Document 44 - “The Revolt of the Women”, The Soyan, December 1959

From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume Two 1943 - 1964, by Allison Drew

Document 44 - "The Revolt of the Women", The Soyan, December 1959

Early in June the African women of Durban set in motion a process that was to have far-reaching effects in the whole of Natal. What started off simply (so it appeared), as the call for the boycott of the beer-halls was to become the beginning of the upsurge of the women of Natal against oppression. There are a complicity of reasons responsible for what became the successful boycott of the beer-halls, (a) the resentment of the people against restrictions on home-brewing; (b) The complaint that the men spent much needed money for the maintenance of their families, on alcoholic drinks and (c) by far the most important, the dissatisfaction flowing from the fact that restrictions were placed on the home brewing of such beverages, whilst the local authorities, the Durban Corporation, could brew and sell and make enormous profits. The boycott of the beer-halls was only one symptom of the growing discontent of the people against all oppressive measures. For the women extended their struggle to an attack on and destruction of Durban Corporation property, the Bantu Affairs Administration build­ings, other properties, buses etc. And significantly for us, their wrath was also directed against the local collaborators, not only was their property destroyed but also they had to flee for their lives. It soon became clear that the fight of the women of Durban and its immediate surrounds was directed against the Local Authorities. The significance of this will be discussed later. Several deputations were led where the women attempted to put forward their grievances and demands, particularly with regard to influx control, passes for women, permits to seek work etc. The Herrenvolk was not slow to take reprisals and one form these reprisals took was the mass arrests of women. Early in July, 23 women were found guilty for damaging a Corporation bus and 20 were sentenced to 3 months imprisonment with a further 3 months suspended and £15.2.6., to be paid age to the bus. In July 111 women all told were convicted for public disturbances. In the towns then, the protests were in the form of the boycott of beer-halls, in Corporation property and on collaborators, passes for women, influx control, shack demolition, higher wages and Bantu Education.

From then on the unrest spreads to the Rural Areas and it is the women who are in front of the struggle. A rough estimate reveals that over 20 000 women from 30 areas participated in the struggle and the main rural areas involved were on the South Coast Inland. In the Rural areas the attack was directed against the dipping tanks, the pass Laws, the Rehabilitation and Tribalisation schemes. Poll Tax, Influx Control and Bantu Education. Only in Harding, did both men and women demonstrate their tion to the Rehabilitation Scheme etc. By the 23 August, 1959,1 200 people had died. The Daily News of the 22nd August 1959 stated that, 1 100 people had been arrested in 10 days and 877 were sentenced. The total years of imprisonment of se found guilty came to 228 years and or fines totaling £13,00. Magistrates warned that compensatory fines would be imposed on tribes for damage to property.

In the last two years, we have found that the unrest and the resistance to oppression have been growing. This is directly related to the Implementation of the Rehabilitation Stabilisation Schemes, to Verwoerd's redivision of the land and the attempt to a Kulak class among the peasantry, to Bantu Authorities, Bantu Education, to increase taxation and to the forced removal of large groups of settled communities, together with Passes for women.

We know of Sekhukhuniland and the arrest of 200 women and man, who were opposed to Bantu Authorities and Bantu Education, and the banishment of the chief who was the people.

Zeerust the same things has occurred with the attempted removal of the Township he sympathy boycotts of the people in other areas.

In the Cape, the unrest and the agitation, attended by arson and violence has been order of the day, for a long period. Particularly in the Transkei, the Ciskei and inland. Banishments too, are a common occurrence and as was predicted at the 1958 Conference of the A.A.C. in the address on the National Situation, mass trials are everyday occurrence.

It is against this background, schematic though it may be, that we must view the present unrest in Natal. I am not suggesting that all these events are directly connected, that in fact is one of the problems we have to discuss, viz., the question of co-ordinating the struggle of all the oppressed in South Africa.

