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

Document 4 - "The Great Native Strike", " The International, 27 February 1920

Since our last issue the Rand has witnessed the unprecedented spectacle of a strike of 40,000 mine natives. Owing to the compound and indenture system, the general public have seen very little of the strike, as the natives, herded in their compound quarters, are not allowed abroad. Practically the only source of information is "The Star," which is notoriously the Chamber of Mines paper. For a week it has given lists of mines whose natives refuse to work. The lists are not the same every day. To-day the E.R.P.M. natives are out, to-morrow they return and other mines are affected, keeping the average total about 40,000. During the week double this number of native workers must have refused work. Police and military have poured on to the Reef, but there has been very little for them to do, as the native workers have learnt the lesson of absolute passivity to perfection. There have been charges made by the Native Congress of wholesale sjamboking, which of course are denied. There are scant means of verifying these charges at present.

On some mines white workers have taken on the labouring work, and have kept on partial operations. The ethic of solidarity is woefully weak in regard to the native workers. There has been no single clear call from any trade union leader. The only lead given has been by the I.S.L., whose leaflet, "Don't Scab," has been distributed at crucial points, and republished in full on the cable page of Tuesday's "Star" as a heinous example of "Socialist poison," for which publicity we give thanks! 12

The demands of the natives have been vague. The strike is undoubtedly an instinctive mass revolt against their whole status and pig level of existence. The Native Congress has had very little to with the movement, other than to hold a watching brief. The strike is in no man's control. Organisation within the compounds there is, of course, but of necessity there can be very little definite organisation as between mines owing to police surveillance. There are few incidents to record, owing to the peaceful nature of the strike and the "cordon sanitaire" of police ringed round it.

Needless to say, we view the movement as a splendid example of the power of industrial solidarity, of the power of large industry to smash up tribal psychology. The advice given to the natives by us in our first message to them two years ago was: There is only one way of deliverance for you Bantu workers. Unite as workers, unite! Forget the things that divide you. Let there be no longer any talk of Basuto, Zulu, or Shangaan. You are all labourers'. Let labour be your common bond.

The native mine workers have followed this advice to the letter. To-day there are no tribal divisions among industrial natives. Only the chiefs seek to perpetuate these, their old prerogatives. The stern demands of mass industry in South Africa, as in all parts of the world, are moulding the Bantu workers into the image of the world proletariat. The faction fights which used to be so common - and though put down by the police, yet put down good-humouredly as rather too much of a good thing - are rapidly disappearing. The present strike is our witness to it.

The native workers have found a soul to strive for. They have awakened to a new earth. It is potentially theirs from this day out. The immense complications facing capitalist industry are aggravated by this unlooked-for trouble in the production of gold. The natives must be given substantial concessions, otherwise we shall see intermittent strikes on a large scale without end. The native is the very apotheosis of the figure visualised by Marx with nothing to lose but his chains. A day off now and then is for him, IN THE MASS, just as easy as a day at work. Industry can only run by conceding all he wants eventually.

he duties of white workers in the matter we deal with in another article