their fitness for the vote, it argued. A certain restiveness with their lack of progress did manifest itself from time to time - in 1921, for instance. Woman's Outlook concluded an edit criticizing General Smuts for refusing to sanction a government-sponsored suffrage bill, by making a vague threat of greater militancy: 'Does he propose that the women of South Africa should make their men "attend" by the drastic measures adopted by our forebears among the pedagogues and suffragettes?' (November 1921:8).

Dissatisfaction with the rate of progress was deflected back into constitutional channels, however. In 1923 one member, an unmarried teacher by the name of Edith Woods, did adopt a more militant stance by refusing to pay her income tax/ arguing in court that 'taxation without representation ... is tyranny', but hers was an individual a of rebellion. Although other suffragists rallied to her support on the day of her trial, her demonstration was neither official, nor representative of WEAU tactics. Nor was it taken very seriously by the court, the prosecutor describing himself jocularly as a 'poor, humble bachelor' whose 'knowledge of the ways of women is very restricted' (Cape Times, 21.2.1923). An editorial in the Cape Times also trivialized the affair, denouncing Woods's actions as 'this silly business', but behind its scorn lurked a more serious concern. Passive resistance was 'a very perilous task for white women to take', the editorial warned:

'This is no country in which to refuse to pay taxes without direct parliamentary representation. The white women who can plead that injustice are an infinitesimal fraction of the inhabitants of this country who have it as a basic condition of their lives' (ibid.).

This was an argument which most of the suffragists would appreciate. The gulf between the WEAU and the black majority of the population was very wide. Few in the WEAU saw their campaign in other than racial terms. Even though the organisation had committed itself to the non-racial franchise in the Cape, this, as its subsequent history makes clear, was more a matter of expediency than inviolate principle. Making common political cause with black women was inconceivable to most members and no attempt was made to recruit black members or propagate suffrage ideas outside the white community. An article written in 1913 by I. K. Cross, a South African suffragist, illustrates this perspective neatly. Entitled The Women's Movement in South Africa - and Elsewhere', the article documents the worldwide awakening of women and then goes on to mention, in passing, the anti-pass campaigns that were then disturbing the Orange Free State (Cross, 1913). The account draws no links between this campaign and the WEAU's campaign for greater rights for women, nor does it take the Free State campaign seriously. Rather, Cross describes it patronisingly as 'a recent and rather amusing incident', evidence of the extent of the 'awakening' of women world-- even local 'native women' were stirring - but quite without further interest to South African suffragists (ibid.: 307). At best the organised suffrage movement approached the situation of black women from the perspective of charity, not sisterly solidarity. Thus the only recorded time that the WEAU was addressed by a black woman was in 1921, when Charlotte Maxeke, a prominent social worker and founder of the Bantu Women's League, was invited to speak at the annual conference. The subject of her talk was not the suffrage, however, but the difficult, unstable conditions of life among African women in the towns - a topic of acute concern to her and other socially aware individuals but presented and received as a welfare, rather than a political problem (Woman's Outlook, August 1921: 5-6). Charity, welfare, concern about the breakdown of 'the family' and moral values - more particularly, the breakdown of 'traditional' values and controls within African society - these were areas where middle-class black and white women could meet, even agree, without serious challenge to white hegemony.

The campaign 1911-1918

Most of the energies of the WEAU campaign were directed at parliament. It worked hard to cultivate relationships with legislators, with at least some of whom its executive officers would have been acquainted socially. In parliament the Association relied heavily on a non-partisan House Committee on Women's Suffrage, which consisted of individual members who favoured women's suffrage and were prepared to liaise closely with the WEAU. In the early years of the Union parliament, however, such individuals were few and far between. Before 1919 the only party officially to endorse women's suffrage was the tiny South African Labour Party, with a mere five seats in 1910, reduced to four in 1915. A few legislators in the South African (SAP) and Unionist parties were sympathetic, but they operated as individuals, without the backing of their parties.

During the 1910s women's suffrage continued to be a side issue, eclipsed by other items on the white political agenda: the welding of a comprehensive 'native policy' out of the individual systems developed in each of the four provinces before Union; labour unrest amongst white workers on the mines; South African participation in World War One and, arising out of that, the 1914 rebellion led by former Boer generals dissatisfied with the pro-British policies of the governing SAP. Motions in favour of women's suffrage in 1913,1917 and 1918 were defeated, while debate on the only suffrage bill introduced at this stage, in 1914, was adjourned during the second reading and never resumed. This bill adhered to the policy of votes for women on the same terms as for men, its sponsor, H. A. Wyndham, a Unionist, conceding that it would enfranchise a certain number of coloured women in the Cape but arguing that 'this was not sufficient reason to withhold the franchise from white women'. 'Were honourable members opposite so frightened of the coloured population that they would condemn their white women to be disenfranchised?'

