The Struggle for Power: The Triumph of the Radicals, 1939-1946
4. War Issue
In February 1933, the two main white political parties, the Nationalists and the SAP, entered into a coalition to deal with the economic problemsarising from the depression and to settle finally the question of the "Native Bills", which had remained unsolved because the Nationalists had lacked the required two-thirds majority. After the coalition, the followers of Smuts and Hertzog met in Bloemfontein on 5 December 1934 to form the United South African National Party, commonly known as the United Party.
In the general elections of 1938, the United Party won 111 seats, the Nationalists 27, Dominion Party 8, Labour Party and the Socialists 1. But as Bunting points out:
"The enormous majority... was to prove illusory. Fusion brought no unity, either ideological or racial. When war eventually came, the party split into its component parts".
When war broke out in Europe, Hertzog summoned the Cabinet and found a split. Defeated at Cabinet level, Hertzog took the issue to parliament, which on 4 September decided for war by thirteen votes - eighty to sixty-seven.
Smuts formed a new Ministry, which included Madeley from the Labour Party and Stallard from the Dominion Party. This drove Hertzog and Malan closer together, but they were still too far apart, especially in relation to the republican sentiments and policies of the Malanites. Not even the formation of the Herenigde Nasionale of Volksparty (Reunited Nationalist or Peoples Party), could heal the breach. The merger came to an end at the O.F.S. Congress of the Nationalist Party in November 1940, when the conference rejected Hertzog's draft programme, which guaranteed full equality to the English speaking white population.
From the upheaval in the ranks of the Afrikaners emerged three parties, Malan's reconstituted Nationalist Party, Havenga 's (a Hertzogite) Afrikaner Party and Pirow 's New Order. Outside the constitutional arena was the Ossewa Brandwag under Dr. F.J. Van Rensburg, a professional Nazi Kommandant. H. and R. Simons, commenting on these factions, say:
"All the factions refused to fight in Britain 's war, set their hearts on a German victory, and aimed at the goal of a white man's republic; but they disputed bitterly its content and their methods of struggle. Pirow preached the essence of Hitler's national socialism; Van Rensburg's storm troopers practised it by blowing up railways, power lines, telephones and post offices. Hertzog and Malan put their faith in the white man's parliament, which had served them so well, and held divergent views on the relations between Afrikaners and English."
For the non-whites the war period ushered in an upsurge of militancy and growing co-operation of the national liberatory movements and the SACP. Perhaps, soon a scholar shall examine in greater depth than H. and R. Simons the effects on the African and Coloured Peoples and their political movements.
In so far as the Indians are concerned, only Joshi's Tyranny of Colour deals with this important issue. However, Joshi's treatment is somewhat shallow concerning the difference between the moderates and radicals over the question of whether or not to support the war effort. Moreover, he does not consider whether the changed policy of the SACP affected the radicals, some of whom were members of the party. Although H. and R. Simons state "of all those in the liberation movement, the Indian radicals put up the strongest resistance to the government's war policy", they fail to develop this theme adequately.
A great deal of the anti-war activities was conducted through the aegis of the Non-European United Front (NEUF). Among those elected on to the national council were Mrs. Gool (president), Baloyi (senior president), M. Kotane (secretary), W.H. Andrews (treasurer), Dr. Dadoo and H.A. Naidoo. H. and R. Simons correctly characterise it as "The seed of a grand non-racial alliance bad been planted; but seventeen years ware to pass before it bore fruit", primarily because the Transvaal ANC had refused tojoin. In the north, the Indians responded to the appeal, and this was amply demonstrated An the NEUF activity over the war issue.
From the beginning the radicals, communists and non-communists alike characterised the war as an "Imperialist war". They demanded complete equality in the armed forces and a firm declaration from the government that it would extend democratic rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed only by the white population. The Moderates, especially those in the NIA, thought differently. They extolled the virtues of assisting Britain, and linked their freedom, as well as India 's with that of Britain.
