1946 African Mineworkers Strike

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The African Mine workers strike of 1946

Introduction

The strike by some 76,000 black miners in 1946 was one of the most significant examples of industrial action by black workers in South Africa. Following the demise of the ICU in the early 1940s, the mine workers were the first to challenge not only their employers, but the racist policies of the segregationist state of Jan Smuts.

Working under gruelling conditions, paid a pittance for death-defying work, fed ‘like dogs’, housed in barren compounds with concrete ‘beds’, the miners embarked on a strike that lasted barely five days, and were crushed by a brutal police force. The strike was undertaken by workers who demanded the recognition of their union, and a wage of 10 shillings a day, a wage that the Chamber of Mines refused to pay.

The chamber insisted that a wage that high would result in the closure of marginal mines, and justified the cheap labour system on the basis that the miners could bear the burden because they did not have to maintain their families, who were supposedly doing well on their plots of land in the reserves.

Even before the formation of the African Mine Workers Union (AMWU), miners engaged in a series of spontaneous strikes against poor working conditions, and especially against a lack of nutritional food. It fell to AMWU to organise the workers as best they could to mount a challenge to the cheap labour system, which was backed up by a brutal segregationist state.

The Formation of the African Mine Workers Union

William Thibediand Sidney Buntingrecruited a core of members and formed AMWU late in 1930 and early 1931. From the start they were confronted by companies who were loath to recognise them as humans, and who considered black workers as too backward to belong to trade unions. Miners found to have any association with the union were immediately fired. The union could not collect dues from the miners, who were too badly paid to afford subscriptions, and the union could not afford to rent office space. It was the Communist Party of South Africa(CPSA) that provided the union with office space soon after its formation.

It fell to Thibedi to recruit members when Bunting fell ill – he died in 1936. Thibedi was helped by Edwin Mofutsanyana, who together with Moses Kotaneand Albert Nzulahad just visited the Soviet Union. In June 1935 the union drew up a list of grievances:

1. The abolition of the compound system

2. The right to organise

3. Better food and three meals a day

4. Abolition of the contract system

5. A minimum wage of £10 a month

6. An eight-hour working day

7. Freedom of movement

8. Compensation for illnesses such as Pthisis

9. Full pay for the sick and injured.

A series of disputes began at mines in 1935, especially after a mining disaster in May claimed 42 miners, 40 Africans and two whites. Miners at Brakpan marched into the town to register their grievances, especially against excessively long hours. Miners in Nigel protested, saying they were being starved. In December 700 workers at Coronation Mine in Vryheid went on strike for better food and three meals a day.

Mineworkers were prohibited from striking, which was against the law, and some were sentenced to prison terms, or had to pay hefty fines.

Faced by an intransigent Chamber of Mines, AMWU began to decline after 1937. In 1940, at the instigation of Ray Alexanderat the CPSA’s annual conference, the party tasked its Johannesburg District Committee with helping the mineworkers organise. But the party, with a total membership of 280 in 1940, was unable to work with the miners, half of whom were from neighbouring countries. The party then asked the African National Congress(ANC) to help, and party members Mofutsanyana and Gaur Radebe approached the ANC. Radebe, who was a member of both the CPSA and the Transvaal ANC, sent a leaflet to ANC members, calling for the need to organise mineworkers. Mofutsanyana, who was also the ANC’s minister of labour, followed this up with an open letter to ANC members in all four provinces, making the same call.

The ANC held a conference on 3 August 1941 to devise plans for building a union. A range of groups attended, including the Coloured Mine Workers Union, the CPSA, white liberals, members of the SA Institute of Race Relations and the Friends of Africa. Gaur Radebewas the main speaker, and the conference elected a 15-man committee, which included Radebe, Mofutsanyana and JB Marks.

The Committee set up offices in Kruis Street in Johannesburg, and appointed a secretary, A Msitshana. It wrote to Prime Minister Jan Smuts, querying the exclusion of mineworkers from a recent cost of living allowance paid to some categories of workers.