During the war years the WEAU itself directed far less attention to its suffrage work than to the war effort. The majority of members were British loyalists who believed that women's first duty at this time of crisis was to lay aside their particular grievances and serve their government and king. Many prominent members had been born and raised in England and still looked to it as 'home'. At its 1915 conference the WEAU agreed to subordinate its suffrage campaign to war relief activities and to place the organisation at the disposal of the government (Woman's Outlook, February 1915: 4). It also passed a resolution protesting against 'citizens who have recently taken up arms in open rebellion being allowed to exercise their vote... seeing that loyal women are still unenfranchised' (Woman's Outlook, July 1915: 5). Support for these resolutions was not unanimous, however, and their adoption sparked off a furious debate within the organisation. Critics charged that they conflicted with the policy of non-partisanship and would alienate Afrikaner support, while defenders maintained that the action was 'in the opinion of every loyal woman in South Africa, not only fully justified but a plain duty'. 'Surely we women of an Empire which gives liberty in its widest possible sense sits subjects are not going to stand aside at a time like the present?' was how one letter-writer to Woman's Outlook expressed it (March 1115:12). So divisive was the debate that eventually the WEAU executive rescinded the war resolution. Nevertheless, the sentiments that had motivated it continued to inform the organisation and most branch activity reports in these years dealt largely or exclusively with tar-related work, such as fundraising for the Red Cross, clothing collections and knitting drives. 'Propaganda work has been practically nil, reported the Durban WEL in 1916 (Woman's Outlook, June 1916:10).

New developments after the war

These years of relative stagnation in the organisation were, however, ones of enormous flux and movement in society at large. In Europe and North America the war is widely regarded as a watershed organisation of gender relations, drawing women into production an unprecedented scale and dissolving many of the more rigid attitudes about sex roles from the pre-war period. Fifteen govern-in Europe and North America enfranchised women between 1915 and 1921 (UNESCO, 1964), including Britain where women's suffrage was finally conceded in 1918, although for women over the 30 only. (Universal franchise was not established in Britain until 1928.) These developments, especially the enfranchisement of women in Britain, encouraged South African suffragists and introduced a new dimension to the local debate. No longer was women's suffrage an outlandish phenomenon confined to the dim edges of the European; it was now an established principle of the 'civilised' centre. In South Africa too, the war can be seen as a watershed in social and economic relations. It marked a major upswing in female employment outside the domestic sphere, which, in turn, worked to soften prejudices against female involvement in the public sphere and, thus, in politics. As secondary industry took off, a range of new jobs opened up working-class women as machinists, packers, labellers, sales-women and secretarial staff. The broad outlines of this process are by well known and in many respects parallel developments in other of the industrialized world. Women workers became clustered in particular areas of employment, which could be seen as extensions of their domestic roles and did not conflict with established views it their 'natural' abilities. Thus in the professions, they were concentrated in the 'nurturing' realms of teaching and nursing; in ness, in service and supportive roles as secretaries and sales-women; in industry, in food processing and textile concerns, and, of course, in domestic service. In South Africa the distribution of female labour was also informed by a very clear racial cleavage between black and white. Initially white women, young Afrikaner girls from struggling farm families on the platteland in particular, led the way onto the factory floor, followed only later, in the 1930s and 1940s, by black women, as white women as a social group began to move up into better-paying, 'pink collar' jobs as clerks, secretaries, etc. In production the systems of gender domination and of race domination interacted to produce a rigidly hierarchical patterning of employment distribution, in which both systems were reproduced - white male workers at the top, black female workers at the bottom, with black males and white females in separate and socially differentiated strata in between.

As in other parts of the world, these developments did not challenge existing gender stereotypes about women head-on. In many respects they worked to reinforce them in a new setting. Nevertheless, they did necessitate some adjustments in attitudes towards women, to the benefit of the suffrage movement. The growing numbers of women experiencing a new autonomy as wage-earners outside the confines of the home were becoming less inclined to submit unquestioningly to male control over their independence and their earnings, even if they believed, as most did, that marriage and motherhood were still their ultimate and preferred destination. A new frontier of tension in meeting social expectations, of contradiction between their reproductive and productive roles, was emerging in working women's lives.