At a committee meeting of the NIA, the moderates proposed to offer the services of the Indians to the war effort and to have the offer confirmed at a mass meeting. Despite the opposition of the minority radical faction the proposal was carried. This move, coming as it did after the formation of the Lawrence Committee, led to the radicals forming the nationalist bloc of the NIA. It marked the departure point. From then onwards, the radicals acted in a collective and concerted manner, leading to the eventual take-over of the NIC.
At the mass meeting held on 9 June, Rama Rau, supported by P.R. Pather,j.W. Godfrey, S.R. Naidoo and S. Rustomjee, backed A. Christopher's resolution, "to offer the services of the Indians" and the co-operation of the NIA to the government's war effort. The radicals moved an amendment, which asked for full equality in the armed services and for the extension of democratic rights before the Indians could offer their services. Responding to the challenge, the NIA officials expelled seven of the radicals from the committee on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to form a nationalist bloc.
As a result of the Agent's interview with Smuts, the Chief of General Staff and the Secretary of Defence, it was decided on the Agent's suggestion to raise an Indian Corps of three sections - mechanical and transport, medical and hygiene and ambulance.
Recruiting for the Indian Service Corps (mechanical and transport section) began under Colonel Morris on 29 July. During August and September, Rama Rau wrote glowing reports about the response of the Indians and was highly derisory about the opposition of the radicals.
In a confidential report, Colonel Morris praised highly the efforts of the NIA, especially A. Christopher, P.R. Pather, S.R, Naidoo and S. Rustomjee, each of whom had spent ten hours daily in assisting the recruiting programme. He gave the following examples of the contribution made by the NIA's war committee. They provided rent free the Durban recruiting office; contributed £100 to the Regimental Funds; presented the corps with five motor cars to assist in instructing drivers; supplied free hot meals to those attested and waiting for enrolment; provided blankets for all recruits proceeding to Johannesburg; organised a gifts and comforts committee; and offered to supply a musical band without charge.
Colonel Morris also quoted with satisfaction and approval an extract from a speech made by one of the NIA leaders, who said:
"The support you can give will be small as compared with the British Commonwealth and that of our mother country.... Our freedom is dependent on Britain being victorious.... Above all I ask you to re-main loyal to the King and General Smuts, his government and South Africa, your land of adoption. In remaining loyal to the Crown and this Government you are remaining loyal to India and yourselves".
This speech reflected accurately the opinions and feelings of the NIA officials. But in so far as India was concerned, it was contrary to the views expressed by Jawarharlal Nehru, who had already declared that the Indian people would not fight to defend imperial rule.
However, by 20 September, Rama Rau was changing his tune and reluctantly admitting that the recruiting drive had been affected by the activities of the radicals. This was evident to the Natal Daily News even earlier. Lamenting the failure of the recruiting drive, it said:
"Anti-war propaganda in Natal has had a marked effect upon recruiting. .. and subversive influences of an anti-British and anti-war nature are alleged to be responsible".
What, then, were the views of the NEUF (of which Dadoo was the leader in the Transvaal) and the nationalist blocs of the NIA and TIC? Dadoo, now a member of the SACP, was arrested for printing and distributing an anti-war leaflet published by the NEUF. The leaflet pointed out that the non-European enjoyed not freedom andjustice, but the Pass and Poll tax laws, segregation, poverty, unemployment and "vicious colour-bar laws" and, concluded:
"We answered the call in 1914-1918. What was our reward? Misery, starvation and unemployment. Don't support this war, where the rich get richer and the poor get killed".
When Dadoo appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on 27 August, the courtroom was packed by Indian, African and European spectators, and about 1,000 waited outside the court buildings. The case adjourned at 1 pm and Dadoo was carried shoulder high in a spontaneous demonstration to his home - a distance of about two miles.
