Rand Rebellion 1922

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Account of events: Rand Rebellion 1922

David Ivon Jones was the secretary of the ISL, who had been instrumental in forming the first black trade union - the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) - and had been behind some of the party's support for the African strikers in 1918, was in Moscow when the miners came out in January 1922 and he took up their cause. He wrote about the strike and subsequent revolt and aimed to raise support in Britain. Below is an extract of a graphic account of events in Jones? article, from around the time the government forces began crushing the rebellion:

'The outlying mining towns of Benoni and Brakpan were already dominated by the armed strikers. In a few hours aeroplanes were hovering over the scenes where commandos were mobilizing. Boer commandos were soon on their way to fight for the government ... An aeroplane dropped a bomb on the Benoni Workers' Hall, and blew the whole building full of executives and strikers to atoms.

[In] Johannesburg, the workers' commandos took possession of the working class suburbs of Fordsburg and Jeppe ... They also entrenched on the neighbouring low hills overlooking the military camping ground. Here half a dozen aeroplanes operated on these positions with deadly effect ... Artillery bombardment proceeded at the same time, but the position was stubbornly defended, and only given up after terrible losses. Here where no bourgeois property was endangered, the aeroplanes could operate with impunity'.

Fordsburg was different, said Jones. From there the centre of Johannesburg could be controlled and air attacks would have led to destruction of valuable property. Then, after all other resistance had fallen, Smuts threatened a general ground bombardment and the Boer commandos and the regular troops massed for the final assault:

'Here, in those few tragic hours, the brave victim of capitalist ferocity atoned many times over in blood and tears, and deeds of heroism that move the proletarian heart, for the anti-native outrages committed in their name a week before. Here the red forces were directed by Fisher and Spendiff, two miners' leaders followers of the Communists, and while ardent strike militants, most fervent partisans of the negro workers at the same time.

The bombardment was expected to last ten minutes. It went on for seventy minutes ... It was only a question of time, and the issue was never in doubt, for Smuts only directs final assaults for political acclaim when the issue is absolutely safe'.

Fisher and Spendiff were killed, said Jones: 'On Spendiff was found his membership card of the Communist Party. Thousands of prisoners were taken, and the militants weeded out for the court martials'. Jones could not know that a month after the article appeared four men would go to the gallows, and that another fourteen had death sentences commuted.

He concluded with the claim that the revolt on the Rand had inspired workers in Australia - and that 'the deed of indictment against capitalism [was] filling up from every land and every clime; and the roll of honour of proletarian heroism [was] growing from Africa, Australia and India . . . '


References:
•  Aldaheff, V., (1976). A Newspaper History of South Africa, Norwich.
• Howcroft, P. (undated). South Africa Encyclopaedia: Prehistory to the year 2000, unpublished papers with SA History Online.
• Oscar, A. (1986). Johannesburg Album.
• Potgieter, D.J. (ed)(1973). Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Vol.9, Cape Town: Nasou, p.245-6.
• Wilson, M. & Thompson, L. (1971). Oxford History of South Africa, Vol.2.

Last updated : 23-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011