In discussing the nature of the unrest in Natal, two other events must be mentioned. Firstly, the dockworkers strike in January and February of this year, when hundreds of African dockworkers demanded increased pay and were eventually replaced by other migrant labourers, brought in from the rural areas. In spite of the militancy and solidarity he dockworkers, their strike failed because they have no proper trade unions, and secondly, the demonstration of the women of Cato Manor against the destruction of their homes in the name of slum clearance. The women by squatting with all their possessions on the City Hall steps forced the Herrenvolk to deal directly with them and to consider their protests against the destruction of the only homes they have. These two events then, were indications early in this year, of the growing militancy of the people in the face of inhuman conditions of life. Certain features characterise all the demonstrations and these we must discuss.


Spontaneity is generally regarded as the index of the militancy of the people which militancy has been engendered by the pressure and intensification of oppression, which results only in starvation and death. The African women in Natal were in revolt and this whole revolt was sparked off by the demonstrations in Durban early in June. Desperation caused by poverty had driven the women to registering their vehement rejection of all oppressive measures and into trying to obtain redress to their grievances. We did not need to read the ANC denials of being responsible for the unrest, to know that in fact, no political organisations have been behind the protests. An outlet for the militancy of the people had be found, particularly in the absence of political leadership, which accounts for the diverse forms of protest adopted by the people.

In passing mention must be made of the courage of the women in the face of the Saracens, police and guns of the Herrenvolk.


Durban SOYA in a bulletin on the local unrest in June said that political consciousness had heightened since the tragic Race Riots of 1949, because there had been no evidence of racialism. Instead the wrath of the people had been directed against the Corporation, N.A.D., the Government and the officials, collaborators, etc., which to the people symbolise oppression. But it was pointed out then, that the Corporation etc., are only sub-agents, who carry out the master plans worked out in Parliament, and that the real struggle is for the franchise. We must once more record the complete absence of racialism in the whole of Natal, in spite of all the attempts of the Herrenvolk to stir up racial antagonisms and provoke a racial progrom. In the rural areas, we find the wrath of the people directed against the Bantu Administration Department, dipping tanks, dipping inspectors, etc., who are there to work the machinery of oppression. The struggle has been directly against Bantu Authorities, Taxation, Influx Control etc., and both what has happened in town and country in Natal further justifies our standpoint that the political consciousness of the people has heightened. In fact. Natal has been considered the most backward part of South Africa where racialism abounds, yet the struggle of the people today give us reason to be happy, because almost overnight the whole political clime in Natal, had undergone a revolutionary change. In fact overnight Natal has caught up with the rest of South Africa.

It is true that the most striking characteristic of the unrest was the fact that only the women participated in the struggle and that they were concerned primarily with wrenching concessions and reforms from the ruling powers. But this was the awakening of the people of Natal and as one person said, "the tearing asunder of the whole tribal integument."

What effect did this awakening of the people have on the various sections of South African Society and what is our attitude to the struggles of the people.


It was to be expected that the Herrenvolk would retaliate with a show of brute force and have employed every weapon in their general armamentatarium. Baton charges, Saracens, threats and reprisals, shootings and all night police vigils, with the hills of Manor armed with machine guns. In spite of all this the unrest continues. Generally amongst the whites there was panic and fear. Vigilantes were formed and s amongst the intellectuals gave South Africa only 5 years more under the present regime. They realise the significance of these demonstrations and because they cannot themselves with the people, desire to leave the country in the name of seeking security for their children.

It is interesting to recall what individual "white" leaders have said as regards the unrest.

Mr. Mitchell: Leader of the U.P. in Natal, wired Verwoerd for greater intervention on the part of the Herrenvolk to quell what he termed "open Rebellion".

The Police Chief: lays the blame for the unrest on the ANC and the agitation dome by them.


Eiselen: Secretary for Bantu Administration and Development condemned the people for the lawlessness and threatened dire measures against them. He maintains the senseless destruction of property should be seen against the background of exaggerated criticism of everything the State did for the benefit of the people, by subversive organisations viz., the ANC. He also paid tribute to the police, just as Luthuli did.

Eiselen also said on the 18th August 1959 that he deplores the fact that certain classes of people and some town councils and officials are branding as unfair and unreasonable certain legislation introduced since 1923.

