Nelson Mandela, delivering his presidential address to the ANC Youth League in December 1951, raised a number of issues, which are crucial to historians developing a fuller understanding of the Congress movement in the 1950s. In responding to Africanists who claimed that there were "brands" of African nationalism, Mandela asserted:
... in any case the very nature of the national movement to which we belong makes it impossible to expect (an) absolutely identical approach. The very nature of the national struggle and the manner of its organisation make it impossible to achieve what is possible to achieve in a party. African nationalism has to my mind been sufficiently concretised and its aims are, for the present historical stage, clear. Any attempt to go beyond this might well be unconstructive and will merely (delay) the consideration of what our answer should be to the immediate crises facing our people... Expressed in what is perhaps an oversimplification, the problems of the Youth League and the Congress today is the maintenance of full dynamic contact with the masses... We have a powerful ideology capable of capturing the imagination of the masses. Our duty is now... to carry that ideology to the masses. (my emphasis)
Mandela's frank remarks reveal, firstly, that the ideological terms and concepts that the ANC and the Youth League had used and their long-term political goals were still undefined, although they were adequate for the "present historical stage" . Secondly, that any attempt to place undue emphasis on the ideological divisions within the ANC was counter-productive. Thirdly, that the foremost question confronting the two organisations was how to transform them into mass movements. The priority, according to Mandela, was to be the building of a mass political movement. Ideological questions and long-term goals were of secondary importance.
Most historians have correctly attributed this emphasis on mass action to the Programme of Action adopted by the ANC in 1949, and they have tended to focus attention on campaigns in which this was most dramatically displayed, such as the Defiance Campaign of 1952. It is widely acknowledged that the protest actions organised by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) in the period 1950-1953 had served to transform the former into a mass movement of some sort. The readiness and enthusiasm with which the African masses responded to calls for action from Congress leaders was inspiring, and vindicated the arguments about the political potential of the masses advanced by African militants. Historians, in highlighting these displays of mass action, have unfortunately underplayed the significance of the campaign for the Congress of the People and Freedom Charter.
Any struggle for national liberation is a complex and dynamic process, which often brings to fore with new urgency 'old' questions about its ideological content and perspectives, its long-term goals and its vision of the alternative social order. This is exactly what happened to the Congress movement in the 1950s. No sooner had the Defiance Campaign been brought to an end by state action than the ANC, in alliance with the SAIC, SACOD, SACPO, SACTU and FSAW, launched the campaign for the Congress of the People and Freedom Charter, seemingly going beyond the "historical stage" that Mandela spoke about.
The failure of historians to make a detailed study of this vital campaign is inexplicable. Even more recently, the debates have revolved around the content of the Freedom Charter as a political programme, the degree to which it advances or subordinates working class interests and needs, and whether it acts as a brake to the spread of a socialist society. These debates are important, but they tend to screen the nature and political significance of the COP campaign to the Congress Alliance in the mid-1950s.
The COP campaign was more than just a campaign for a programmatic document, as has been presented in the literature on the topic. On the one hand, it symbolised the closing of a phase in the national liberation struggle. On the other hand, it opened a new phase revealing a major realignment of political forces in the resistance movement.
The Congress Alliance that was forged in the course of the COP campaign emerged as a nationally coordinated, multiÂracial (non-racial) movement, armed with a more sophisticated analysis of the political conjuncture and a more refined strategy based on the concept of the united front, so as to advance the struggle for the realisation of the goals enshrined in the Freedom Charter. In a sense, the campaign was a unique and creative effort at political and organisational consolidation and building unity among the different forces for national liberation, viz., the ANC, SAIC SACOD, SACTU, FSAW and the reconstituted SACP. For the first time, the interests and weight of these varied forces-notwithstanding the ideological and organisational differences and variations ”” were brought together in a distinctive way.
In order for one to understand how and why this was possible it is necessary to trace the historical development of each component of the Congress Alliance, to locate them within a changing economy and to examine how each responded and adapted to ever-increasing repressive state initiatives. What follows, therefore, is an examination over the period 1932-52 of the growth and development of the African trade union, the strategic and ideological changes that occurred within the established political movements of the time, viz., the ANC, the CPSA and the Indian Congresses and the relationships between various political organisations, trade unions and women's organisations.
In assence, the chapter argues that while the objective and material conditions that confronted the growing urban African constituency were mature for launching effective militant mass actions, it was slow in expressing itself. The weakness and explanation lay largely at the subjective level””at the level of weak political organisation, the lack of a dynamic leadership and the absence of an adequate conception of the nature, content and strategy of the national liberation struggle. Consequently, political movements in the 1930s and, to a lesser extent, in the 1940s were not intimately in touch with me new and pressing needs of a rapidly expanding urban constituency. They failed to harness and direct the growing sense of frustration and anger among the African working class. It was only in the 1940s, after a wave of wildcat strike activity, a series of boycott campaigns and spontaneous squatter movements, that political movements began paying greater attention to the question of organising the political potential of these new social forces, and making the required adaptations at the level of strategy and organisation.
In many respects the leadership of political organisations, particularly the older and moderate leadership within the ANC and Indian Congresses, cautiously and reluctantly accepted the changes and in many respects they were inadequate. Nevertheless, these organisational changes, accompanied by the advent of a directly racist political party to power in 1948, were necessary, and served as a 'launching pad' for the mass popular democratic struggles of the early 1950s. These struggles were to be a vital prelude to the Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter.
Economic Development and the Expansion of the African Working Class ↵
With the termination of the Great Depression in 1932 and the withdrawal of South Africa from the gold standard a different period in South African economic, political and social history began. At the parliamentary level the National Party and the South African Party fused to form the United Party. Essentially, this party [political alliance reflected a new, fragile alliance between mining capitalists, Afrikaner agricultural and industrial capital and] a significant proportion of the white working class. Obviously, the forging of such an alliance required careful management and was not without problems and contradictions, but it generally demonstrated the consolidation of the ruling bloc.
Following the inauguration of the Fusion Government the economy expanded rapidly and important changes occurred in the structure of production. In particular, the period witnessed a phenomenal growth of the industrial/manufacturing sector. This development really had its 'kick-off' during and immediately after the First World War, when the international capitalist order experienced its first major disruption. The process of industrial expansion in South Africa progressed steadily throughout the 1920s, mainly because the Pact Ministry was dedicated to a thorough protection of local industries, and the development of the state-controlled Iron and Steel Corporation . The systematic development of the manufacturing sector proved to be the policy of successive governments. Consequently, the number of manufacturing establishments increased from 6,009 in 1924-5 to 13,725 by 1945-6.
South Africa's almost total dependence upon agriculture and mineral exports as a means of maintaining high rates of economic growth was transformed as the contribution of manufacturing to national income surpassed agriculture in 1930 and outstripped mining in 1943. This process of urbanisation and economic development was accompanied by important qualitative changes in the nature of the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing capital gradually introduced labour-saving machinery and inaugurated scientific management techniques, which resulted in altering, over a period of time, the skilled-unskilled labour ratio and increasing the overall productivity of labour. White skilled workers naturally felt threatened by this reorganisation of production and stood firm in defence of their interests, even if it meant accepting co-option by capital. But for unskilled workers (predominantly black), the restructuring of the labour process presented possibilities for permanent employment and the exercising of a greater leverage against employers.
This economic growth led to a concomitant increase in the size of the urban black working class. For instance, in the thirty years after 1924, the African labour force increased sharply from 74,000 to 469,000. During 1933-39 and 1940-46, 240,000 and 115,000 Africans respectively joined the urban labour force. However; this dramatic process of industrialisation and urbanisation should not blind us to the fact that by far the majority of the African population still lived on the land.
On the eve of the Second World War, 80 per cent of the African population in South Africa were rural dwellers either in the reserves or as agricultural labourers on white farms. They eked out a living in the increasingly impoverished reserves, supplementing their resources with the wages earned by migrant relatives. The enlarged African workforce needed for the manufacturing industries had been "recruited" and secured precisely from the ranks of the newly proletarianised, both black and white, who had been forced off the land and into ”¦ towns by economic hardship, governmental policy and the increasing domination of largely capitalist agriculture." By the 1930s there was a growing pressure on the land in the African reserves. Africans were confronted with the difficult problems of overpopulation, overstocking, soil erosion, pasture denudation and soil exhaustion which made the reserves unable to support their population.
The Fagan Commission (1948) found that in the Ciskei Reserve, 30 per cent of families were landless, and over 60 per cent owned five or fewer cattle, and 29 per cent owned none. The resultant decline in productivity and impoverishment left many African peasants and rural dwellers with no alternative but to search for new sources of livelihood and survival. Under the constant threat of starvation, thousands migrated to the urban areas, creating a labour shortage for agricultural capital. These, and their womenfolk, were rapidly absorbed into the expanding industrial/manufacturing sector. "When South Africa emerged from the Great Depression of 1929-32, the burgeoning economy pulled thousands of African workers into commerce and industry. The number of Africans employed in commerce, industry and construction rose from 66,757 to 134,233 during 1932-36." The major upsurge occurred on the Rand where the increase in that period was from 36,153 to 80,7227.
This period was also characterised by large-scale employment of Indians in the manufacturing industry and other sectors of employment. For example, after 1935 approximately 80 per cent of Indians in Natal were engaged as non-agricultural workers by the sugar-milling, secondary manufacturing industries and local municipalities. Padayachee, Vawda and Tichman argue that by 1936, two-thirds of the Indian population was urbanised, largely as a result of increasing land shortage, poor housing and working conditions on sugar estates, and the substitution of cheap African labour on sugar plantations. Indians were quickly absorbed as semi-skilled workers into the expanding industrial economy, particularly in the sub-sectors of food, doming, textiles, metal, furniture, paper and, to a lesser extent, the public service sector and mining.
Black urbanisation was not a planned process unfolding under the control and supervision of a sympathetic government. The state was remote from its black subjects and insensitive to their problems, except in so far as they immediately threatened major capitalists' interests. In Johannesburg, for example, one City Council house existed for an estimated 28 Africans living in the city. The rest were living in shacks and squatter camps, without water or sanitation. The newly urbanised Africans filled the lowest paid positions in industry. They received starvation wages - between 16/- and 18/- and for a 44-hour week in the 1930s, with small increases every two years or so. The conditions of employment were deplorable, yet they accepted the terms of employment out of sheer desperation.
The high rate of black labour turnover in industries made the organisation of workers extremely difficult. Even in more stable industries the percentage of workers that stayed on the job for over three years or more was under 15 per cent. Most industries had an average 8 per cent rate of stable employment. The turnover rate of the workforce, excluding departure due to ill health or death, was 157 per cent in transport, 155 per cent in the building sector, 101 per cent in the steel industry, 94 per cent in commerce and 90 per cent in the food, chemical, rubber and timber industries." This mobility of labour imposed constraints upon the capacity of trade unionists to organise effectively. Indeed, a collective and powerful union can only emerge where there is some permanency of labour in industries. This 'transience of labour' also affected the nature of demands and issues put forward by workers - these tended to be narrow in scope and immediate in character.
A further impediment to the unionisation of black workers was state strategy. Essentially this amounted to an attempt at the co-option of increasing sections of the white working class, and, to a lesser extent Indian and coloured workers, and repression for the vast majority of African unskilled workers. African workers were officially excluded from the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924, and, thereby, from the collective bargaining machinery. The Act guaranteed for white, coloured and Indian workers the right to establish racial unions, to organise, to bargain and eventually to strike in support of their demands. Having guaranteed these sections the right to unionisation, it created the necessary mechanisms of control, and ensured that collective bargaining would take place within the limits defined by the state. For the unskilled and the growing layer of semi-skilled African workers, the state offered nothing except the threat of severe repression, a tightening of influx control and empty promises of larger land allocations in the reserves.
The black working class, finding itself against me background described thus far, seemed powerless and defenceless. Its organisation, mobilisation and politicisation seemed to be a difficult and unenviable task. Yet by 1945,158 000, black workers were trade union members. These and other unorganised workers were involved in intensive strike activity in the 1940s, demonstrating a visible militancy in defence of their interests and needs. Similarly, political movements, after an unduly long period of disorganisation, were undergoing changes and becoming more receptive to organising the expanded urban black population. It is to these developments that I now turn my attention.
The Quiescence of Political Organisation in the 1930s ↵
From its inception the Communist Party of South Africa was confronted with the task of formulating a theory, which adequately explained the relationship between the national question and the class struggle, and developing an appropriate political strategy, which could ensure a fundamental transformation of the social order. This proved to be a difficult and complex task and its application in practice generated new considerations and difficulties, which were often left, unresolved until later in its history.
Within a few months of its formation on 30 July 1921 the Party found itself in the midst of the Rand strike by white miners, which took the form of a partial insurrection. The organised white miners were striking against the introduction of 'unqualified' African workers into certain skilled jobs, which they had up to then monopolised. This had placed the Party leadership in a complicated position, as it had, in principle at least, called for the unity of the African and white working classes. Its leadership was actively involved in the white labour movement and had to participate in the interests and struggle of the white striking miners; at the same time, the miners adopted a narrow, racist outlook which prevented an effective non-racial unity of workers. This was a dilemma for the CPSA that stretched on for the better part of its legal existence. "The strike found the CPSA theoretically ill-equipped to sort out the tangled issues of principle, but it was at the same time a powerful educator which brought the Party face to face with the need to formulate a clearer line on the issues of race and class."
Out of this experience grew a tendency, led notably by Bunting, which called for greater Party activity amongst and mobilisation of the African sector, and the opening of its ranks to blacks. This conception paved the way for closer collaboration and cooperation with the ICU and the ANC in mid to the late 1920s.
This shift of emphasis had brought a substantial African membership into the Party and transformed its composition. From a minority in 1924, African communists, by 1928, comprised the great majority ~ 1,600 out of 1,750 members. But this development was not adequately reflected in the Party's leadership, policies and perspectives, despite the participation of the African communists (G. Makabeni, E. Khaile and Thibede) in the Central Committee. Moreover, the adoption of the "Native Republic" slogan by the CPSA in 1928 opened up a period of increasing dissent and division within the organisation, rendering it virtually ineffective and crippled. This slogan was advanced on the basis of the "Thesis on the Revolutionary Movement in the Colonial and Semi-colonial Countries" adopted at the Communist International's Sixth Congress in 1928.
Although the South African delegation to the Congress emphasised the class content of the struggle in South Africa and the primary role of the CPSA in this regard, the Congress upheld the view "that the national question, based on the agrarian question, lies at the foundation of the revolution in South Africa." A section of the thesis discussed the position of the Union of South Africa as follows:
The Africans, who constitute the majority of the population, are being expropriated from the land by white colonists and by the state, are being deprived of political rights and freedom of movement, are subjected to the most brutal forces of racial and class oppression, and suffer simultaneously from pre-capitalist and capitalist methods of exploitation and oppression.
The Executive Committee of the Communist International finally adopted a resolution entitled "The South African Question" which called for a fundamental ideological and strategic reorientation of the CPSA. The statement, arguing that South Africa was still very much a colony under British economic control, noted the complete landlessness of the majority of the black population, the proletarianisation of the black people earning wages substantially lower than white workers, the denial of basic political rights and freedoms (except in the Cape Province), the monopolisation of state power by the white bourgeoisie, the growing collaboration of the South African bourgeoisie with British finance and industrial capital, and outlined the tasks of the CPSA. The following recommendations were made:
- the party must orientate itself towards the African masses, establish mass support and integrate the black communists into leadership roles;
- the party must fight against all anti-native laws with the general political slogan in the fight against British domination, of an independent native South African Republic, as a stage towards a workers' and peasants' republic with full equal rights for all races, black, coloured or white;
- the party must pay increasing attention to the black peasantry, "the basic moving force of the revolution" and ensure that it forges an alliance with and under the leadership of the working class/Âthe party must "influence the embryonic crvstalising national movements among the native in order to develop these movements into national agrarian movements against the white bourgeoisie and British imperialism" ;
- the party must place greater emphasis on the national and agrarian questions as only by the "correct understanding of the importance of the national question in South Africa will the Communist Party of South Africa be able to combat effectively the effort of the bourgeoisie to divide the black and white workers by playing on race chauvinism, and transform the embryonic national movement into a revolutionary struggle against the white bourgeoisie and foreign imperialists" ;
- the party should pay particular attention to the embryonic national organisations among the natives, such as the ANC. The party, while retaining its full independence, should participate in these organisations, should seek to broaden and extend their activity and aim to transform the ANC into a fighting national revolutionary organisation; and finally, that the party should continue in its effort to organise black workers into trade unions.
This resolution brought to the fore the centrality of the contradiction of national oppression in the South African struggle and it called for a strategic alliance with the nationalist organisation of the time (ANC), provided that this did not place undue constraints on the capacity of the CPSA to organise fully and independently. Moreover, it cautioned that any alliance should not preclude or limit the possibilities of mass organisation and should work in a "genuinely revolutionary direction as opposed to reformism" . The formation of the League of African Rights by the CPSA in 1929 was the first active attempt to implement the ECCI resolution and it represented a distinctive response to the growing repression unleashed against the CPSA by the Nationalist government.
It linked together a wide range of nationalist leaders from the ICU, the ANC and the Federation of Non-European Trade Unions to the CPSA, but it underwent a surprising 'abortion' when the CPSA was instructed by the Communist International to dissolve it, the latter arguing mat it propagated a reformist conception of the struggle which would result in the CPSA losing its distinctive character and identity, and its political independence.
The adoption of the 'Native Republic' slogan by the CPSA introduced a period of theoretical confusion, bitter internal and sectarian struggles, expulsions and an undemocratic imposition of a leadership. The end result was that the party was unable to play any significant role in broader political mobilisation and organisation. Michael Harmel described the Party's position as follows:
"The 1930s saw the emergence of an 'ultra-left', sectarian tendency at the head of the party's administration... The results were particularly unfortunate for me CPSA; a wave of highly undemocratic and arbitrary expulsions took place, whose victims included two of the veteran founders; S.P. Bunting and Bill Andrews . Moses Kotane was removed from the editorship of Umsebenzi" .
These actions left the party weaker. In April 1932, party membership was reduced to 53, compared to 1,000 plus in 1931. Ideologically, the new leadership propagated an "ultra-left" line, which contradicted and did not conform to the guidelines set out by the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Their May Day Manifesto (1932) called for the "overthrow of British and Boer imperialism, the confiscation of the land, animals and implements of the landlords, the redivision of the land amongst the peasants and farm workers, the confiscation of the mines, factories and all undertakings of the imperialist capitalist robbers and the creation of a workers' and peasants' government." This was tantamount to a virtual rejection of ECCI policy.
When Kotane returned from the Soviet Union in 1933 he was shocked to find that the party had dwindled to almost nothing. The membership, divided and paralysed by the 1931 expulsions and the confusion over the interpretation of new policies, was making almost no impact on the political scene. "The Wolton-line, far from producing an Africanist leadership, had resulted in the concentration of party power in the hands of Wolton, his wife Molly, plus Lazar Bach." Kotane's instincts rebelled against the whole Wolton-Bach approach to politics. He maintained that the party was too Europeanised and out of touch with the reality of national oppression and class exploitation. In his letter to the Central Committee, dated 23 March 1934, he made the following comments, which are worth reproducing in full:
The Party is too Europeanised... We are simply theoretical and our theory is less connected with practice. Our Party members are ideologically not South Africans; they are foreigners who know nothing about and are not interested in the country they are living in at present... Their hobbies are the German situation and the Comintern, Stalin and Trotsky and the errors of various communist parties... The independent native republic has different premises, language and attitudes to that of the proletarian dictatorship and the socialist revolution; . . . The Party must become more Africanised, pay special attention to South Africa, study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the toiling masses from first-hand experience. We must speak the language of the native masses and know their demands...
Kotane called for the formation of a united front of all African radicals and the organisations they worked in, including the CPSA. For him this was strategically necessary and vital, more important than the ideological debates that rendered the CPSA ineffective. His main concern was the revitalising of the ANC and ensuring that it played a constructive and active role in the political mobilisation of Africans.
For the remaining years of the 1930s the party's membership remained relatively small and split, despite the re-entry of Kotane and others into the central leadership. Its strategy aimed at the formation of a broad united front of Black Nationalist organisations, trade unions and white bodies opposed to the growing 'threat of fascism' in South Africa. The National Liberation League, the Farmers Labour Party, the All African Convention and the Non-European United Front were examples of the party's attempts at initiating and participating in United Front movements.
These were not altogether successful initiatives. The party failed to recognise that, in practice, the formation of a United Front implied the necessity of political compromises and the nurturing of the 'backward nationalist leadership' into a more radical outlook. This required organisational skill and refinement. The scathing attacks that the party leadership launched against the leadership of black nationalist organisations led to personality tensions, breach of trust and suspicion...
The possibilities of forging meaningful alliances on this basis were unrealistic. Secondly, the party leadership equated the concept of political hegemony within a united front with total control of every aspect of the front. This obviously brought to fore questions of internal democracy. Kotane criticised the leadership of nationalist organisations for their narrow political outlook but, at the same time, he was sharply critical of the practice of party leaders and members. According to Kotane, "the Party tended to destroy every united mass organising by blatantly controlling and dictating its policy. A united front to be successful must be a genuine united front in which Africans could feel that they had some power and control." This lack of organic interaction between various components of a front severely restricted its capacity to function, to organise and mobilise effectively; and ultimately generated internal contradictions, which assumed an antagonistic character.
Thirdly, the strategy of establishing non-racial or multi-racial fronts and the attempts to secure a broad alliance on an antiÂfascist/anti-Nazi basis in South Africa led to problems, which had no solutions. On the one hand, the party had to cooperate with all-white organisations (white trade unions, the Labour Party and white radical societies), in the offensive against fascism and war, and, on the other, it aimed to broaden its black support layer and membership and cooperate with black nationalist organisations with the view towards obtaining full democratic rights for all.
The League against Fascism and War, for example, collapsed when the Trades and Labour Council decided not to affiliate. Similarly, in October 1938, the CPSA cooperated to form an all-white united front movement. Despite the fact mat all references to black political aspirations were deleted, the Labour Party disassociated itself from the exercise.
Attempts to enter into an alliance with the Labour Party to fight municipal elections also ended in difficulties, partly because white groups were suspicious of the party's motives, and did not desire to collaborate with an organisation that opposed the colour bar on principle. Hirson argues that the gulf between white political interests and black political needs and aspirations was "unbridgeable and demonstrated the impossibility of building a Popular Front in South Africa." In effect, the CPSA overestimated the "revolutionary potential' of the white working class and failed to perceive its limitations as a result of its successful co-option by the ruling class.
Not with standing these weaknesses in the CPSA's structure, strategy and tactics, and theoretical outlook, it took the lead on the women's question. In 1931 it had already established a separate women's department composed of a small core of female activists, like Josie Palmer and Ray Alexander, who were to play a prominent role in the growth and development of the women's movement in the next two decades.
The need to politically organise and educate the large and growing numbers of newly urbanised females had become more than a theoretical preÂoccupation to activists in the party, and they formulated the following guidelines for the task of politicising women:
the women's movement had to work closely with the national political organisations and must subordinate itself to the political struggles waged by all black people in South Africa secondly,
the incipient women's movement must espouse and propagate the principle of non-racialism; and finally, that,
it must address itself primarily to the bread and butter issues facing female workers and black women in the urban slums, rather than feminist conceptions of male-female equality. "Throughout the 1930s, the overriding concern of the CPSA in organising women, whether against passes, rising food costs or discriminatory legislation, was to mobilise them for a common struggle with men against the white supremacist state."
In the final analysis, then, the Communist Party of South; Africa in the 1930s was weak. Its membership was small, and its leadership divided on ideological grounds and on questions of strategy and tactics. It was unable to deepen its roots in the white trade union movement nor did it begin the process of rebuilding the African trade union movement under its broad leadership and guidance; and therefore was not able to use the working class for political action. Its inability consistently to intervene on issues confronting the working class can only be explained by the general disorganisation of the party, more particularly the Johannesburg section. And although it had taken the lead on the women's question, it had yet to create a broad-based women's organisation that could confront the burning issues facing newly proletarianised females. It was really in the 1940s, after the creation by CPSA initiative of the African Mine Workers' Union , that the party established a dominant position within the trade union movement, and, indeed, within the political sphere as well.
The African National Congress in the 1930s proved to be a moribund organisation. It organised little or no mass activities aimed at the mobilisation of its African constituency. Apart from its initiative in convening the All-African Convention, (which was an impressive and remarkable demonstration of African unity) it failed to launch an effective campaign against Hertzog's Native Trust Land Bill and Representations of Natives Bill. Its leadership was drawn mainly from the African petty-bourgeoisie. Eighty nine per cent of its leadership was composed of entrepreneurs, clergy, professionals, public officials, doctors, and lawyers, 8 per cent were employed in the industrial and service sectors and 3 per cent indirectly (through tribal chiefs) represented the peasantry. O'Meara has described the ANC as having rejected "radical leadership at the outset of the 1930s, cut its links with African trade unions, and functioned almost exclusively as a disorganised organ of petty-bourgeois protest during this decade."
The ANC's ideological orientation can best be described as a form of "parliamentary nationalism" and reflected the class aspirations of the dominant component of its leadership. The ANC leadership equated the goal of the national liberation of the African people with the establishment of African control over South Africa's economic resources and political institutions. This, they saw, would be the automatic consequence of the creation of equality of economic opportunity and political rights for all Africans. The leadership maintained that complete economic and political freedom would be restored with the reformation of the legal and political systems through the scrapping of laws which differentiated between the Africans' and Europeans' civil and political status. The leadership assumed that the lifting of racially discriminatory legislation would automatically allow for the development of all class sections of the African people.
Strategically, the leadership had an elitist conception of the struggle for political freedom. The leadership believed that their political and economic goals could be achieved without abandoning the parliamentary process, as their long-term interests were not totally irreconcilable with those of white people. They aimed at using the existing parliamentary framework and mode of representation specific to Africans, such as the Native Representative Council to obtain the repeal of discriminatory laws. They relied heavily on the tactic of deputations and delegations, appeals and petitions which called for the repeal of laws denying African representation in the South African parliament, the 1913 Land Act and subsequent legislation restricting African property rights, the pass laws, job reservation and the Master and Servants law. Structurally, the organisation did not allow for wider popular participation and the leadership was reluctant to engage the "African masses" in active opposition and resistance to white domination and discrimination. Such broad-based protests as were organised by the ANC did not have as their objective the overturning of the government in power/ but aimed at demonstrating to the government that the ANC was actually "the medium of expression of representative (African) opinion" . Finally, the leadership believed that the force for change in the South African political system were the educated professional and business sectors of the African people.
In its limited propaganda the ANC leadership viewed the South African parliament as an undemocratic organ, which acted solely as the representative of one segment of the population. They demanded full citizenship because they were the indigenous people of the country, paid taxes to the government and participated in the same economic system. The leadership did not conceive that there was any connection between the capitalist economic system and the African people's subordinate economic and political position, and hence they did not seek to alter the capitalist basis of the South African social order. Arising out of this conceptualisation of the nature and content of the political struggle the ANC leadership did not consider it crucial to forge strong links with the African working class, to develop African trade unions and inject political content into its economic struggles.
Consequently, this elite leadership remained distant from the growing mass of urban workers and was not in touch with the day-to-day needs, problems and issues of this new constituency. Its relationship with the CPSA was strained and tenuous; and the ANC, on more than one occasion, rebuffed attempts at establishing a united front with the CPSA, by simply not responding to party initiatives and suggestions. It was only after 1937, when Kotane moved to Cape Town, that increasing efforts were made by black communists to revitalise and activate the ANC, and inject within it a more militant attitude that aimed at mobilisation of African people on a larger scale against police raids, arrests and prosecution of tax defaulters and, more generally, political oppression. It was Kotane, more than any other political figure, that revamped the ANC organisation in Cape Town and by the closing months of the 1930s, there were functioning ANC branches in Langa, Blaauvlei, Cape Flats, Simonstown, Paarl, Worcester and Stellenbosch.
