From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

For months past, "the Bantu press" has been working very busily. This so-called press" is, of course, simply the press agency of the ruling classes to spread their propaganda among the Bantu people, and has therefore been making a big effort on behalf of the coming elections to be held in June under the Natives Representation of 1936. [....] . ,

For more than two years these leaders and their press were shouting at the top of their voices: "UNITY! Let us unite! Let us sink our differences in face of the enemies attack!" Today they are all at each other's throats, though between whiles they, in their senseless strife to pick up again and wave aloft their worn and torn banner of Unity! Two years ago they were vying with each other in order to fight the Government’s enslaving Native Bills. Today they are fighting each other for the honour of betraying their people by making a success of these same enslaving Bills. The ruling classes may congratulate themselves on a success so easily achieved. They threw a cheap dummy as bait and achieved marvellous results.

No longer do the leaders talk of "picking up the gauntlet", or of "rather dying in prison than enslave our children and posterity". Today the talk is: "Whom shall we elect?" "Let us elect wisely!" "Let common sense play its part in the elections! On all sides these and similar slogans are heard. Today there is not a single voice (except our own) which is exposing the falsehood and telling the Bantu the truth. The election talk goes on as though it were a question of electing Bantu members to the House of Assembly, to the Senate, and to a Native Representative Council that would be truly representative of Native opinion. But there is nothing genuine about these elections they are a fraud and a sham.

It may be that many of the Bantu will be taken in by the worked-up excitement the leaders, who are continuing in their old treacherous policy. It is probable that the leaders will once more succeed in dragging the Bantu people along this road that will cheat all their hopes. But we will never be a party to this, even though today we have to swim against the stream.

It is necessary at this point to go over all the old ground again. It is not necessary to prove again here what everybody now knows, what the ruling classes, indeed, never tried to conceal or deny during the passage of the Bills through Parliament and during the jubilant celebrations in the Free State of the victory that had been won over the black race. That victory eliminated the Bantu people from the political arena, provided for their political and territorial segregation, confirmed their political and economic enslavement. A year ago the African Convention agreed that these slavery Bills must be rejected by the Bantu. A year ago unity of the Bantu was in sight, a unity based on the common struggle for rights and freedom. Only on this basis of common action, only by removing the wedge between North and South, the wedge cleverly driven in; and pressed home by the ruling classes, only so could unity be achieved.

Now, after the passing of the two Bills, when the privileges of the Bantu in the Cape, privileges in connection with property rights, right of occupation, freedom from pass laws, were already taken away or were going ultimately to be taken away, nothing any longer stood in the way of at last achieving unity in Bantudom. What was left of former rights in the Cape was only a mocking appearance, worthless and humiliating. In such circumstances, it did not require much political wisdom to see the correct line of action, namely to throw back to the oppressors this appearance of a right, as the price to be paid for Bantu unity by the Bantu people, united in a common struggle for full rights and liberty. This was the only way, and we explained at the time why there must be a rejection of the Bills and a complete boycott of them. As this is a fundamental point, we reprint from The Spark" of November, 1936, the following passage (see pages 6, 7: "The Wrong Policy of the All-African Convention"):

The ruling classes introduced the Native Bills in order to enslave the Bantu completely, to deprive him of his few remaining rights, and to shut fast the door for his economic, political and social emancipation. In order to fight against these sinister intentions of the slaveholders, the All-African Convention was formed by the Bantu people. The Convention did not succeed in wrecking the Bills, and could not do so in Parliament, since it had no voice there. Yet this did not mean that the Bills can become laws simply by Parliament's acceptance of them. As long as the people whom these Bills concern refuse to accept them, they remain a dead letter, no matter whether they are called Bills or Acts. It is up to the Bantu people to make them laws or to leave them dead scraps of paper. This was quite clearly realised by the ruling classes. Pirow, when he made his appeal to the so-called Opposition, stressed this point most decisively, He, and with him the whole press of the milling classes, were under no illusion in this matter; they knew quite well that Parliament's passing of the Bills was not enough to transform them into law. Thus the declaration in the "Cape Times" of 8th April, 1936, after Pirow's appeal: "It will be easy to go among the natives denouncing the Bill as wicked, illiberal and repressive, and working them into a mood of sullen resentment. By doing so, the Bill will be wrecked as completely as if it had been defeated on the third reading". (Our emphasis. Ed. Spark). [....]

Today the Bantu leaders, ignoring what has happened during these last two years, are desperately clinging to the appearances and shadows of rights, are fighting for them, to the great amusement of the oppressors. But are not the Bantu to have three segregated, communal representatives in the House of Assembly? Not even that! Black and coloured, slaves and serfs, may not have even observers of their own race sitting in a Parliament of the "white man's country"! But three members of the ruling race, of the "pinely chosen race", and most certainly belonging to its ruling class, may be elected to "represent" the Cape blacks. Over 2 million Bantu in the Cape will be able to boast that they are "represented" in the House of Assembly by three members of the ruling race, three dummies, figures for show. Perhaps not everybody knows that the 6 ½ million Bantu in the Union have always had 4 representatives in the Senate – dummies again, for they have never said or done anything of the least importance - and under the new Bill provision is made for the election of four senators by the Bantu. But everyone knows very well that the Senate itself is a dummy!