The movement of university-educated women into the hitherto 'masculine' fields of science, law and medicine was an imp marker of softening attitudes. In 1923, after a lengthy campaign which the WEAU played an active part, the statutory bars against women entering the legal profession were finally removed by parliament. Although the number of women in 'masculine' professions remained tiny - a mere 4 research chemists and 8 dentists in 1926, and 35 attorneys, 5 advocates and 144 doctors and surgeons in 1936 (Walker, 1979:63) - their social significance as alternative role models for women, visibly challenging the presumption of female intellectual inferiority and dependence on male breadwinners, was consider From this time important sectors of the white political establishment began to relax their hitherto uncompromisingly hostile ATTITUDE towards the suffrage movement. In some ways the war gave them the opportunity to catch up with developments in gender relations that had already been set in motion beforehand. The question of women's enfranchisement had acquired an 'entirely new status' in recent years, editorialised the Cape Times in 1921 (30.4.19

In 1919 the principle of women's suffrage finally won a majority -albeit very slender one of two votes - in the House of Assembly. In proposing the motion, long-time champion Wyndham used two main arguments: firstly, that state involvement in what was generally considered women's sphere - child welfare, education, health-care -increasing rapidly, and made necessary some mechanism by which women could influence policy in these areas; and secondly, that Ben were being 'caught up in the industrial-economic system' (Cape Times Debates, 2.4.1919). Later that year the annual congresses of both the SAP and the Unionists also passed motions in favour of Ben's suffrage.

TO the acute chagrin of the suffragists, however, majority support for the principle within the SAP did not translate into government policy. Prime Minister Smuts, who personally endorsed the principle ‘Since the war all values have changed,' he chastised anti-suffragists parliament in 1920 (Cape Times Debates, May 1920: 91) - chose not strain party unity on what he still regarded as essentially a minor issue. If it does not win this session, it may win the next session, or the session after,' he tried to reassure a WEAU deputation in 1921 Cape Times, 11.3.1921).

In the early 1920s an important new front opened up in the campaign with the cautious exploration of the issue among women within the 'National Party. The movement of Afrikaner women to the cities and into factory employment put new pressures on the patriarchal controls of family and church, and opened up an important area of recruitment for the suffrage as well as the trade-union movement. The recognition that the eventual enfranchisement of women was now only a matter of time prompted Nationalist women to revaluate their former rejection of the issue - but in the light of party, rather than feminist, goals. Women were already playing a supportive role in the National Party but now they began to organize themselves more formally into women's branches. They were determined that any advance in the political status of white women be directed by Nationalist women to the benefit of their ethnic and party agenda. Thus Mrs. E. G. Malan, step-mother of Dr D. R Malan, argued at the inaugural meeting of the Cape branch of the Women's National Party in March 1923 that Women do not need to take fright at the word "politics".' Instead, 'With regard to women's suffrage, they must ensure that if they get it, the best men come to the head of affairs. Nationalist woman must be organised. They must know on election day for whom they must vote' (Die Burger, 2.3.1923; my translation). Less positive about women's suffrage but equally determined to direct it to party purposes was a Free State member of the women's branch: The National Party is, as a party, against women's suffrage, but if Men's suffrage is adopted by Parliament, it will be a disaster if Afrikaner women do not do their duty" (Die Burger, 18.3.1923; my translation). The movement to win over rank-and-file Nationalist members to the suffrage cause finally bore fruit in 1927, when the party's Cape congress unanimously adopted a motion that it was 'high time' that women got the vote (Van Heerden, 1965: 24).

But while Nationalist support for women's suffrage brought the issue into the domain of feasible politics, it also increased the pressure on the suffragists' always fragile support for the non-racial franchise in the Cape. The new adherents to the cause were vehemently opposed to any proposal that would enfranchise black women along with white. That their definition of 'women' did not extend to black women was made emphatically clear by the Transvaal region of the Women's National Party in 1928, when it announced that 'Die vrou wil nie saam met die kaffer stem me' [Women do not want to vote with the kaffir] (Stockenstrom, 1944: 389).

The campaign 1924-1930

After 1924, when Hertzog's National Party took office with the electoral support of the Labour Party, such unabashedly racist attitudes moved into a position of greater dominance within the suffrage campaign. At this point the issue of women's suffrage became almost entirely an appendage to the battle over the Nationalist plan to wipe the Cape franchise from the Union constitution. An early indication of this came in 1925 when the Labour Party, now junior partners in a government intent on shoring up white supremacy before all else, failed to support a suffrage amendment in the House of Assembly. Its reasons were the imperatives of coalition which, its leader Creswell argued somewhat uncomfortably, necessitated 'putting in the background ... some of those points on which we do not agree, in order to carry points on which we do agree' (Assembly Debates, 192 2339).