With regards to the organisation of women, despite the formation of the Bantu Women's League under the leadership of Charlotte Maxeke in 1913-14 and the impressive resistance of women to the extension of passes in the Orange Free State and Potchefstroom in 1919 and 1928, respectively, the ANC remained a male-dominated organisation, with no political role denned for women. Those few women who actually participated at an organisational level concerned themselves with catering and politics was very much a male domain.
It was against this background that Max Gordon, a member of the Workers' Party of South Africa and a Trotskyite, became secretary in 1935 of the almost defunct African Laundry Workers' Union in Johannesburg, one of the few African unions to have weathered the repression and the Great Depression. By 1940, Gordon was the Secretary of the Joint Committee of African Trade Unions, consisting of seven unions with an approximate membership of 20,000. This comprised 6/7 the of me total number of organised black workers on the Witwatersrand. Without a doubt, Gordon filled the vacuum not seriously considered by the political organisations of the time.
Shortly after he began his trade union activities, Gordon led the African laundry workers into an illegal strike. The repression, which followed ””involving the arrest of thirteen strike leaders -, threatened the very existence of his union. This, together with his observation of the reaction of capital and state in September 1937 against a strike by the African Cement, Stone and Building Workers' Union led by Gauer Radebe (personally associated with the CPSA and ANC), taught him important lessons. Clearly, strike action was not a feasible tactic to be employed by African workers in the pre-war era, particularly under conditions of organisational weakness and repression. From 1937-40 Gordon was able to build his unions without employing the strike tactic, and it was he who initiated the new unions. The procedures built from 1937-40 and the methods used by him to organise African workers became the pattern for all unions, including those belonging to Gana Makabeni's CoÂordinating Committee of African Trade Unions, which, by 1940, claimed a membership of 4,000. The combination he put together seemed to meet the needs of the time and they were taken over by all the unions that followed in his wake.
Gordon picked up his organisational approach from his association and experiences with the South African Institute of Race Relations. In the early months of 1937 he worked closely with Ballinger and later received financial assistance from the SAIRR . Individuals like Ballinger and Lyn Saffery from the SAIRR and an associated organisation called the Society of Friends of Africa had for some time taken up the cause of the newly urbanised African workforce through a pattern of representation to the Wage Board. Essentially, they drew up African family budgets, compared these to wage rates and made representations for improvements on behalf of unskilled African workers. Their simple motive was to prevent the politicisation and radicalisation of this constituency and their liberal outlook spurred them on.
Gordon was to successfully employ this approach. The first step was to establish an office, which provided the union with a central focus. He saw the absolute need to win wage increases in order to convince workers of the value of trade unionism. He monitored the wage rates in various industries and ensured that employers and where there were no such agreements, his unions aimed to secure a Wage Board enquiry, honoured the existing wage agreements. In June 1938, Gordon saw the first fruit of his Wage Board Strategy when the Bakers' Union won large wage increases:
unskilled workers had their wages increased from 16/6 to 29/3 ”” a considerable amount for the time. Another covering the laundry workers in May 1939 and the Commercial and Distributive workers in December 1939 followed this victory. Workers recovered large sums of money as back pay after investigations. These immediate victories stimulated African worker interest in trade unionism and it was at one of his public rallies where Gordon explained the victory that Naboth Mokgatle met his and undertook to establish a branch of the African Commercial and Distributive Workers' Union in Pretoria.
In the closing years of the 1930s another group of unions, led by Gana Makabeni, made their appearance. Makabeni adopted Gordon's strategy, but, being an ANC and ex-CPSA member, worked independently. He established the Co-ordinating Committee of African Trade Unions, which claimed a membership of 4,000. Attempts to merge the two coordinating trade union bodies and establish a single federation failed as these were bedevilled by ideological differences, factionalism and differences arising out of the tactics employed by the established political movements and tendencies.
The 1930s then was a decade, which witnessed the consolidation of the alliance between capital and a significant proportion of the white working class, and the strengthening of the ruling bloc's position on the basis of the political subordination of the black majority. In the black communities, on the other hand, there was a political lull and a weak African trade union movement. The political organisations of the time were ineffective and failed to provide political leadership and direction to a rapidly changing urban African constituency experiencing the pangs of proletarianisation under conditions of political domination. The African trade movement was in its infancy, grappling with the basic problems of building organisation and recruiting membership on the basis of narrow economic issues.
Mass Spontaneity and the Radicalism of African Political Organisations in the 1940s ↵
In sharp contrast, the outbreak of the Second World War ushered in a decade of political division in the ranks of the ruling classes, growing political ferment and dissatisfaction among the black working class and rural dwellers, an unprecedented wave of strike action, a significant and noticeable strengthening of the CPSA and to a lesser extent the ANC, the outburst of spontaneous popular movements and action in African locations around the politics of subsistence and survival, and the formation of a militant nationalist Youth Front within the ANC.
The 1940s was a decade of stresses and strains for the ruling classes, which ultimately swept the carpet from under the feet of the United Party and installed the National Party, representing the political alliance of the Afrikaner commercial and industrial capital, petty bourgeoisie and the white working class, into political power in 1948. In general, this intensification of the political struggle and conflict was the product of mass spontaneity, the growing capacity of the political and trade union movements to make interventions, the development of a clearer theoretical and strategic conceptions within the political organisations and the birth of a militant African nationalist youth wing within the ANC.
The outbreak of the Second World War altered the fortunes of almost all political parties, organisations and movements in South Africa. When the South African parliament voted on the war issue on 4 September 1939, the pro-war faction led by Smuts won a clear majority over Hertzog's 'anti-war group'. The split in parliament over the war issue mirrored divisions in the ranks of the ruling bloc. The faction that opposed South Africa's participation in the war actively resisted such moves. The action of some groups bordered on open insurrection and subversion. This placed constraints on the capacity of the state to adequately defend the conflicting interests of capital.
The disruption in the world capitalist order precipitated by the Second World War opened new opportunities for the expansion of the South African economy, particularly its manufacturing sector. It led to an extension and acceleration of industrial development already under way since the 1920s; only this time the state was prepared to play a directly interventionist role in promoting the process of economic development.
The state's concern began with the establishment of the Van Eck Commission, the Social and Economic Planning Council and the Board of Trade and Industries. It paid systematic attention to the development of the economy, in particular the development of a competitive secondary industrial sector, which would replace the gold mining industry as the principal motor of the economy. This is clearly enunciated in Smuts's speech delivered in Johannesburg in 1940:
It is generally recognised that a great opportunity has arrived for us to push forward industrial development in this country. The great world crisis now upon us may prove a unique opportunity for forwarding our industrial development. The war must inevitably throw us back on our own resources. Much that has been imported will now have to be manufactured locally.... It is for this reason that the Government has decided to ask Parliament to establish an Industrial Development Corporation, which will be able to finance and guide our industrial development and prove for industry the sort of boom that the Land Bank has provided for agriculture.
The initial phase of this development concentrated on the war effort with the ISCOR playing a central role. Simultaneously, the growing urban working class had to be controlled if industry was to benefit at all from its labour. The early war years brought with them rapid inflation, increases in rents and transport fares and a corresponding intensification of the black workers' demands for wage increases and better living conditions. Through a combination of concessions and repression, the former symptomatic of the early years of the war and the latter of the later war years, the state sought to maintain 'public order'' contain demands and restrict the rise of militancy among black workers. This dual response can best be understood against the state's vulnerability at a time of developing polarisation within white politics and its firm determination of maintaining high levels of industrial production.
During 1939-45 there was an unprecedented spurt of trade union organisation and growth in membership, consolidated in a single federation called Council of Non-European Trade Unions. On the Rand alone the number of unions rose from 20 with 23,000 members in 1940 to 50 unions with a membership of 80,000 by 1946. The level of strike activity was also much higher than in any previous decade. A total of 304 strikes involving 58,000 Africans, coloureds and Indians and 6,000 whites occurred in the war years. Black workers showed an increasing inclination to act independently of trade union leadership elements, political activists and employers, and walkout. In Natal a remarkable growth in Indian trade unionism had occurred and there existed 43 unions with Indian membership in the Durban area, organised along non-racial lines or in racial-parallel unions.
The extensive use of the strike weapon by the working class, at a time when the CPSA and other African political organisations supported the war effort and called for the exercising of restraint in respect of militant action, was the unique and distinguishing feature of the early 1940s. And by the end of 1942, with the threat of a possible German victory having diminished, strike action by black workers intensified.
A contributing factor, however, was that during the Second World War there was a "perceptible relaxation of controls on the African working class." There occurred a massive influx of Africans into urban areas, precipitated by the rural pressures described earlier on and exacerbated by the outbreak of a severe drought in early 1940.
The reactions of black political organisations to the war were contradictory, and in the case of the CPSA, inconsistent. The African National Congress, the All-African Convention and the Native Representative Council publicly supported the war effort. The Communist Party of South Africa initially opposed South African participation in the "imperialist war for raw materials, markets, capitalist domination and the power to exploit colonial peoples in Africa and Asia" and called upon blacks not to support the war. The CPSA endeavoured to rally the people against the government that claimed to defend democracy abroad/ yet enforced a vicious system of racial discrimination at home. After the attack on the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941, it radically altered its position and called for "conditional support" for the war effort. It supported participation but consistently demanded an extension of democracy to black people and equality in the armed forces. Whatever the positions adopted by political formations, it appears from the level of industrial, and of rural protest, of strike action, of transport boycotts, of demonstrations and campaigns (that) little consideration was given (by ordinary black people) to the country's war effort in the planning of protest action. Amongst the vast majority of black subjects there was a mood of indifference to the violent international conflict. Their concerns revolved around their immediate grievances and needs:
low wages, high rents, transport fare increases, inadequate housing, me high cost of living and inflation. If the war years were boom years for manufacturing capital, they were equally exciting and dramatic for the black working class and black political organisations.
A number of explanations can be advanced for this significant development in the trade union movement. Firstly, there emerged a "new grouping" of politically independent trade unionists, like Daniel Koza, who encouraged strike action. Harris argues that the strike by black workers led by Koza in 1940 persuaded many workers of the worth of unions.
"The fact that workers could hope to back their demands by strike action, and actually win, sent a wave of hope through the working class and resistance to organisation melted away." Secondly, the policy of the Wage Board unintentionally provoked strike action in 1942. Wage Board investigations into the wages of unskilled labour on the Witwatersrand and Pretoria began in mid-1941. The scope of the investigation covered 47,000 workers in 34 industries. Its outcome was Wage Determination 105, which fixed a minimum wage of 25/- per week to be introduced as from November 1942 and to be increased to 27/- rands over two years. This was a substantial increase compared to average wages and reflected a perception that the Wage Board officially recognised the existence of permanently urbanised workers; but it fell far below the Poverty Datum Line of 37/6 per week calculated by the Smit Report in late 1942. Wage Determination 105 raised expectations among all sections of the working class and as it became evident that it applied to several industries, but excluded the mining, power, waterworks, brick and tile and timber industries, a mixed sense of disappointment and anger was generated. This was fuelled by a suspension of increases by the Johannesburg and Pretoria municipalities as they faced a financial crunch. By the end of 1942 and early 1943 there was a wave of wildcat strikes in numerous industries and sectors.
At a more fundamental level me explanation for this upsurge in working class militancy lay in the high levels of inflation and cost of living. The African working class lived under extremely difficult conditions, which became more pronounced during the war years. Essential food items showed price rises of 50 per cent or more. Moreover, with the massive influx of newly proletarianised African families into urban areas there was growing pressure on the use of limited social welfare services and a consequent decline in services like health. The housing shortage had reached crisis proportions. A survey conducted by the Department of Native Affairs in 1947 showed that the immediate requirements in African housing stood at 154/000 family dwellings and single accommodation (for hostel dwellers) for 106/900 people. In Johannesburg alone 40,000 units were needed to resolve the housing crisis. In an area like Alexandra, commuters faced transport hikes in 1939, 1942, 1943 and 1944. These factors, together with the exclusion of migrants from the cost of living allowances and the drought which placed greater strains on the diminishing African rural economies, gave a new momentum to the community struggles for subsistence and survival, and strike action by black workers.
This growing militancy of African urban workers in the war years presented difficulties for the state and representatives of capital. Often they adopted opposing or contradictory approaches regarding the handling of industrial disputes. Some like Douglas Smit from the Labour Department proposed a generally forward-looking strategy which called for either a formal or unofficial recognition of African trade unions; others like Colonel Stallard, Minister of Mines, and the Chamber of Mines opposed any notion of African trade union recognition and proposed a firm strategy which aimed at suppressing militancy, by force, if necessary. The latter were principally opposed to any suggestion or attempt aiming at the co-option of black workers. Ultimately, the state predictably responded to the increasing wave of strike activity with War Measure 145 by which all strikes by Africans were outlawed and all disputes were to be submitted to compulsory arbitration at the discretion of me Minister of Labour. Contraventions of these regulations entailed a 500-pound fine or three years imprisonment.
However, War Measure 145 did not effectively suppress worker militancy, and strike activity continued until the end of the Second World War. Of crucial importance, however, is that working class action did not remain within the confines of the factory only””it took shape and form in the sprawling overcrowded African townships and in illegally occupied areas. During 1940-44 and 1944-47 one witnessed the spontaneous outburst of determined communal struggles, which took the form of bus boycotts in Alexandra Township and squatter movements in Orlando. These have been sensitively documented and examined by Alt Stadler and its precise development need not be outlined here. Suffice it to say that these popular struggles around questions of subsistence generated development in the political organisations of urban African communities, and were significant in shaping the direction of the African National Congress, and, to a lesser extent, the CPSA in later years.
The Communist Party of South Africa underwent a profound transformation during the war years. With the massive growth of an African industrial working class in all the major urban centres of South Africa, the CPSA transferred its attention to the mobilisation and organisation of black people. With the adoption of a pro-war position the Party unconsciously earned itself significant legal space to operate more freely without the heavy threat of state repression and open condemnation from the white sector. In fact, once it launched the "Defend South Africa" campaign and called for a restraint of militant worker action, it received tacit support in some official quarters. Its strength and success cannot be attributed solely to a less antagonistic approach of the state. The fact is that the Party underwent a major reorganisation and was infused with a new membership who was to play key roles in the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1939, the Party membership stood at 300; by 1945 it had increased to 5,000, the majority being African. The Guardian, the organ of the CPSA, increased its weekly circulation to 50,000. Under Kotane and Andrews, a new spirit of unity was generated and the Party's administrative capability was substantially improved. In Johannesburg also, the election in 1940 of a new District Committee composed of younger members who had not been involved in internal squabbling succeeded in uniting party members and rallying them behind a political and organisational plan of activity.
Consistent with its united front strategy, the CPSA adopted a policy of democratic unity with all anti-segregationist forces, which proved to be more successful in the 1940s than in the previous decades. At one level this implied a strengthening of its relationship with the existing political organisations like the ANC and the Indian Congresses. Through a more refined approach, communists like Marks, Kotane, Mofutsanyana, Radebe and Dadoo, 'entered' the national political organs of the Indian and African sectors on a more systematic basis. This was not simply a strategy of infiltration or "entryism" . The communist members became less critical of the moderate and politically conservative leadership within the ANC, which helped to foster a healthier working relationship. In the case of the Indian Congresses, communists and non-communists militants, constituted as the "nationalist bloc" aimed to capture the reins of leadership of the TIC and NIC on the basis of the tactic of passive resistance and a radical ideology. In this entire process sincere efforts were made to build the ANC, the TIC and the NIC into stronger political organs and lead them into political action.
In its report to the January 1944 Conference in Johannesburg, the Central Committee of the CPSA carefully restated its policy towards and relationship with the national political movements:
The movements of the African, coloured and Indian peoples for national liberation are bound to play a great and increasing part in this struggle (for the abolition of all colour bars that keep the non-Europeans in a position of inferiority). Their national organisations take in all sections of their separate communities: traders, ministers of religion, teachers, clerks as well as trade union leaders and industrial workers. Among them are people with a middle class outlook, as well as militant trade unionists and communists. These national organisations do not accept socialism as their objective.
But the Central Committee added that the "demands of the national organisations for the abolition of race discrimination and the creation of a free and progressive sodal order must be supported by the working class movement, which, if it was not to deny the reasons for its existence, must identify itself completely with the struggles of the Non-European peoples." The report emphasised the importance of building and strengthening the CPSA, arguing that a "strong CP, working in alliance with the rest of the labour movement and the national organisations of the Non-Europeans, will create the sodal forces that are needed to enable South Africa to play her full part in the war, and create the conditions for a free and full life for all her people."
The Conference finally adopted the following resolution:
to take an active part in building these organisations, particularly by the establishment of strong local branches in every centre, and by securing the affiliation of trade unions.
At another level the CPSA initiated an Anti-Pass Campaign and secured the participation of a range of African organisations and a large number of ordinary African people. Here the objective was obviously to oppose the vigorous reinforcement of the pass laws by the Witwatersrand police, but the campaign was important in the sense that it established a much stronger CPSA presence and assertion in African political life than had hitherto been the case. Present at the Anti-Pass Conference in 1943 were 153 delegates from 112 organisations (tenants' associations, vigilance bodies, trade unions and political organisations) representing, as it claimed, 80,796 people. This gathering resolved to establish an Anti-Pass Council and to pressurise the government to scrap this "badge of slavery " The campaign involved the selling of anti-pass badges and mass rallies. A petition drive appears to have been highly effective in politicising Africans.
In the course of 1944 it spread to Brakpan, Roodepoort, Randfontein, Middleburg, Witbank, Springs, Vereeniging, Meyerton, Klerksdorp, Ermelo, Pretoria, Pietersburg and Sibasa. Similar activities were organised in Cape Town. At the inaugural conference of the Anti-Pass Council in May 1944 there were 540 delegates, and the launch climaxed with a public demonstration, on a Sunday, of 20,000 people through the streets of Johannesburg. By 1945, however, the campaign petered out with the final presentation of 100,000 signatures, calling for the scrapping of the pass laws, by 5,000 people to the Deputy Prime Minister, Hofmeyr , who refused to meet the delegation. That the campaign had shortcomings is evident, but it had generated popular enthusiasm and participation on a political issue, and allowed for the massive organisational expansion of the CPSA. The CPSA also related, with varying degrees of success and effectiveness, to local community struggles. The areas in which they were prominent were Orlando and Alexandra Township, and in the East Rand areas of Brakpan, Germiston and Benoni.
In Orlando, from 1934, the CPSA through its candidates had dominated the Advisory Board and directed the affairs of the township. However, it had underestimated the nature and extent of the housing crisis and seriously miscalculated the potential and significance of James Mpanza's squatter movement initiative under the banner of his Sofasonke Party. As the squatter movement grew the CPSA had to concede that Mpanza led a powerful movement, and their belated involvement was ultimately peripheral. In Alexandra the CPSA had control over the Alexander Health Committee, which exercised a "governing function" over the township, and it assisted in the bus boycotts. The food buying cooperatives developed by the communists and "food raids" against black marketers in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban in 1943-44 were imaginative responses to the growing deprivation of the urban poor and projected the CPSA as a political organ deeply sensitive to the needs of African people.
Sapire has researched the impact of the 1944 worker stay-away in the Brakpan Location in protest against the dismissal of David Bopape from his teaching post and poor living conditions.
She suggests that the CPSA played a central role in the mobilisation process and in providing leadership to the location dwellers. According to Sapire, the Communist Party, "by involving itself in the bread and butter politics and everyday struggles of the working class of Brakpan, rather than espousing abstruse political principles, (was) able to gain genuine popularity" . It was out of this support that the CPSA candidates were able to capture all the "seats" on the Advisory Board in 1945 and, in this instance, employ it as a leftwing organisational platform in relation to the community issues affecting the residents of the location. Hence, by the end of the war, the CPSA had an organisational presence and influence, which extended to almost all the African urban townships and locations in the Witwatersrand area and helped it to establish it as a popular force in urban African politics.
In the war years mere was another thrust to the CPSA's strategy, which did not confine its influence to the extra-parliamentary terrain. Nine white communists entered the field in the parliamentary elections of 1943; four on the Rand, three in Cape Town, one each in Durban and East London. Although they suffered defeat, they succeeded in propagating CPSA policies to an all-white constituency. Members of the party successfully stood for municipal elections. "The Communist candidate, Sam Kahn, was elected as African representative of the Cape Western Constituency to parliament and his colleague, Fred Carneson, to the Provincial Council, as were several party candidates to the Cape Town City Council, where Coloured men still had a share of the vote." Hilda Watts was elected, in an all-white election, as a Communist Party representative onto the Johannesburg City Council; so was Archie Muller to the East London Council in 1943. The CPSA also had a strong influence over the Springbok Legion, which was joined by thousands of serving and returning soldiers. A more consistent effort was made to mobilise Afrikaner working class support for the party and an Afrikaans medium journal Die Ware Republikein was launched.
The CPSA's organised entry into the African trade union movement was a rather belated one. That it did so in the 1940s is important and it soon won a commanding position within the Council of Non-European Trade Unions established in 1941. The CPSA held four out of seven positions on the CNETU's executive committee. Part of the success of the CPSA in the trade union field stemmed from the fortuitous internment of Max Gordon, and thereafter, although some African trade unionists remained independent, others readily joined the CPSA and contributed towards rooting the party within the trade unions. The CPSA also pioneered trade unionism amongst Indian and coloured workers in Natal and the Cape Boland, and extended its activity in the service sector, light industry, and, on a more limited scale, in the power, metal and mining industries. The CPSA's real strength in the trade union field ultimately emerged from its creation and control of the African Mine Workers' Union in 1941.
A number of writers are critical of the CPSA's restraining attitude to strike action during the war years. In some instances this did have a dampening effect on the militancy of workers, which prevented the emergence of grassroots worker leadership and initiative. Rowing from this, critics have also brought into question the degree of democratic practice and procedure in the trade union movement and the extent to which workers themselves were engaged and encouraged to participate in the decision-making process. Padayachee, Vawda and Tichman, examining the growth and development of Indian trade unionism in Natal under the auspices of the CPSA, argue mat the Natal unions lacked adequate democratic constitutional structures, organisers failed to incorporate shop stewards into union structures and decision-making, and that the leadership tended to be concentrated and centralised at the top with no effective method of accountability to and direct consultation with the worker membership. These inadequacies, they argue, militated against independent working class action.
On the women's front, through the initiative of the CPSA there emerged a wider range of women who began participation in local, grassroots struggles than was the case previously. Women were actively involved in the Alexandra bus boycotts, the squatter movement in Bleauvlei (Cape) and the Anti-Pass campaign. CPSA female activists like Ray Alexander , Bettie du Toit, Joey Fourie, Hetty du Preez and Johanah Cornelius, played a pivotal role in the unionisation of black and white women. But it was in their creative attempt to deal with the "food crisis" in the early 1940s that they made a profound impact on ordinary women.
The activities of the People's Food Council (Transvaal) and the Women's Food Committee (Cape Town), both backed and initiated by the CPSA, and the unique participation of about 300 Indian women in the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign in Transvaal and Natal, had a distinctive politicising effect on many black women and brought them into contact with the political network of the various national political organisations. It is evident that a definite attempt was made by the CPSA to broaden its base among women. The nomination of woman candidates for municipal and national elections and their election to the Central Committee reflected the enhancement of women's status within the organisation. In 1947, CPSA woman members took the lead in establishing the Transvaal All-Women's Union. According to Walker, "it seems clear that the role of the CPSA women in nurturing and spreading ideas of political organisations among women was a particularly large one at that time - and they were thus performing a major task in preparing the ground for the subsequent establishment of a national women's organisation within the national liberation movement."
This short description of the CPSA's activities in the 1940s may present a picture of unproblematic development and achievement. What emerges is that the CPSA reaffirmed and endorsed the basic tenets expounded by the Executive Committee of the Communist International in 1928 and gave concrete expression to the organisational guidelines, outlined in its report. Consequently, in the post-war period, the CPSA emerged as the most powerful extra parliamentary political force in South Africa with a broadening support base, a large membership organised in functioning district committees and branches, a more united and energetic leadership, and a comparatively healthier alliance with the ANC and the Indian Congresses. However, apart from isolated incidents of militant action, the party was characterised by a lack of militancy - a product of the party's pro-war policy ””, which, though consistent with its international political relations, quite clearly prevented it from taking more decisive action in leading black working class struggles.
The election of Dr. Xuma as president of the African National Congress in December 1940 marked the beginning of a transitional period in the organisation. Broadly, this entailed a reorganisation of its structure, a somewhat dearer definition of its broad aims, a gradual shift in strategy and tactics and the emergence and articulation of different ideological strands””the militant African nationalism of the Youth leaguers and the radical nationalism of African communists””which generally contributed to the radicalisation of the organisation.
From the time of his election, Xuma appreciated the importance of drawing in far greater numbers of ordinary Africans into the ANC, and he took constructive steps to unify the organisation's structure. He transformed the ANC from a loosely bound federal movement into a more tightly functioning and centralised national organisation, with a sound financial footing, that would attract a larger number of the African intelligentsia.
Xuma also facilitated the integration of women in the process of me ANC's reorganisation. In 1941, a resolution was adopted by the ANC Annual Conference calling for the revival of the women's section, and it identified women as a sector of potential support and membership. This reflected recognition on the part of the leadership that the position of African women in society had undergone a radical change.
Following this, in 1943, women were granted full membership and voting rights and an ANC Women's League was established with the wife of Dr. Xuma, Madie-Hall Xuma, as it first president. The establishment of the ANC Women's League was a significant event. For the first time there was established "a body aiming to represent the interests of the majority of South African women.... within the premier African political organisation. The ANC had finally come to incorporate women, one half of the people it claimed to represent, into its frame of reference. A structure was created whereby African women could be channeled into the national liberation movement on a footing that was, at least theoretically, equal to that of men."
With the formation of the ANC Youth League in April 1944 the ideological struggle within the ANC, and indeed all-political organisations of the time, assumed fresh significance. Whilst it is difficult to assess the precise strength of various "factions" and their impact at a mass level, one can definitely conclude that the conservatism characteristic of the previous decade gradually washed away. However, in the war years one can identify three different ideological tendencies operating within the ANC.
The old guard and established leadership of the organisation expressed the first tendency. They collectively constituted a political elite with no intimate contact with the growing numbers of African workers; and were completely out of touch with the mood and aspirations of the nascent African working class.
They were culturally rooted in the liberal and Christian presumptions entrenched in missionary boarding schools and continued to believe in "the white man's sense of fair play, which explains their tactical options of representations through resolutions, deputations and meetings." Xuma himself can be placed in this category, although he was more susceptible to working, albeit guardedly, with organisations like the Indian Congresses and the CPSA. Despite his chairmanship of the Anti-Pass Council and cooperation with the CPSA, he and the political elite had no inclination to organise and lead militant actions and they consistently played an unimportant role in the African trade union movement and the spontaneous popular/community struggles of the early 1940s. It was this lack of interaction and participation by the ANC leadership in the Alexandra Bus Boycotts that precipitated the formation of the African Democratic Party by disillusioned elements like Paul Mosaka and Dan Koza. Not surprisingly, this elite placed faith in the capacity of white liberals to propagate their creed and educate the rest of white South Africa, and it de-emphasised all forms of radicalism and popular political mobilisation.
Ideologically, this grouping continued to adhere to a basically liberal conception of social and political goals and anticipated an evolutionary process of reforms and change. They wished to be accommodated and assimilated into the existing political and social framework. However, the adoption of Africans' Claims by the ANC in 1943, which interestingly enough was drawn up by a committee appointed by Xuma and included two communists, did mark a distinct shift in the ideological content of the ANC. It demanded full citizenship rights on the basis of one-man-one-vote. It asserted that the Africans had the "inalienable right to choose the form of government under which they will live" through "the extension to all adults, regardless of race, the right to vote and be elected to parliament, provincial councils and other representative institutions." The Congress pledged itself to "attain the freedom of the African people from all discriminatory laws" . In propounding such a policy Xuma had hastened the reorientation of the Congress away from Seme's concern with chieftaincy and economic self-help.