By March 1942 the newly resuscitated AMWU had members at 37 mines. James Majorowas elected secretary, and Marks was made union president. The Chamber of Mines now came under pressure to recognise the union: on 9 February 1942 the Secretary of Native Affairs wrote to the Gold Producers’ Committee, which replied:

It is the opinion of the Committee that in the present state of development, the overwhelming majority of Native mine employees are insufficiently advanced to understand the principles of Trade Union organisation. Native mine employees as a class are, as you are aware, less advanced than many detribalised and partly industrialised Native urban residents”¦ It appears to the Committee that Native development in this matter must be a gradual process, not less in the interests of the Natives than in the interests of Europeans. The nature and extent of the damage to national interests and to Native interests which might result from any false step needs no emphasis.

When the union itself asked the Minister of Labour, WB Madeley, to grant recognition, he refused, and the Chamber of Mines never answered any letters from the union in the event that this implied some form of recognition.

In 1942, the government introduced War Measure No 145, making strikes by Africans illegal, and punishable by a £500 fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment, or both. Despite this, there were 60 strikes by African workers in the first two years after 145 was introduced. In January 1943 the measure was used against mineworkers on strike at Langlaagte Estate Gold Mine. Police were called in, and they arrested 500 miners, injuring 20, but only 48 were charged. Ten were sentenced to three months’ hard labour, and the rest were fined £12. Two white miners were also charged with incitement to strike – but they were Nazi sympathisers opposed to the country siding with the Allies.

Following the Langlaagte strike, AMWU urged the minister of labour to set up a commission of inquiry into mining, and he appointed CWH Landsdown, a judge in the Supreme Court, to preside over the Witwatersrand Mine Natives’ Wages Commission.

The Landsdown Commission

The Landsdown Commission, tasked with enquiring into ‘the remuneration and conditions of employment for Natives on the Witwatersrand Gold Mines’, met for the first time on 20 May 1943. The mine owners’ representatives formed a bloc, consisting of lawyers, mine managers, engineers and mine police chiefs, among others. The president of the Chamber of Mines assured the commission that miners would not be penalised for giving evidence, but those who declared that they would appear found they were threatened with dismissal. When JB Marks asked if miners could testify in closed sessions so their identities would not be revealed, the commission refused.

When the Guardian reported on the proceedings, four mining companies took legal action against the newspaper, claiming that the reports had affected recruitment, and also that criticisms levelled against mining companies in a time of war amounted to sedition. The Guardian lost the case and had to pay £6000 to the companies. Two witnesses, Senator Hyman Basner and WG Ballinger, were also sued for making ‘defamatory statements’.

The proceedings were dominated by JB Marks, for the union, and W Gemmill, acting for the Chamber of Mines. Those attending included 316 miners from 46 mines, and 45 interested Africans, most of them sympathetic to the union. The commissioners were all white, but the chamber had two token blacks, an induna and a mineworker, as part of their team.

AMWU prepared a 43-page document to present at the commission, while the chamber produced a report twice as long, painting an idyllic picture of mining, and saying that the miners were ‘privileged’ to work for the mines and to engage in migrant labour. Union claims were rejected by the mine owners’ witnesses, and the national labour advisor for Rand Mines, JW Lawrance, argued for the continuation of the compound system:

It is not feasible to do away with the compound system. The Native must be fed in the compounds. He is a spendthrift, and would not feed himself on a balanced diet such as he gets in the compounds.

While most contemporary studies concluded that life in the reserves was impoverished, the chamber argued that the opposite was true. But two witnesses, Dr RW Gale, the union’s Assistant Health Officer, and Dr R Smit, the Medical Inspector of the Cape Natives, painted a more realistic picture. Gale averred that the reserves were being used to subsidise gold mining for the benefit of shareholders, while Smit said that Africans in the reserves got little benefit from cattle, most of which were undernourished. Maize was in short supply, less than half needed by the average family, and more than 80% of children at school ate only one meal a day.