By now the principle of women's suffrage had been conceded by all but the most die-hard of male supremacists in parliament, and it was the terms on which women were to be enfranchised, as well as the timing, that came under scrutiny. Evidence of both the new-found respectability of the issue and its subordination to the politics of white power was the appointment of a parliamentary Select Committee on the Enfranchisement of Women in 1926. Brand Wessels, a Nationalist member of the committee, spoke for many when he explained to a witness: 'After all, we who are opposed to women's suffrage are opposed to it not on account of the unfitness of women, but on the grounds of the difficulty in the coloured and native vote' (SC12-26: 3). As the debate narrowed, so the WEAU itself began to vacillate on its superficially non-racial policy. In 1924 a motion calling for the vote for white women only was actually carried at its annual conference but subsequently not adopted, as it was not ratified by a majority of branch leagues. Those who had actively supported the Cape franchise fore began to talk in terms of 'the half-loaf, to adopt the phrase used by Lady Rose Innes before the 1926 select committee. 'We are so weary of fighting to get some recognition said Emily Solomon, another witness before that committee (SC12-26: 3). Although Solomon herself remained staunchly committed to the Cape franchise -much so that after 1930 she refused to use her vote because she regarded it as compromised (Walker, 1979:87) - her comment pointed a loss of drive within the organisation. Now that a women's enfranchisement bill looked within reach, those who had previously me along with the Cape franchise on pragmatic grounds began to chafe against its constraints and argue for a new pragmatism, more keeping with their own political outlook. Thus Mrs. Grant of the WEAU, before the 1926 select committee: 'Well, in this country it is no use talking of justice. If we talk of justice we are told we shall go under. Such native policy as we have is based on injustice.... Should we women be so wonderfully just, when after all, the white men in the country are not entirely just to native men?' (SC12-26:42).

The suffrage journal Flashlight (established in 1927 to replace the defunct Woman's Outlook) commented in 1928: The W.E.A.U. has ways asked for the vote on the same terms as it is or may be given to men. But it has always added that it is prepared to accept any measure of enfranchisement however limited which Parliament may wish to grant...' (third quarter 1928: 5). General Hertzog now emerged as the central figure in the campaign. His own position on women's suffrage had been spelled out in a 1924 debate on the subject: women (by which he referred only to white women) were qualified to vote but they would have to wait till the problem of the Cape franchise had been dealt with. He was confident that they would understand that their enfranchisement was not in the best interests of the country at that point and so accept the situation (Assembly Debates, 1924: col. 266). In the 1927-8 parliamentary session he intervened to prevent the adoption of a suffrage bill which looked set to pass - originally granting women the vote on the same terms as men, the bill had been amended at the committee stage to apply to white women only, in which form it enjoyed majority support. A general election was about to be fought and Hertzog was unhappy with the timing of the bill, even though in its amended form it met his criteria. By then several attempts to overturn the Cape franchise in parliament had failed for want of the required two-thirds majority, and it appears that while Hertzog had already decided to use women's suffrage to weaken its base, he wanted to ensure that his government's electoral position was secure before formally incorporating votes for women into his political programme. In return for the cooperation of the Assembly, he promised that he would personally introduce suffrage legislation if returned to power (Assembly Debates, 1927-28: col. 1657). Interestingly, Hertzog at that stage was prepared to include' coloured' women with white - for him the threat to white supremacy came not from the 'coloured' minority, whose links with the white community he recognised, but from the overwhelming African majority, and it was against this group that his disfranchisement campaign was directed.

Having duly won the elections, in 1929 Hertzog introduce the promised bill which passed smoothly into law as the Women's Enfranchisement Act on 19 May 1930. Through it adult suffrage was extended to white women in all four provinces - the anomalous situation thus created in the Cape, where the qualified franchise still applied to men, being rectified with regard to white men the following year when universal suffrage was granted to them as well (thereby further diluting the value of the African vote). Despite Hertzog’s earlier commitment to 'coloured' women, they were not included in terms of the Act. Hertzog argued unconvincingly that this was because it was impossible to differentiate effectively between 'coloured' and African women. Since it was no more difficult to differentiate 'coloured' from African than white from 'coloured', it is apparent that his breach of promise was to assuage the total segregationists in his party. 'I was always in favour of the native question being settled first,' said Hertzog in introducing the bill. 'As however it is clear that the majority in this House wants us to go on with this matter before such time, I am not prepared to oppose it any longer' (Assembly Debates, 1930: col. 2265). In fact, as already pointed out, his decision to support women’s enfranchisement was to bring him closer to his gaol of settling 'the native question'.