Dadoo was found guilty of contravening the Emergency regulations and sentenced to one-month imprisonment or fine of twenty-five pounds. Instead of pleading in mitigation, Dadoo read a statement to the court, which reflected accurately the views and attitudes of the anti-warites. After denouncing the oppression suffered by the non-Europeans, especially by the African population, and cataloguing the various disabilities, the statement concluded:
"The present war is an imperialist war and therefore an unjust war... to maintain and extend imperialist domination. This war could only be transferred into ajust war. .. when full and unfettered democratic rights are extended to the non-European peoples of this country and when the oppressed peoples of India and the coloured and semi-coloured countries are granted their freedom and independence".
A great deal of publicity was given to the trial and the t wo nationalist blocs organised meetings to protest against it. The trial had the effect of increasing the enthusiasm and determination of the radicals to pursue their policies in spite of any reprisal action from the authorities.
In January 1943 Dadoo was once again arrested for allegedly inciting the public of the Benoni location (mainly African) to oppose the government. This time he was sentenced to four months imprisonment or a fine of forty pounds and he elected to go to gaol. Once again the court proceedings were turned into a political demonstration.
The trial had a stimulating effect on the non-Europeans, especially the Indians in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. In all three cities protest meetings were held to express solidarity with Dadoo and support for the NEUF and the nationalist blocs. In Durban, the Guardian reported that there was hardly a street, which did not display a slogan demanding Dadoo's release, and that it was the "chief topic" of discussion amongst the non-Europeans. That Dadoo's activities and arrests had had a marked effect is also emphasised by Roux and by the reports of the High Commissioner for India.
Then, in June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The entry of the Soviet Union into the war had grave repercussions, not only for that country, but also for communist parties throughout the world. Faced with this change, the SACP adopted a new policy, which was that the character of the War had changed from an "imperialist war" into a "peoples war" and that at all costs the Nazis had to be defeated. Roux, an embittered former communist, felt that the SACP had shown a conflict of interest and "subordinated the South African struggle" to the international situation.
H. and R. Simons disagree with Roux and say that the communists claimed to be "consistent in principle" and felt that if the Africans were mobilised and given skilledjobs, they could no longer "be treated as inferiors". Alan Brooks felt that the changed policy proved beneficial to the SACP, for it made it easier for them to link support for the war with the demand for the equal treatment and arming of the non-European soldiers, and consequently raised "the 'broader issue of democratic rights for non-white which became more insistently a major theme in party propaganda".
It seems that the accounts of H. and R. Simons and Brooks are more accurate since the SACP was acting in accordance with its own understanding of the world situation. It felt that, at all costs, the Soviet Union, the first Socialist state, and from its point of view, the main pillar in the struggle against "international imperialism" had to be victorious, and that Fascism had to be defeated, both nationally and internationally. However, Roux, H. and R. Simons and Brooks fail to point out that for the radicals it was only a partial change. Although they no longer characterised the war as an "imperialist war" and campaigned for the defence of the Soviet Union, they pressed home consistently their earlier demands for the extension of democratic rights, the right to be armed and for equal rights and facilities in the armed forces. Moreover, no recruiting campaign (like that of NlA) of the non-Europeans was undertaken by the SACP, NEUF and the nationalist blocs.
Gradually the radicals began to win the support of the non-Europeans, especially the Indians, for their policies. Two examples bring this out. In Durban, a pageant and rally, predominantly supported by the Indians, was organised by the local branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union Committee to express moral and material support for the Soviet Union. Indian women factory workers made the costumes, and trade unions with a large Indian membership and leadership were prominent.
On 28 July 1942, a conference of 88 non-European organisations set at Inchcape Hall, Cape Town, to discuss the war situation and the part to be played by the non-Europeans. Various shades of opinions were represented, stretching from those who felt that the war was of no concern to the non-Europeans, to those who believed that Japan would liberate them, and to those like Dadoo (convenor of the conference), who believed that Fascism, both internationally and locally, had to be defeated. After a great deal of heated discussion, a draft manifesto was adopted by an overwhelming majority supporting the latter view, which demanded an honest total war effort, recognition of the right of the non-whites to bear arms and to do skilled work, and the right of Africans tojoin trade unions.