While mine workers described the food they received as ‘not fit for a dog’, mining company witnesses described the food as ‘excellent’. The latter also argued against a boot allowance, and proclaimed that sleeping on concrete blocks was a health benefit for the miners.

In its final report, published on 24 March 1944, the commission agreed with the Chamber of Mines that a constant supply of cheap labour was necessary and could only be provided by the migrant labour system. It accepted the contention that miners’ wages were in part subsidised by farming activities in the reserves, but rejected the chamber’s idyllic representation of life in the reserves, saying the conditions were ‘cause for grave concern’.

But the commission underestimated the cost of living for miners, and overestimated the amount miners were able to send home every month. In fact, miners rarely took home more than a few pounds after 14 months of work in the mines, much of the money going to taxes, food, clothing, boots and other necessities.

The commission recommended that African miners’ wages be increased by 8d a shift, and that those miners required to wear boots be given a boot allowance of 3s for every 30 shifts.

Prime Minister Smuts, on the same day, announced that after talking to the Gold Producers’ Committee, they agreed that surface workers’ wages would be increased by 4d a shift, and that of underground workers by 5d a shift, with no cost of living or boot allowances. He also agreed to reimburse the mining companies for the increases. AMWU protested that the increases were inadequate, and far less than the recommendations of the commission, but the union was forced to accept the decree.

Perhaps the most crucial finding, though, was the commission’s recommendation that AMWU should not be granted recognition as a union by the Chamber of Mines. It accepted the chamber’s contention that African miners were not ‘advanced’ enough to belong to unions. Indeed it rejected any form of representation, even systems based on tribal authority (as used in Zambia’s copper mines).

The Decision to strike

With the disappointment of the Landsdown Commission, and its failure to deliver any benefits for black miners or their union, AMWU began to organise workers and work towards union recognition. One benefit of the entire process, though, was that the union had received much publicity, and recruitment had become easier. And the fact that the commission’s recommendations had not been put into practice angered mineworkers throughout the country.

Working conditions became even worse, as the mine owners squeezed more production out of the workers, in lieu of their increased wages, even though these were subsidised by the government.  Tonnage of ore increased by 75% in the first few months after the 1944 increase.

Nevertheless, the union grew in size – now numbering 25,000 – and in confidence. And at its annual conference, held on 30 July 1944, 700 delegates from every mine on the Witwatersrand attended, together with 1,300 ordinary union members. The president general of the ANC also came to the gathering, as did other union leaders. There were calls for a strike, but the executive of the union proposed measures to assuage the workers, such as the full implementation of the commission’s recommendations, and a proposal to call for a Wage Board to be established.

The Chamber called on the government to limit the growth of unions, and the government implemented War Measure 1425, aimed directly at AMWU, prohibiting meetings of more than 20 people, effectively making union meetings illegal. JB Marks and two recruiters were arrested in December for holding meetings with more than 20 people. Recruiting now became more difficult, and the union’s income fell by 75%.

The union nevertheless held mass meetings in protest against the new War Measure, and in May 1945 2000 delegates gathered at the Johannesburg Trades Hall. There were a series of strikes over food during the subsequent period, and in March 1946 one miner was killed and 40 injured when police broke up a meeting at Modderfontein East. At the New Kleinfontein mine miners also protested against the quality of food given to them.

AMWU held a second meeting in April 1946 which was attended by some 2000 miners, overflowing the capacity of the Trades Hall. They complained about the food they were given – canned meat instead of fresh meat in a time of food rationing. They were also concerned about their families in the reserves, especially since a drought had devastated agriculture.

James Majoro spoke to the miners, as did Marks and white communist Louis Joffe. Majoro informed the miners that the union’s message had spread to every mine on the Witwatersrand, while many miners complained that the union had not succeeded in securing their demands. Marks warned that they should be prepared for the strike, and not use violence to achieve their demands. Joffe said: ‘I am not telling you that when you go out of here that you should make a strike, but I do say that you should prepare yourselves first if you want to make a strike. I believe that one of these days you might be compelled by your suffering to act and I assure you that the Communist Party will stand with you until you get your elementary rights.