Thus in mid-1930, 35 years after the WCTU had first established its Franchise Department, the WEAU finally won its half-loaf. Some voices were raised within WEAU circles to protest against the betrayal of the Cape franchise - Olive Schreiner' s husband, for instance, asked that the dead writer's name not be associated with the suffragists victory celebrations (flashlight, July 1930: 47) - but these were drowned in the general jubilation. The victory issue of Flashlight tried to assuage consciences by arguing that enfranchised women would now be in a stronger position to fight for the rights of the unenfranchised:

The exclusion of the coloured in the Cape Province ... has been severely criticized by some of the older workers. But those who have been actively engaged in the work during recent years realize that this was the only measure possible for many years and, as it has been pointed out by Lady de Villiers and others, enfranchised women will have far greater influence in matters affecting the interests of the non-European section of the population than they had when unenfranchised (July 1930:1). More to the point, however/ was another article in the same issue which made it clear that for the average suffragist the battle was over: Is success always mingled with regret? I wrote to Miss Dorman, when Bill had passed the second reading, "Victory is in sight, what shall do with our empty lives now?" ... her reply was a quote from a Gilbert and Sullivan song "They give me this and they give me that, In short I have nothing left to grumble at"' (ibid. 35).

The effect of the 1930 legislation on black political consciousness was a radicalizing one. At a huge protest meeting in Cape Town organised by 'coloured' organisations to protest against the discriminatory terms of the legislation, a youthful Cissy Gool declared 'I am aid that I am slowly going Red' (Empire Group of South Africa, '1:5). The hopes of the black elite of a gradual incorporation into institutions of political power had been firmly rebuffed. The fact that women were used to deliver the blow gave an added piquancy the insult. 'Fancy the parliament of a civilised country doing such a low and mean thing as actually dragging their womenfolk and giving them the vote for the purpose of robbing the Native of his vote,' commented Dr Abdurahman of the APO bitterly (Karis and Carter, 11:176).


Relationships between the sexes What emerges from the history of the suffrage movement is the degree of unanimity within white society about certain principles of social organisation regarded as basic to its continued existence. The maintenance of white overlordship (in one form or another) and of Christian family as the primary social unit were two such fundamentals of white political thought.

The suffrage campaign never represented a basic challenge to the prevailing organisation of gender relations in the country. Most suffragists and anti-suffragists were in basic agreement: they did not want to upset the existing division of labour between the sexes. Arguments for and against were riddled with naturalist assumptions about male and female identity. Both sides built on an essentially biologist view of gender, which ascribed gender identity to certain inborn differences between men and women. They were in broad agreement about women's 'natural' nurturing capabilities and greater moral purity - the socialisation theories of gender difference developed by modern feminists did not form part of the currency of debate.

Thus the suffragists did not challenge the view that women’s primary responsibilities were domestic and that marriage and motherhood constituted women's most important achievements. While it is possible that more detailed biographical information would reveal a higher proportion of unmarried women among its members than the societal norm - women who had, by choice or circumstance, opted for career rather than marriage - the WEAU subscribed strongly to the viewpoint of the middle-class, nuclear family as the backbone of society. It recognised that not all women were equally 'privileged' to have a home and that increasing numbers of young women in particular were going out to work, but did not regard this as ultimately detracting from the centrality of women's reproductive role. Home values were stressed throughout their campaign. The home, as has so often been said, is the woman's sphere, stated Woman's Outlook in 1913. We must show other women what we already know so well, that it is the very things pertaining to the well-kept, happy home that need their combined operation' (June 1913: 5). In 1926 Julia Solly argued before the parliamentary select committee that women needed the vote as a 'home-protection weapon' (SC12-26: 26).

Even in more radical circles, where women's suffrage was seen as but one component in a much larger process of emancipation from the shackles of class exploitation, conventional attitudes towards the sexual division of labour within both household and political organisation prevailed. Thus the responsibility of women activists at the 1919 May Day celebrations organised by socialists on the Rand was to make tea for the participants (Walker, 1982: 48). A joke about women voting, which appeared in a 1922 issue of the left-wing newspaper International, played on sexist stereotypes about women's preoccupation with physical appearance to the exclusion of more important matters: '"How did you vote?" a young girl was asked, to which she ingenuously replied, "In my brown suit and squirrel toque"' (ibid.: 48).