And yet the Bantu leaders are fighting today over the 3 dummies to be elected by the Cape and the other 4 to be elected by the Union. It is painful to see that, for many of these "leaders", the question, "Whom shall we elect?" is merely the question, "Who will give us the bigger bribe?" It is more painful to see that almost all of these leaders are thinking only of their own personal interests, and do not care two pence about the interests of their exploited and downtrodden fellow-Bantu.

It is natural in the animal world to find the pain and agony of the weaker creatures closely linked to the fierce joy of the stronger beasts, anticipating their prey and lusting for its blood. And that holds well in capitalist society. It was to be expected that, as soon as they smelt blood, all the beasts of prey would hurry to the scene.

£ 700 a year, in addition to other privileges, and this for five years, with hardly any work and no very irksome obligations, is quite an alluring prospect for unscrupulous men. All that is required as a qualification for the job is the ability to cheat the unsophisticated Bantu, the ability to bribe leaders and chiefs with money or promises. Those who make it their profession to mislead the Bantu, who make it their profession to be the "friends" and "champions" of the Bantu, were naturally on the spot at once. All these professional "friends" have appeared in the election field: Rheinallt Jones, Ballinger, Professor Brookes, Sir Clarkson Tredgold, Advocate Stuart, Advocate Molteno, Advocate Buchanan, and the rest of the team. [....]

But what about the Natives Representative Council? It has been argued that this Council, though it is in itself without any power, authority, or effective function, may still be of some use to the Bantu people as a means of propaganda, as a platform where Bantu may voice the grievances of their people, and thereby expose the reactionary measures, the anti-Native measures of the ruling classes. But this is a false and illusory idea, based on two childish assumptions. Firstly, it is assumed that the ruling classes would permit the Council to become the Central Propaganda Organisation for the Bantu people. And, secondly, it is assumed that the Council will have a majority of members who are prepared to carry on a struggle against the Government. But only people who are deliberately misleading the masses, or who have never troubled themselves to study the Act, can make these foolish assumptions.

The Council will consist of 22 members. Of these, 10 will be Government officials: the Secretary for Native Affairs (who will act as Chairman of the Council), and five other Europeans (Chief Native Commissioners), sitting as members with a consultative vote, and four Bantu appointed by the Government, which means that these four will also be Government officials. Only 12 out of the 22 will be "elected" - if, indeed, the word can properly be used for a system of elections which recalls the most cynical schemes of Machiavelli.

For even these 12 will not be elected by direct universal vote, or as many people seem to think, by all Bantu taxpayers. The great majority of Bantu taxpayers will have no part at all in the elections, because in tribal areas the Chief will nominate and elect for all his subjects; and in urban locations the Native Advisory Board will act for the whole location.

The Chiefs, the Local District Councils, and the Advisory Boards constitute the units in the Electoral Colleges. But there still remains a small number of taxpayers who do not fall under any of these bodies. These form another unit, the Electoral Committee, which consists of not less than three or more than five members for each district. As each of these units will represent the total of its taxpayers, and as the urban Natives still mainly pay their tax in their home district so that their vote is included in that of the home district, and as no unit with less than 2,000 votes behind it can make a nomination, it is easy to see that the Chiefs of the tribes are made the dominant factor in these iniquitous "elections".

Out of the 12 elected members of the Council, 3 will be elected by the United Transkeian General Council, 6 by the Chiefs and headmen and other officials, and 3 will be elected by the Advisory Boards. But even in the case of these last-named bodies safeguards were devised to prevent and possibility of a "mistake". Since a unit cannot nominate unless it has a voting strength of not less than 2,000, and since there may be no split in the vote of a unit, a progressive minority will be unable to exercise its vote. We are therefore inclined to think that, out of the 16 Native members of the "Representative" Council, the Government will have 16 most obedient tools.

But, lest some miracle should happen, one more safeguard is provided, in case a member should slip in and prove not to belong to the well-drilled team of "the good boys". Without any legal form or public action, the Minister of Native Affairs can notify him that he has become unfit to be a member of the Council, whereupon his place at once falls vacant.

Paragraphs 26 and 27 of the Act, in dealing with the Meetings and Functions of the Council, complete the gloomy picture of a cheating, autocratic Government and a dummy Council. The two paragraphs make it positively and decisively clear that the Council will deliberate only on what the Minister for Native Affairs will select and allow; that it will meet where and when the Minister will decide; and that the provision that the proceedings of the Council shall take place in public is made subject to such limitations as may be prescribed by regulation.

The Natives Representative Council is a fraud, a deception, an empty, meaningless show. The only substantial thing in it is the annual bribe, over a period of five years of £120, plus expenses, for each of the 16 "leaders" of the Bantu.

Just as the Bills cannot be both rejected and accepted, so also they cannot be both partly rejected and partly accepted. In some quarters a proposal has been made to reject and boycott the Representative Council, while accepting the fraud of the Cape segregated "franchise". This proposal is both ridiculous and dangerous.

It would be most selfish and unjust on the part of the Cape Bantu to ask the Bantu of the northern provinces to give up the Representative Council, even though it is a mirage without any substance at all, if at the same time the Bantu in the Cape were refusing to give up a similar mirage.

The proposal is obviously ridiculous. But it is also dangerous to the growth of Bantu unity. Such a proposal may easily widen the rift between North and South, by increasing ill-feeling and suspicion - the very conditions which the ruling classes are eager to use and exploit to the utmost.

Whether our appeal prove popular or not, we have no hesitation in calling upon the Bantu to reject the Bills and consequently to boycott the elections.