The delegates drew up a set of demands which, if refused by their employers, would mean they would go on strike: a minimum wage of 10 shillings per day, suitable food, family homes, two weeks paid annual leave, a gratuity of £100 after 15 years of service, and repatriation fees. They also demanded the repeal of War Measure 1425.

Within a few weeks the miners’ demands were refused, and the Chamber reinforced its stance by refusing to answer letters from the union. The refusal triggered off a series of one-day stoppages, first at Crown mines, then within 10 days at other mines – at Rand Leases, Durban Roodepoort Deep, Luipard’s Vlei and Randfontein Estates.

After the Crown Mines stoppage, JB Marks said the action resembled a demonstration rather than a strike, adding: ‘The Union has not decided to call a strike. But a very grave situation is developing on the mines due to the mounting discontent of the workers. If the authorities continue to refuse even to listen to representations made peacefully by our Union, I am afraid there can only be one result.

According to VL Allen, the author of the three-volume The History of Black Mineworkers in South Africa, the strikes ‘marked a unique point in the history of industrial relations in South Africa’s gold mining industry as for the first time local leaders lost their anonymity and emerged from the crowds to put their case face to face with management, government officials and the police. It was an act of great courage to confront white mining authority in that way for they were employees of the mines and could be incarcerated in the compounds at the whim of a compound manager.

Concerned at the pattern of strikes, the Chamber called a meeting of the Gold Producers’ Committee on 4 May 1946. The meeting was attended by the police and by local authorities, and they resolved to stop the spread of the strikes, which they succeeded in doing for a while.

The grouping wanted to defuse the situation in general, but more immediately the situation at Luipard’s Vlei. Workers at Luipard’s Vlei had gathered at the gates, and demanded a police escort, and when they got near the mine 3000 jumped out of the convoy and gathered at a rocky site, demanding 10s a day.

On 19 May JB Marks, Majoro and Joffe addressed a meeting of 200 miners in Johannesburg, and they passed a resolution to strike. But the low numbers prompted them to call a larger meeting at Market Square on 4 August. About 1000 miners attended the mass meeting, and the miners were addressed by Marks and Majoro in English, with translations into Xhosa and Sotho. They resolved to strike on 12 August.

AMWU gave the Chamber of Mines a week’s notice to accede to their demands, failing which they would go on strike.  The chamber mounted what would today be called a public relations campaign, taking a travelling slide show – which lauded the gold mining industry – to various places in the country. The chamber also got the help of the government, with all its resources – the police being the most effective in this armoury. About 1,600 police were put on special duty and moved to the Rand in preparation for the strike.

During this week, one chamber official was even heard to deny the existence of AMWU, and strikes were portrayed as the work of agitators, especially Communist Party members.

Meanwhile the union began preparing for the strike, and some support came from allied organisations. Although the ANC had been involved with AMWU since the rebirth of the union, relations between the ANC leadership and the union were cool. ANC President-General Dr Xumadid not attend the 4 August conference despite being urged to attend by the Youth Leagueleaders such as Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandelaand Oliver Tambo.

The CPSA gave AMWU crucial support, and Louis Joffe, who ran the offices of the union, was especially helpful. Michael Harmeland Hilda Wattsalso played support roles, and together with Joffe they planned a campaign to print and distribute leaflets, as well as provide cars, printing know-how and simple labour in the effort to mobilise strikers.

AMWU was faced with a huge task: they had one week to try to reach more than 300,000 miners at 47 mines spread out over the Rand, and convince them to strike. Unionists were not allowed into the compounds, which were large and broken up into ethnic segments. The unionists had few material resources, and were not allowed on the property of the mining companies, and they had no access to the mass media. The only media they could depend on were the two newspapers, the Guardian and Inkululeko, whose editor, Edwin Mofutsanyana, played a significant role throughout the period before and during the strike.