The only organisation that in theory remained implacably opposed to any participation in the war effort was the Trotskyists - an ultra-left group, composed mainly of Coloured and African intellectuals (mainly teachers) in the Cape.
A further thorny problem that the radicals had to deal with, concerned the entry of Japan in the war. After Japan had entered the war, a growing number of non-whites were sympathetic to the Japanese and this increased after Japan victories in the Pacific in 1942. They saw in Japan a fellow coloured nation inflicting losses on a white enemy and hoped that it would attack Sooth Africa and thus liberate the non-whites. For the radicals, this was a dangerous sentiment based on an emotional response that failed to distinguish friend from foe. It was also contrary to their non-racial approach, which defined the enemy as the system, and the ruling class, not white people in general. They felt that they had to root out this sentiment and Dadoo, on behalf of the radicals, came out with a statement of appeal that voiced their opinions:
"It is a belief based on false reasoning and emotional wishful thinking. The capitalists and financiers of Japan are waging this war for their own selfish interests [in collaboration with the Nazis in Europe and South Africa ].... The Pirows and Van Rensbergs openly welcome Japanese victories which they would most certainly not do if the Japanese imperialists had any intention of helping the non-European peoples".
To their credit, the radicals stuck to their guns, even if it was temporarily unpopular. They utilised the opportunity to demonstrate the similarities of fascism in Europe, Japan and South Africa, and to extend the radical character of their international postures.
The activities centred on the war issue heralded the co-operation of the SACP and the radicals to the benefit of both sides. A number of leading Indian political activists and trade unionists, such as Dadoo, H.A. Naidoo, George Ponen, D.A. Seedat and M.D. Naidoo hadjoined the communist party within which they held leading positions. As communists they were implacably opposed to the Indian political movements remaining the preserve of the wealthier Indians, and to the gradualist accommodationist policies pursued by the moderates. Their ability to help organise the Indian working class as an industrial and political force and to combine with the militant traders and trade unionists and intellectuals, was the foundation from which the radicals were able to challenge seriously, and later take over, the Indian political organisations.
It can, therefore, be seen how the war issue contributed to the radicalisation of the activists and through them the Indian political movements. At the same time, the radicals did not lose sight of those issues that affected the Indians only. One such case was the launching of a limited form of passive resistance by the nationalist bloc of the TIC in 1941. It is worth examining in some detail the events leading to this campaign, as it was, despite its limitations, the first head-on clash since Gandhi's campaigns between the authorities and the Indian political organisations.
On 7 October, 1940, the radicals held a mass meeting to protest against the setting up of the Indian Penetration Commission, (Broome Commission), which was to inquire into the alleged penetration of predominantly European areas by Indians in Natal and the Transvaal since 1 January, 1927. After a number of speakers had vehemently denounced the commission, four resolutions were adopted by the mass protest meeting.
The first resolution rejected the commission, because it would lead to segregation, was a slur and stigma on the Indian nation, and was a violation of the Cape Town Agreement. It called for a boycott and granted "full power" to the passive resistance council to take the necessary steps to make it effective. Another resolution condemned the TIC officials for holding on to their positions "unconstitutionally" in spite of the feelings of the people and demanded their immediate resignation. A third one characterised the conviction of Dadoo as an unwarranted action to suppress the liberty of the oppressed people and the right of their leaders to give then "proper guidance in natters of vital and supreme importance". The last resolution condemned the arrest of Subhas Chandra Bose and other leaders by the British in India :
"leaders whose only guilt was that they demanded that the half-starved, half-naked million Indian people be first given democratic rights for which they were asked to make the supreme sacrifice. .. [and expressed] the confidence that the All-India National Congress shall successfully carry on the struggle for national liberation".