The second grouping represented the CPSA. Highly disciplined and dedicated African communists began to pay increasing attention to the reactivation and revamping of the ANC. African communists held senior positions in the organisation in a number of regions and began to adopt a less hostile attitude towards the old-guard with a view to influencing their thinking on broad political questions. They wished to establish the ANC as a strong vehicle for the political mobilisation of the African people against racially discriminatory and oppressive legislation and to forge a closer and organic relationship between the CPSA and the ANC. Through their direct participation at all levels of the ANC, they were able to feed into it a more radical outlook and, in some respects, narrowed the gap between the political leadership of the ANC and the mass of African people. Unlike the elitist, moderate faction, they solicited the direct participation of ordinary Africans in branch activities and functions.
However, it was amongst the African youth intelligentsia that the most dramatic and interesting ideological reorientation took place. A small core of young organisers coalesced in 1944 in the Congress Youth League, with Anton Lembede as its intellectual leader and president. It was Lembede, together with Peter Mda, Walter Sisulu , Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo , who began articulating a militant ideology of African nationalism or Africanism, as a specific response to the dynamic and changing social, economic and political realities of the 1940s. In its intellectual form and practical considerations it represented a sharp break with earlier approaches and served as a basis for the development of African nationalism."
The youthful Africanists saw the primary need to develop an ideology that would confront that of Afrikaner nationalism and white domination. In ideology, Lembede and his associates saw the antidote for the psychological oppression of the African people. They advanced an assertive ideology aimed at psychological liberation and the restoration of a positive self-image of the African people. According to Lembede, "Africans became a derelict nation, uncertain of their cultural identity, their rights, or their place in relation to the rest of mankind. There could be no cure for these evils except African freedom, and no means to the achievement of freedom other than a ruthless struggle grounded in the inspiration of a well-devised ideology, a credo addressed to the deepest strivings and needs of the African spirit."
Africanists argued that Africans should be proud of being black and should consciously strive to shake off any feelings of inferiority. They called for the unity of all Africans so as to lay the foundation for taking their rightful place in the world family of nations. There existed a distinct element calling for continental African unity””a Pan-Africanist vision in which nationalism would act as cement. This, they argued, could only be realised, interpreted and experienced by Africans.
In South Africa, Africanists were committed to burying tribal parochialism and professed a sense of a single African nation. For them, Africans only, by virtue of their indigenous origins and preponderant numbers, constituted the nation and could claim the right to rule South Africa. In this context, they saw an assertive African nationalist ideology letting loose and generating political energy, in the form of mobilisation and action, which had to be harnessed and challenged by the leadership for the achievement of African rights and African majority rule.
By advancing the slogan "Africa for the Africans" there emerged conflicting assertions about the exact role of whites in the future society. There was a general mistrust of all whites, and consequently, they were to be excluded from participation in the struggle in order that Africans could take up their rightful place and assume the mantle of leadership. The question of "good whites" , or sympathetic Indians or coloureds for that matter, became more than just a theoretical consideration when it came to inter-racial organisation, interaction and joint campaigning. The Africanists maintained that inter-racial coÂoperation was conditional upon Africans having reached a higher degree of self-confidence and self-reliance. As Mandela has also vividly revealed in his recent autobiography. Long Walk to Freedom, political cooperation in the 1940s was premature and not in the best interests of the culturally, politically and psychologically oppressed African community.
Despite the lack of a coherent ideology the Africanists were unanimous and clear about the immediate organisational and tactical questions of the struggle. Inspired by the display of militancy in the urban centres and factories, they vigorously called for a shift in tactics and held the tactics of the "elder statesmen" of the ANC in contempt. Mda remarked, "Conditions were ripe for the rise of powerful, mass people's movements. Granted a new clear outlook, a clear programme of struggle, and the development of new methods of struggle, the African nationalist movement could make unprecedented steps forward." The Africanists rejected the gradualist approach of the older ANC leadership and called for courageous and direct action in the form of boycotts, strikes, demonstrations and civil disobedience. They were impatient with the tactics of protest by petitions and suspicious of Xuma's apparent readiness to enter into alliance with Indian and white Communist Party leaders. The Youth League promoted a militant nationalism and self-reliance and pressurised the ANC to adopt a new strategy of direct mass action.
As these different ideological perspectives were competing for greater influence within the ANC, it was the strike of 70,000 African mine-workers at the Witwatersrand Gold Mines on 12 August 1946 and its brutal and violent suppression over five days, together with the living example of an intensive Passive Resistance Campaign against the "Ghetto Act" launched by the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses under the new and radical leadership of Drs. Dadoo and Naicker , that precipitated a realignment of political forces and strategic shifts in the sphere of black political organisation in South Africa. It is difficult wholly to accept Dan O'Meara's viewpoint that the strike "profoundly affected the direction and thrust of African opposition; patient constitutional protest by an elite rapidly gave way to mass political action and passive resistance," and his comment later in the same article that "patient expression of grievances by an elite in dignified and constitutional councils gave way to mass action and possible resistance" as this suggests that the strike itself had a direct effect on the immediate course of political struggles at the time.
But in correcting what might be an overestimation of the objective political significance of the strike, we must not underestimate the impact it had on black political development. The 1946 mineworkers' strike was a watershed in South Africa's resistance history and it fulfilled two distinct 'functions'. On the one hand, it once and for all exposed the economic contradictions that were sharpening during the war years; on the other hand, it destroyed hopes of a gradual reformation of the political and sodal order in South Africa. It became abundantly dear to all 'factions' within the ANC and other black political groupings that significant change could only be secured through intensified pressure on me white government. Z.K. Matthews , a prominent moderate element in the ANC National Executive, Deputy Chairman of the African Caucus of the Native Representative Council and President of the Federation of African Teachers' Association, makes the following comment in his autobiography:
"The year 1946 was a momentous year in the history of race relations in South Africa. The Second World War had ended and the mood of the African public was one of hope.... In the Native Representative Council the expectation was that the Africans who had played such a noble part in the world conflict would not be forgotten... But the soldiers found on their return that South Africa had remained the same. The colour bar was rigid as ever; the pass laws and the poll tax were enforced just as stringently. There was no sudden rise in wages. ... All this engendered a mood of dissatisfaction. ... It was not surprising that in 1946 a general strike of African workers took place on gold mines. Intensive organisation of mineworkers into unregistered trade unions had taken place, and by the middle of 1946 the leaders thought that the time had come for them to strike for better wages.
The strike began on 14 August 1946 and soon 70,000 labourers on the Reef were out and mining was brought to a standstill. Police and soldiers were called out and firearms were used. ... By the end of the week the strike had been broken by armed force with some loss of life.... During that same week relations between the government and the natives Representatives Council, which had long been strained, reached breaking point. The strike acted as a catalyst to a long mild conflict, which led to an indefinite adjournment of the Native Representative Council. The members of the Council were disappointed [with Hofmeyr's response]. They were shocked that a man of such liberal attitudes and one on whom Africans had pinned their hopes for the future could allow himself to be used to make such an ineffective statement was bitterly disappointing."
The Native Representative Council henceforth suspended its sittings and demanded the abolition of the pass laws, the recognition of African trade unions, the repeal of the Urban Areas Act and direct representation at all levels of government.
The suspension of the NRC was an unprecedented step taken by the African petty-bourgeoisie which participated in it, and it concretised the growing dissatisfaction of this social group with the oppressive social, economic and political realities of life in South Africa. The strike illustrated the futility of constitutional protests to the African petty-bourgeoisie, which until then had adopted an ambiguous political position in relation to the racist government. The denial of effective political rights and the shutting off of that possibility in 1936 when Africans were removed from the common voters roll in the Cape, the intensified application of the pass laws, the decline in the living standards of the African people generally, the closing up of avenues of sodal mobility as in the case of Baloyi in Alexandra, and the futility of the NRC at a critical moment of conflict forced the African petty-bourgeoisie to reconsider its political aspirations and gradually saw them turning towards a class alliance with the African working class.
This did not occur in an organisational vacuum. The Congress Youth League exerted strong pressure for a closer alliance with the "mass of African people" , articulated a militant nationalist ideology and made calls for decisive action and a total boycott of state institutions.
The League was the first section in the mainstream of Congress for whom the ideals of liberation lay in the future, with new, African-inspired initiatives, rather than a return to a, previous condition under white domination. As the influenced the Congress Youth League slowly moved the petty-bourgeois politicians in the ANC into a more radical posture, the ideological and strategic emphasis shifted from the conditions for individual participation in the system to the liberation of the masses. The miners' strike and the government's reaction was the vital catalyst in changing the attitudes of the established ANC and NRC leadership."
The strike also contributed to the forging of closer working relations among the various national political organisations. The trial of 53 trade union, ANC and CPSA officials and leaders for aiding and abetting an illegal strike, and the enthusiastic public support for the strikers by the Passive Resistance Councils of the Indian Congresses solidified relationship among the leaderships of the various political groupings. This development laid the basis for the development of the Dadoo-Xuma-Naicker Pact””a six-point agreement by the Presidents of the ANC, the TIC and the NIC to work together for a universal franchise, the abolition of all forms of racial discrimination and symbolised the growing unity of me national organisations of the Indian and African peoples.
If the 1946 miners' strike precipitated these political developments, it also marked me beginning of a period of decline of the African trade union movement. The Industrial Legislation Commission reported in 1950 that the African trade unions had become defunct and trade union membership had shrunk to 38,000. It is not possible to provide a detailed explanation for the substantial weakening of the African trade union movement here except for a few comments.
In the closing years of 1940, after a few years of unparalleled growth and widening worker interest in trade unionism, the African trade union movement showed signs of disintegration. "The rise and subsidence of this movement can be located in part in the fact that it was built on the presupposition, that the institutions of the state could be used to improve working class conditions; and the failure to secure further improvements led to disillusionment and the withdrawal of [worker] support." It appears that to ordinary workers, trade unions and Wage Boards were compressed into an inseparable conceptual entity, and as long as they secured better working conditions, trade union membership grew; but once the government called a halt to these wage increases, trade unions started folding up and many collapsed completely. There were also other contributing factors relating to structures, leadership and organisation.
Although attempts were made by some unions at setting up structures aimed at eliciting democratic worker participation, it appeared that in many unions' democratic practices and strong worker participation did not prevail. This lack of democratic procedure resulted in a high degree of centralisation and control by the leadership, composed mainly of union officials who were non-workers. On the one hand, this resulted in the leadership becoming distanced from union membership; on the other, it prevented the emergence of leadership from the ranks of ordinary workers. This had its shortcomings:
State repression against trade union leaders and officials and restrictions on gatherings had a powerful weakening effect on trade unions. Moreover, as the struggle assumed an increasingly political character, as evidenced in the late 1940s, many trade unionists (being leading members of political organisations) shifted their focus and neglected trade union work, to the obvious detriment of the African trade union movement.
At another level, the political direction and orientation of trade unions were unclear and undefined, with the exception of those under the influence of militants such as Daniel Koza. The relationship between the political organs and trade unions were unstructured and loose. Often it only existed through leading officials belonging to one political group or another. Their capacity to stamp a distinct political orientation onto the trade unions remained limited and restricted, with the result that trade union activity remained politically uncoordinated and undirected, and they adopted a narrow, economistic posture in relation to the state and capital. The reason for this appears to be the relatively late entry of political organisations like the ANC and the CPSA into the trade union field, by which time the shape and character of trade union is appear to have assumed a fixed pattern. With the 'penetration' of the CPSA into the trade union field during the war years, it acted as a restraining force on the trade union movement and held back, where it could, the use of militant tactics. Its involvement sharpened ideological conflicts between the various groups involved in African trade unionism (Friends of Africa, South African Institute of Race Relations, CPSA, ANC and Trotskyists), which left the trade union movement weaker.
In this regard Baruch Hirson has drawn attention to the reasons for the demise of the CNETU, and traced these back to the late 1930s. The trade unions led by Gordon (later by Daniel Koza) and by Makabeni were divided along ideological lines and over questions of strategy and tactics, which persisted throughout the war years, resulting in the eventual split in the CNETU. Hirson asserts:
The factors dividing the organisation are not easily delineated, because of differences on personal levels, of political philosophies, and on trade union tactics. Gordon was a Trotskyist, and the antagonisms that split the left in warring factions were transferred to the trade union movement. In the Transvaal the situation was made even more fissiparous by the nationalism of Makabeni, and others. It was a matter of black versus white, of Trotskyists versus Stalinists; and of reformism versus militancy, and these ingredients appeared in endless permutations (in CNETU)!
Moreover, the growing influence of the Workers' International League (WIL) and the Progressive Trade Union Group (PTU), led by the Trotskyists, united the ANC and the CPSA in opposition to them. Both condemned the WIL and the PTU for their anti-war stance and for advocating strike action, thereby obscuring, in part, the conflict between factions within the ANC, such as the Africanists, and the CPSA. These tensions within the trade union movement reached a climax in 1945, leading to the expulsion from the CNETU of Koza and C.R. Phoffu, Secretary of the Timber Workers' Union and a leading PTU member. These persistent divisions within the CNETU left it ill prepared for the timber workers', Vereeniging steel workers' and miners' strikes in 1945-46, with disastrous consequences for the trade union movement as a whole.
The Transition to a National Mass Movement, 1949-1952 ↵
In 1948 the National Party was unexpectedly voted into power, and immediately precipitated a fundamental reorientation in parliamentary politics and extra-parliamentary opposition forces. The election of the Nationalists to power represented a narrow victory for the alliance of Afrikaans-speaking white working class, farmers, intelligentsia and commercial and industrial capital. These groups reacted to the structural changes occurring in the economy and in the organisation of me production process, and to the intensification of the popular (democratic and worker) struggles in black communities. The Nationalists capitalised on the fears of the white working class, which increasingly felt threatened by the penetration of black workers into semi-skilled occupations and on the dissatisfaction of white farmers and Afrikaner capitalists who were unable to break me dominant hold of English-speaking mining, industrial and finance capital and who were experiencing a progressive shortage of African labour. It mobilised these sections of the population through the intense manipulation of cultural symbols and strong emphasis on the racial question.
(The farmers and white working class threw their) weight behind the Nationalists with its advocacy of an intensification of political and social racial segregation, an increased degree of coercion of black workers, and the retention, elaboration and sophistication of the migrant labour system in the interests of a more rational allocation of labour between different sectors of employment.
The central objective of the state in the post-1948 period was to find a way of advancing the development of the manufacturing industry under the less favourable conditions of increased black worker militancy and a resumption of competition from industrial corporations abroad, without undermining the specific needs of its political support base. Those who adopted a 'practical' standpoint as opposed to me 'purist' in the Nationalist government resolved the question by accepting that they had to ensure a "legitimate" supply of black labour to industry and commerce, without allowing a surplus to reside or develop in black urban townships. The labour bureaux were intended to perform this function of allocating labour to urban areas (on a flexible and pragmatic basis in many instances) according to the prevailing 'legitimate demand', (and) redistributing any potential urban surplus to other areas experiencing a shortfall. Essentially, Verwoerd's Native Affairs Department (NAD) aimed to place a "ceiling" on the labour, which urban employers could demand so as to check the rate of growth of the black urban workforce and reduce the ratio of black to white workers by legally defining the rights of urbanised, resident black workers as opposed to migrants. Whilst it appeared that there was a fundamental conflict of interests between the government and industry on the labour question, in practice, however, the pragmatic application of government policy by NAD officials, the inability of the labour bureaux to control fully the 'illegal' entry of workers into urban areas, and the circumventing of labour bureaux altogether by a large number of employers all ensured that there was a regular supply of cheap black labour for the development of the mining and the manufacturing industries."
Politically, the Nationalists worked towards the abolition of the NRC, the removal of the last vestiges of African and other forms of Black representation in parliament and instituting a social pattern of rigid racial and ethnic separation, which effectively denied that Africans were a distinct national group in South Africa.
The apartheid policy of the Nationalist government was not simply a small scale sodal rearrangement and an extension of administrative controls, but a process of massive social restructuring and the denial of political representation and participation of Black people at the central level of the government, which affected all sections [African, coloured and Indian] and all classes [working class, peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie] within the Black communities. It was this that provided a context for the mounting tide of popular democratic resistance to the apartheid state in the 1950s.
Within the ANC, the Nationalists' victory highlighted the futility of traditional lobbying tactics and set loose a more dynamic conception of the struggle advocated by the Africanists and the Communists. Although the ideological divisions between these two groups were sharp and bitter, the Nationalists' victory brought the Congress Youth League and African Communists into a "common radicalism of method" involving a willingness to cooperate in the development of mass action. At the December 1949 Conference, the ANC, after a year of internal consultations and deliberations, committed itself to a strategy of mass action and participation by Africans in the struggle. It adopted a Programme of Action, which represented a militant statement of principles [it called for national freedom, political independence and self-determination for Africans]. It explicitly rejected white leadership and all forms of segregation and segregated political institutions, and accepted, as logical the coordinated use of tactics such as boycotts, civil disobedience, strikes and mass stay-aways.
These tactics were seen as a means of securing mass participation in the Congress and pressuring the government to reconsider its political direction. At the same time, the leadership of the ANC passed over to Dr. Moroka, Sisulu, Mandela, Tambo, Mda, Kotane, Marks and Z.K. Mathews. With them all three ideological strands discussed earlier gained uneven expression in the ANC. The Communist Party's position had also changed dramatically in the time after the ascension to power of the Nationalist Party . It had to re-examine its theory of the South African revolution and ideological discourse in the context of an administration which propagated an aggressive Afrikaner nationalism and instituted new, racially oppressive legislation, which in turn generated a countervailing assertive national consciousness amongst the black people, obscured class divisions and consequently blunted the development of class consciousness. In early 1950 the Central Committee of the CP warned against adopting a "dogmatic hostility to nationalism" and called for an organic alliance with the national movement. Its report outlined the following strategic direction:
From the analysis here presented, the conclusion must be drawn that the national organisations can develop into powerful mass movements only to the extent that their contents and aims are determined by me interests of workers and peasants. The national organisations, to be effective, must be transformed into a revolutionary party of workers, peasants, and intellectuals and petty-bourgeoisie, linked together in a firm organisation, subject to a strict discipline, and guided by a definite programme of struggle against all forms of racial discrimination in alliance with class-conscious European workers and intellectuals. Such a party would be distinguished from the Communist Party in that its objective is national liberation, that is, the abolition of race discrimination, but it would cooperate closely with the Communist Party. In this party the class-conscious workers and peasants of the national group concerned would constitute the main leadership. It would be their task to develop an adequate organisational apparatus, to conduct mass struggles against race discrimination, to combat chauvinism and racialism in the national movement, to develop class-consciousness in the people, and to forge unity in action between the oppressed people and between them and the European working class.
The party also had to contend with the direct threat of intensified repression emanating from the Nationalist government and possible proscription. It henceforth described its strategic goal as national liberation ”” the creation of a national democratic state - as the first phase of the revolutionary process towards socialism. Walshe makes the point that this was not simply a tactic in the face of a re-invigorated offensive on the part of the state, "but resulted from the pursuit of twin objectives rooted in the Marxist dialectic - the national liberation of non-Europeans and the spread of class consciousness in preparation for the establishment of a socialist republic."
With the enactment of the Unlawful Organisations Bill the CPSA was forced into dissolution in June 1950. It was ill prepared to operate illegally and, henceforth, its leadership and membership devoted its energy to building, strengthening and 'guiding' the nationalist movement. This was by no means a smooth and unproblematic process.
Just prior to its disbandment the party reacted to the banning of Dr. Dadoo and Sam Kahn and the introduction of the Unlawful Organisations Bill by launching the Defend Free Speech Convention. Initially it secured the participation of Dr. Moroka and ANC branches in me Transvaal. Approximately 500 delegates had gathered, but when the Convention passed a resolution for 'Freedom Day' mass action in the form of a stay-away on 1 May 1950, the Transvaal ANC, in particular its Africanist faction and reduced conservative element, dissociated themselves from the call. The Africanists saw this as an independent CP initiative, which prevented the implementation of the Programme of Action under ANC auspices and leadership.
Despite their opposition, the stay away call evoked a significant response from the working class in me Transvaal, 75 per cent of them heeded the call. Workers in most areas in the Witwatersrand withheld their labour and in the course of the day trouble flared in the Benoni, Sophiatown, Orlando, Alexandra and Brakpan townships which left 18 black people dead and 38 injured. The success of the first political strike in South African history was marred by the violent reaction of the police force. In all four areas strikers defended themselves spontaneously and independently of the leadership, which reflected not only their frustration and anger, but also a higher level of political consciousness and determination.
Shortly after the May Day events the National Working Committee of the ANC took the initiative and called for a national political strike. An emergency conference was convened on 14 May, which was supported by the ANC, ANCYL, Indian Congresses, APO, CPSA and CNETU, to discuss a common strategy against the Unlawful Organisations Bill and "take steps to mobilise all sections of the South African people to offer concrete mass opposition to this vicious bill with the aim of defeating it." On 21 May 1950 the National Executive Committee of the ANC took a firm decision to launch "a campaign for a national day of protest, and to mark their general dissatisfaction with their position in this country, the African people were asked to refrain from going to work, and regard this day as a day of mourning for all those Africans who lost their lives in the struggle for liberation." A coordinating committee representing the various national political organisations and the CPSA was established with Walter Sisulu and Yusuf Cachalia serving as joint secretaries.
The mass response to the call was uneven. There was a highly effective mass stay-away in Port Elizabeth. This was largely the result of the strength of the trade union movement there and its close working relationship with the political organisations, viz., the ANC and the CPSA. In Natal the African working class response was very poor which reflected the low level of trade unionism and the disorganisation of the ANC there. However, the Indian working class's reaction to the call was dramatic in the wider Durban area and significant in that it indicated that me Natal Indian Congress had assumed a mass character with a predominantly working class base and a sound organisation. In part it highlighted the value of the wartime trade union activity conducted by party members. The response on the Witwatersrand was below expectations and disappointing. Apart from mass support for me call in Evaton and Alexandra, there was a low percentage stay-away elsewhere. It appears that the national leadership of the ANC had miscalculated the mood in the region and underestimated the negative impact that state violence and employer victimisation had on the working class.
What was the significance of all this? The stay-away initiatives of 1950 represented the first national attempt by the ANC, despite the misgivings of the Africanist Youth Leaguers in the case of May Day actions, to implement, in practice, the Programme of Action endorsed at its Annual Conference the year before. They also marked the successful implementation of the political strike tactic or stay-away. It is true that these events marked a turning point in the history of the African people "and indicated a new political outlook" . At the same time it revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the national political organisations in various regions.
Of significance also was the close cooperation that had emerged between the political organs and the African trade unions. In the case of the May Day stay-away the Transvaal CNETU conducted crucial organisational and preparatory work amongst workers. J.B. Marks (CNETU President), Makabeni, Dan Tloome, David Nkosana, James Phillips (one-time head of the 1946 African mine workers' strike committee) and other trade unionists played an active role in the joint committee set up to a organise the stayaway.
James Phillips explained the involvement of the trade unions in a political strike in the following terms:
" [this] was possible because CNETU had come to understand that its role was not only to ask for daily bread, but to widen our interests and our activity in the political sphere... we were a great instrument in supporting anything related to all spheres." Indeed, there was now a clearer recognition, at least in the leadership of the African trade union movement, of the linkages between economic and political power, and therefore the need to participate in broader political struggles outside the factory floor. This development undoubtedly strengthened the political movements and was an important forerunner to the decision taken by the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) to participate in the Congress of the People and to adopt the Freedom Charter as its political programme. The CNETU's decision to support the May Day strike is also significant in that it agreed to do so in the face of an organisational weakening”” by that time 21 African trade unions had collapsed, and only 27 functioned with varying degrees of efficiency.
Thirdly, these events accelerated the pace towards non-racial cooperation, particularly in the case of the African National Congress and the Indian Congresses, and laid the basis for joint actions and struggles in the future, viz., the Defiance Campaign and the Campaign for the Congress of the People and Freedom Charter. The participation in me national strike of large numbers from the Indian sector demonstrated the possibilities of launching joint campaigns and forging non-racial units in practical terms, as apart from symbolic statements and gestures from the leadership. This unity was crystallised in much closer organisational unity between the ANC and the SAIC, and also the CPSA. These developments did generate tensions within the ANC and raised questions relating to ideology and the role of Indians and Communists in the national struggle.
In the final analysis the ANC had to resolve two basic questions: in which direction was the leadership to channel this display of new militancy in the African sector, and what was the ideological content of its political work? Only out of an understanding of these questions would there emerge a clearer conception of its strategic direction and the role of other sectors and forces in the struggle for national liberation. The answers were not easy to find - here was a political organisation in a moment of transition ”” and they were only partially resolved with the adoption of the Freedom Charter and the formation of the Congress Alliance in 1955. In the intervening period they continued to brew within the organisation, and at times threatened to boil over and rupture the fragile unity that had been forged.
In the period between 26 June 1950 and the launching of the Defiance Campaign in June 1952 there was little organised political activity except in the Western Cape, where the coloureds, under the leadership of the Franchise Action Committee (FRAC) set up to organise mass protest against their removal from the common roll, launched a highly successful political strike on 7 May 1951 which had a considerable impact upon industry in Cape Town. The other notable exception was the significant stay-away by African workers in Durban and Port Elizabeth in response to the call by the ANC to commemorate 26 June 1951 by remaining "quietly at home thinking seriously about me plight of their people" .
On 26 June 1952, the ANC and the SAIC launched the Defiance Campaign against six unjust laws, which involved some 8,500 people who voluntarily courted imprisonment by breaking racially discriminatory laws and regulations. The course and extent of the campaign, and the reasons for its success in the Eastern Cape particularly, are adequately dealt with by Tom Lodge in his Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, and in other writings on the subject, and need not be discussed here. It would be sufficient to state that the Defiance Campaign undoubtedly marked a significant political development within the ANC and its allied organisations. Being a qualitative campaign ”” one that involved the participation of selected cores of Congress volunteers/members - its quantitative impact at a mass level if difficult to measure precisely. Although the major proportion of defiers came from the Eastern Cape, "it would not be inaccurate to say that it captured the imagination of the mass of urban Africans and Blacks more generally. It enhanced the political prestige and credibility of the two Congresses. This is evident by me substantial increase in membership of the ANC -100/000 shortly after the campaign. The Joint Secretaries of the SAZC, Cachalia and Mistry, claimed that the Defiance Campaign had "succeeded in arousing the political consciousness of me non-white people as never before ... and compelled all sections of the South Africa to focus their attention on the basic problems of the country." They contended that the campaign had "revolutionised the outlook of the non-white people on a mass scale and instilled a spirit of defiance in them.” Furthermore, the Defiance Campaign translated the principle of non-racialism into practical demonstrations. Of particular importance was the formation of the South African Coloured People's Organisation (SACPO) composed of the remaining members of FRAC, and the South African Congress of Democrats (SACOD).
During the course of the Defiance Campaign, Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Cachalia, at a meeting held in Johannesburg's Darragh Hall in November 1952, called upon white South Africans to join in the struggle against racial discrimination and apartheid. It was immediately in response to this call that a few whites, notably Patrick Duncan, engaged in acts of defiance in December that year. More importantly in the long term was the regrouping of the white left. Two developments followed in 1953 ”” the establishment of the Liberal Party based on the 'traditional liberalism' of the Cape and the Congress of Democrats. The latter grew out of a provisional committee led by Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Father Trevor Huddleston and 'Rusty' Bernstein and the 'merger' of the Springbok Legion, former white members of the CPSA, the Transvaal Peace Movement and the Democratic League (Cape Town). Although there was no racial provision in its constitution, the SACOD developed as a specifically white organisation integral to and working within the Congress movement in the 1950s.