On Sunday, 11 August, an induna at Durban Roodepoort Deep saw JB Marks arrive in a car with a black companion and a white driver. They handed out leaflets and tried to convince miners to heed the strike call. Joffe devised ingenious methods to smuggle leaflets into compounds, but sometimes the leaflets were crudely delivered – in one instance leaflets were thrown onto mine property from a speeding car. At New Kleinfontein Mine a lone white woman was seen handing out leaflets and talking to miners during the week before the strike.

The Strike: Five days that shook South Africa

Day One: Monday, 12 August

The strike began on Monday 12 August 1946, on the early morning shift. The strike call was ignored by many miners, and the union was unable to oversee the strike, especially after many organisers were arrested on the second day of the strike. The absence of leadership crippled the strike, leaving miners in the dark regarding the extent of the strike and lowering their morale, even though many were prepared to strike.

At Crown mines there was an uneven response, the night workers observed the strike but the day shift workers failed to join the strike. Some considered striking when they arrived for work, refusing to go down the shaft, but the police convinced them that they would not be safe if they went on strike.

The strike was most effective in the Central and East Rand – in Brakpan, Benoni and Springs, where union organisation was relatively intact. In their compounds, the miners decided, room by room, whether to join the strike. Segregated into tribal sections, differences manifested themselves, and Shangaans and Zulus – a third of the labour force – tended to be more reluctant than Xhosa and Sotho workers to strike.

At City Deep, West Springs, Modder B, Nourse Mines, Robinson Deep, Vlakfontein, New Kleinfontein, Van Dyk, and Van Ryn Estate, a total of about 45,000 miners quietly went of strike. A Rand Daily Mail reporter described the scene as being quiet, ‘like a Sunday’.

At New Kleinfontein the miners emerged from their compounds to hold a meeting in the open, and the police were called in. They arrested four miners who were addressing the gathering, but about 4,000 miners followed them to the police station and demanded their release. The police commandant announced that their demands could not be met, and when they refused to budge 200 police reinforcements arrived. They attacked the miners with batons and bayonets and drove them into the compounds, arresting three more leaders. Twenty three miners were injured, and half the group decided to abandon the strike and go back to work.

At Sub Nigel, with a total workforce of 5,000, all the miners at the Betty Compound went on strike, except the Shangaans. The police chose five workers at random and arrested them for refusing to work. When they were taken to the compound gate, the strikers rushed to the scene and forced the police to release the five. The strikers then held a meeting which was disrupted by the police, who chased them back to their rooms. The next morning it was discovered that 800 miners were missing, having escaped from the compound.

At West Springs, with a total workforce of 5,600, all the miners went on strike on the first day. The Native Commissioner of Springs tried to convince them to return to work, and when they refused the police arrested 300. The others seemed to agree to return to work, but then refused to go down the shafts.

At City Deep, 1,200 of an 8,000 workforce went on strike. They set up 100 pickets to convince the non-strikers to join them. Police move in and arrested all the pickets, as well as 20 others. Forced underground, some staged a sit-down strike. Outraged by police violence, the determined miners continued their strike until Thursday.

The Johannesburg District Committee of the CPSA voted to support the strike and provide whatever assistance the party could, and party members distributed leaflets over the next two days. The Passive Resistance Council of the Transvaal Indian Congress(TIC) also pledged support for the strike, and the Natal Indian Congress(NIC) donated £100 to AMWU.

Meanwhile the Gold Producers’ Committee met to consider plans to suppress the strike, in concert with a four-man Cabinet sub-committee which was formed on the first day. Compound managers also used indunas to find out what workers were saying and called in the police wherever the decision to strike had been taken. Management disrupted and stopped communications between the miners, and police defined ‘trouble spots’ to better control the miners.