The Durban City-Council being affected by the pressure from the people by their ands for human rights, were forced, at the height of the struggle of the African women, to discuss the granting of some form of municipal representation to the Indian people. This proposal came from the Mayor of Durban and was clearly a further application of their policy of divide and rule and an attempt to destroy the growing unity of the Indian and African people, particularly because all attempts at pogrom mongering had failed. While on the one hand then we have proposals for some form of Municipal representation to the Indian people, the African people who were actually in a process of a struggle for rights were subjected to an intensification of pass raids, "beer' raids, etc. But the leadership of the Natal Indian Congresses once more demonstrated their deal opportunism when they at once started sending petitions, deputations, appeals etc to the local authorities appealing for such municipal representation. In spite of all their talk of unity with the African people, they are quite willing to wrench concessions for themselves from the rulers, at the expense of the African people.

Natal Indian and African Congresses

Lacking a principled political approach to the problems of the oppressed in South Africa and because neither the ANC not the NIC can any longer claim to represent the rations of the workers and peasants, it is not unexpected that the women who took part in the demonstrations were condemned by these organisations and in particular, by the great Christian, moderate, non-violent collaborator Luthuli. The Congresses deny responsibility for the unrest and we have no reason to disbelieve their vehement denial. For we know that they are not at all interested in the struggle of the people for a democratic South Africa. They are afraid of the real struggles of the people, which put an end to their collaborationist, concessions-seeking politics. They are content with sham struggles and the Misuse of the boycott (as a weapon of struggle) in the form of cigarette and potato boycotts.

They called for an end to the demonstrations and for a judicial enquiry into the causes of the unrest and also for negotiations between the Authorities and the people. They have refused to support the struggles of the African women and in fact condemned the peasants for irrationally destroying amenities, which have become a symbol of author­ity. There has been no attempt to channelise the militancy of the people or to give them a lead. Their praise is reserved for the police for their handling of the situation. We see the complete lack of understanding of the mood of the people and the significance of their struggle but this is in keeping with the collaborationist-opportunistic politics of the Congresses who are interested only in the maintenance of the status quo.

The Attitude of those of, us in the Movement is determined by our understanding of objective socio-economic and political conditions in South Africa. We realise fully that this unrest has been precipitated by the intensification of Bantu Authorities and Bantu Education and increased taxation. We support the people in their struggles with this understanding that we are quite aware that the unrest is spontaneous and isolated. BUT it is our duty as politicos to take advantage of the militancy, in order to put forward our ideas.

(i) We must channelise this militancy and try to give it organised form in permanent organisations of the people.

(ii) But this we can only do if we see to it that we use every opportunity in order to spread political education. Education, which must centre on the need for principled Unity and the struggle for the full franchise and the rest of the Ten Point

Programme i.e. on the basis of equality. (iii) Only if we can disseminate our ideas, will we get the development of political consciousness which will lead to the formation of the people's organisations which must be brought into the A.A.C. Only in this way can the struggle throughout the country be co-ordinated.


1 The Company refers to the Dutch East India Company, formed in 1602 to co-ordinate Dutch trading ventures in the East Indies on behalf of both Dutch merchants and the Dutch government. In 1652 it established a settlement at the Cape under the leadership of Jan van Riebeeck. Company officials ruled and administered the settlement for the Company's benefit with extreme corruption and inefficiency. British forces conquered the Cape in 1795, and in 1804 the "Dutch government allowed the Company's charter to lapse.

2 The Congress of Vienna (1814-15) was a European assembly convened to redraw the map of Europe after the initial defeat of Napoleon I by Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain. Its aim was to create a balance of power in Europe, to preserve the European monarchies and to contain liberal and nationalist forces.

3 The Anglo-Boer or South African War (1899-1902) was fought between Britain and the two Boer Republics. The roots of the conflict were complex but a critical factor was the discovery of gold on the Rand in the 1880s. Some British politicians, together with Lord Milner, had the agenda of British dominance over southern Africa. Early Boer victories were followed by British successes as their forces increased in strength. By mid-1900 the Boer army seemed defeated but their guerrilla forces continued the struggle into 1902, and groups planning armed struggle in the 1960s later studied their tactics. British supremacy was eventually enforced through a scorched-earth policy complemented by concen­tration camps for Boer women and children.