There were individual feminists who challenged the predominant viewpoint. One unorthodox contributor to a 1918 issue of Woman’s. Outlook, Ida Hyett, dismissed marriage as 'slavery tempered by chivalry' (June 1918: 7). 'The suffragist, eager to see women earning independent incomes, plays into the hands of the capitalists by encouraging an influx of cheap and unorganized labour into the market,' she had argued in a previous issue of the magazine (May 1918: 7). Such thinkers were a very small minority, however, and their arguments had little effect on the overall direction of the campaign. A similar preoccupation with women's domestic and reproductive responsibilities characterised the other side of the debate. Anti-suffragists, however, used this to justify the exclusion of women from political process and to warn of the dangerous consequences of tampering with the existing division of responsibilities between the sexes. In 1909 the poet C. J. Langenhoven wrote an article which encapsulated this viewpoint. The suffrage movement, he argued, was inimical to 'the divinest duty of all' of 'our women' - 'the duties of the heart'. Women's reproductive function and its value to men were extolled in glowing terms: 'We shall want a class to watch over the idles of our young, to nurse our aged and sick, to brighten our homes with cheer and lighten our burdens with sympathy...' (1909: 64-5).

Where the two sides differed was on whether women's domestic responsibilities were compatible with political rights or not. Suffragist saw no contradiction between running a home and voting. Purer, they argued that because of women's particular role as homebuilders, they had a special contribution to make to the political PROCESS, as well as special needs which required representation in parliament. They did not argue against biology as destiny but incorporated biologism onto their side. Anti-suffragists, on the other hand, adopted a paternalistic view, arguing that as the weaker sex, women were quite unsuited for the hurly-burly of politics. In the years before 'World War One they were fond of pointing to the 'outrages' of the English suffragettes as proof of this thesis. Their vision of what would happen if women were to be granted the vote was apocalyptic: home life would be neglected and the family, the moral basis of society, wild crumbles. Thus Merriman in the 1918 Assembly debate described the enfranchisement of women in England as 'a case of democracy gone mad'; woman was a different creature from man, with different functions - hers was 'the great function of motherhood' (Cape Times Debates, 13.12.1918: 62). When pressed on the issue of 'presentation, anti-suffragists claimed there was no conflict of interest between men and women and that women were already represented in parliament, through their enfranchised fathers, husbands and brothers. Typical of this position was a speech by a Cape legislator in 1907, in which he argued that if women did their duty in the home, then they formed the character of men, and thus, by providing the right sort of man' to govern and lead, influenced the country’s welfare by their precept and example (Cape Debates, 1907: 98).

Over the years such arguments began to lose ground as the exclusive hold of purely domestic responsibilities on white women's time began to weaken. In response to the charge of revolution, proponents of women’s suffrage were at pains to point out the essential conservatism of women. Thus in a debate on a women's enfranchisement bill in 1923. General Smuts, arguing in favour of the bill, emphasised that women were more cautious than men. He referred to Rhodesia where women had been enfranchised in 1919, arguing that the women's vote there had been the decisive factor in the Rhodesian electorate's decision not to join the Union (Cape Times Debates, 1923: 38).

Despite the forebodings of the diehards, the enfranchisement of women did not bring about the fundamental reordering of gender relationships that many male opponents had feared and a few female proponents had hoped for. In the years following 1930 very few women, white or black, entered national politics, which remained a male-dominated terrain. Those women who did, tended to devote themselves to backroom party work in a supportive, rather than a leadership role. It took another 23 years for even a partial curtailment on the marital power of men in marriage to be written into the statute books, and then it still did not apply to the vast majority of women who were black and married under customary law. The dire warnings of the anti-suffragists, that social chaos, family breakdown and immorality would accompany the enfranchisement of women, were exposed as gross exaggerations of the power of the vote. As the more pragmatic analysts of what female enfranchisement would actually mean had long pointed out, going out to vote once every five years hardly amounted to a fundamental disruption of women's domestic routine.

Relationships between the races

The range of arguments used for and against women's suffrage did not alter much over the years. Merriman speaking in 1918 sounded much the same as he had in 1892 - although with less effect. What did change was where the emphasis fell. As already pointed out, when the issue was first raised most observers saw it mainly in terms of a challenge to existing male-female relationships, and exchange over the proper ordering of gender relations formed the heart of the debate. As time went on, however, and support for women's enfranchisement gained ground, more and more of the debate, both inside and outside parliament, centred not on the principle of whether women as a sex were qualified to vote or not, but on the practicalities of which women should vote, and how their eligibility could best be measured. Concern with the implications for white supremacy came to the fore.