From these resolutions it can be seen how militant the nationalist bloc had become, not only in relation to their own struggle, but also to that of India. Previously, the resolutions on India had not included a blanket condemnation of British Imperialism and a forthright demand for its independence. This militant spirit was evident during the limited passive resistance campaign organised by the radicals in Johannesburg.
In April 1941, the Asiatic Land and Trading ( Transvaal) Act became law. It extended for two years the previous Act of 1939 and included as an incentive the Feetham resolutions, which had remained postponed since 1935 (see above p. 111). In terms of this resolution, some areas were exempted from the provisions of the Gold Law in Johannesburg, Krugersdorp, Klerksdorp and Roodepoort and it allowed land to be transferred to the Asiatics in the Malay location of Johannesburg and the Nigel Bazaar. These provisions, as the Guardian correctly pointed out, divided the Indians, because the wealthier Indians and the landlords benefited, and were therefore reluctant to support or participate in any militant action. However, the radicals felt strong enough to offer some form of resistance.
At a mass meeting of about 1,000 people on 27 April, a resolution was unanimously adopted "to have recourse to passive resistance which shall be individual in character", because the government had ignored "all constitutional representations" and sought to reduce them "to helotry for the crime of colour".
It is likely that the decision to have individual, and not a collective, resistance campaign was arrived at because, by May 1941, the earlier enthusiasm and spirit of resistance displayed by the people had somewhat dissipated. Ever since the August 1939 postponement, the passive resistance council, although nominally operating, had undertaken no action that could have possibly kept it alive. The Indians were divided, since the traders, petty and large, benefited from the security of tenure granted by the Feetham resolution. At this time, a majority of the Indian community in the Transvaal were traders (mainly retail), and therefore to some extent dependent on having a security of tenure.
On Monday, 12 May, four resisters, M.E. Nagdee, S.B. Medh, Naranswamy Naidoo, and Yusuf S. Patel, initiated the campaign. They set up fruit stalls outside the Johannesburg Magistrates Court and the City Hall, without licences, shouted slogans, put up placards and distributed propaganda material explaining their actions.
This attempt, to resuscitate the enthusiasm and determination of the Transvaal Indians militantly to resist the legislation, had a number of weaknesses. It was individual in character and failed to develop and sustain the mass support essential in such a struggle, it was confined to Johannesburg and ignored by the authorities. Nevertheless, they sustained the campaign for nine months and finally called it off in March, 1942. Despite its drawbacks, it had ushered in a new era of political action, which culminated in the passive resistance struggle of 1946.
During this period, the moderates retained control of the TIC. Not even the intervention of the SAIC officials and Rama Rau could pave the way for a negotiated settlement, mainly, it seems, because Nana proved to be a stumbling block. After agreeing to a proposed formula, he refused to budge on the question of offering one of the principal positions on the executive to the radicals.
Three years later, the moderates succumbed to the demands and pressures of the radicals and called a mass election meeting for 24 January 1943 - the first such meeting since 1938. Both sides entered the hustling vigour and determination. Poster and stickers were plastered all over Johannesburg, and a lot of election pamphleteering was carried out exhorting the community to vote for the nominated candidates. The Leader commented that the electioneering had been "unparalleled in the history of the Indian community".
A large part of the nationalist bloc's propaganda was aimed at the small Indian working class, composed mainly of the Tamil-speaking Indians, which had largely been ignored by the moderates. In the main, the radicals sought a democratisation of the decision-making process and working of the TIC, a more militant struggle against segregation and other discriminatory legislation, and closer co-operation with the other non-white political organisations. The moderates disputed the view that they acted mainly in the interests of the Muslim traders, claimed that their strategy was still the best method, and wanted to keep the Indian question separate from that of the African and Coloured peoples. An old wound was also opened (see above p. 129) by Rev. B.L.E. Sigamoney, the Tamil Benefit Society and the Tamil Progressive Group, who once again accused Nana of referring to the Tamils as "Kolchas" at a meeting in Johannesburg in 1934. Nana once again denied the allegation.