 Day Two: Tuesday, 13 August

On the second day, JB Marks was speaking at the emergency meeting of the Council of Non-European Trade Unions(CNETU), which was attended by all the unions of the Witwatersrand. Most of the rank and file were eager to support the strike with militant action, such as a sympathy strike, but some were more cautious. When the police raided the meeting and arrested Marks, the doubters were swayed, and they formed a strike committee, with plans for a general strike on Thursday.

Others arrested included Edwin Mofutsanyana, the editor of Inkululeko. AMWU’s offices were also raided and all documents were confiscated, including membership lists. Marks was refused bail and remained in custody for the duration of the strike.

Despite the confusion wrought by the lack of leadership, some miners joined the strike on Tuesday. At Simmer and Jack in the East Rand, many of the miners joined the strike.

The 800 miners who escaped from the compound at Sub Nigel on Monday were joined by about 1,200 more miners. They armed themselves and marched towards the mine shaft, when police attacked them without warning, firing at them. The miners ran towards the shaft, the only route open to them, but they were fired upon and then turned towards the compound gate. A crush took place at the narrow gate, and bodies were piled up four feet high. A total of 82 miners were injured; four miners died of suffocation; one died of gunshot wounds; and nine more were seriously wounded. The mine manager claimed that head office had approved the police methods. Many miners returned to work the next day, demoralised.

The workers at West Springs, who had agreed to return to work but then refused to go down the shafts on Monday, were lined up by the police and forced underground. This resulted in a battle between strikers and non-strikers. Workers at a nearby compound heard about the commotion and decided to march to the offices of the Native Representative Council in Johannesburg – to protest and to collect their wages and pass books. Some 2,000 began the march, but their ranks swelled to 5,000 soon after they set out. The police set up a cordon, which the marchers at the rear of the two-mile-long column could not see.  At the six-mile mark, police attacked the marchers with bayonets and drove the marchers back three miles.

The marchers scattered, injuring themselves on the barbed wire fences on either side of the road, and in total 320 were injured. Three died and 33 were hospitalised.

The Federation of Progressive Students, which decided to help the strikers, was thwarted in its attempts when the Wits University principal banned the students from meeting on campus.

The total number of strikers reached 65,000 on Tuesday, causing alarm among the chamber, government and police. The next day, police were told to use maximum force.

Day Three: Wednesday, 14 August

Workers at Modder East went on strike on Wednesday, and at the Main Compound of Robinson Deep, police chased workers into their rooms, and then proceeded to clear out the rooms. Police were given 16 troop carriers to move from mine to mine.

At Van Dyk mine the strike was underway when 400 police arrived, offering those who wanted to work an escort to the shafts.  When they refused, police attacked them, and about 270 miners were injured, eight with serious head wounds.

Workers at Simmer and Jack, who had heard about the march in West Springs, decided to stage their own march. Having learned from the earlier encounter, they set off for Johannesburg in two groups. Police claimed the first group dispersed peacefully and the second group refused, so police decided to attack. Marchers presented another version: they said the first group scattered when they saw the police who nevertheless attacked them. The marchers in the second group then engaged in scuffles with the police, who eventually chased them away, many of the miners forced to run into dumps with hot ash, sustaining severe burns up to their knees. About 120 were severely injured.

In total, about 50,000 workers were on strike on Wednesday, but many workers, intimidated by police violence, decided to return to work the next day.

 Day Four: Thursday, 15 August

Workers at New Pioneer and Nigel went on strike on Thursday, as others were already returning to work. At ERPM, miners who had heard stories of police violence decided to abandon plans for a strike, and returned to work.

At City Deep, where miners had been on strike for three days, police arrived at 4am to break the strike. Major Kriek used the PA system to warn the miners to return to work, and in addition ordered them not to form groups of more than a hundred. Some Shangaan miners presented themselves, ready for work, but the majority remained in their blankets, determined to continue the strike. They left their compounds to go outdoors, and police attacked them as they exited, driving them back into their rooms. Using indiscriminate violence, police even attacked new recruits who were still in training, and entered the hospital to continue the assaults. Police followed some workers underground and attacked them. Chamber of Mines labour advisor Lawrance himself, armed with a sjambok, laid into the strikers. The next day, the strikers returned to work.