A content analysis of the parliamentary debates on suffrage between 1913 and 1930 reveals the shift in preoccupation very dearly In the ten years between 1913 and 1923, the most frequent argument for women's suffrage was that women had a special contribution to make to the political process and that their enfranchisement would contribute to the general good. The next most frequently cited argument in its favour centred on the precedents that had already been set, for instance by women voting for school boards, later by the enfranchisement of women in other parts of the world. The third most popular type of argument referred to the changing position of women in the world. In the same period the most frequently advanced lament against women's enfranchisement was that women's place as in the home. The next most popular argument of the anti-suffragists was that most women did not want to vote; thereafter, that politics as a dirty business, and engagement with it would either 'cheapen' women or prove too much for them to take.

After 1923, however, suffragists and anti-suffragists alike dealt most extensively with the issue of race. While suffragists were at pains to defend the Cape franchise, or belittle the significance of the black rote, or argue that white women should not be penalised by the special circumstances of the Cape, anti-suffragists hammered on the gangers to white power of extending the franchise to black women. (Often the ideologies of white supremacy and of male superiority fused to form a single, albeit convoluted argument, as in a remarkable speech by Heaton Nicholls, SAP member of parliament for Zululand, in 1923: By all the canons of logic and reasoning, if we (white South Africa] were an aristocracy in this country, we should weaken in native eyes our rule if we diluted it with rule by women.... The effect upon the native mind throughout the country of granting votes to women would be to do infinitely more harm than any good we could get from it. It was contrary to all Bantu tradition for women to rule.... it was no reflection on white women to point out the facts existing here in our midst.... This country was unique (Cape Times Debates, 523:39).

Both sides were in broad agreement that radical change was not desirable in South Africa. Although in the early years the language of the campaign was superficially non-racial, the movement was in fact saturated with the ideology of white domination and superiority from the start. As already described, it was led by white, middle-class men who rarely questioned the unspoken assumption that the community of 'women' on whose behalf they laboured was a community of white women. This is not to say that the suffragists were unanimous on the best way to approach 'the native question'. A few radicals were prepared envisage the incorporation of more black people into the political process. A larger minority continued to support the concept of a lifted franchise based on property and educational criteria as a special case in the Cape, accepting that this would mean the enfranchisement of a small number of black women too. For them the more sophisticated and flexible criteria of class, rather than the crude determinism of colour, should form the basis on which the allocation e privilege (never the right) of voting should be made. It was, of course, an understanding of class that never challenged the fundamentals of white domination very few black women would qualify, supporters of this position were at pains to point out. The only parliamentary party to challenge the class-based elitism of the claim, the Labour Party, did so from a white supremacist position - white women were by definition 'civilised' and it was an insult to apply an eligibility test to them. For its part, the ANC of this period never publicly challenged the class basis of the Cape franchise either, nor the assumptions about 'civilisation' which informed the franchise debate and flowed from the ideology of white supremacy.

With time a more directly segregationist position grew stronger within the WEAU. In turning from its original, formally non-racial position, the WEAU attempted to justify itself on the grounds of expediency. It is probably true that even had the WEAU refused to cooperate with the Hertzog bill of 1930, this would still have been passed into law, although perhaps not that year. Nevertheless, more was involved in the WEAU shift to the right than a regretful bowing to the inevitable. Its readiness to ally itself with the maintenance of white supremacy made it easier for the issue of women's suffrage to become subordinated to the struggle within the white ruling group to devise an acceptable 'native policy' in the decades after Union; by not distancing itself from the 1930 legislation, the WEAU in effect legitimised its whites-only content. But more than that, the majority of suffragists - and the majority of white women - did not have any qualms about the manner in which they were enfranchised. Race consciousness, not gender consciousness, determined where their political interests and loyalties lay. The distinction Aletta Nel made in 1926 between 'woman' and 'South African born person', that is quoted at the beginning of this chapter, encapsulated very neatly their assessment of priorities.

The claim made by the WEAU in 1930, that white women would use the vote in the interest of the unenfranchised majority, was little more than a pious rationalisation and was certainly not borne out by subsequent voting patterns among white women. The history of the suffrage campaign had itself demonstrated how unwilling the enfranchised are to extend the vote without pressure from the unenfranchised. The Women's Enfranchisement Act widened the gulf between white women, now clearly incorporated into the institutions of white political power, and black women, unenfranchised not because they were women but because they were black.