At a final eve of the election rally, Dadoo claimed that the Nana group had played on religious feeling and used threats of violence, financial inducement, and pressures in the form of rent reduction and the distribution of rice (a commodity in short supply), to win support. He also accused the opposition of registering the congress as a private limited liability company as an insurance against defeat. The Nana Group did not deny the last accusation.
That the election campaign had generated a great deal of heat, invective and abuse is clear. Moreover, with one side fighting to hold on to its position and the other endeavouring to overthrow them, the meeting took place in an electric atmosphere.
At the meeting on 24 January, the supporters of both sides were herded on to different aides of the Wemmer Sports Ground. After the constitution had been adopted (previously the TIC had no constitution), Nana and Dadoo agreed that their respective supporters should leave by different exits, thereby making it easier to count the votes. To the delight of the moderates they won the election by 3,797 to 3,315 votes.
Ajubilant Nana told a celebration meeting the same evening that he and his officials would exercise their powers in the interests of the community for:
"Though I am a Muslim, I am an Indian first and last, and in all matters pertaining to the well being of our people I shall act as an Indian".
An equallyjubilant A.I. Kajee called the radicals:
"reckless young men who felt that the exhibition of a red tie and the utterances of the principles of Marxism entitled them to abuse their own people who were merchants or who were blessed with the goods of this world".
In analysing the defeat to a meeting of the radicals, Dadoo said that the "power of money" had won the day, but that the "power of the masses" would win tomorrow. He attributed the defeat to the violence perpetrated on S.B. Medh, a veteran resister, and to the exploitation of religious beliefs that had brought the moderates the vote of 500 Muslim women. His optimism apparently not dimmed, he claimed that it was a "moral victory", since the Nana group could not ignore their substantial support, including that of the workers.
It is difficult to analyse the election campaign and the results. It seems both sides used personal abuse, invective and the other stock in trades of electioneering to gain the maximum support. Moreover, up to the time of the elections, all the signs suggested that the nationalist bloc enjoyed a larger support. Their meetings were well attended and the passive resistance resolution of July 1939 was adopted by 6,000 people. Even the Agent-General, a supporter of the moderates, believed that Dadoo had "the majority of the Transvaal behind him".
One reason suggested earlier was that the spirit and determination of the people, as expressed in July 1939, had ebbed away by 1941. Dadoo also suggested some reasons explaining the reversal, such as the unexpectedly large Muslim women vote; the use of and threats of violence; and the exploitation of religious belief. There is, however, no doubt that a large majority of the Muslims voted for Nana, but the question is why? For, were not Dadoo, Molvi Cachalia (link to Essop Pahad Bio Maulvi Cachalia RL 16Apr04.doc), Salim Saley, G.H.I. Pahad, Yusuf S. Patel and A.I. Minty well known Muslims in the nationalist bloc? Two reasons seem plausible. Firstly, the Muslim league of India was making special demands for the protection of communal rights. As early as December 1939, the Agent had reported:
"The communal controversy in India had its repercussions in South Africa. Mr. Jimmah's birthday was celebrated in Johannesburg and Durban, and a Muslim League was formed in the Transvaal ".
To that extent, the special attention paid to the organising of the Hindu community by the radicals could have rebounded on them, since the Muslim community was in a majority in the Transvaal. Secondly, the nationalist bloc's failure to bring to the polls the maximum available votes, partly for the reasons already suggested, and partly because it seems that, confident of victory, they relaxed towards the end of the hustings (see below p. 195).
The one consolation for the radicals was that, at the very least, the vote showed that they enjoyed almost as much support as their opponents. This important fact was, as we shall see, not lost on the TIC officials.