The sudden and dramatic growth in membership and influence of the Congresses, particularly the ANC, after the Defiance Campaign has prompted writers such as Walshe, Simons and Simons and Karis and Carter to characterise the ANC as a mass movement. The key problem in the literature on the subject is that the organisation is presented as one mat had undergone a transformation between 1950 and 1952 and remaining static for the rest of the decade until it launched the armed struggle in 1962. Lodge has substantially corrected this bland generalisation by suggesting that a mass movement was in the process of being created subsequent to the historical events of 1950. This is an important lead. It enables one to conceptualise the development of a mass movement as a process ”” one that is not necessarily unilinear and inherently progressive - in which it is constantly engaged in a struggle against its own internal contradictions and subjective inadequacies, as it is against the state. At the same time it makes it possible to delineate phases of development, which are not only quantitative but also qualitative in their nature. Hence, if one is to accurately understand this development process that had occurred in the ANC, one needs to go beyond just the level of the size of membership and description of mass displays and expressions of support and solidarity during specific campaigns or at public rallies, and examine the development of the subjective level of the newly created mass movement. This suggests that we examine questions of organisation, ideology and strategic direction.
What level of development had the ANC reached at the end of the Defiance Campaign? A careful study of primary source material will indicate that the ANC was far from being a nationally based mass, popular democratic movement. In fact, it was principally a popular urban-based movement that was able to organise black workers who had been urbanised for a long time. Its sphere of operation had not penetrated, with the exception of some areas in the Eastern Cape and the Transvaal, into the rural areas where a significant proportion of the African population resided either permanently or temporarily. An examination of the areas where the defiers were most active during the Defiance Campaign will show the predominantly urban basis of the organisation:
Eastern Cape: Port Elizabeth, East London, Uitenhage, Queenstown, King Williamstown, Jansenville, Grahamstown, Port Alfred, Alice, Stutterheim, Cradock, Kirkwood, Aliwal North, Fort Beaufort, Peddie.
Western Cape: Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Ceres, and Worcester.
Transvaal: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Springs, Brakpan, Benoni, Bethal, Germiston, Roodepoort, Krugersdorp, Witbank, Vereeniging.
OFS: Bloemfontein and Kimberley / Mafikeng.
Tambo warned against this urban bias when he remarked that there was "a danger of the ANC becoming an urban based and urban oriented organisation. It may tend to forget and ignore the vast potential represented by the peasants and farm labourers. . . This contact (with the rural areas in the Eastern Cape) has not, however, been sufficiently strengthened by concretely and actively taking up the demands of the people in those areas by incorporating into the Programme of the Congress the immediate demands of me peasants and farm labourers."
Moreover, neither the ANC, nor the SAIC, despite their brief spell of closer cooperation and joint action, could claim to represent the broad cross-section of the South African population. In a situation where, as a result of a longstanding social practices and the enactment of the Group Areas Act of 1950, racial groups resided in racially exclusive areas (with a few exceptions, e.g., Sophiatown) the development of non-racially representative political organisations was difficult. Although the ANC, the TIC and the NIC all had undergone a transformation with a degree of mass support, political mobilisation in the coloured and white sectors had generally lagged behind. This meant that there were no political formations with a long tradition of work based in these sectors.
Secondly, the strategic goals and political objectives of the ANC were ill defined and incoherent. Goals such as "national self-determination" , "attainment of political independence" and "freedom from white domination" in themselves were vague. They lacked definite content and were open to widely differing interpretations. This pointed to the absence of a commonly accepted political programme for which all 'democratic forces' could struggle. In addition, whilst both the ANC and the SAIC had come to embrace a strategy of mass action aimed at the mobilisation of all sections of their respective communities- workers, peasants, farm labourers, businessmen, intellectuals, professionals, women and youth the primary and secondary roles of various social forces had not been clearly asserted and corroborated with changes in its leadership structures. During 1950 - 55, 77 per cent of the ANC's leadership had come from the African petty-bourgeoisie, 22 per cent from the industrial working class and 2 per cent represented the peasantry. This absence of clarity stemmed from the absence of a cohesive ideology ”” the one to which its entire leadership and membership could firmly subscribe. As discussed earlier, there existed an internal struggle for ideological supremacy within the ANC between Africanists, communists, liberal Christians and a few conservatives.
These ideological divisions generated internal tensions and contradictions, which had a debilitating, effect on organisation. They resulted in ideological feuding and factionalism and influenced the choice of tactical options and the nature of political practice. The lack of a unified ideology was seen as a major weakness by, the leadership of the ANC. The following point was made in a theoretical journal of the time:
The organisational problems are part of the political problems. They are due to a lack of unified ideology and theory, and also due to the social backgrounds of its members. There is a complete lack of theory, not aimless or abstract theory, but a theory which can give confidence and understanding of issues which the people in the liberatory movement are faced with; and a lack of appreciation of unity of theory and practice, which would enable us to understand not only how and in what direction the liberatory movement is moving at the present time but also how and in what direction it will move in the near future.
Structurally, the ANC was not suited to integrate and politically discipline and educate its newly found membership. The basic structure at a local level of the ANC hitherto had been the branch, which was composed of a small core of members. With the massive expansion of membership many branches now had several hundred and, in some cases, a few thousand members. This new membership needed to be integrated and drawn into the organisation. That involved developing their level of political understanding, education and discipline and engaging them in regular political activity. The existing structures, operating within the context of ideological antagonisms and a degree of disunity at leadership levels, did not facilitate this process. The National Action Committee, in I report to the National Executive of the ANC and the SAIC in 1953, dealt with these matters extensively. Having made reference to the "disquieting lull which had descended over the mass activities of the Congresses" in the wake of the Public Safety and Criminal Law Amendment Acts and harassment of leader it went on to analyse the reasons for this period of passivity which point to the organisational incapacity of the ANC and the SAIC. The National Action Committee argued that the Congresses were unable effectively to "combat the offensive of the government" as it relied too heavily on "outdated" methods of mobilisation through public rallies and leaflet distribution. Moreover, the Congresses failed to "arm the members and particularly the volunteers with a proper theoretic understanding of the objectives of the Congresses and the purpose of the campaign" and were unable to "create a prop organisational machinery to fit the units of Congress for the basic work of consolidating its membership." It further not that this period of inactivity had "given ample opportunity for the growth of confusion, vacillation, misunderstanding disagreements and diversionary tactics" which had resulted "factionalism and opportunism.... throwing the whole Congress work and activity out of gear."
The crucial point to note is that the Congresses were too centralised to allow, not only for large-scale mobilisation, but widespread direct popular participation. These emerged fro two related problems. Firstly, the ANC had not designed developed a grassroots organisational network which allow for direct political participation at the mass level. Secondly, and this was noted by the National Action Committee, its mode mobilisation was not appropriate and suitable under the new conditions of intensified repression, aimed primarily immobilising and 'de-activating' the leadership stratum of the organisations. Certainly, new, decentralised structures and methods of mobilisation needed to be developed to widen the organisational basis and sphere of operation of the Congresses These points were presented for discussion at the SACOD's Annual Conference in 1954 and are worth reproducing in full:
There are weaknesses in the work of the Congress Movement which need to be corrected urgently, for every error committed as a result of the weaknesses makes it more 'difficult for us once again to bring the people into action. (These weaknesses) are of two kinds: (a) political, (b) organisational.... To some extent, organisationally, our Congresses have become isolated from the people; we do not pay enough attention to me types of work which brings us closely in contact with the people ~ to knocking on doors and talking to people, to canvassing people's opinion, to working from house to house, to holding small meetings at which we not only talk, but also listen. We allow our activities to go on in our branches, amongst our own members, losing our contact with the people and accordingly losing touch with their feelings, their doubts, their readiness to act... Political understanding must go hand in hand with this organisational work . . .. Without organisational work, designed to give us close contact with the people, political understanding itself will go wrong.... We have seen both wrong directions in recent months ”” the over-optimism which ignores the real difficulties and the extent of intimidation and the weakness of organisation, and presses boldly on to completely unreal objectives. And also undue pessimism which exaggerates the difficulties, underestimates the political consciousness and courage of ordinary people, and hesitates and retreats when the stage is set for advance. What is suggested by the analysis thus far is that the ANC and its allies did not mechanically transform themselves into a mass, popular democratic movement. Although important strides had been taken in that direction, in the sense that at a mass level in the major urban centres and internationally their support and prestige had grown substantially, mere were numerous questions and contradictions at an internal level that needed to be addressed and resolved if ”” as it can best be described ”” this embryonic national popular democratic movement was to mature and develop further. The Congresses were in a phase of transition with notable strengths. But they were also confronted with noticeable weaknesses, i.e., the absence of a unified ideology, no clearly defined set of political objectives encapsulated in a single political programme and the non-existence of democratic structures at grassroots level to facilitate mass political participation, as opposed to mobilisation only on a national scale.
That these matters did receive the attention of the national organisation, in the face of continued harassment and repression, is itself significant. This was not an embryonic nationally based movement gripped by a stasis. Unlike the 1930s, very real attempts were made to grapple with these complex problems; Professor Z. K. Matthews captured the essence of this process (significantly at the same time that he mooted the idea of the Congress of the People) in his Presidential address to the Conference of the Cape ANC in 1953 when he remarked:
But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. One phase of the struggle has come and gone, but contrary to popular belief in some quarters, the struggle is by no means at an end. Depending upon surrounding circumstances, the struggle may assume one form at one period and another at a different period, but as long as our main objectives have not been fully achieved, how can there be an end to the struggle?
In its attempts to tackle the subjective weaknesses of the organisation the ANC responded with a two-pronged initiative. The first was the 'M-Plan', an organisational design aimed at the development of political structures and leadership at street level. The second, which is of concern to this project, viz., the Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter, which aimed to clarify and codify the long-term objectives, policies and principles of the Congress forces operative in the 1950, and, indeed, even presently. This was a unique, creative, non-reactive campaign to tackle new challenges that emerged out of a substantially altered objective, political, economic and social reality and to correct internal inadequacies. Its distinctive feature, however, was that rather than this process occurring in the upper echelons of the organisations and 'above the heads of the masses', like the English Chartist Movement, it attempted to elicit mass popular participation, revitalise strategic initiative on the part of the ANC and laid the political foundation for the Congress Alliance.
Campaign for the Congress of the People and Freedom Charter ↵
Origins and Nature
Origins of the Campaign
The idea of the Congress of the People had been mooted on several occasions within the ANC, but it was Professor Z. K. Matthews, President of the ANC, Cape, who officially proposed such an event at the Provincial Conference of the ANC (Cape) held in Cradock on 15 August 1953. Matthews, inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, was the first to publicly suggest die convocation of a national gathering of the people of South Africa with the objective of drafting a Charter of Freedom.
In reviewing the "political situation" at the Conference, Matthews listed the numerous racial, discriminatory and repressive laws enacted by the Nationalist government and declared that the "present state of affairs in South Africa shows signs of an ever deepening crisis in race relations between various groups represented here." He pointed out that various groups, in reaction to the electoral victory of the National Partyin me 1953 general election and the growing political crisis, were considering the idea of a national convention. He motivated that the ANC, as the premier African political organisation, should seize the initiative and provide a direct lead in the matter. Matthews asserted:
I wonder whether the time has not come for the ANCto consider the question of convening a National Convention, a Congress of the People, representing all the people of this country irrespective of race or colour to draw up a Freedom Charter for the democratic South Africa of the future. Once the principle of the establishment of such a Congress of the People was accepted, the details of its implementation could be worked out either by the national executive or by an ad hoc committee with that special duty.
The matter was duly discussed at the Cradock Conference and the following resolution was finally adopted:
That this conference notes with interest the remarks of the president on the need for the establishment at the instance of the ANC and under its leadership, of the Congress of the People in South Africa, to draw up a Freedom Charter or constitution embodying a vision of a future South Africa, as we in Congress see it.... Such a conference would serve to unite all the democratic forces in South Africa among all races into a front against the dangers of fascism; and would enable the ANC to demonstrate in a practical manner its policy for the solution of the problems of the country.
Between the Cradock Conference and the Annual Conference of the ANC in December 1953, it was the National Action Council, which had coordinated the Defiance Campaignthat defined in broad outline the nature of the campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter. Reference has already been made in the second chapter of the National Action Council's analysis of the organisational shortcomings of the Congresses. It saw as the immediate steps of the ANC and the SAIC the cultivation of a "new approach in the face of the fascist onslaught" that entailed the termination of me period of "political lull" through concrete mass activities against the government's offensive and, around a central objective, the unity of the leadership "by bringing about maximum agreement, understanding and unity of purpose on a common programme" , the isolation of "defeatists and factionalists" , and the strengthening of organisation.
It envisaged a National Assembly for a Freedom Charter as the best "short-term programme" capable of fulfilling the above objectives, arguing that Matthews' proposal "holds out great and powerful potentialities to mobilise our people.. and [raise] the mass activities of the Congresses to a higher level." It recommended that the Annual ANC Conference discuss the proposal carefully and submit a plan to the executives of the ANC and the SAIC before 30 April 1954 .
The Annual Conference of the ANC held in Queenstown December 1953 welcomed the recommendations and adopted resolution instructing its national executive committee "to mal immediate preparations for the organisation of a Congress of the People of South Africa." It urged the national executive committee to convene a meeting of democratic organisations which subscribed to the principle of full citizenship rights for all and place before them plans and secure from them participation for the project. Consequently, Walter Sisulu, Secretary General of the ANC, on 1 March 1954 invited the national executive committees of the ANC, the SAIC, the SACPO and the SACOD to attend a joint conference to discuss the subject of a Congress of the People.
The national executives of the ANC, the SAIC and the SACOD and a member from the Johannesburg branch of the SACPO met in Tongati, Natal, under the chairmanship of Chief Luthuli on 20-21 March 1954. Luthuli introduced the subject by tracing the development of inter-racial political cooperation and unity since 1950. He asserted that "it had now become desirable to enlarge the circle of cooperation, and with the addition of SACOD and SACPO, a force of cooperative effort had been started which would finally defeat reaction in South Africa."
A memorandum outlining the objectives and nature of the campaign was then presented. It began with the exposition of what the ANC considered to be the essence of a democratic system of government - one whose policies and programme of action was an expression of the will of its entire people. It argued that the South African government violated this fundamental principle as "not a single governing body from parliament to local authority was based upon the will of me people" ; and that a racial minority had arrogated itself the "right to govern by taking into account the will of only a section of the population." Consequently, the majority of South Africans were excluded from meaningful and effective participation in the political process.
The end product was that the country was being divided into "two mutually antagonistic camps ”” a dominant white minority whose political parties were almost completely at one as far as their colour policies are concerned; and a dominated black majority whose patience with the status quois rapidly becoming exhausted." It called for the subjected peoples to make their voices heard and introduce a fundamentally new approach to the problem of race relations in South Africa. At the same time it questioned the legitimacy and prerogatives of political forces rooted in the white sector and operating within the parliamentary terrain. It added that they had no right solely to shape the political destiny of the African majority. The memorandum made me following point:
This need has been reflected in the realignment of political parties at present . . . combined with their attempts at the revision of policies and programmes which have outlived their usefulness. The emergence of the Liberal Party, the Federal Party, the defections from the United Party, the changed outlook of the Labour party all show that the time is long overdue for a thorough ongoing re-examination of the place of the different sections of the population in the South African body politic.
But the questions with which the country is confronted go beyond the competence of political parties whose membership is confined to one section of the population. The broad will of the people of South Africa calls for a much wider basis than that. The ANC executive also noted the intentions of both the Federal Missionary Council of the Dutch Reformed Church and the South African Institute of Race Relations to summon national conventions of various organisations. The ANC, without intending to be dismissive of their plans, felt that they were inherently inadequate initiatives.
The former's social basis was too narrow ”” it was to be confined to church leaders only; and the latter could not be "a true reflection of the views of all the sections of the population as it [was] likely to be dominated by the representatives of organisations and public bodies in which non-whites [were] not adequately represented or not represented at all." The memorandum ruled out ANC participation in both initiatives, claiming that a project of such magnitude and national importance should correctly emerge from the black communities themselves. "The African people," it proclaimed, "must bear the proper share of responsibility for working out the salvation of the people of South Africa."
The ANC leadership shared the view that if any National Convention or policy document was to become an authoritative expression of the people's will it had to be organised on a democratic basis and in direct consultation with the masses. By implication, this meant that the delegates to such a national gathering should be representative of the people democratically elected; and that the contents of a policy document should emerge from a consultation process conducted nationally and among all sections of the population.
The following suggestions to launch the campaign for Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter were presented by Z. K. Matthews, on behalf of the ANC Executive to the joint conference:
- a) That a public announcement of the Congress of the People Campaign be made by the sponsoring organisations;
- b) That all persons over the age of 21 would have the right to elect representatives;
- c) That a common voters' roll for the Congress of the People be written up;
- d) That a Delimitations Committee be established to define constituencies; and
- e) That a "ways and means" committee be created to coordinate the campaign.
The memorandum was sound in articulating the general political principles that the ANC subscribed to, but it showed a certain lack of clarity as to the precise scope and character of the Congress of the People. The suggestions of a voters roll, a delimitations committee and the creation of constituencies indicated that the Congress of the People was to be of a highly formal character symbolic of an alternative parliament or constituent assembly with legislative powers and authority. This conception was corrected in the course of discussions at the conference. It was pointed out by some delegates that the impression should not be created that the Congress of the People was to be intended as an alternative government or a body claiming authority of state. The ideas of electoral districts and general elections for the Congress of the People were dropped, as they were impractical. Eventually, a loose form of representation that allowed groups of different sizes to elect delegates to the Congress of the People replaced the initial suggestions. A resolution of the Joint Conference denned the Congress of the People "as a democratically elected assembly of representatives of people of all races and all parts of the country to frame and adopt a Freedom Charter expressing the will of the people."
Having accepted the idea of a Congress of the People in principle the Joint Conference established a Joint Planning Committee (and not the National Action Council as suggested by Lodge) consisting of not more than eight representatives from each of the Congresses. Johannesburg was accepted as the headquarters and T. E. Tshunungwa was appointed as the national organiser for the campaign. The task of this committee was narrowly and specifically defined. It had to draft a document entitled "A Call to the Congress of the People" and present a detailed plan for the campaign to another joint conference on 9 May 1954."
The following organisational guidelines were submitted by the Joint Planning Committee and accepted by the May Joint Conference:
- I) That a National Action Council (NAC) for the Congress of the People, composed of an equal number of representatives of the sponsoring organisations, be established to coordinate and direct the campaign;
- II) That me NAC should launch a propaganda campaign, which would explain the nature of the Congress of the People and its historic significance;
- III) That it should ensure that provincial and local Congress of the People committees be set up (the former by 30 June 1954) and structured along the lines of the NAC;
- IV) That these structures should collect, gather and record demands through mass meetings, house-to-house canvassing and group discussions by 30 October 1954, with the overall aim being to enable "ordinary people to speak for themselves and to state what changes are to be made in the way of life, if they are to enjoy freedom" ;
- V) That the NAC should establish a corps of Freedom Volunteers to carry out the campaign and undertake mobilisation work by addressing and taking up the day-to-day grievances of the people and linking these to broader political issues;
- VI) That the elections to the Congress of the People should be direct and that any person publicly elected and representative of the people could become a delegate;
- VII) That local COP committees should work to elicit the active or passive support of every possible local organisation for the Congress of the People; and finally,
- VIII) That the campaign as a whole should be pitched at a level that would have an overall politicising effect on the masses and generate new and wider layers of active participants in the Congresses.
The Conference concluded with the appointment of National Action Council for the Congress of the People (NAC for COP). Each of the Congresses had to nominate eight members, five of whom had to reside in the Transvaal. The NAC enjoyed executive powers to coordinate and organise every aspect of the COP campaign and submit regular reports to the National Executives of the sponsoring Congresses. Walter Sisulu, Yusuf Cachalia, Lionel Bernstein and Stanley Lollan constituted the Secretariat of the NAC. Some other members on the NAC were: J A. Luthuli (Chairman), E. P. Moretsele (Treasurer), O.R. Tambo, R. Resha, T. E. Tshunungwa, J. Slovo, Mrs R. Hodgeson, P. Beyleveld, C.H. Feinstein, G. Peake, P. Vundla and A. Kathrada. M. Motala was employed as a clerk/organiser for the campaign and he was based at No. 110 Fox Street, Johannesburg. The composition of the National Action Council is significant in that it served as the first truly non-racial forum for the planning of joint political work for the Congresses. In this sense it can be seen as the forerunner to the Congress Alliance that emerged after the Congress of the People itself. It must also be noted that the composition for the NAC fluctuated as the campaign unfolded as a number of leading members were subjected to restriction or banning orders.
Political Objectives of the Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter ↵
The aims and objectives of the campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter can only be fully understood if it is located more firmly than is done in the literature on the subject, within an analysis of the 'historical moment' and the tasks and challenges that confronted the Congresses. The historian has to consider the following questions:
- a) Why did the ANC and its allies specifically decide upon the COP for the period 1953 to 1955; and
- b) In which ways was this campaign to allow for the further organisational and ideological growth and development of the constituents of the Congress of the People and the national liberation movement more broadly?
These questions can only be answered after an examination of the Congresses conceptualisation of the state that they were engaging, and their own strategy of opposition to it.
The enactment of the Criminal Laws Amendment and Public Safety Acts brought the Defiance Campaign to an abrupt end. This reality had made political activists more conscious of the fact that political rhetoric; sloganeering, uncoordinated acts of resistance and poor organisation and discipline were not adequate to effect any significant transformation of South African society. This does not mean that demoralisation or capitulation had crept in on a significant scale. Rather the leadership was maturing and coming to the realisation that the transformation of society was a process to be struggled for and that, from time to time, adaptations and changes were needed to advance the struggle. Nelson Mandela dealt with these issues in his Presidential Address to the Provincial Conference of the ANC (Transvaal) in September 1953:
We had to analyse the dangers that faced us, formulate plans to overcome them and evolve new plans of political struggle. A political movement must keep in touch with reality and the prevailing conditions. Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action.... The conditions under which we meet today are vastly different.... The old methods of bringing about mass action through public meetings, press statements and leaflets calling on people to go to action have become extremely dangerous. These developments require the evolution of new forms of political struggle, which will make it reasonable for us to strive for action on a higher level than the Defiance Campaign.
The Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter, like the organisational changes envisaged in the ANC's M-Plan, were a specific response to the changing objective reality. At one level it was spurred on by the intensification of repression and a "reconceptualisation" of the state. At another it grew out of a redefinition of strategy by the Congresses. What is significant is that the Congresses increasingly denned the South African state as a "fascist state" . This did not simply reflect a change of slogan, but a coherent re-analysis of politic reality.
Tambo in his secretarial report to the 42nd Annual Conference of the ANC expounded on this "reconceptualisation as follows:
After six years of nationalist rule, fascism has arrived in South Africa”” the first five years of these six years were occupied with the building of the legal framework for this naked police state... the reactionary anti-people legislation inherited by former South African regimes was made more efficient . . . These laws were comprehensive not because they were detailed and defined but because they left all powers of making laws to individual ministers ... In this category comes the Group Areas Act, Bantu Authorities; Act, Native (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, Native Laws Amendment Act, Population Registration Act, Native Resettlement Act and Suppression of the Communism Act. In the last Act the Nationalist government, following the Hitler pattern, prepared the legal machinery for crushing the most militant opponents of their rule, the working class and the national liberation organisation.
Fascism does not arise until conditions call for it. It arises when the ruling class can no longer look forward to unlimited profits and to an acquiescent people willing to be exploited. As the political consciousness of the people grows and their organisations become more mature and effective in the struggle for economic and political rights, the ruling class dropped the methods of peaceful flattery, diplomacy and bribery and employed force as the ordinary means of enforcing their rule. It is true that force is always there, but before the rise of fascism, force was resorted to in times of crisis. Under fascism the crisis becomes a permanent feature of life and force and intimidation the ordinary methods of rule . . . yes, fascism has indeed arrived in South Africa. A similar analysis of the state was made by the COD Executive Committee:
There have been radical changes since the last conference. These changes mark the maturity of a state of fascism at home; the government has passed from words to deeds . . . the development of fascism has curtailed their (Congresses') legality and their opportunity for mass campaigning and organisation.
Against a background where the scope for legal mass political activity had been severely narrowed, the Congresses had to re-examine their overall strategy and tactics. This evaluation did not amount to a total rejection of past experiences and the abandonment of the strategic direction that crystallised in the 1949 Programme of Action. Instead, the ANC and its allies adopted a more flexible approach, which allowed for the elaboration and extension of their strategy of mass mobilisation on the basis of a united front against fascism.
For the ANC, there were two prongs to the united front strategy. With reference to the African sector the construction of a united front meant the broadening of the sodal basis of the ANC. Being a broad omnibus political organisation, and not strictly a political party, it had to mobilise, organise, articulate, and interpret the demands of all sections and classes of the politically oppressed African people. Tambo defined these, sodal categories of the "African nation" as the urban worker, the peasant, the farm labourer, the domestic servant, the business man, the intellectual and the professional, women and youth. The corollary of this was that organisational networks and structures had to be expanded, new ones created and alliances forged to facilitate the participation of these varied sodal strata in the ANC.
Having at its disposal youth and women's wings and a high percentage of the petty-bourgeoisie and professional representation at leadership levels, very real efforts had to be made to develop a more structured and organic political relationship with organs of the working class and the peasantry and rural workers. In relation to the latter the task proved to be extremely difficult and whatever links there existed remained tenuous and fragile and rural organisations undeveloped and weak. The COP Campaign was to be used precisely to establish contact with rural areas and to develop a political network in the countryside.
With regard to the trade unions and the black working people more generally, forces were at work within the ANC and the trade unions, which set the stage for a more intimate working relationship and, ultimately, a structured alliance. The specific changes taking place within the trade unions had their roots in an assessment of the "limits and the failure of [working class] resistance in the 1940s, the right-wing racism in the Trades and Labour Council, the formation of the racially exclusive African Trade Union Council and resurgent African nationalism."
These developments resulted in a rethinking of strategy and direction within the non-racial unions. The orientation towards political unionism was explained by Billy Nair, a member of Act Trade Union Co-ordination Committee (embryo of SACTU), as follows:
Other federations lacked political direction. They were becoming more and more like social clubs. We differed fundamentally and wanted to give a new direction to the struggle of workers. We found that the Congress movement alone took account of the true aspirations of the workers. There was an identity of interests and an identity of ideas from the word goes. The Defiance Campaign and the various campaigns that were launched by Congress, politicised the African workers, actually politicised the worker at factory level. At this point workers were joining Congress in large numbers.
As events headed constantly towards a clash between the workers and the ruling class it became clear that the workers had to organise themselves differently. They could not concentrate on pure economic issues. There was no alternative but to link political and economic struggles. The strategic approach of political unionism which the SACTU leadership eventually accepted had its origins in the South African Communist Party (SACP) which reconstituted itself on an underground basis in 1953. Much of its political work since then remains a mystery as a result of me highly secretive nature of its political style of work and its deliberate attempts, at least in the 1950s, to mask its precise role in the wider liberation movement.
Recent studies by Hudson and Lambert, however, shed some light on the theory of national democratic revolution and the strategy adopted by the SACP in that period, but their conclusions, in the absence of more substantive material, can only remain tentative. Some understanding of the SACP's analysis and strategy is important principally as these had a resonance and echoed through the participation of the party cadres in virtually all the sponsoring organisations of the COP. Lambert, for example, goes as far as to argue that the SACP played a dominant role in SACTU and served as the "silent generator of SACTU strategy (and its two stage theory) constituted the basis of SACTU'S programme."