4 Paul Mosaka (c. 1911-63) was a successful businessman with political ambitions who, in the mid-1950s, took over and developed the Johannesburg African Chamber of Commerce. In 1942 he was elected to the NRC to represent Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and in 1942 he, along with Hyman Basner, Self Mampuru, Daniel Koza and others, launched the ADP, which survived about five years. Basner (1905-77), a Johannesburg lawyer and vigorous defender of African rights, particularly in rural areas, emigrated from Latvia and joined the CPSA as a young man but left it in 1938. From 1943 to 1947 he was a Natives' Senator for the Transvaal and Orange Free State. He left South Africa in 1962. For his memoirs see Basner (1993). Margaret Ballinger (born Hodgson) immigrated to South Africa from Scotland he was Natives' Representative for Eastern Cape from 1938 to 1960. She and her husband, William G. Ballinger, helped found the Liberal Party, and she was its first President from 1953 to '55. The Balingers both grew disenchanted with the Liberal Party's advocacy of universal rather than qualified franchise and its acceptance of extra parliamentary activity.

5 Edward Thabo Mofutsanyana (1899-1995), born in Witzieshoek, joined the ANC in 1923 and the CPSA several years later, and attended the Lenin School in Moscow in the early 1930s. For most of the 1930s he was a member of the CPSA' s Politburo and in the 1940s Chair of its Johannesburg District Committee, member of its Central Committee and editor of its newspaper, Inkululeko (Freedom). He was one of the people charge with inciting the African Mineworkers' Strike of 1946. He ran, unsuccessful, as a Communist candidate for the NRC in 1937, '42 and '48. He was elected to the AAC's Executive Committee in the late 1930s but put his energies into rebuilding the ANC. After being banned, he moved to Basutoland (Lesotho). He was married to Josie Mpama (or Palmer), for many years the only African woman leader in the CPSA. Mpama was CPSA branch secretary in Potchefstroom in the 1920s and attended the Seventh Comintern Congress in 1935, planning to present a paper on South African women. Instead, she was given a pre-prepared speech which she presented under the pseudonym Henderson. See International Press Correspondence, 15,60, 1935,pp. 1 474-5. She helped to revive the ANC in the late a leading figure in anti-pass struggles and was Transvaal President of Fedsaw. She was banned in 1955 and detained in 1960.

6 Anton M. Lembede (1914-47), a key figure in the intellectual development of African nationalism, attended Adams College and received B.A., LL.B, and M.A. degrees from Unisa. He helped found and was the first President of the ANC Youth League and was a strong proponent of the boycott of racial political institutions, such as the NRC. He was highly critical of and tried, unsuccessfully, to exclude Communists from the ANC.

7 William H. Andrews (1870-1950) immigrated to South Africa from England in 1893 and organised for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (later Amalgamated Engineering Union). In 1902 he helped from the first TLC. In 1909 he became the first Chair of the SALP and was elected as M.P. in 1912. During the World War One he led the anti-war faction in the SALP and chaired the ISL upon its secession from the SALP in September 1915. With the formation of the CPSA, Andrews became its Secretary and editor of The International and in November 1922 was elected to the ECCI. He resigned as CPSA Secretary and became inactive in Party affairs following its December 1924 resolution not to apply for affiliation to the SALP. He was Secretary of the SATUC and later the SATLC from 1925 to '32. He was formally expelled from CPSA in September 1931 but reinstated in 1938 and chaired its Central Committee in the 1940s.

8 Vyacheslav Molotov was a leading figure in the Soviet administration for several decades, serving under and Khrushchev. He was head of the Comintern during the New Line period and was Foreign Minister in the 1940s. To many, he epitomized the character of the Soviet regime during the Cold War. He was deposed as a member of the alleged "anti-Party" group in 1958.