The WEAU was essentially a middle-class organisation, dominated by women of education and, either as wives of professional and businessmen or as salaried women in their own right, of economic means. While the demand for women's suffrage was not in itself a middle-class demand, the priority accorded to it by suffragists, as the most important reform needed to improve the condition of women's lives, was a product of their middle-class position. Economically secure, well-educated, anchored socially in the upper strata of the ruling group, they looked to the vote to redress the discriminations they suffered by virtue of their sex. Although they used the growing participation of women in wage employment as an argument in their favour - and were often genuinely concerned about the exploitation of women workers - they made little attempt to recruit even white working-class women into their organisation. The underlying presumption of class was, however, overlaid by a political consciousness that was saturated with the ideology of white superiority. Ultimately most suffragists looked to race solidarity to protect their specific class interest.

The powerful pull of race and ethnic loyalty on female political consciousness was not just a feature of the organised suffrage movement. A previous chapter has demonstrated its effectiveness in mobilising Afrikaner women to the nationalist cause. For black women, too, any experience of gender oppression they might share with white women was rendered largely peripheral by their experiences as members of an oppressed racial group, an experience that was not only deeply felt but was also concretised - articulated and legitimised – in the political discourse, in a way that the experience of gender was not. Whether it was African women organising against passes or Afrikaner women mobilising for the National Party or British loyalists sending suffrage work to knit socks for the troops during World War One, women's sense of community with other women, the basis their perception of themselves and their political mobilisation as men, was circumscribed by sturdy boundaries of language, ethnicity and the broader race consciousness around which South African-society was organised. While these boundaries were never completely sealed - and, witness ruling-class concern in the 1920s and 1930s about the development of a working-class culture that cut ACROSS colour lines, had to be constantly defended - for the most part female political organisation conformed to this mapping of the world. It is useful here to place the South African suffrage movement in international perspective and to see how similar to movements in other parts of the world it was in many respects. Although the issue race gave to the South African campaign its own peculiar flavour and set of locally structured imperatives, yet the parallels with certain he European and North American organisations in terms of membership, political goals and identification with the ruling class are instructive. Thus in Britain, Emily Pankhurst's militant suffragette movement suspended its escalating civil disobedience campaign as on as World War One was declared and committed itself wholeheartedly to support for the government with which it had hitherto been locked in conflict. In Wilhelmine Germany in 1908 the Radical Union linked its support for more political rights for women to discrimination against ethnic minorities, by endorsing a 'language paragraph' which established German as the sole language of political debate (Hackett, 1976:133). Other governments, too, were capable of turning to women's suffrage to achieve political objectives unrelated to women's rights: the first group of women to be enfranchised in Canada were those who in 1917 had husbands or close relatives in the armed forces - because the Canadian government was battling to pass a conscription measure that was extremely unpopular in Quebec and saw these women as allies (Lloyd, 1971:100). Nor are the parallels confined only to Europe and North America. In a recent article on the implications of stratification for women's politics in contemporary Africa, Staudt concludes: 'While organizing in the name of women, women's politics operate like class politics to advance the interests of the already privileged' (1986: 203).

Yet despite the major limitations of the suffrage campaign as a women's rights movement, it is unfair to dismiss its achievements out of hand. Certain gains were made; certain barriers rolled back. After 1930 it was not possible for political parties, white or black, to maintain a males-only franchise for much longer - the principle of no gender discrimination in the franchise had been established, even if that principle was obscured by the race discrimination that was more firmly nailed in place. While white, middle-class women were the major beneficiaries of this development, its long-term effects could not be stopped at the boundaries which these women had themselves helped to consolidate. The cause for which the suffragists fought, to eradicate biology as a determinant of eligibility for political rights, was essentially a liberal democratic one. Its acceptance by parliament in 1930 represented a formal recognition of the principle of equal between the sexes. Formal recognition was not the same as practical application, and the enfranchisement of women did not signal a radical restructuring of power relationships between men and women or a fundamental redefinition of women's primary role as reproducers; nor was this what most women wanted. Nevertheless, it did constitute a limitation on exclusive male power, an enhancement of women's status and, as such, undermined the ideological underpinnings of unquestioned male supremacy.

This shift percolated, slowly and unevenly to be sure, through the entire society. The fact that in South Africa the suffrage movement was extremely undemocratic in its attitude towards and ultimate treatment of black people did not confine the spread to the borders of the white community. In 1930 women's suffrage became an established principle in South African political thought and as such was incorporated into subsequent campaigns for political rights among the black majority as well.

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