It will be remembered that the CPSA already in 1950 had become sensitised to the potential political force of African nationalism in the South African context and re-evaluated its relationship with formal nationalist organisations like the ANC and the SAIC. It called for a closer working relationship between its cadres and these political organs, stressing, however, that narrow based nationalism in the form of Africanism was retrogressive. By 1953 one could comfortably distinguish Africanism from the content of non-racial nationalism, which emerged in me mainstream of me ANC. The SACP believed that the latter was a positive political force, not incompatible with its own political direction. This strategic conception was rooted in its exposition of the two-stage theory of social transformation which had its underpinning in the internal colonialism thesis. Briefly, the SACP saw as the immediate task of the revolution and the Party, in alliance with a range of political forces and classes, the destruction of a highly repressive, colonial-like apartheid state and the construction of a national democratic state.
The establishment of a non-racial democracy in South Africa was seen as creating conditions propitious for an eventual transition to socialism. Tactically, this meant for the SACP the marshalling of a disparate range of social and political forces under the leadership of the working class with the explicit aim of isolating the ruling class and defeating it. In the context of national political oppression affecting all social categories and classes in the black communities, an alliance of the working classes with the black peasantry, petty-bourgeoisie and intelligentsia was objectively possible and a broad popular democratic ideology, rather than a strictly socialistic ideological content, was to be used to cement this alliance, not abstractly, but in the very process of united struggles.
An 'activist' of the period expressed his personal viewpoint in the following way:
The South African people and their various organisations were confronted with a fascist state, which had an impact on all sections for the people. National unity became a priority . . . the SACP accepted the need for a national democratic alliance. It had no ultra leftist perspective; for example, to fight in a straightforward line for a socialist revolution . . . It identified the immediate task as the total defeat of the Nationalists and to lead the struggle for the national liberation of South Africa.
The struggle against national oppression was on””independently of the SACP and being conducted through various political organisations. The SACP and the working class could not just sit back and look on. Revolution involves vast strata of people and many classes and social groups. SACP wanted the maximum unity of democratic forces in which the working class would play a leading role. It had to get involved in the struggle if it wanted to lead; otherwise it would simply isolate itself. Therefore the SACP saw the COP as a campaign initiated by the people and threw its whole support behind it and encouraged its members and supporters to go in and play a direct role, as the COP was an attempt to construct a national democratic alliance with a mass base against a fascist state.
The second component of the ANC's united front strategy involved the construction of a multi-racial, principled alliance with all democratic, anti-fascist forces. The altered political realities of the early 1950s””the increasing repression and the successful experiences of joint actions””highlighted the need for extending alliances and strengthening the existing ones. Mandela expressed this need in the following manner:
In the past we talked of African, Indian and coloured struggles. Though certain individuals raised the question of a united front of all the oppressed groups, the various non-European organisations stood miles apart from one another and the various efforts of those for coordination and unity were like a voice crying in the wilderness; and it seemed that the day would never dawn when the oppressed people would stand and fight together shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy. Today we talk of struggles of the oppressed people, which, though it is waged through their autonomous organisations, is gravitating towards a central command.
In 1954 Chief Luthuli confirmed this outlook and clarified ANC policy on the question of a united front. In his Presidential Address to the 42nd ANC Conference he declared, "Let me here emphatically state that while the ANC must naturally work for it own growth, yet it is equally committed to the policy of forming a multi-racial united democratic front to challenge the forces of reaction in this country" .
What emerges from the above is that the creation of a united front had become more than just a matter of debate between those espousing a multi-racial organisational approach and the Africanists. For the former the construction of a united front”” embracing all democratic forces irrespective of past political affiliations and race””had become a strategic necessity.
The ANC had developed to a point where it had abandoned Africanism and called for broader political unity; the SACP displayed a more flexible political approach which responded to the growing momentum of African nationalist politics and the SACTU had, as a result of an appraisal of past trade union experiences and the influence of the SACP, opted for political unionism. Closer unity of loosely associated democratic forces within the broad national liberation movement needed to be consolidated if they were to withstand the assault of the state, and at the same time, advance the national democratic struggle. This was the practical implication of Luthuli's remarks when he opened the Natal Congress of the People Conference in September 1954 with the slogan:
"Let us speak together of Freedom" . He declared, "Let me invite all progressive people and leaders to rally to the cause of freedom.
The ascendancy of the reactionary forces must be halted before they harm the true interests of the country. The time demands that we think courageously together plan boldly together in an effort to bring freedom to all in our land." This unity needed to be forged on the basis of political consensus, on a common acceptance of political principles and demands. The campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter provided the appropriate vehicle for the establishment of a united front or national alliance of all democratic elements based on a single political programme in the form of me Freedom Charter.
In this sense the immediate objective of the campaign was to adopt a policy document or political programme, which symbolised the alliance. This political programme was to be the product of a dual process””consultation between national political organisations themselves, and between them and the mass of South African citizens””with me aim of building a more coherent, coordinated and cohesive mass popular democratic movement.
The purpose of the first process was to hammer out a common political outlook, a common understanding of the nature and content of the struggle being waged by various national organisations. The aim of the second process was to engage the masses in political dialogue and raise the level of political consciousness. At one level this entailed the injection of political ideology from organisations to the masses, the aim being to politicise, conscientise and make an imprint on the developing consciousness of the masses who were inspired by the new militancy of the ANC and its allies and who gravitated towards the Congresses. At another level it involved the upward 'filtering process' whereby demands and goals were to emerge from the people's lived experiences under an oppressive and exploitative social order.
Basically, this was a campaign designed to bring our organisations close to the ordinary people of South Africa, to enable us not only to talk intimately and simply to them of our outlook and opinions, but also to learn from them of their ideas and, at the same time, to build that organisational link between the Congresses and the people... as is needed for the great political struggles which must be waged before our objectives of liberty are achieved.
The overriding objective of the campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter was to establish a united front of democratic organisations through an independently initiated, non-reactive, forward looking process of politicisation on the basis of the total experiences and lived realities of all sections of the population.
But there were other objectives as well. The campaign was to equip the Congresses with a political document and with a set of non-negotiable demands; and to guide all its future struggles and political work. It was to serve as a standard reference point for which the Congresses stood and struggled. Luthuli outlined the objective as follows:
Besides this, there was in our minds an appreciation of the need to think creatively about the new South Africa. We are, after all, not mainly devoted to battling against something, though that is imposed on us at present. We are inspired by the ideal of working for something. If we are against passes, it is because we are for human dignity and freedom of movement. If we are against Bantu education it is because we are for education. If when you are constantly impeded in the effort to work towards a worthy goal, there is danger of becoming preoccupied with the impediments. It was felt to be high time to counteract this by defining me goal rather more dearly.
The campaign aimed to arrive at ideological unity within the ANC itself and between various other organisations championing the cause of national liberation. At the same time, the Freedom Charter was to serve as an organising tool and it was to list the basic demands that the Congresses and the emergent national popular democratic movement aimed to achieve. The Preparatory Committee's Memorandum motivating for the Congress of the People expressed the objective as follows:
The main task of the Congress of the People will be to draw up a Freedom Charter for all the peoples and groups in South Africa. From such a Congress will come a declaration, which will inspire all the people of South Africa with fresh hope for the future, which will turn the minds of the people away from the sterile and negative struggles of the past and the present to a positive programme of freedom in our lifetime? Such a charter, properly conceived as a mirror of the future South African society, can galvanise the people of South Africa into action and make them go over to the offensive against the reactionary forces at work in this country instead of being perpetually on the defensive, fighting rearguard actions all the time.
In one sense the campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter served to 'consummate' past struggles; in another, as Tambo noted, it was to "open a new page, another turning point in the history of our country.” The campaign was to complete one phase of me struggle and open another on the basis of a vision of a social order fundamentally and radically different from that being propagated by me ruling classes and coercively established by the Nationalist government.
Organisationally, stress was to be placed both on quantitative growth and on qualitative development, in terms of the former objective the campaign was to be used to expand the Congress organisational network on a national scale and into hitherto unorganised areas (consistent with the notion of decentralisation underlining me M-plan), to activate structures that had become politically dormant in the immediate post-Defiance Campaign period and to stimulate those that were active. The campaign aimed to energise mass political work on a national scale and to link the organisations more closely and organically with masses. It must be noted that such a campaign, one that was responding or reacting to a specific set of issues or grievances and to be conducted over a long period of time (about 12 months) was suitable for intensive political work nationally and rooting of organisation on a widespread basis.
In the numerous organisational guidelines to Freedom Volunteers constant emphasis was placed on breaking new ground in rural areas. A circular from the National Action Council for the Congress of the people gave the following instruction:
Left us not overlook me countryside. Volunteers from towns |who have relations and families in the countryside must try to get to the rural areas on the weekends and hold discussions on the Charter. They must urge at every meeting in the towns that all people write or visit their friends in the rural areas and in the villages, to tell them about the Freedom Charter, and to urge them to make their demands without delay. Everyone who has made his or her demand must now organise others to do so:
Let the Freedom Charter spread like wildfire to the people. In terms of the qualitative development of Congress members importance was attached to education, training and inculcating discipline. Activists or Freedom Volunteers, as they were called, were to be trained in the art of conducting mass political work. Experienced activists were to accompany new recruits of the organisation in the course of political work and teach the political skills of conducting house meetings relating to ordinary people, tackling controversial issues and answering questions.
A prerequisite for effective mass political work was the political understanding of activists. In addition to the regular circulars and bulletins published by the National and Provincial Action Councils a set of three lectures entitled "The World We Live In" , "The Country We Live In " and "The Need For Change" were to be discussed and studied by Freedom Volunteers. These three lectures make illuminating study, and in all probability members of the reconstituted Communist Party wrote them. "The World We Live In" was divided into three parts: on me historical development of social relations, on surplus value and exploitation under capitalism and on the colonial question. "The Country We Live In" was concerned with the history and state of South Africa in the 1950s, mostly in so far as its economy and socio-political relations were concerned. Concepts such as imperialism, national oppression and fascism were explained and their analytical value in understanding conditions in South Africa elaborated.
The third lecture entitled "Change Is Needed" discussed the strategy that was needed to establish "a people's democracy" based on "a sweeping radical programme" . It ended on the following note: "It [a South African People's Democratic State] can only be achieved if the control and power of the state is taken out of the hands of the old ruling class of exploiters and held firmly by the workers and peasants, allied with all others who see that South Africa's future happiness cannot be won while the state is the property of the exploiters and oppressors."
National Plan of Action ↵
The Campaign for the Congress of the People was boldly planned and outlined in the "Draft Plan" written by the National Action Council, inexplicably described by Lodge as a "bureaucratic blueprint" . Seen in isolation the document might appear to be highly bureaucratic and mechanical in nature, but situated in the context elaborated earlier on, it emerges as a dear guideline for practical and coordinated political action. The Campaign was to have unfolded in three stages. The objectives of the first stage were to:
- a) Make the COP understood country-wide through the distribution of 100,000 copies of "The Call" , 10,000 posters, 250,000 stickers and the publishing of regular newsletters;
- b) Draw into the campaign organisations at national and provincial levels through the distribution of the ANC Presidential appeal, letters of invitation and meetings with prominent national leaders of organisations;
- c) Recruit 50,000 volunteers through the distribution of Luthuli's Call for Volunteers and COP lectures; and,
- d) Set up provincial committees by inviting provincial/local bodies to join the Provincial Action Councils.
The aims of me second phase were to:
- a) Establish a network of local COP committees (an ambitious target of 2,000 had been set);
- b) Gather demands from the whole country by organising gatherings and cultural events "where people can get together to formulate demands on the basis of convictions, national groups and religious beliefs in addition to their primary demands as South African citizens" ;
- c) Prepare material for the election of delegates; and
- d) Finalise preparations for the Congress of the People itself.
The final stage would be completed with the election of delegates, the convocation of the Congress of the People and the drafting and adoption of the Freedom Charter.
The implementation of the plan of action was uneven and varied from region to region depending on the level of organisational preparedness and previous patterns of mobilisation and organisation. The actual running of the campaign was conducted on a decentralised basis with Provincial Councils playing a central role. Apart from the Transvaal, which launched its provincial campaign on the day stipulated by the National Action Council, i.e., 25 July, the other provinces got off on a slow start. There were several reasons for this. Lionel Bernstein, a key member of the National Action Council, asserts that in the first instance, organisations, following the Defiance Campaign and the banning of key leadership elements, were not geared for the campaign.
In addition, internal consultation at a national and provincial level "was slow" and took 'time. But for him the major factor for the delay was the implementation of a "new technique of mobilisation" and "a new concept of organisation" to which both activists and the masses alike had to adjust, familiarise and internalise:
Previously we campaigned for this and that. Activists were talking, leading and initiating. We were fighting for our point of view. Now there was a shift. People had to speak and members had to listen. It took a long time for people to understand mis and for members to develop the appropriate skills and technique. This was not to be just another propaganda campaign. Therefore it took a long time for the demands to come in. Initially mere was a slow response”” it really picked up in the few months before the actual COP. Therefore the demands were not as extensive as they should have been. Another factor was that the masses had no electoral experience, they lacked confidence, and this explains the initial hesitancy. This method of organisation, then, represented a leap. You see during the Defiance Campaign masses were inspired by the events; they felt a sense of strength. Now they had to put forward a positive programme for the future."
Natal Campaign for the Congress of the People ↵
The campaign for the Congress of the People in Natal took off in September 1954. This late start was largely due to the disÂorganisation of Congress forces in the province, as was characteristic of the few years preceding the campaign. However, once the formal launch took place on 5 September 1954 (and not by August as claimed by Lodge in Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, p.70) at the Kajee Memorial Hall, Durban, the campaign gained momentum rapidly and served to re-activate Congress organisation and mobilisation and strengthen trade union activity in Natal.
The ANC, the NIC and the Congress of Democrats sponsored the launching conference. 309 delegates representing an aggregate membership of 169, 459 from the following sectors and organisations attended it:
|Organisations||No. of Delegates|
|Political Groups||153 delegates|
|Trade Unions||98 delegates|
|Civic Structures||5 delegates|
|Religious Bodies||5 delegates|
Dr.W. Conco (ANC) and Dr. Naicker (NIC), Jan Hoogendyk (COD) chaired the conference and Mannie Pillay (representing the trade union committees) delivered speeches explaining the background and purpose of the Congress of the People. The Natal Action Council was elected at this point and 165 volunteers were signed up." For organisational purposes the province was divided into three regions, viz.. Northern Natal, Midlands and Southern Natal.
Shortly afterwards, on 19 September 1954, a conference of the Northern Natal Region was held in Ladysmith which was chaired by Dr. A. H. Sader (NIC) and N. Nyembe (ANC). A report to the National Action Council noted that it was attended by 238 delegates representing organisations from "Escort to Charlestown, including four reserves" and that 138 volunteers registered for the campaign.
On 5 December 1954, the Natal Midlands Region addressed by R. Resha, Dr. Motala, W. Conco and Hoogendyk (COD), launched the campaign at the Regent Cinema Hall, in Pietermaritzburg. The conference was attended by 53 observers and 97 delegates from the following types of organisations: 5 political organisations; 6 trade unions, 6 student organisations, 5 sporting associations and 4 youth organisations. The areas represented at the Congress included Pietermaritzburg, Ixopo, Richmond, Georgedale, Plessisloer, Mount Patridge, Howick, Sobantu Village, Ashdown, Wonderboom, Elandskop, Slangspruit and Raisethorpe. Messages of support for the campaign were received from the African Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Workers' Union, Food, Canning and Allied Workers' Union, African Food, Canning and Allied Worker's Union and the Northern Natal Regional Committee. Dr. Motala (MC) and Archie Gumede (ANC) were elected chairpersons and S. B. Mungal (NIC) as secretary of the Midlands Regional Committee of the COP. Other prominent figures who served on the Regional Committee were Harry Gwala, William Khanyile, M. Mabhida and Dr. Omar.
Whilst it is not possible to construct in detail the degree and depth of organisation and political work conducted in Natal a brief description of some efforts shed interesting light on the course and nature of me campaign. Following the launching conferences which secured the participation of a reasonably large number of organisations””a strategy consistent with the united front approach””that were strictly speaking non-political, the campaign proceeded towards the popularisation of the Congress of the People and the formation of local committees. Billy Nair recounted:
"We had regional conferences of all organisations, not necessarily affiliated to Congress””ratepayers, teachers, welfare, community organisations and trade unions as well. So you had a broad spectrum for people representing organisations attending these conferences at which the idea of Charter was thoroughly canvassed. This was part of the mobilisation process . . . "
By February 1955 there was a total of 34 Congress of the People Area Action Committees””actively engaged in popularising the COP and collecting demands”” located as follows:
10 in Northern Natal, 9 in Midlands and 15 in the Southern Natal and Durban Districts. The extensive formation of local committees, in Natal at least, appears to contradict Lodge's assertion that "the formation of local committees never really got off the ground and much of the process of collecting demands was carried out through Congress branches and visits by provincial organisers" .
The areas from which activists were drawn also leave us with a picture of the probable areas in which political work relating to the COP campaign was conducted. In Natal the campaign was extensive and enrolment forms of Freedom Volunteers reveal that volunteers were drawn from the following areas:
Cator Manor, Durban, Sydenham, Merebank, S. J. Smith Location, Clairwood, Durban Medical School, Jacobs, Overport, Escombe, Umlazi Native Township, Umbogintwini, Bellair, Malvem, Umgeni, Wentworth College, Greyville, Chesterville Location, Umbilo, Rossburgh, Riverside, Durban North, Lamontville Location, Charlestown, Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith, Sobantu Village, Danhauser, Ixopo, Ekupomeleni, Queenstown, Umzimkulu, Stanger and Clare Estate.
Freedom volunteers and Congress activists campaigned on an area-to-area basis with house visits, followed by a general meeting. A leaflet published by the Midlands Region explained the emergence of a "fascist state" in South Africa and listed the numerous "Anti-people legislation" enacted by the Nationalist government. It assessed the ability of the opposition parties in bringing about "democracy" in the country, and asserted that they had failed to do so.
Finally, it went to explain, "hope" rested in the hands of "extra-parliamentary forces in their struggle for democracy, and that tine Congress of the People was a concrete beginning in that direction." The Call, a Congress of the People popularising newspaper, reported that by February 1955 the campaign had reached the second stage with demands being collected for inclusion in the Freedom Charter. In the Midlands Region "Volunteers were going house to house . . . (and) the eager response of the people has heartened the local committees and they hope in the next few weeks to have completed their tasks." Likewise in Durban, "a concerted drive is being made to obtain demands for inclusion in the Charter. "The Northern Natal region had reported that demands had already been colleced and processed, and that a "miniature Charter" had been submitted to the National Action Council for consideration. The local committees were divided into different departments””health, social welfare, political, transport, economics, education, culture, and labour each with the instruction to deal with "specific problems of the people" .
Rob Lambert, in his study of SACTU, makes mention of the fact that in Natal the degree of trade union involvement in the campaign for the Congress of the People was substantial. The participation of trade unionists in an explicitly political campaign had the effect of reinforcing both the political and trade union movements and placing in the forefront the demands of the working class. This view is corroborated by information gleaned from the report of the credentials committee at the initial launching conference of the COP campaign in Natal in September 1954. There were 98 worker delegates out of a total of 309””21 from trade unions and 77 from factory committees. Lambert has also argued that the COP campaign was directly employed by SACTU organisers to build me trade union movement which, according to Lodge, was to develop a strong organisation in Durban and me surrounding industrial area. Moreover, full-time officials and organisers served on all me regional committees of the COP.
According to Lambert, SACTU organisers consciously propagated the concept of "political unionism" ””an integrated trade union approach which made a dear link between specific economic and political issues with broader societal goals."
Billy Nair, an NIC executive member and SACTU Secretary in Durban in 1955, described the process in the following terms:
"So in the course of training and development of the worker (by SACTU organisers) we put to use all the experience and education we had in earlier years in imparting to the worker a new type of consciousness; mat is, class-consciousness. So that the worker could think not of mere trade unionism for the sake of it, that is merely to gain higher wages and better working conditions, but that he was also to liberate himself politically, free himself from all types of oppression, exploitation by his employer and oppression by the ruling class . . .. The policy declaration of SACTU made it quite clear that the trade union and the political struggle of the workers had to be fought side by side. Hence we threw in our full weight behind the campaign of the COP and the collection of demands for the Freedom Charter. We participated actively in the drawing up of the Charter. This strategic approach resulted in the creation and maintenance (by SACTU) of relatively "stable nuclei within the factories, semi-clandestine in nature and more durable in the face of management and state hostility than the more conventional forms of trade unions."
These small, tightly knit cores of conscious workers were constituted into factory committees; and the launching of the COP campaign in factories became the "key means of initiating the launch of these factory committees" . SACTU organisers concentrated on organising factories separately. They would draw up a programme of factory visits which involved going out to the factory gates and distribute propaganda material on the COP. Lunch hour meetings followed this with small groups of workers, which were 'intensive' in nature.
Organisers at their homes in the townships or at their union offices, where the issues surrounding the COP and the Charter and the need for factory organisation were both discussed, visited those workers who indicated a greater interest in SACT or Congress. They were asked to paste COP/SACT stickers in factories without being seen, and later to establish factory committees of likeminded workers in the factories. Aft this, wider meetings of workers were held on grassed are outside the factories, where demands were collected and brief discussed. Lambert, commenting on the significance of this process, makes the following points:
Workers had the right to full, democratic participation any future state, and they had the right to a dire contribution to debate over the future shape of that society. The COP was viewed as a process facilitating the growth alternative organs of government. This caught the imagination of workers contacted in this way and demand were sent in on a daily basis; and, the propaganda surrounding the COP created the immediate political consciousness in these small, newly establish groups. It was this consciousness that gave these groups stability that enabled them to constitute themselves as future mainstay of SACTU's factory organisation.
Billy Nair has also provided illuminating information relation to SACTU's efforts to penetrate unions belonging to Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) during the course of Congress of the People campaign. Although Nair's comments on this process are lengthy, they are worth reproducing in as it is an aspect of the campaign that has received no attention at all.
Apart from that, SACTU also went out to canvass the' affiliates of TUCSA and uncommitted unions as well. We had meetings directly in the factories of the TUCSA unions. We ignored wholly the leadership (of TUCSA) knowing that the leadership would not support any struggle of Congress," let alone Congress that they wouldn't support any political struggle whatsoever. So appeals were made direct to workers.... (Firstly) we distributed leaflets to the factories, to explain to workers what the COP was all about... Thereafter we got permission from the contacts (workers sympathetic to SACTU) that we had in the various factories to enter these factories and have group discussions with workers in little groups of about 30-40 workers.... We had succeeded in many instances in entering the cloakrooms of these factories illegally, that is without the management knowing, but with the workers actually collaborating.
This was done mainly in TUCSA unions. This was the irony of the situation. For example, we had very strong Congress Committees functioning in the Garment and Leather industries.... Workers were also prepared to collect demands by hand at the factory floor level and select delegates.... So during the campaign for the COP we were able to politicise the worker and draw him nearer to Congress and closer to the more progressive trade union movement, although they may have not breached their links with TUCSA and its reactionary leadership.
Lambert asserts that the Natal political and SACTU leadership were committed to maximising worker participation. Ensuring that workers elected at ANC meetings in the townships could not represent their factory as well enhanced this. Nair claims that the most "democratic methods" were used when delegates were elected. At factory floor level workers met independently and elected the best people””three, four, or five depending entirely on how much funds they were able to raise. In a smaller factory the workers were only able to muster a part of the fare and SACTU made up the balance to send at least one delegate. Approximately 1,500 pounds were raised by workers in a relatively short space of time in me Durban area which gives some indication of the sense of worker participation and enthusiasm created by the intense campaigning for the Congress of the People. In the final analysis, Lambert attributes this "stress on class composition rather than an exclusive focus on race alone as the controversial contribution of the Natal wing of the South African Communist Party which operated most dominantly through SACTU."
It will be remembered that in the Defiance Campaign of 1952/3 the smallest contingent of defiers, relative to the Transvaal and Cape, had come from Natal. Defiance activity was largely confined to the central Durban area. This pattern changed during' the Congress of the People campaign, In addition to the agitation, conducted in the major urban areas, extensive organisation and 3 mobilisation had been carried out in the rural areas. In many instances this was the first formal contact that Congress organisations had with rural residents and the objective of mass work here entailed introducing both the organisation and me campaign simultaneously. Although it has been difficult to obtain a crystal dear picture of these efforts, a general outline of political work does emerge.
A.S. Chetty, from the NIC asserts that the campaign was planned in such a way that activists operated in both rural and urban areas.
We did not plan our organisational programme with a view to just contacting people in urban areas. We planned it in such a way that we made sure we go out to the rural areas. Both ANC and NIC, together, went along to practically every house in the various districts surrounding Pietermaritzburg and its surroundings. Districts such as Willowfontein, Edendale, Plessislaer, Cato Ridge, Elandskop, men Richmond, as far as Greytown, Watburg; in the south: Harding, Escourt, Lions River, Howick right up to Ixopo (were covered). Chetty described the role of the chiefs and explained that in some areas (though not many) they played a direct and facilitating role in me campaign:
Chief Mini was one fellow who was very sympathetic. He was to a large extent responsible for calling up a few meetings in his area ... There were also some Chiefs in the Ladysmith area who were very sympathetic. They used to get their people together for us to come and speak to them.... The Chiefs would arrange for us to speak to them straight after church service.
Similarly, Reggie Vandeyar, an activist from the Transvaal Indian Congress who has spent several years on Robben Island with Harry Gwala and Stephen Dhlamini, remembers the two of them meeting "Gatsha Buthelezi and his people" to discuss the COP campaign. But he was quick to add that "he (Gatsha) was a better chap then." Dorothy Nyembe , from the ANC Women's League, recalls going personally to rural areas in Northern Natal such as Vryheid, Hlobane, in the Pietermaritzburg area to Utretch, Nqutu, Babanago and to Ingwavuma, Ixopo and Umzinkulu.
The number of delegates from the region to the COP itself can in part measure the success of the COP in Natal. A large total of 325 delegates represented the province at the COP. Shortly after the COP; the ANC (Natal) committed itself to (actively) propagate the Freedom Charter.
The campaign for the popularisation of the Freedom Charter the most important organisational task that faces Congress in the coming year. It will be necessary to organise mass meetings, conferences, local campaigns, classes, etc, on this issue, bearing in mind that our programme must not be put before the people in an abstract manner, but related to their everyday needs and problems.
The analysis provided thus far of the campaign in Natal sharply contradicts and belies Johnson's analysis of the NIC's contribution to and role in the COP campaign. He begins by asserting that within the "NIC, opposition to the COP existed. Campaign preparations were criticised because the NIC's organisation and finances were weak, because the general goal of adopting the Freedom Charter was too vague to attract Indian support and because the UN Declaration of Human Rights made the adoption of the Freedom Charter redundant." " He adds that "Provincial leaders were unable to organise the elaborate structures originally anticipated by the NAC" and mat one month before the COP the "Natal COP requested organisers" to please "keep in touch" with the Durban Secretariat, and to "let them know what you are doing, how many meetings you are calling and how many drives you have made and how many delegates you have organised." He finally concludes his investigation by citing a call to volunteers and ordinary residents to independently promote the COP campaign as a failure of the NIC. "Organisation," he says, "was abandoned in favour of spontaneity."
Johnson presents a glossed and simplistic picture of the COP campaign in Natal. Not only does he fail to point out exactly who in the NIC opposed the COP campaign and at what stage, and why precisely Indian people would not support the Freedom Charter, he has also failed to take into account the extensive campaigning that was undertaken by the NIC in conjunction with the Natal ANC and SACTU unions. A slight breakdown in administration and communication is interpreted as a fundamental organisational weakness, and an appeal encourage voluntary and independent mass support for the COP campaign is confused with spontaneity and lack of organisation. Johnson's limitation stems primarily from his heavy reliance on limited documentation and interviewing. His contribution has hardly helped to throw light on the roles and functions of the Regional COP Committees, the COP Area Action Committees, the trade unions and factory committees, the Congresses expansion into rural Natal and on the contributions of institutions and organisations that were up to then not firmly allied to the Congress movement, such as religious and cultural groups and tribal authorities.