9 This pamphlet was translated into Xhosa as uKwayo: isiKrweqe ne Khaka by Phyllis Ntantala and distributed in Transkei, chiefly by SOYA members. Ntantala (1992:167) states that during the enquiries into the causes of the 1960 Pondoland uprising, rural people at a meeting in Bizana chaired by the Chief Native Commissioner of Ciskei quoted concepts from the Xhosa translation.

10 This refers presumably to the Irish Land Act of 1881, introduced by the Gladstone Liberal Government. The measure was a response to the agitation mounted by the Land League against evictions in Ireland. It introduced the so so-called "three Fs" - fair rents, free sale and fixity of tenure. This response is perhaps best seen as a political gesture rather than a considered economic agenda for the Irish rural economy.

11 The Duma was the Russian Parliament introduced as a reforming measure after the Revolution of 1905. This limited liberalisation raised for left-wing parties the question of whether to participate. The Social Democratic Party (in the pre-1914 sense of the term) at that time included both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. They agreed on a general policy of boycott on two grounds. Firstly, the Social Democrats remained optimistic about the possibility of successful armed revolution; secondly, they saw the reform as a cosmetic and not involving any significant transfer of power from the autocracy. In subsequent years powers of the Duma were further reduced as the autocracy regained more self-confidence.

12 Documents 40 to 43 refer to the first elections of white Coloured Representatives, which took place in. The NEUM organised a successful boycott supported by 80 per cent of the eligible voters. SACPO's run candidates resulted in a stunning defeat. In Cape Town its candidate, Piet Beyleveld, was overwhelmingly defeated by the UP.

13 This probably Abdullah Omar, who was profoundly influenced by Benjamin Kies while a student at High School, joined the NEF and became Secretary of the Cape Anti-CAD. He received a law degree from UCT in 1957, subsequently opened a law practice with Cadoc M. Kobus of the AAC, then practicing in Langa, and defended numerous political prisoners. By the early 1980s he thought the Unity Movement too passive, and he joined the UDP, becoming a leading activist. He became Minister of Justice in the first democratic Parliament.

14 R. 0. Dudley, a Deputy Principal of Livingstone High School, was involved in the NEF in the 1940s and was a leading member of the TLSA, Anti-CAD and NEUM and a founding member of the New Unity Movement.

15 SACPO, later renamed the CPC, was formed in September 1953, largely from members of the FRAC.

16 This refers to the series of rural protests and uprisings that shook South Africa in the late 1940s and '50s.

17 The Soyan was to organ of SOYA, an AAC affiliate. For other accounts of the 1959 Natal women's protests see Yawich (1977) and Lodge (1983:147-51).

18 In January 1949 an altercation in Durban between an African customer and an Indian shop assistant during a crowded rush hour led to several nights of violence which included physical assaults and arson and looting of factories, stores and dwellings. Of the 142 deaths officially recorded, 50 were Indians and 87 Africans; of the 1 087 injured, 503 were Indians and 541 Africans. Dismal economic conditions fuelled the tension which led to the 1949 Durban Riots. By the mid-1940s about one-half of Durban's African population lived in Indian-owned slums, and Indians controlled the bus service and retail outlets. The Pegging Act and the Ghetto Act caused property prices and rents to soar while Indian-owned slums became increasingly overcrowded.


The black trade union movement reached an apex during World War Two. But the squashing of the 1946 African Mine-workers' Strike and the ensuing repression faced by its leaders left the black labour movement severely weakened on the eve of apartheid. Both the leadership of the Congress movement and of the NEUM believed that trade unions should be integrated into the na­tional liberation movement through affiliation to particular organisations: however, activists in the Congress movement far outstripped those in Ac NEUM in terms of practical trade-union work. In the early 1950s, left-wing debates about trade-union organisation concerned the question of whether to build trade-union unity across the colour bar or to build the black trade union movement. However, as the state restricted the possibility of the former through racist legislation, political and trade union activists followed the strategy of attempting to integrate the black trade-union movement into six national liberation movement - for examples, through the affiliation of SACTU to the Congress Alliance.

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