On Thursday at Nigel, where 2000 miners were employed, 1000 staged a stay-down in the shafts. Police went underground, from stope to stope, shaft to shaft, forcing them out of the mine, where they were addressed by the Native Commissioner and cajoled back to work.

Strikers at Robinson Deep managed to sustain their action until Thursday, amid much violence. About 1,200 were still on strike on Thursday. After tricking them to move from a rocky outcrop to one where there were no rocks, police attacked them, breaking up the strike.

Early on Thursday, leaflets printed by the strike committee formed at the CNETU meeting on Tuesday, were confiscated when police raided the printers. Police also arrested those tasked with the distribution of the leaflets. The strike committee had also organised a meeting for Thursday afternoon as part of a sympathy strike, at Market Square, but because the leaflets were not given out, not many sympathisers knew the details of the time and venue. Nevertheless, some people trickled into the square, and workers from two large tobacco producers began marching to the square. But scores of police were waiting at the square, and they prevented most people from entering the square. Police told those who were there to disperse, and the square was soon deserted.

 Day Five: Friday, 16 August

At Village Main 2000 miners downed tools for the first time, reflecting the unco-ordinated nature of the strike.

The last to join the strike were miners at New Pioneer, but police chased them into a veld and rounded them up, forcing them back to work. Police raided the offices of the Johannesburg District Committee of the CPSA, and discovered only one typewriter in working condition, reflecting the limited resources of the organisation.

The Aftermath

AMWU was supported by the majority of black people, and a small section of the white population. It also had the support of the Johannesburg District Committee of the CPSA, the TIC and NIC, and the Federation of Progressive Students. The ANC also supported the union, especially its Youth League.

The Native Representative Council, considered the ‘toy telephone’ the government used to represent blacks, was radicalised after government castigated the organisation for supporting the strike.

White unionists, members of the SA Trades and Labour Council (SATLC) were divided over the strike. The Witwatersrand and Vereeniging committees of SATLC denounced the police violence and called for the recognition of AMWU, but the national leaders of the TLC were opposed to the strike.

The police turned on AMWU’s allies, and raided the Johannesburg and Cape Town offices of the CPSA on Friday 16 August, removing hundreds of documents. A week later all the Johannesburg members of the party were arrested. Altogether 52 people from a range of organisations were charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act and under War Measure 145. Those accused included, JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischerand Brian Bunting.

AMWU went into a decline, and the state took measures to accelerate the process.

The Effects of the Strike

The strike, unprecedented in the history of the country, forged new relations between many organisations opposed to the racist policies of the Smuts government. The ANC, whose members had been deeply suspicious of the Communist Party, developed a new respect for the party’s activists.

Despite the failure of the strike, its long-term effects were positive for the struggle against racism and apartheid, which would be instituted two years later. It radicalised the ANC and the members of the Youth League, who a few years later produced their Programme of Actionand then embarked on the Defiance Campaign.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela talks about the effect of the strike on his political formation. Of JB Marks, he wrote:

The strike was the beginning of my close relationship with Marks. I visited him often at his house, and we discussed my opposition to communism at great length. Marks was a stalwart member of the party, but he never took my objections personally, and felt that it was natural for a young man to embrace nationalism, but that as I grew older and more experienced, my views would broaden.

Indeed, Mandela would later become much more flexible in his approach to political alliances as did his comrades in the ANC.


References:
•   Mandela, N, (1995), Long walk to Freedom, (Macdonald Purnell)
•  O'Meara, D,  ‘The 1946 African mine workers’ strike and the political economy of South Africa’ in The Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, Volume 13,  Issue 2, 1975, pages 146-173.
•  T. Dunbar Moodie, ‘The Moral Economy of the Black Miners' Strike of 1946’ in the Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Oct., 1986), pp. 1-35

Last updated : 06-Oct-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 08-Jan-2013