The Cape Campaign for the Congress of the People ↵
Activity centred around the Congress of the People in the Cape, with the exception of the Western Cape, formally began with a joint meeting of the ANC (Cape) Provincial Executive and the Cradock Branch Executive on 11 September 1954." The rather late start is surprising as it will be remembered that it was in Cradock, Eastern Cape, that the initial idea of the COP was mooted, and one would have expected the region to have been in a state of readiness to launch the campaign as soon as it gained approval by the national organisations in May 1954.
Two factors explain this delay, both pointing to the severe disorganisation of the ANC in the Cape. T. Tshunungwa's report to the Cape Provincial Conference in 1955 stated, "This report does not present a rosy picture. It presents a situation bristling with difficulties and organisational hurdles ... we have to set our organisational house in order." This organisational disarray stemmed in part from the repression that was meted out to the ANC in the immediate post-Defiance Campaign period, and from internal disputes and a decline in membership. The banishment of leaders like Gwentshe and Lengisi and the banning of Dr. Njongwe, R. Matjie, G Tshume, R. Mhlaba, J. Matthews and Florence Matomela had "crippled the organisation." Moreover, most branches in the region were not functioning effectively and lacked a dynamic internal political life. Tshunungwa was to complain bitterly to the ANC National Executive, "The branch meetings (in the Western Cape that he had attended in January 1955) were a big disappointment, save Paarl. Those that I visited were merely in existence by name. Membership is low. There is nothing to credit the supposed branch leaders with."
A more serious problem, however, was the tension between the Western Cape Region and the Eastern Cape, where the provincial Head Office was located. This conflict can be traced back to June 1954 when the Western Cape branches of the ANC boycotted me Provincial Conference held in Port Elizabeth. Differences between the two regions centred around the breakdown in communication between the Western Cape and the Cape ANC Provincial Executive Committee. The Western Cape branches had apparently broken all their contact with the Provincial Executive, had acted independently and had chosen to report to and receive instructions directly from the ANC's National Executive. This conflict had its roots in a conflict over ANC policy. The Western Cape Region had supported the campaign for the election of Lee Warden as a "Native Representative" for the Western Cape.
The Eastern Cape ANC branches demanded the principled application of the boycott tactic that was embodied in the 1949 Programme of Action. A further source of hostility sprang from the prominent role played by the Congress of Democrats in the Western Cape, largely the result of the weakness of the ANC itself. Members of the ANC in the Eastern Cape expressed misgivings about the seeming loss of independence of the ANC, but were at pains to stress that their criticisms did not originate from the an Africanist inspiration:
What has caused this extreme form of confusion is to find the Congress of Democrat's men taking a lead in ANC meetings. We are the vanguard in the liberatory struggle and those of our people who are not yet well educated about this basis of cooperation...must not expose our allies to unnecessary attacks. A politically raw African who has been so much oppressed, exploited and victimised by Europeans sees red whenever a white face appears. This embarrassing situation, which to a great extent is caused by ignorance of politics and what the COP is driving at, should receive our serious concern since some of those who have this innate hatred of the white man are very influential in their areas."
So, a combination of internal political wrangling, state of repression and organisational inactivity contributed to the slackness of the province in so far as the Congress of the People Campaign was concerned. Nevertheless, a decision was taken by the joint meeting held on 11 September 1954 to invite representatives from various sponsoring organisations and regions in the Cape Province. This consultative meeting was held on 16 October 1954 in George and was attended by six representatives from the Western Cape (two each from ANC, SACPO and COD), three representatives from the Eastern Cape, and two each from the Cape Provincial Executive, the Border and North Eastern Cape Regions and T. E. Tshunungwa, the COP national organiser.
Unlike the other provinces, the COP campaign in the Cape Region as a whole did not begin with a provincial launch. Instead, a Provincial Action Council was first constituted at the meeting of 16 October, composed of two representatives of the sponsoring organisations from each region, viz. Western Province, South Western Province, Eastern Province, Border, Midlands, Transkei, North Eastern Cape and North Western Cape. A Provincial Action Council Organising Committee was elected and, the following persons held office: G. Komani (East London) / Chairperson; Ben Turok (Cape Town) ,Vice-Chairperson; E. Tshunungwa/Administrative Secretary; E. Mfaxa (Stutterheim), Provincial Organiser; G. Ngotyana (Cape Town) Regional Organiser, P. Mashibini (Queenstown), Treasurer and C. Mayekiso (Port Elizabeth), no portfolio. Queenstown was to serve as the Provincial headquarters of the Provincial Action Council. Each region was mandated at the meeting to establish Regional Action Council for the COP and to organise a public launch of the campaign.
By this time””for the reasons previously discussed””the Western Cape had already held a launching conference for the COP at the Cape Town City Hall on 10 August 1954, where the Cape Western Action Council of the COP had been set up. G. Ngotyana was elected the regional organiser for the campaign. Invitations were extended to some 200 organisations and each was requested to send four delegates. Only 27 organisations eventually attended””six trade union?, the Federation of South African Women, the Cape Peace Council, a number of vigilance organisations and the Liberal Party.
Once again the police raided the Regional COP Conference, which was presided over by L. Lee””Warden, National Vice-Chairperson of the Congress of Democrats. "They searched the pockets and briefcases of many delegates . . . including trade unionists, housewives, advocates and medical specialists," reported the bulletin of the NAC. It also stated that all 300 delegates registered as volunteers.
The delegates had come from the following areas in the region: Elsies River, Retreat, Kensington, Sea Point, Paarl, Worcester, Athlone, Cape Town, Mowbray, Nyanga, Eerste Rivier, Huguenot, Langa, Hermanus, Claremont, Kolenhof, Wellington, Stellenbosch, Welcome and Rohlenhof.
The credentials committee reported that representatives of the following organisations were present: Muslim Progressive Society, Food and Canning Workers' Union, African Food and Canning Workers' Union, African Textile Workers' Union, Tin Workers' Union, Liberal Party Housewives' League, South Africa Club, Xmas Club, People's Clothing Club, Cape Peace Council, South African Railway Workers' Union, Athlone Traders Association, Student Democratic Association, Church of Congress, and several vigilance associations. "Some of the people eventually elected to the Western Cape Regional COP Committee were: S. Bunting, Ben Turok, T. Ngwenya, George Peake, J. Nkatlo, Lofty Adams and Archie Sibeko.
Whilst it has not been possible for them to construct a coherent and comprehensive picture of the full breadth of the campaign in the Western Cape, certain broad features are noticeable. Various methods were used to mobilise people for the COP campaign. These included meetings in the locations, local conferences, regional conferences and the 'traditional' public rallies at the Parade in Cape Town. From the available records, Parade rallies were held on 31 October 1954,12 February 1955, 1 May 1955 and 8 June 1955 and they attracted any number between 400 and 1,000 people. Prominent speakers included J. Mtini, Annie Salinga, George Peake, Dora Tamana, and Ben Turok who dealt with various topics ranging from the Congress of the People, me formation of SACTU, the Anti-Bantu Education Campaign and Anti-Western Areas Removal Campaigns. At these various meetings the COP was popularised and demands collected for inclusion in the Freedom Charter.
In February 1955, Ben Turok explained that: the COP is not an organisation that plans a violent revolution such as the government makes it out to be. The COP is a conference ... at which the representatives of the people of South Africa, irrespective of race, will come together to draw up a charter called the Freedom Charter ... You will say in that Charter how you want to be ruled, how you think workers should be remunerated for their labour." In the Western Cape the campaign did lead to an extension of Congress organisation. In various areas Joint Action Committees or United Action Committees of the COP were established which coordinated and planned the campaign at local level. Suttner has cited the work of the Worcester United Action Council which took the initiative in convening a conference of local organisations in the area, which was followed in September 1954 by a six-week campaign of local conferences”” under the auspices of the Joint Action Committee (Western Cape)””to set up area committees and enrol volunteers."
The Secretary of the Cape Western Region Committee of the COP, G. Ngotyana, reported to the National Action Council that in the region "a fair number of COP committees (have been) set up and they are sending in demands to us ... we have also issued directives to these committees to, hold preliminary local conferences on 27 March 1955 where they will discuss methods of elections ... to be followed by an election conference in April."
Propaganda for the COP campaign was conducted through the publication of a COP bulletin in the region called "Congressman" . Moreover, several people, who were interviewed, recalled the "organising function" of the New Age newspaper in the Western Cape. Various Congress activists had fixed rounds for the sale of the publication and over a period of time these had become more established political contacts. During the COP campaign these networks””at bus ranks, 'house rounds' or at the station””had been used to popularise the COP campaign, draw references to articles in the newspaper about the COP, collect demands and keep groups of people informed of the development of the campaign.
It appears that the trade union movement in the Cape as a whole had been more active at all levels of the COP campaign than was the case in the Transvaal. Not only did they participate at the formal launching conferences of the COP campaign, but they also took an active organisational interest in the process of mobilisation and canvassing for the COP. Liz Abrahams recalled that in the Paarl "most of the collecting of demands was done by SACTU people. SACTU leader Archie Sibeko went around collecting. Sibeko would go from house to house." Alvin Bennie has described how the Port Elizabeth SACTU local committee mobilised workers around the campaign:
"The workers responded with enthusiasm and we worked day and night preparing for the COP.... That campaign helped us a lot.... The workers would bring their demands to the office after work.... We set up small committees, not only for the Congress, but we would organise a committee of workers so that they could continue with the work of organising for the trade unions””in the dairies, laundries, road construction, with building workers, railway workers etc. The real organising of the workers was boosted by the campaign . . . they had something to keep them together to discuss common problems.... We explained that workers must unite, have a union to represent them. Similarly, Christmas Tinto, who was organising for the Railway Workers' Union, remembered having groups of meetings with railway workers in an attempt to mobilise worker interest in and support for the COP."
The campaign in the Eastern Cape was launched on 26 September 1954 at the Muslim Institute Hall, presumably in Port Elizabeth. ANC branches in this region were called upon to arrange regional conferences before 23 October in me following areas to provide "detailed explanations on the campaign for the COP" :
Kimberley Branch... area between Kimberley and Mafikeng. Queenstown Branch . . . Herschel, Aliwal Norm. East London . . .King Williamstown, Peddie and Stutterheim. Fort Beaufort . . . Alice, Middledrift, Bedford. Cradock . . . Midlands Region. Umtata . . . Transkei Region.
What exactly transpired at these conferences is not known, but Tshunungwa informed the NAC that the "Province has been well-zoned into 8 regions and Regional Action Councils formed with the following regional secretaries: Cape Midlands”” Mrs. J. Notwala, Western Border Region””Kenneth Eastern Border Region””E. A. Mfaxa, North Western Region””0. Che, North Eastern Region - Miss B. Sondlo. Transkei ””D. Sanana." He had also addressed the Cape ANC Youth League Conference held in Queenstown where he had a "splendid opportunity to speak at length on the COP" concluded his report by adding that "they (the youth) returned home very dear and will work hard in their areas get on with the campaign."
By all indications, the Eastern Cape appears to have conducted an extensive and intensive campaign cutting across urban townships and rural districts. In Korsten, the Korsten Action Committee of the COP was composed of 11 members, 171 volunteer group leaders for the area and a total of 274 volunteers." The New Brighton branch claimed to have sent "more than 50 delegates" to the COP." Wilson Fanti recounted that Port Elizabeth "was a very strong place. There was a strong leadership of people like the comrade in prison””Mbeki (now Deputy President of the Senate), Dr. James Njongwe and Raymond Mhlaba” It was this strength of the urban townships mat enabled the Cape Eastern Provincial Council to undertake extensive political work during me COP campaign in the rural districts.
Both Edgar Ngoyi and Wilson Fanti recalled volunteers campaigning in the rural areas of Mgwali, Stutterheim, Peddie, King Williamstown, Transkei and Pondoland. The demands in these areas centred on the shortage of land. Likewise, Mrs. Sibanda and Mrs. Calata have provided exceptionally interesting accounts to Suttner and Cronin of their work and the issues that the people of Cradock were concerned about. For them "freedom" was not an abstract political concept, but had to be linked to me concrete conditions of people's existence in a specific area, like the shortage of food and wood for fire, expensive school uniforms and high school fees and sanitation facilities."
On the eve of the Congress of the People, the New Age reported that the Transkei Labourers' Organisation demanded shorter working hours for African labourers working 16-18 hours a day on white farms and 'better pay'. It mentioned also that the Thembu tribe of the Tulendivile section of Duncan Village had submitted demands and delegates. It was the strength of the ANC in the Eastern Cape that contributed to Tshunungwa's early optimism about the success of the campaign in that region. As early as October 1954 he replied to the NAC that he had "a good few . . . keen men to spread the gospel" in the rural areas.
One week before the Congress of the People me ANC (Cape) held its provincial conference where the Cape President congratulated all "those who have worked to bring this campaign to a successful culmination" " and the conference adopted the following resolution proposed by J. Calata:
This conference meeting on the eve of the forthcoming historic COP and being aware of the enthusiasm of the people of South Africa for peace among all sections of the population in our beloved country, salute all delegates to the Convocation in the belief that me Freedom Charter to be formulated shall alone be able to restore peace and order to our multi-national society.
Congress of the People Campaign in the Orange Free State ↵
The Congress Movement in the Orange Free State was weak despite the fact that the Africanists had supported Dr. J. Moroka as presidential candidate for the ANC in 1949. In the period 1950-1954 the region was beset with chronic problems. The leadership in the persons of J.M. Nthakha and P. B. Pheteni, provincial president and secretary respectively, was inconsistent and politically ineffective. Furthermore, the provincial executive committee suffered from a severe shortage of funds and a feeling of alienation as a result of being geographically remote from the beehive of political activity””the urban centres””in the country.
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the COP campaign did have a limited impact on an otherwise politically dormant province. The momentum of the COP campaign, coupled with the election of a new 15 person provincial executive committee in September 1954, did stimulate interest in the wider political developments and in the ANC, particularly in Bloemfontein and Kroonstad. The Kroonstad ANC secretary, V. Motumi, enthusiastically informed OFS ANC president, Mafora, of me new political developments in his area in 1955:
We are very glad to have had a visitor here in me person of C. Matshobi who opened our eyes and minds to a movement that we long wanted to know its all about....
We are already moving on M-Plan accordingly. Please register our branch in no time. It appears that the National Action Council of the Congress of the People did take an interest in the renewed activity in the province, and took' steps to assist in the region. A special conference was held on 5 December 1954 in Bloemfontein to discuss plans for the Congress of the People. The NAC despatched T. Mpomela to Bloemfontein to "assist in the formation of COP committees" and "to help make (the) conference a success" .
It has been extremely difficult to gather information on the patterns of mobilisation for the campaign in the OFS, but it would be correct to assume mat organisational work was carried out exclusively in the name of the ANC. Several demands coming from me Bachabelo Location in Bloemfontein indicated that some amount of organisational and mass political work had been undertaken during the COP campaign. Some of the demands are listed below:
- I) If I was to make the laws that govern the country, I would see to it that justice is done to all;
- II) That every man should have the choice of where to work and where to live freely;
- III) I would like to see to it that housing is adequate and that everyone has healthy food;
- IV) I would like to see it that our police are trained in such a way that they become the guardians of the nation rather than enemies or a nuisance as they turn out to be at times.
The province itself had sent eleven delegates to the COP and a sum of £28-14.8 had to be collected for the purpose. Despite this sketchy outline of the COP campaign, it is apparent that a political revival had taken place in the province. Membership in the Bloemfontein branch increased from 170 in September 1954 to 240 by September 1956. At a provincial conference held on 9 September 1956 there were 25 mandated delegates representing an aggregate membership of about five hundred from Bloemfontein, Bethlehem, Ficksburg, Thaba' Nchu and Kroonstad.
Finally, the following resolution adopted at the 1955 Provincial Conference does indicate that notwithstanding the difficulties and limited strength of the ANC in the OFS, the region made an important contribution to the scope of political work and morale of the Congress:
The Conference passes a vote of confidence in Chief A.J. Luthuli's leadership and his National Executive Committee, and supported the pledge of a million signatures for the Freedom Charter. Thus far I have discussed the origins, the political objectives, me national organisational structure of the Congress of the People campaign and provided a cursory study of its unfolding process in Natal, Cape Province and the Orange Free State. No attempt will be made at this stage to evaluate the successes and deficiencies of the campaign in the light of the political goals of the sponsoring organisations, but it should have become apparent to the reader that from province to province, from area to area, the campaign was implemented with various degrees of efficiency.
This in turn, was dependant upon a host of factors ranging from the material conditions and social background of the masses, the past traditions of struggle, the level of organisational development and preparedness, the initiative and creativity of the freedom volunteers, the effects of state repression and the level of political consciousness of the masses. Yet it can be said that despite this uneveness of me campaign from place to place, it certainly acted as a political catalyst upon the Congresses themselves and the thousands of people that the campaign had reached. This will be more evident from the next chapter, which provides a detailed account and evaluation of the patterns of mobilisation and organisation of the Campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter in the Transvaal.
Launching of the Cop Campaign
A prelude to the launch of the Congress of the People Campaign in the Transvaal was the Western Areas Day for Campaign and Solidarity and the Resist Apartheid Conference held at the Trades Hall, Johannesburg, on the weekend of 26 June 1954. The objectives of the campaign and the conference were to highlight the plight of those threatened with forced removals from the Western Areas, to pledge solidarity with them, and to coordinate activities aimed against apartheid. Luthuli, in his capacity as President of the African National Congress and Volunteer-in-Chief for the COP, made the first public call for 50,000 Freedom Volunteers to engage in the Resist Apartheid Campaign and work for the COP. The day itself was historically significant for the Congresses as it was on this day that the first national political strike and the Defiance Campaign were launched by the ANC and its allies in 1950 and 1952 respectively.
The formal launch of the Transvaal COP campaign occurred a month later on 25 July 1954. The Conference was sponsored by the Transvaal ANC, Transvaal Indian Congress, SACPO (Transvaal) and COD branches in the province, and was opened by Dr. Wilson Conco, Natal ANC President. Organisations invited to me Conference were requested to send four delegates each. The credentials committee reported the presence of UFS delegates.
Joe Slovo , speaking on the topic of "What is the Congress of the People?" referred to it as the "Volkswill - the true will of the people of South Africa" and Ahmed Kathrada outlined the need for and roles of 15,000 volunteers to spearhead the campaign in the province. The conference itself was spirited and at one stage the Special Branch was forced to leave the hall as a court order had been granted instructing the police not to interfere with the proceedings of the conference. The COP bulletin described the mood of the delegates as follows:
Now the police moved””they were near the door, but this was surely their longest, most humiliating journey. The feeling of the crowd broke forth in tumultuous shouts, the booing of twelve hundred triumphant throats. There is still justice left. A sum of 100 pounds was collected on that day for the campaign in the Transvaal. The delegates adopted the following resolution:
this conference, representing the people of the Transvaal, welcomes with enthusiasm the plan to hold the great Congress of the People. We believe that this campaign, drawing in every section of the population and reaching to every comer of the land, will raise to new heights the struggle of our people for freedom and democracy. We, therefore, resolve to do all in our power to spread the message of the COP and to gather in the demands of our people for the Freedom Charter, and, in particular, we are determined to implement the call from Chief Luthuli for 15,000 volunteers from the Transvaal.
At the end of the conference the Transvaal Action Council (TAC) for the COP was elected on the model of the National Action Council. E.P. Moretsele was elected chairperson of the TAC and A.E. Patel its secretary. Some other members serving on the TAC were:
J.Sibande, R.Press, A.Kathrada, H.Barzel, V.Weinberg, S.Saley, S.Lollan, B-Maliwa, E.Motsoaledi, R-Resha, G.Motsabi, G.Matseke, S.Shall, H-Feinstein and S.S. le Pere.
Freddie Morris was subsequently appointed the provincial organiser for the COP in the Transvaal. At a later stage representatives of the Food and Canning Workers Union and the Council of Non-European Trade Unions were given full representation on the TAC, and by March 1955 the Resist Apartheid Committee had merged with the provincial COP structure so as to better coordinate the campaign as the COP drew closer.
The TAC met on a weekly basis following its formation, but very rarely did its full complement attend after the initial meetings. For the better part of its existence a consistent core of two or three persons from each of the sponsoring organs met regularly. It is not clear whether this was a collective decision to make the TAC more functional, or whether some participants failed to take a consistent interest in the development of the campaign. The latter explanation seems to apply after January 1955. A letter to the ANC secretary in the Transvaal from the NAC recommended that the Transvaal Executive Committees of the sponsoring organisations should constitute themselves into the TAC. The reason for the above decision is the fact that the progress of the COP in the Transvaal is not very encouraging and that the COP shall be held in the Transvaal. We believe that if the work is undertaken by the full executives, the position will be considerably improved.
What is also unclear is the relationship between the TAC and members of the Congress leadership such as Marks, Mandela, Sisulu, Dadoo and others, all of whom had been forced out of formal political activity due to bans and restrictions. The names of people serving on the TAC indicate that the majority represented a "new layer of leadership" and these were in direct informal consultation with the "first level leadership" . For example, and activist in the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC) at mat time vividly remembers Moses Kotane addressing an informal meeting on the COP. Similarly, Dr. Dadoo and other restricted TIC leaders had been kept informed regularly of political developments, problems and issues through Ahmed Kathrada who served on the TIC, TIYC and the TAC.
A full meeting of the TAC and branch secretaries of sponsoring organisations on 21 August 1954 endorsed a detailed plan for the campaign that was drawn up by the TAC, and agreed to the division of the Transvaal into 15 regions. These were:
- 1) MARICO - RUSTENBURG: Zeerust, Groot Marico, Ottosloop, Rustenburg, Thabazimbi;
- 2) LICHTENBERG - BLOEMHOF - WOLMARANSTAD:
- Lichtenberg, Coligny, Delareysville, Bloemhof, Taungs, Scweizer-Reneke, Wolmaranstad, Christiana, Maquasi;
- 3) POTCHEFSTROOM: Potchefstroom. Klerksdorp, Ventersdorp, Orkney, Biyvooruitzicht;
- 4) WATERBERG: Nylstroom, Potgietersrust, Warmbaths, Naboomspruit;
- 5) PRETORIA: Pretoria, Brits, and Bronkhorstspruit;
- 6) JOHANNESBURG: Western Region - Sophiatown, Newclare, Coronationville, and Western Native Township;
- SOUTH WESTERN REGION - Dube, Pimville, Moroka, Jabavu, Orlando, White City, Kliptown, Albertsville;
- NORTHERN REGION - Alexandra, Kensington, Wynberg;
- CENTRAL- REGION - Fordsburg, Vrededorp, City and all suburbs;
- 7) WEST RAND: Krugersdorp, Florida, Randfontein, Roodepoort, Maraisburg;
- 8) EAST RAND: Genniston, Natalspruit, Edenvale, Alberton, Kempton Park, Modderfontein, Boksburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Springs, Delmas;
- 9) HEIDELBERG - VEREENIGING: Heidelberg, Vereeniging, Balfour, Greylingstad, Nigel, Vanderbijlpark, Meyerton, Evaton;
- 10) ZOUTPANSBERG - LETABA: Pietersburg, Leydsdorp, Louis Trichardt, Tzaneen, Messina;
- 11) BETHAL - ERMELO: Bethal, Ermelo, Amsterdam;
- 12) MIDDELBURG: Middelburg, Komdraai, Oogies, Witbank;
- 13) BARBERTON - CAROLINA: White River, Barberton, Nelspruit, Komatipoort, Machadodorp, Carolina;
- 14) STANDERTON - WAKKERSTROOM - Piet Retief: Standerton, Volksrust, Amersfoort, Wakkerstroom, Piet Retief; and
- 15) LYDENBURG - SEKUKUNILAND: Lydenburg, Belfast, Ohrigstad, Pilgrims Rest.
The objective of this division was to coordinate the COP campaign on a decentralised basis through regional COP committees, and to extend the Congress's organisational presence throughout the Transvaal.
Campaign in the Urban Areas ↵
The first phase of the campaign entailed large scale distribution of the Call to the Congress of the People and the explanation of the COP to the activists and masses, the enrolment of Freedom Volunteers and the creation of regional and local COP committees.
By September 1954 a Volunteer Board had been established specifically to enrol volunteers, to recruit supporters for the campaign, to provide a basic education on the nature, scope and political objectives of the COP campaign, and to ensure that organisations were ready to begin the campaign at a mass level. R. Resha, A. Kathrada, H. Feinstein and S. Shall constituted the Volunteer Board. A booklet entitled Welcome Freedom Volunteer was distributed to every volunteer, and members of the Volunteer Board led discussions. The booklet described the volunteer as "something special" , a "student and a teacher of freedom" . It emphasised the need for discipline and loyalty to the Congresses, the need to build unity between the Congresses and all sections of the population, to strengthen organisation, to inform and educate the masses, to listen and lead them into struggle."
Between September and November 1954, the Volunteer Board had engaged in an intensive phase of activity. Volunteer meetings were held in Sophiatown; Western Native Township, Alexandra, Germiston, Orlando, Moroka, White City, Jabavu, Newclare, Dube, Pimville, Eastern Native Township, Heidelberg, Coronationville, Kliptown, Central Johannesburg, Krugersdorp, Randfontein, Roodepoort, Natalspruit, Edenvale, Alberton, Boksburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Springs and Pretoria. At these meetings Freedom Volunteers were officially registered and a "volunteer oath" sworn. In Pretoria, for example, 166 volunteers were registered at one meeting, and their immediate task was to distribute THE CALL TO THE COP." In addition. Freedom Volunteers also had to distribute a fortnightly bulletin called FORWARD TO FREEDOM issued by the TAC, which explained political developments and the progress of me COP campaign.
The Freedom Volunteers had to work towards establishing and deepening organisation. It became their responsibility to establish regional and local COP committees, preferably before the end of November 1954. Guidelines prepared by the TAC suggested that priority had to be given to the establishment of regional COP committees on the East Rand, West Rand, Johannesburg and Pretoria. "With regard to the remaining regions, especially the rural areas and reserves, a call will have to be made to the Witwatersrand volunteers to give their part time services. Arrangements must be made forthwith for the Transvaal (ANC) President, Moretsele, and someone else, for a two-week tour to all the reserves in the Transvaal . . . with a view to establishing contacts and small committees, especially in large reserves such as Sekhukhuneland, which also happens to be his home."
The formation of these regional and local COP committees, however, proved to be a slower and more difficult task than was anticipated by TAC. For example, the National Action Council of the COP had to urge all provincial and regional committees that "by 30 January 1955 local and regional committees of the COP must be established." By March 1955 the province had only five out of fifteen operational regional committees, all located in the main urban centres, viz., Johannesburg Central, Pretoria, East Rand, West Rand and Evation. In these cases existing Congress branches and networks were 'transformed' into regional committees. In the absence of established contacts and networks beyond the Pretoria”” Witwatersrand””Vereeniging industrial complex, the aim of quickly setting up coordinating structures was unrealistic. However, what must be recognised (and will be discussed later in this chapter) is that through the COP campaign the first systematic attempt was made by the Congresses to reach out to the vast rural stretches of the Transvaal.
The functions of the local COP committees were to propagate the idea of the COP and clarify its scope and character through meetings and leaflets, to educate Freedom Volunteers, to provide a coordinating centre for COP activities, to gather demands at a local level and to organise local elections for delegates to attend the COP.
These committees must make certain that every one around them, workers, peasants, housewives, students, teachers know what the COP is and why they must send in their demands to the Congress. These committees must help ANC committees to make certain that every reads the CALL TO THE COP, the bulletins, the pamphlets and lecture notes. These committees must see that all demands to be put into the Freedom Charter are sent to the provincial councils now.
In most instances existing branches and activist cores of the ANC, ANCYL, ANCWL, TIC, TIYC, SACPO and COD pooled their human and financial resources and set up local COP committees to carry out the day-to-day organisational tasks relating to the campaign. At the end of the campaign the NAC noted that "only a negligible number of local committees were set up. Our failure to do this resulted in the COP not being as representative as it might otherwise have been. It must however be recorded that in a number of areas the existing units of the sponsoring organisations were strengthened and activised as a result of the COP campaign." But the extent of organisational work undertaken at a local, grassroots level””as is borne by the interviews in Suttner and Cronin's book as well as my own-should not be underestimated. Between the four Congresses there was an organisational presence””however uneven””in over fifty areas, and campaign work appears to have been undertaken in most of them.
Of the five regional COP committees, the Johannesburg Central Regional Committee was the most active and organised. Serving on the committee were S. Esakjee, 'Mervie' Thandray, F Adams, M. Goldberg, June Shabangu, P. Mathole, F. Morris, Sophie Williams and L. Morrison. The COP bulletin Speaking Together, described the activities of volunteers as follows:
"The Call leaflet is being spread throughout Johannesburg by volunteers, who call house to house in Orlando and other areas, and who talk to everyone they meet in the townships." Eliot Shabangu, who called himself an "active organiser street level" in Dube, was an ANC and SACTU activist. He explained that the ANC Dube branch members and volunteers constituted a local COP committee and divided the area into four blocks for the purposes of organising house-to-house visits and distributing political propaganda.
Similarly, Phillip Matthews remembered going "house-to-house and door-to door delivering leaflets" in Orlando West. "We would sit down and talk to people about the COP. Some people wanted to know why we are joining up with (democratic) whites when they were oppressing them. So we had to explain the need for this and discuss with people the role of the Congress of Democrats"
Podile Kgasago, Chairperson of the ANC Mofolo branch in 1955, recounted that five delegates represented the branch at the Congress of the People. Volunteers went "house””to house speaking to people and public meetings were held" to discuss the COP. As many people had been recently resettled in Mofolo they spoke about the "skeleton houses, which had no plaster, no electricity and no tiles, etc." In addition, they thought that the "rents were too high" and they spoke out against removals and Bantu education.
Reggie Vandeyar and Suliman Esakjee, both TIC activists, recounted that "extensive work" was done by the TIC in Fordsburg, Vrededorp, Doornfontein, Alexandra Township, Jeppe, Malay Camp, Asiatic Bazaar/ Pretoria , Sophiatown, Newclare, Martindale, Benoni, Nigel, Springs, Germiston, Kliptown , Denver, Newlands, Turfontein, Ophirton, and in Coronationville, Noordgesig and Albertsville with SACPO. Initially groups of volunteers would go out to distribute "advanced propaganda" and to discuss the campaign with residents on a house-to-house basis. Thereafter, depending on the strength of the organisation in the area, a public meeting or house meeting would be convened to elaborate on the campaign, to explain what was expected from the people and to emphasise the need for direct participation of the people in the campaign either as volunteers or by the submitting of demands and the election of delegates. These meetings often discussed political issues of the day such as the introduction of Bantu Education, the threat of removals from Western Areas and local grievances.
Esakjee recalls the link between the COP campaign and the Anti-Western Areas Removal Campaign:
" ... (at) that time there was a big uproar about the removal of Sophiatown. The people being under the threat of being removed made more demands. First of all, the demand, 'we don't want to be moved'. We combined both campaigns" . David Mahopo, a Sophiatown resident at the time, corroborated this viewpoint: "In Sophiatown, we were organising by street... and telling them about the COP and collecting demands. We have leaders in every street. They first go to each house. After that they call a meeting in a certain house in a street. They get demands at these meetings."
But it was the failure of the Congress movement as a whole to defend the people of Sophiatown and provide effective action-orientated leadership in the face of enforced removals that drew the following honest, self-critical assessment of the Anti-Western Areas Removal Campaign from the NAC; " (the Congresses) at no stage managed successfully to link the COP with the day-toÂday struggles of the people. Had we worked properly in this regard the campaign, e.g., against the removal scheme, instead of bringing the COP to a virtual standstill in the Transvaal, would have raised it to greater heights" .
Ellen Lambert, official of the South African Coloured People's Organisation, recollected the challenging, but rewarding, task of organising in the Transvaal Coloured sector. "I worked in Fordsburg, Malay Camp, Albertsville, Coronationville, Newclare, Noordgesig and Ferreirastown" . For her the "whole motive" behind the campaign was to politicise people. "Among the older people, we had a tough time, because they refused to listen to us. They would say, 'Julle is communist' (You are communists). But the younger people, the garment workers, they understood. The people in Coronationville particularly expressed their views" . Confronted by deeply entrenched racist tendencies among some, the struggle of ideas and the need to change consciousness and build SACPO became more apparent to her.
So you go to the door and say, "I'm from SACPO" . People would respond, "Nou wat is dit nou?" "I'll then say we are involved with the ANC" . "Maarjulle is met die kaffers and koelies. Nee man, ek will nie luister nie." So we had a real tough time.... There were other people who genuinely wanted to better their position. At No. 4 Marshall Street there were something like 42 rooms and in each room, in some instances, there were families with sons and daughters J who were married.... We'd speak to the people there about the conditions under which they were living. Did they think, it was right for people to live like that? They'd agree and also question why they had to live like that. Part of the problem, according to Lambert, was that Acre was not any real tradition of resistance amongst coloureds in the Transvaal. "The people in the Cape were more politicized," she noted.
Secondly, SACPO was a recently formed organisation, and in the Transvaal it was weakly rooted among the coloured people.
A leaflet issued by SACPO stated:
The African and Indian sections of the oppressed non-European people have made great strides in the fight for freedom by organising their people and establishing an ANC and a SAIC, respectively. But what about the Coloured people? Can we point to any organisation of our own which can take its place with the ANC, SAIC and the SACOD and other democratic organisations in the common struggle? Or are we so childish so as to believe that the oppressive measures launched by the government do not affect us? The leaflet continued by urging that the coloured people join SACPO and "enter the struggle to make S.A. a land of freedom. Protect your homes' Protect the future of your children. Support the Congress of the People" .
To a large extent me various Congresses took responsibility for their own sectors and people. But there were instances when non-racial groupings of volunteers campaigned jointly and ensured that at least one person could speak the vernacular so as to facilitate communication and engage in meaningful discussions. Vandeyar provided the following explanation:
In many areas we went out in linguistic groups””Gugarati, Urdu, Tamil, etc.””so as to facilitate communication with ordinary elderly people as well. Sometimes an interpreter went with us. When we went to African areas this was important. A fair amount of work was done with African comrades. When we went to Alexandra and Kliptown, for instance, Indian and African comrades went together. I must add that African comrades did not work in Indian areas.
Although reflecting on it now, I think it would have been a healthy sort of thing. In some areas there were racially mixed residents. This was very healthy and people responded quite well to a mixed activist grouping. Political activity and campaigning in the white sector was more challenging and less productive. For example, COD branches in Hillbrow, Bellevue and the Northern Areas had "constituted themselves as COP local committees" and called up "eleven house meetings of contacts and sympathisers to tell them about the COP and to gather in demand?" The attendance at these meetings was "rather small" and the COD ruled out the possibilities of holding further meetings, concluding that "it is very difficult to get Europeans to attend (COP) meetings."
What is evident is that the Johannesburg Central Regional Committee acted as the backbone of the COP campaign in the Transvaal. Having under its direction several hundred volunteers drawn from the ranks of the four Congresses and the trade unions, it was able to muster volunteer teams or units to play a supportive role in other urban townships beyond Johannesburg as well as send out units to the rural stretches of the province.
Primary research material on the remaining urban areas is extremely thin and what follows, therefore, is a bare sketch of the campaign on the East and West Rands and in Pretoria and Evaton. It appears that these areas experienced greater difficulties in organising the campaign and setting up regional coordinating structures. The regional COP committees in these areas were only established in 1955. In the case of the East Rand, J. Nkadimeng reported to the TAC in January 1955 that the volunteers there requested permission to establish an East Rand Regional Committee. This committee, as well as those in the West Rand and Evaton, were only formed in March 1955.
The reasons for these organisational delays were twofold. Firstly, in areas outside of Johannesburg, the organisational responsibility for the campaign rested mainly on the ANC branches, as both the TIC and/or the SACPO had very narrow organisational bases in Evaton, Benoni, Pretoria and Krugersdorp. Here the ANC lacked the active organisational support and alliance that it enjoyed in the Johannesburg region. Secondly, in the case of the East Rand particularly, the Bantu Education boycott had become the main focus of political activity in late 1954 and early 1955, consequently absorbing the political energy and efforts of the ANC branches and political networks.
The West Rand Regional Committee was fully active I May 1955 and was composed of one SACPO representative, two TIC activists and seven ANC members from Krugersdorp and Roodepoort. It had employed its regional secretary, K. Mpho, as a fulltime organiser from May 1955, and he was instructed to visit Luipaardsvlei, Cape Coloured Section, Randfontein, Venterspost and Krugersdorp. It had also established a three-person transport committee, which was to be responsible for the transportation of delegates to the COP. 31 Esakjee and Cajee recalled a key TIC activist in the West Rand, Salim Saley, and the COP committee there being active in Luipaardsvlei, Munsieville, Wolmaranstad and Krugersdorp.
The Pretoria Regional Action Committee was only established in early 1955, and before its formation virtually no COP activity was undertaken in the area. The main reason for this was that the Pretoria ANC branch executive committee had resigned in 1953 due to a financial dispute with the ANC head office in Johannesburg. However, due to the efforts of the remaining loyal ANC members, most notably Peter Magano, a Pretoria Action Committee had been established with the following members:
David Rapudi, Peter Magano, Simon Brander, George Mboweni and Griffiths Theko in the time that was left before the Congress of the People, the Pretoria Action Committee had succeeded in popularising the COP and gathering demands. The methods used included regular Sunday meetings at the Freedom Square in Lady Selborne, house-to-house campaigning and small meetings with organisations such as the "Mokhaliso" (Sunday gatherings of men in streets) and the "Manyano" (women's church groups). The areas in which the campaign was conducted were Lady Selborne, Atteridgeville, East-wood, Mamelodi, Eersterus, Riverside and Storm.
Trade union activity in the area had been negligible, apart from the union work carried out in the name of the General Workers' Union led by one Stephen Tefu. Mogano recounted that the trade unions were "very weak" and the majority of the workers were "disillusioned with the General Workers' Union" because of Tefu's poor handling of the Deluxe Laundry workers' strike and politically "dishonest approach" . Despite these shortcomings, the COP campaign, together with the women's protests against passes, stimulated political activity in Pretoria "so much so that the Special Branch put its effort on Lady Selborne" .
In Evaton, the TIC had a strong presence among the 100 odd Indian families, all of whom were active supporters of the organisation. The octogenarian, Ismail Jada, remembers that Mohammed 'Bob' Asmal, Suliman Nathie and Daya Gopal served with him on the TIC Evaton COP Committee, but was unable to provide details about the methods of mobilisation and the degree of participation by the people of Evaton in the campaign. Being a small constituency it is likely that the area was intensively covered with full discussions with families. Jada also remembers that "good contact" was maintained with the ANC in the Evaton township, but could not remember the names of the leadership.
These delays in the formation of regional COP committees does not necessarily imply that campaigning for the COP was non-existent in the locations on the outskirts of Johannesburg. In a number of areas local COP committees had been formed by late 1954 and the campaign for the COP had been launched in one way or another. Freddie Morris had visited Boksburg, Benoni, Germiston, Krugersdorp and Klerksdorp, and reported to the TAC that local COP committees had been set up in Lady Selborne, Germiston and Klerksdorp. Likewise; the mid-September 1954 issue of Speaking Together reported the existence of a local COP committee in Germiston.
These local committees seemed to have experienced numerous organisational difficulties. One such difficulty appears to be the misconception on the part of some committees as to the exact nature of the Congress of the People. Freddie Morris noted in his report that from "all the branches that I have visited it has been my knowledge that the people know about the COP, but take it to be a different organisation from the ANC. This has come not only from individuals, but from branch officials as well, despite the conferences that were held at the Trades Hall where the delegates were explained what the COP is " This indicates that some volunteers understood the campaign to mean the creation of a new organisation embracing different racial groups, which would replace the ANC. Obviously, to have organised for such a task would have appeared to be a daunting responsibility.
Another problem was the weakness of the existing ANC branches, which found it difficult to conduct a campaign for a prolonged period. As late as May 1955 the TAC secretary, P. Mathole, urged the Pretoria volunteers to persist with the campaign. His letter added that "we fully appreciate your difficulties in organising for the Congress of the People... and we hope that your region will find itself in a position to double the efforts in organising the people of Pretoria... in spite of the difficulties." The weakness of the Pretoria area is attested to by Esakjee who said, "Congress was not strong in Pretoria" and that the activists from "Johannesburg had to assist the region. "In contrast, volunteers from Orlando who went to the East Rand reported that Brakpan "was strong" , but "Benoni was weak" .
What emerges thus far is that in the suburbs and locations immediately surrounding Johannesburg, the campaign was both extensive and intensive in character. Apart from the normal distribution of leaflets and COP propaganda the regional and local COP committees had established direct, personal contact with the urban masses with the aim of popularising the COP in the last quarter of 1954. A variety of methods were used in this regard, ranging from public rallies, conferences, house-to-house visits, street-corner discussions and house meetings- These were to continue in the months to follow, although the purpose later was to either collect demands or elect delegates to the COP itself. In the outlying urban areas, however. Regional COP Committees were only established some time in 1955, although there is evidence to suggest that local COP committees linked directly to active ANC branches were functioning simultaneously with and along the lines of those in the Johannesburg area.
The Campaign in the Rural Areas ↵
The approach to political work in the unorganised rural areas of the Transvaal was radically different from the methods employed in the urban centres, which had been seething with political discontent and militancy for over a decade. Moreover, Congress forces had themselves failed to establish a sound organisational presence in any particular area and to pay attention to the organisation and mobilisation of rural dwellers and workers, labour-tenants and squatters. Colin Bundy asserts that "although in the late 1940s an ANC presence of sorts was established in the Ciskei and in Rustenburg, Pietersburg and Sekhukhuneland, Walshe concludes that until 1952 the ANC encountered 'virtually insurmountable difficulties' "in extending its activities to the rural areas" . Bundy adds that... one of the most striking aspects of the strategy and tactics of the Congress Alliance during the 1950s was the increasing weight and emphasis that came to be given to the rural struggle, frequently coupled with frank criticisms of the liberation movement's prior weakness in this regard. In so far as there was a fundamental reason for this important shift, it appears to have been, simply, that the incidence and intensity of rural resistance in the 1940s and 1950s made it impossible for the urban movement not to respond.
The view is supported by Lodge who argues that "despite the evidence of a degree of sensitivity to rural tensions. Congress during the 1950s would do little to exploit them. Its organisational vulnerability apart, its social and ideological orientation during the 1950s helped to distance it from rural culture." Beinart has also noted that 'the ANC strategy at that moment did not, at least for him (character M), succeed in translating rural issues into the broader programme nor in exposing the underlying patterns of exploitation in the South African economy... Activists were now seeking to mobilise a mass movement through campaigns and not essentially on working class and peasant issues, but on national and racial questions." In contrast, Suttner and Cronin seem to suggest that the COP campaign signified a crucial development for the Congresses in relation to the rural areas. The "Congress Alliance, through its expansion into the rural areas, was transformed into a national movement during the COP campaign."
It seems to me that both positions are only partially correct, and need to be qualified. It is true that the ANC in particular had failed to entrench its organisation in the rural areas, but that does not mean that it was altogether denied a political influence and presence through chiefs that supported it traditionally, politicised migrant workers, ANC leaders that came from rural backgrounds and urban activists travelling to rural areas. In an instructive article on Pedi migrants, Delius has drawn attention to the roles of the ANC and the SACP establishing in 1954 a migrant worker organisation called "Sebatakgomo" , which "won widespread migrant support and played a key role in organising and sustaining the resistance in the eastern Transvaal." In the light of his research, Delius hi correctly called for a "reassessment" of the wider role of the ANC in rural resistance.
As will be seen below the Congresses made concerted efforts t during the COP campaign to penetrate the rural areas, although ' they later failed to follow up on a consistent basis. In the Transvaal, for instance, evidence shows that teams of volunteers had on several occasions visited the rural districts in the Eastern, Western and Northern Transvaal during 1954 and 1955. The report that the 'rural COP teams' had prepared would have certainly informed the national liberation movement of the issues, demands, needs and conditions of existence of rural dwellers, of the tensions and conflicts that were emerging in the rural reserves, and sensitised it to develop a coherent response.
The importance attached to the participation of the 'rural masses' in the COP campaign is evident from the direct appeal made in the first paragraph of THE CALL TO THE CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE to the workers and labourers and peasants in the reserves. It reads:
We call the farmers of the Reserves and Trust Lands:
Let us speak of the wide land, and the narrow strips on which we toil.
Let us speak of brothers without land, and of children without schooling.
Let us speak of taxes and of cattle and of famine. Let us speak of freedom.
This rural appeal is reiterated in the third paragraph of THE CALL:
We call the workers of farms and forests:
Let us speak of the rich foods we grow, and the laws that keep us poor.
Let us speak of the harsh treatment and of the children and women forced to work.
Let us speak of private prisons and beatings and of passes.
Let us speak of freedom.
That the demand for more land struck a vital chord in the hearts of rural dwellers on Trust Lands ”” faced with enforced resettlement, demarcations of arable and grazing lands, the culling of livestock and the destruction of established communities - is quite clear. Several interviews in Suttner and Cronin's 30 Years of the Freedom Charter reveal that "the first question was the land" and people spoke about "not having land of their own" .
The first phase of work for the COP campaign in rural areas involved identifying and establishing contacts in the villages, reserves and districts, speaking to people about the history of the Congresses and gradually explaining the aims and goals of the Congress of the People. Care had to be taken that these were not abstract matters, and discussions had to be linked to the concrete experiences of Africans in the rural areas, most cases, volunteers had to 'work through' individuals exercising influence over the community such as chiefs, councillors serving on Advisory Boards, priests, educationalists or relatives. The processes generally were the same. Once a sympathetic 'opinion-maker' was found, meetings of sympathisers or the village as a whole would be held where the COP would be explained and the need for participation from the rural areas stressed. This view is supported by Wilson Fanti who worked in the Transkei and Pondoland:
.... it was very difficult work. The volunteer would take a long time to find a way of approaching that particular group, or that particular person, or that particular chief. A person coming from outside your (rural) area you do not accept unless the chief has introduced you to him. Some of the chiefs were pro-government; they didn't want to accept these things. So in that area you had to seek another means of getting to the people behind the chief.... You have to try and try just to get one, a prominent person from that area. Then teach that person. That person, because of his respect with the other people, if he brings this issue, then people will accept it.
Finally, a few leaflets would be distributed, and a small grouping of individuals was asked to constitute an ad hoc local committee, which would correspond with the Johannesburg Congress office. What follows are brief descriptions of the itineraries of rural 'organisers' for the COP, and the reports are presented in detail so as to flesh out the methods and patterns of mobilisation in the course of the campaign.
David Mahopo, who was born in Pietersburg, undertook a trip to the Northern Transvaal in November 1954 and submitted a comprehensive report to the Transvaal Action Council.
On 12 November 1954 Mahopo reached Potgietersrust and made contact with a certain Mr. Makonyane, vice-chairman of the local Advisory Board. He later addressed a meeting of me Advisory Board where he explained me origins, objectives and purpose of the COP. After a discussion the Advisory Board agreed to act as the local COP committee and W.H. Makonyane was appointed its secretary. He also met chiefs from the area and one of them, Seleka, "welcomed the COP and invited me (Mahopo) to come and explain the COP to his people at a later date."
One the 14 November 1954, Mahopo reached Naboomspruit, where he met Mr. Khabo, who introduced him to members of the Advisory Board. He provided a background to the COP and they "agreed to serve as a local COP committee" and "undertake a house-to-house drive soon" . A certain S. M. Malatje was elected as secretary of the local COP committee.
Mahopo then moved to Nylstroom where he met the principal of the Methodist School, Mr. Mohapi, who regarded himself as an "old ANC member" . Mahopi had "already received the bulletins of the Congress of the People as well as The Call" and the latter publication had already been distributed. The principal informed Mahopo that "after three days police came from Naboomspruit to enquire about the distribution of the leaflets. A schoolboy was found in possession of a leaflet and was questioned. He replied that he picked up the leaflet from the street. The people were asked to please inform the police as soon as they came across anybody distributing pamphlets bearing a symbol of the wheel." Nevertheless, Mohapi and a few colleagues constituted a local COP structure.
Mahopo was unable to gain entry into Hammanskraal. Instead, he met Mr. Mathipe, the principal of Mahobane Public School in Mahobanestad. According to the report, the education head "welcomed the COP" , agreed to act as the contact person and promised to set up a local COP committee.
On 18 November 1954, Mahopo held a successful meeting with the Chief of Mathibestad, his brothers and councillors, all of whom "expressed the opinion that the COP was a very good thing" . They requested that Mahopo stay over for a few days so that they could organise a meeting of the tribe to discuss the COP. Mahopo regretfully declined the offer as he had made travel arrangements to cover another area. Finally, Mahopo met a teacher, Mr. Kgafe, from Makapanstad who expressed his reluctance to engage in political activity. He, nevertheless, took some copies of The Call to school. "A few hours later a child was sent to come and get more Calls. Later on I was approached by some of the teachers who volunteered to organise for the COP provided Chief Makapani would allow them to do so." Mahopo was never able to meet the chief, as he "had to rush the Mathibestad to catch the next bus to Hammanskraal on my way home."
In his concluding remarks, Mahopo recommended that activists spend at least a month in the reserves to organise in the rural areas and listed me key issues confronting rural settlements in the province.
"At all places I have visited people who knew what the ANC was were keen to join. Those who had a vague idea were equally eager to know what it is and how it could assist them in their difficulties, such as the gradual taking away of the land by the government, the influx control in the urban areas which had brought misery and starvation as the men are daily being endorsed out of the towns and are now wandering in the reserves. People are also worried about Bantu education. The chiefs are now to get Congress to send its organisers to the reserves." In his interview with Suttner in January 1985, Mahopo confirmed that he had visited Pietersburg, Potgietersrust, Pienaars River, Warmbaths and Hammanskraal.
A letter written by Henry Tshabalala to the Volunteer Board reported on the progress of a volunteer team that went to the Brits/Rustenburg area. At Brits they made contact with one Mr. Tsokwe, a schoolteacher and secretary of the Advisory Board. The report stressed that Tsokwe did not want it to be publicly known that he was associated with Congress and suggested that in matters relating to COP activities, he be addressed as Thomas M. Rankoko. "Mr. Tsokwe is taking up the duty of the COP but wants this to be observed by Cc ... he wants to form, as Congress requires, a committee at Brits, therefore, he requests Congress to sent two or three men from Congress to talk to these (his) committee members about the duty and aim of the COP." From there the volunteers travelled to Bleskop Mines and secured the support of Rev. Masuku or the Dutch Reformed Church and Mr. Thembu of the Bleskop School, Rustenburg. They also established a "strong contact" by the name of Johannes Mokwena at Waaikraal.
A similar, less detailed report was presented by volunteers who worked in Doornfontein, but had to conduct a "COP tour" beginning on 24 October 1954 to Zeerust, Groot Marico, Rustenburg, Lichtenberg and Ventersdorp. In Zeerust the group was unable to find the contact person. They met two other persons who agreed to "carry out COP activity" and distribute on a ‘house-to-house ' basis COP bulletins.
In Groot Marico, the group had made contact with a reverend who convened a meeting of the community. Fifty people attended it and supported the idea of the COP. They also "promised to do all necessary work in preparation for the COP."
In Rustenburg the group had made independent contacts who "promised to help organise for the COP" , In Lichtenberg they secured Andrew Bodile, a member of the Advisory Board, Mr. Moloka and E. Abed (from the Indian community) as future contacts for COP activities. In Ventersdorp B. Divake and W. Selebago also agreed to serve as contacts.
Whilst it has been difficult to get an accurate insight into the processes that unfolded after these initial introductions to the COP, there is limited evidence to suggest that the interest in the Congress of the People, particularly in the districts around Rustenburg, remained strong. For example, credential forms accrediting delegates from Johannesburg to speak on behalf of small chiefdoms in the Rustenburg area revealed substantial participation of the rural population in electing and mandating delegates to the Congress of the People. Forty-two people representing 9,000 tribesmen of the Baphalane tribe in Renokokskraal, Rustenburg, voted on 19 June 1955 for Jonas Matlou of Sophiatown "to speak for us at the COP on June 25 and 26, 1955, in Kliptown, Johannesburg." Similarly, 5,000 people of Mabieskraal, Rustenburg voted on 12 June 1955 for P. Mathoneng to "speak for (them) at the COP" . Fifty members of the Rustenburg Inter-Tribal Farmers' Association also voted on 16 June 1955 for Matlou to represent them at me COP, and speak on the "following matters in the Freedom Charter in our name:
against Bantu Education Act, against reference books, for free travelling, for more facilities for re-cultivation and grazing, for direct representation in parliament by our own people, and for equal education for all races.
Amin Cajee also recollects going to me Western Transvaal areas of Vryburg and Schweizer-Reneke (his birthplace) where he re-established contact with those who had participated in the Defiance Campaign, and got them to collect demands for the COP. He remembered that in the reserves the "cattle dipping issue came up... and wages were very little. Sometimes (labourers) got ten shillings a week." About the organisation of the COP in the Eastern Transvaal, the kingpin was Gert Sibande, known to the Congressites as the "Lion of the East" . The TAC employed Sibande and Mahosi as full-time organisers, for the Eastern Transvaal for the period May - June 1955. (56) Assisting them were Esakjee, Amin Cajee, Suliman Saloojee and Mac Donald Maseko. Cajee and Esakjee recollected that the areas they covered were Belfast, Breyten, Carolina, Bethal, Barberton, Nelspruit, Witbank, Standerton, Ermelo and Middleburg. Esakjee recounted to Suttner that in most cases the initial objective was "setting up teams, committees in all African townships" that would continue with the COP campaigning after their departure. Commenting on the processes mat unfolded and the significance of their work during their campaign Esakjee made the following points:
" ... in these rural areas people were got together on the farms. These were mainly Africans and Gert would explain to them what the COP was, and collect demands." In various areas, "some chiefs were supportive" , but it was the "priests that were very helpful. They would gather people and set up meetings in kraals, where delegates were elected to attend the 'big indaba' and pennies collected to help with transport costs. In some areas local people had no knowledge of the Congresses. This was the first time that they were exposed to Congress, and they were very happy when people came to talk to them. This was shown in their hospitality." Participation at these meetings probably varied from area to area, but Esakjee recalls a particularly well-at meeting of about 500 people in Bethal. For him "the importance of this campaign ... was bringing the COP to the rural areas."
Beinart has also drawn attention to the complex linkages between "ethnic particularism, worker consciousness and nationalism" and elucidated, through his study of a sing individual, the political role of the 'rural migrant-worker-activist' in the urban and rural centres of resistance." Likewise, Lodge has recorded the use of the business and school boycott tactic in 1957””a result of the external influences of Witwatersrand migrants-by the people of the Bafurutshe reserve, near Zeerust, in protest against the introduction of passes to African women there." Reggie Vandeyar, remembers accompanying Thomas Nkobi on his trip to speak to hostel dwellers in the Johannesburg area about the COP campaign. But the extent and nature of migrant workers' involvement in the struggles of the rural and urban areas, and in particular their 'political functions' in the former during and after the COP campaign remain unknown, and should perhaps become the focus of ongoing research.
In addition, what remains to be investigated is the ability or otherwise of the national liberation movement to elicit the support of ordinary rural dwellers in contrast and in opposition to those chiefs and tribal elders that had opted to collaborate with the state in implementing the Bantu Authorities Act and the "rehabilitation," "betterment" and "stock limitation" programme. That tensions and conflicts did exist between a collaborative tribal elite and the local majority opposed to stringent controls and supervision on Trust Lands is dear, but the extent to which these became the central issues and foci of attention during the COP campaign remain to be examined.
The New Age carried a report saying that farm labourers in Nelspruit who call themselves "three brothers in slavery... have no voice... no more land (and) no more cattle. Our children are starving. We demand the right to live, not die. Our children want education, not 'Verwoerd' education.... We are poor brothers but we will pay for the train ticket of our delegate."
The following is a report of follow-up works in rural areas that the TAC received on 24 May 1955 from two activists who met people in Bethal, Dawel, Sukelaar and New Denmark. They promised to arrange for delegates to attend the COP. A group from Ermelo and Morgenzon had come late to the TIC office in Johannesburg and missed the discussion with others from the Eastern Transvaal. Nevertheless, they were given literature and money to return home. The TAC requested that Sibande visit Piet Retief, Amsterdam, Carolina and Witbank. They received a further report that J. Nkadimeng is "calling a meeting of people from Sekhukhuneland ... at the TIC office and will try to get letters written to all villages and chiefs in this area." The TAC was also awaiting a report from Rustenburg and BIoemhof." What I have not been able to establish is the exact nature of the work that followed the initial contact meetings.
Was an embryonic organisational network established? What was its depth and relationships with the tribal elite and ordinary rural folk. How was the ongoing contact with the Congress to be maintained in the urban centres. What was the frequency of 'rural visits' by urban activists after the COP. What role did the ANC play in the localised struggles between different groups on Trust Lands and in the reserves in the period immediately after the COP and the rural outbursts of the late 1950s and, in what form did urban struggles have an echo in the rural areas?
These questions remain unanswered. Despite these intellectual blindspots, there is no doubt that the COP campaign had served to extend and deepen the influence of the Congresses in the rural areas, and, as Fanti had said, "By going out and talking to people the volunteers just put a light in the rural areas."
Participation of Women in the Cop Campaign ↵
The participation of women in the campaign was less extensive than was the case with other sectors of the national liberation movement, and, in part, mirrored the state of women's organisation at that time. The Federation of South African Women (FSAW) only came into existence on 17 April 1954, once the decision to hold the COP had already been taken by the Congresses. It, therefore, did not serve formally on the National Action Council. However, at its inaugural conference, the leadership had prepared for discussion and adoption a document entitled "The Women's Charter" which set out the overall political perspective and goals of the new organisation."
It was the Women's Charter that was ultimately to serve as a focus for the demands of women. It "affirmed the overriding community of interests that women shared with men, recognised that women were discriminated in society, committed the organisation for the removal of all laws and practices that discriminated against women, stressed the dual nature of women's struggle for equality””equality with men and equality in the country of their birth... and identified the women's organisation completely with the political organs of the Congress movement... "
In August 1954 the FSAW was approached by the NAC to assist with the COP. The Federation eagerly accepted this invitation. According to Walker, "the COP, held on 25/26 June 1955 provided me FSAW with the focus of activity it needed to rally women in those areas and revived their interests in the broad women's movement. It gave women an opportunity to articulate the demands that they felt should be included in the Freedom Charter. It also established the credentials of the FSAW within the Congress Alliance more securely" .
The FSAW saw the COP as a 'mobilising mechanism, which would help popularise both the campaign and the new organisation to women all over South Africa. It is in this context that it agreed to assist with accommodation during the COP, as this would make the organisation "known among the township women who were approached to accommodate the delegates" of which there were to be over 2,000. The FSAW leadership urged the regions to "hold meetings and local conferences at which the idea (of the COP) could be popularised, women's delegates elected and the demands of women for incorporation within the Freedom Charter formulated" .
It is unclear to what extent this instruction from the leadership was carried out in each region, but there is limited evidence to indicate that house meetings of women did take place. Thirteen women met at the Mylor House, Johannesburg, on 14 May 1955 to discuss the COP and demands were submitted to the Johannesburg Regional Committee. At this meeting also "two delegates were elected to the COP" . Esakjee also recalls "group meetings of Indian women" having been organised to discuss the COP. Similarly, Helen Joseph had invited an unspecified "women's committee... (to) hold a house meeting" , where a FSAW speaker would speak on the COP and a delegate be elected to represent them at the COP.
Attempts were also made to canvass women's opinion; demands during house visits conducted by male and female volunteers, although, here again, women often were not involved in the discussions. On the participation of women the COP Reggie Vendeyar recounted:
We had a number of women volunteers””not very many from the Indian Congress. Generally, the Indian women not play a very active role in the campaign. This particularly evident at the house visits. My view is women took a back seat. One has to really look at the make up of the community to understand this. The Indian fan is male-dominated and though women were present when we did house visits they did not fully participate discussions. This does not mean that they were unconcern with political issues, generally speaking. The emergence of the independent states of India and Pakistan generated wide interest and discussion, even among the women, and parallels could easily be drawn with South Africa.
But in other areas, particularly the coloured areas, found women””many being factory workers””coming with a lot of grievances, such as wages and housing. The garment workers' union was quite a strong union. They would say that our union says this and that. They would interlink our questions with demands they were making at work.
Among the African people (Alexandra Township, Newclare and Sophiatown) you'll find that the African men dominated discussions. I suppose language was a barrier and the African women sometimes remained reserved when they saw activists from other races addressing them on political issues, In those houses where people were of middle class background and where the level of education was higher, both women and men participated in the discussions."
On 29 May 1955 these processes of mobilisation culminated in a women's conference that was held at the Trades Hall in Johannesburg. The leaflet advertising the FSAW rally proclaimed that "this public meeting is being held to give women a chance to put forward their demands for the Freedom Charter." The meeting was chaired by Josie Palmer and is well documented. What follows below is a resume of proceedings of the meeting.
This is presented as the conference adopted a revealing document entitled "What Women Demand" which outlined the thinking of the 200 or so women delegates who had come from Natalspruit, Boksburg, Benoni, Springs, Sophiatown, Brakpan, Orlando and Kliptown. Various speakers at the meeting introduced specific demands, which were followed by discussions 'from the floor' and voting in support of or in opposition to by a show of hands. Mary Mkisi called for free nursery schooling for children and birth control clinics. A supporting speaker from the audience added:
"Probably our gentlemen friends here will be shocked when they hear we demand birth control, and yet we are only trying to help them. At least if we have this birth control, we will be able to bring up our children properly." Another speaker argued that having three children is a "problem””how are you going to feed these children and educate them?... When we look at the children in the streets here, hundreds of children, thousands of children running about naked, you ask yourself how much must a parent suffer for them?..."A further speaker, sensing the provocative nature of the demand and the misgivings that it might generate said, "It is just a demand we are putting in and if any woman and her husband feel that they want to give their children a future, a secure future, they are people who will go forward. I don't want anybody to go away and say we are forcing him or her."
Walker asserts that the demand for birth control clinics was highly controversial and sparked off a lively debate in Congress ranks about the role of women in the family and society. It appears that the demand was later withdrawn, but the efforts of those who put forward the demand were not entirely in vain. "Sex and sexuality were not socially sanctioned topics for public discussion, and, in raising this issue at a public meeting, the FSAW was breaking new ground.... For many, probably most Congress supporters, both male and female, female sexuality was totally bound up with the notion of child bearing and male hegemony." What this reveals is that specifically women's demands were shelved for the moment. If there had been a sufficiently powerful women's movement by the mid-1950s it is quite likely that an 'internal' struggle of ideas and values would have ensued, and, perhaps, more weight would have been added to the specific needs and demands of women. At the same time, what must also be noted is the conception that women leaders had of the primary objectives and tasks of a national women's organisation in South Africa at that time.
A leading FSAW activist argues that the women's organisation of the time "did not organise over feminist issues, but rather to participate fully in the struggle for national liberation. Feminist issues were consciously avoided as it would have proven to be both distracting and destructive" . Similarly, a male activist noted that "women were organised within the fold and in the interests of the national democratic struggle."
The second speaker at the women's meeting at the Trades Hall called for the abolition of Bantu education and demanded "school feeding" schemes, "more nursery, primary and secondary schools" , "special schools for handicapped children" and "vocational training and apprenticeship facilities."
A male speaker, J. Matlou, was then called upon to "speak on land, farms and reserves" . He called for "the right of all people to own land and work their own farms, the development of uncultivated land, the fair distribution of land amongst all people, the mechanisation of methods of food production, the scientific improvement of land by irrigation and careful planning, control of soil erosion... and efficient organisation for the distribution and marketing of food." These demands reveal a clear conception of the needs of rural dwellers and indirectly called for a degree of centralised planning of the rural economy. But it was his later contribution that was to spark off another debate in Congress circles. Matlou motivated for "more and better lands for the reserves, schools for children in the reserves, planned agricultural development in the reserves and the abolition of migrant labour which destroy our family life by removing our husband, and destroying their health, by the conditions of their labour and the compounds in which they live."
Leading Congress members saw in this demand an unintentional acceptance of the reserves and the unequal distribution of the land along racial lines. They saw in this demand an implicit acceptance of the impoverishment of the reserves. Thus, this demand was retracted and not submitted to the NAC for consideration. Helen Joseph motivated the demand for "proper provision for the aged and sick, protection of the unemployed, the scrapping of the pass laws and the right of people to enjoy the full franchise. Finally, Rahima Moosa demanded "for all women.... the right to vote, full opportunity in all spheres of work, equal pay for equal work (and) equal right for the guardianship of our children."
The conference eventually ended with an election by show of hands of twelve delegates who were nominated by the crowd. Some of them were H. Joseph, Ms. Siboko (Orlando), Ms. Mekway, Mrs. Price (Sophiatown), Mrs. Polio (Brakpan), Mrs. Goi (Benoni), Mary Hlatswayo (Natalspruit), Mrs. Moosa (Brakpan), and Pauline Makwe (Germiston).
In the end, a comprehensive two-page document entitled "The Demands of the Women of South Africa" with the following six principal clauses was presented to the NAC:
" ...education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children/Âall shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed and to bring up their families in comfort and security. Fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished and the laws, which break up families, shall be repealed; all who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers, and to make arrangements with their employers; the law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, to organise, to meet together, all shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad; and, pass laws, permits and all other laws restricting these freedoms shall be abolished" .
Many of these demands were eventually to have a strong resonance in the Freedom Charter. In assessing the women's movement in the 1950s, Lodge has asserted: "This was not a feminist movement. Women were not seeking for extension of rights or an alteration in their domestic relationships and responsibilities.... The most powerful sentiment was matriarchal, captured most vividly in the magnificent phrase of Lilian Ngoyi's "My womb is shaken when they speak of Bantu education." With regard to the COP campaign itself, Suttner and Cronin have stated that in 1955 "there was less emphasis than at present on the role of women in the struggle" and that this was reflected in the "unequal participation of women in the collection of demands" and "in the relative weight of specifically women's demands in the Charter."
But the participation of the FSAW was not without significance. It placed on the agenda the aspirations and hopes”” partial, as they might have been””of women in South Africa and provided a political stimulus to the newly formed national women's organisation. As Walker has evaluated, "the existence of the FSAW ensured that women were not totally excluded or overlooked at the Congress. Their participation, though limited, was not insignificant, and in the organisation of the event they had been singled out as a necessary and important area for preliminary work." The COP campaign was crucial in establishing the FSAW as a political force to reckon with and in the latter half of 1955 it "asserted itself with more confidence" and "was on the upswing" .
The Role of the Black Trade Union Movement ↵
The participation of the organised sections of workers in the COP campaign was spearheaded by the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), which was formed in reaction to the decision of the South African Trades and Labour Council to adopt "a colour-bar constitution that would exclude African trade unions from affiliation" . Considering that SACTU was formed just over three months before the COP on 5-6 March 1955, its participation in the COP campaign on a national scale was significant, and, in some regions like Natal and Eastern Cape, it was substantial. It was this active involvement of working class leaders in the organising committees, in collecting demands from workers in factories and townships" that ensured that the content of the Freedom Charter would have a "worker orientation."
From its inception SACTU welcomed the COP campaign. The following was one of the resolutions prepared by the Trade Union Coordinating Committee and proposed by the Howick Rubber Workers' Union at the inaugural conference of SACTU:
This conference welcomes the efforts of the COP to frame a Freedom Charter in which the demands of workers for improved working conditions and better wages will be incorporated. This conference instructs the National Executive Committee to attend this conference (COP) as representatives of this Congress. It further recommends to affiliated unions that they be represented by official delegates and also that they take part in their own areas in the gathering of demands and the election of delegates.
This stress on the active involvement of trade unions in the COP campaign stemmed from SACTU's conception of the interconnection between economic and political struggles in the South African context.. However, it would be appropriate to repeat very briefly the salient points of SACTU's understanding of political unionism. In his address to the Inaugural Conference, the Chairperson explained the need for a link between the struggle for economic gains and general political struggle:
"You cannot separate politics and the way in which people are governed from their bread and butter, or their freedom to move to and from places where they can find the best employment, or the houses they live in, or the type of education their children get. These things are of vital concern to the workers. The trade unions would, therefore, be neglecting the interests of their members if they failed to struggle for their members on all matters, which affect them. The trade unions must be as active in the political field as in the economic sphere, because the two hang together and cannot be isolated from each other. Hence, in 1956 SACTU adopted the following policy statement" .
Whilst SACTU will thus pursue its own independent struggle for the workers' rights, it pledges full support and coÂoperation to all movements and organisations genuinely struggling for the removal of fascist tyranny, for the elimination of all restrictive and oppressive legislation, for the achievement of complete political liberation.
Thus the SACTU leadership openly encouraged trade union leaders, officials and membership to work in the campaign for the COP and me Freedom Charter. Its official organ. Workers' Unity, proclaimed that the "COP campaign gives us a tremendous new chance to spread the trade union message to industrial workers who have never before heard or been convinced of it" and stressed that trade unionists must not remain "aloof" from the campaign. Instead, "they must... be the heart and soul of the COP campaign amongst the industrial workers, and make the demands of the Workers for jobs, trade union rights and security of employment a vital part of the Freedom Charter that the COP is to adopt."
Whilst these guidelines were strongly supported organisationally in Natal and Cape, this was not the case in the Transvaal. In the Transvaal, trade union involvement (not necessarily working class involvement) was limited to the remarkable efforts of a handful of trade unionists like Mary Moodley, J. Nkadimeng, R. Press and L. Massina , and lacked the organisational back up of trade unions themselves. Minutes of meetings of the TAC show that although the Johannesburg-based Textile Workers' Industrial Union, the African Laundering, Dyeing and Cleaning Workers' Union and the Food and Canning Workers' Union had agreed to co-sponsor the campaign for the COP, their attendance at these provincial committee meetings was inexplicably poor. This implies mat there was virtually no direct trade union involvement at the central planning and coordination level. Likewise, the factory committee, which the TAC had established, had not made significant progress in getting more extensive trade union involvement.
The TAC welcomed the formation of SACTU saying that it was "in the true spirit of the COP." " Yet by May 1955 it regretfully remarked that "apart from getting trade unions to sponsor the Congress, it seems that no serious attempts have been made to activise these trade unions... it is essential to activise the trade unions in the preparation for the COP..... The COP must be linked up with the day-to-day issues which trade unionists are constantly taking up on behalf of their members." It further prescribed that discussions be held in "factories and trains" and that "shop stewards, committee members, union officials and factory leaders should be workers' delegates."
This low-intensity trade union participation in the province needs to be explained. At this stage only tentative and unconfirmed explanations can be advanced. Firstly, the African trade union movement had been substantially weakened after the smashing of the African miners' strike in 1946 and the repression that followed the enactment of the Suppression of Communism Act. Several highly experienced and influential trade unionists had been banned by 1954, and forced to withdraw from trade union activity. Coupled with this, Bonner and Lambert have argued that after the Second World War, notwithstanding the numerical strength of the African trade union movement, organisational flaws had become visible, and union membership had begun to decline sharply. By 1949, 66 CNETU affiliates had collapsed.
Moreover, SACTU's impact on the Rand had been lesser man in other regions, and membership had remained static and stagnant at low levels between 1956 and 1961. So, whilst the formation of SACTU signified an important ideological advance and strengthened non-racial worker unity, it was lacking in numerical and organisational strength on the Rand in the first few years of its existence. Alex Hepple, writing for SACTU in 1957, made a similar point:
"African trade unions are also weak.... African trade unions are growing””but not quite enough. The general standard of living of urban African townships is very low and will remain so until the workers are well organised and able to compel a change. The most important task to be tackled now is the building of the African trade union movement."
Secondly, the growing rifts in the South African Trades and Labour Council between 1947 and 1954 on the issue of full recognition of African trade unions, me disintegration of the registered trade union movement and the eventual dissolution of the Trades and Labour Council, and the formation of the South African Trade Union Council on the principle of African exclusion had left the trade union movement divided and further weakened. These developments, together with the passing of the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act in 1953, had posed completely new challenges, which undeniably would have absorbed the energies and efforts of trade union leaders and officials committed to the growth of the African trade union movement. Finally, it is very probable that by hosting the Inaugural SACTU Conference in Johannesburg, the progressive trade union leadership in the province acting, as midwife to SACTU was preoccupied with its planning and organisation thereby detracting its attention away from the COP campaign specifically.
Involvement of the South African Peace Council This chapter would be incomplete if it did not examine briefly the contribution of the South African Peace Council (SAPC), non-racial organisation formed on 21 August 1953, which became in effect, an adjunct to the Congress Alliance. Although I am unable to present an in-depth analysis of the actual programme of the SAPC or the Transvaal Peace Council in support of the COP campaign, it made an important ideological contribution to the Freedom Charter embodied in the clause "There shall be Peace and Friendship" .
Like SACTU and the FSAW, the Peace Movement' saw in me COP "an opportunity of reaching thousands of new people and of establishing itself on a mass basis throughout our country. 'It worked on the premise that many people, both inside and outside of the national liberation movement, held the view that South Africa was "far removed from any possible war theatre" , that the activities of the SAPC were not of immediate relevance and importance and that the struggle for liberation was independent of the work for peace. It dispelled these misconceived views and convincingly argued that the "struggles for peace and liberation are indivisible" and that "every conquest won in the cause of the struggle for national liberation constitutes an advance of the peace forces over the forces of aggression" and vice versa. It accused the Union government of pursuing a war policy and of "aligning itself with military circles in order to defeat the movements for national liberation and independence, in order to prevent the victory of the forces of liberation and peace."
The SAPC thus committed itself to supporting the COP. It had hoped to use the campaign to broaden its organisational base, to educate the mass of South Africans of the link between their problems and the struggle for peace, and to expose the militaristic intentions and functions of the government. In its campaign it advanced five basic slogans:
The settlement of all international problems by negotiations an end to military alliances and their replacement by security arrangements designed to ensure peaceful coÂexistence, security and independence for all states; the outlawing of weapons of mass destruction and agreement on general disarmament; the closing down of war bases and withdrawal of foreign troops; and, the immediate ending of the brutal wars in Malaya and Kenya with recognition of the rights of people.
It proposed to do so by utilising the "numerous meetings organised for the COP... for putting over a peace policy" and providing speakers. Secondly, it aimed to provide articles on peace for various COP bulletins which would "encourage people to write the demands for peace into the Freedom Charter" so that peace would "become an integral part of the Freedom Charter" . The efforts of the SAPC were not entirely in vain, as can be seen from a short article written by Hilda Watts in 1955:
"We shall always remember the last week of June 1955, for during this week two outstanding Congresses took place”” one in South Africa, and one in Helsinski in Finland, both of them great milestones in the long history of humanity's struggle upwards towards freedom and happiness. The World Peace Assembly, meeting in Finland at the same time as our great COP met in our country was a tremendous gathering of representatives from every country of the world. They came together to discuss the vital question of peace.... The delegates at the COP were keenly aware of this question of peace. They unanimously agreed to send a telegram greeting the World Peace Assembly, and embodied in the Freedom Charter a section stating "There shall be peace and friendship" .
Problems of Organisation ↵
The first phase of the COP campaign culminated in a provincial conference on 2 December 1954 which aimed at consolidating the gains made by the Congresses over the previous months and gaining the active support of non-political organisations in the various communities. A letter from the ANC head office in Johannesburg outlined the purpose of the Conference in the following terms:
... (The) purpose of the conference is to explain and acquaint the people living in these areas with the aims and objects of the COP. And also to enlist the support of local organisations to get them to be co-sponsors for the COP and to get their members to serve in the local committees.... You are directed to invite all organisations in your areas, sporting, cultural, religious, political, women, youth and other organisations including representatives from every street and block.
The Transvaal Action Council for the COP worked intensively and actively from August 1954 to early December 1954. From the description of activities provided thus far it is apparent that a major effort had been made to popularise the Congress of the People, to recruit volunteers, to distribute educational and propaganda material, to conduct house visits in the major urban residential areas and to introduce the Congresses and the COP to the rural populace.
In the next three months, surprisingly, the campaign slackened considerably. It has not been possible to establish all the reasons for this decrease in momentum, although one reason is that the TAC itself had failed to sustain the pace of political activity in the province. This is evident from the rebuke by the NAC of the role of the TAC. "We must state frankly that the work done in the Transvaal has been most unsatisfactory, as important NAC directives sent to the Provincial Council from time to time have not been carried out. The reasons why these were not put into practice are beyond our understanding and we have to emphasise that due to the lack of activity in the Transvaal the work for the Congress of the People has suffered a great deal."
A more realistic explanation probably lies in the fact that in the Transvaal, Congress forces were confronted in early 1955 by two major political challenges, viz., the impending threat of the 'destruction of Sophiatown' and the implementation of the Bantu Education Act in April 1955. Both these issues had been on the agenda of the ANC and other Congresses since 1954, but in early 1955 it had become apparent that the South African government””under the direction of the National Party””had finally decided to demolish the black freehold suburbs in Western Areas, relocate their inhabitants in a state-controlled township and bring black education directly under its control.
The preservation of the 'non-racial' Western Areas free of the controls of local state administration was considered by the ANC to be of national importance. Sophiatown was to become the stage on which the drama of the National Party's first steps towards residential segregation and resistance to it was to be played out.
Although the Congress campaign was short-lived and resistance to forced removals still-born, the state offensive in February 1955 served to shift focus away from the COP campaign and into the plight of Sophiatown residents. In practice, this meant the mobilisation of residents against resettlement, and strengthening the unity of the contradictory interests of African landlords, tenants, gangs, Indian shop owners and those who saw in the 'new' location of Meadowlands the hope of a 'private' home and slightly improved recreational facilities. Consequently, the strong ANC Sophiatown branch and key local ANC and Youth League officials and activists in the Western Areas, like P.Q. Vundla, J. Nkadimeng, S. Tyeku, J.D. Matlou, R. Resha and J.B. Marks, were fully engaged in organising against resettlement."
Likewise, the assumption of central state control over black education had spurred the ANC to take the decision at its national conference in December 1954 to call for an indefinite boycott of schools as from 1 April 1955. It was the Sophiatown Youth League branch that took the initiative in January 1955 on the boycott campaign by hosting a meeting, which called for 1,000 volunteer teachers to provide alternative education to boycotting students. By March 1955, the ANC National Executive had called for caution and suggested the boycott be postponed to an unspecified later date. By this time already, local initiatives, particularly on the East Rand and several other black townships surrounding Johannesburg, had generated strong support for the boycott call. A tactical split between the national leadership and local activists and popular initiatives seemed inevitable.
This was eventually averted by an agreed compromise on 9 April 1955 at a Special ANC Conference held in Port Elizabeth. A central component of the decision was to allow areas where preparations for the boycott had reached an advanced stage to launch the boycott, provided that the ANC National Executive was consulted. It was in this context that by mid-April several thousand black scholars were boycotting classes in Brakpan, Benoni, Germiston, Katlehong, Alexandra, Western Native Township, Newclare, Moroka/Jabavu and Sophiatown, as well as in some small rural towns in the Eastern Cape shortly afterwards.
An indefinite schools boycott brought with it its own pressures, that of providing for an alternative educational programme in the face of police harassment and the dismissal of scholars. Once again, key elements from the ANCYL and the ANCWL in the affected areas had to meet complex demands imposed by the boycott, and understandably limit their functions in the COP campaign.
It would therefore be reasonable to assume that three factors a degree of administrative and political laxity in the TAC, the Anti-Western Areas Removal Campaign and the preparations for and responsibilities arising from the schools boycott in protest against Bantu Education””can explain the slowing down of the COP campaign in the Transvaal in the first quarter of 1955. However, after this temporary relapse, the campaign regained its momentum from March 1955, and reached a high pitch in June 1955 when the COP was held. What this meant in practice was that the processes of gathering demands and electing delegates to the COP were conducted simultaneously in this province, and constituted a single phase.
Demands for inclusion in the Freedom Charter were gathered in over a period of time and in different ways. The 'demand sheet' used by the volunteers to collect demands began with:
"We, the people of South Africa, both black and white, have an urgent task to perform. We are called upon to set down in writing those things which we would like to enjoy once freedom is won."
It then posed a set of questions, which appealed to different social groups and categories in society:
What are your demands if you are a farmer, a worker on a farm, a worker in the factory, a teacher, a student, a preacher, a mother, a bus owner, a businessman? What do you mean by freedom? Do you demand that all people regardless of race, colour, creed, religion or sex, should have the right to be elected to parliament, provincial councils, city councils? Do you believe in war or peace? Do you think that people should have the right to go where they like, to work where they like and to live where they like?
The methods used to collect demands ranged from house-to-house calls, open-air public meetings, mass rallies, house meetings, kraal meetings, factory lunch hour meetings various conferences or gatherings hosted by the Congresses and their branches. The collection of interviews in Suttner and Cronin's book provides a fascinating insight into the processes of volunteers politicising ordinary people, and, conversely,' gaining a sharper perspective of the realities of life under apartheid and capitalism as the people declared their feelings and demands.
A major problem, however, was that demands began to flow in at a late stage in the campaign. Luthuli, in his autobiography, noted that "the main disadvantage from which the preparation for this COP suffered was that local branches submitted their material for the Charter at a very late hour””too late, in fact, for the statements to be boiled down into one comprehensive statement... All the same, taken as a whole, it does give insight into the hopes and aspirations of the people who desire South Africa to be one homeland for all its inhabitants." The reason for this delay, according to Lionel Bernstein, rested with the introduction of a "new technique of mobilisation" which volunteers and the masses had to acquaint themselves with and gain experience in."
Nevertheless, in the two or three months preceding the COP demands began to flow in extensively. "On the eve of the Congress it was reported that for months now the demands had been flooding into the COP headquarters, on sheets torn from school exercise books, on little dog-eared scraps of paper, on slips torn from COP leaflets. The demands were spontaneous and were "characterised by a moving simplicity." Whatever political content that they had stemmed from the direct experiences of oppression and exploitation that people had in the country of their birth. Some of the many demands are printed in full to provide the reader with a sense of the issues and needs that were foremost in the minds of different people.
A volunteer by the name of J.M. Mhlongo recorded the following variety of demands:
Land to be given to all landless people.
Living wages and shorter hours of work.
Equal pay for equal work.
To be paid and treated without discrimination.
Free and compulsory education, irrespective of colour, race or nationality.
To trade wherever opportunity offers.
Abolition of laws, which discriminate against Non-Europeans.
The right to reside and move about freely."
The African Tobacco Workers' Union submitted the following demands:
Land for all irrespective of colour.
Higher wages, shorter hours.
Decent working conditions.
Decent houses without discrimination.
Freedom of thought and expression and assembly.
Freedom from fear.
Let us build a South Africa, which is free from scarcity, where there is political, economic, and social democracy. A democracy of content."
In a letter to the Secretary COP, the Chairman, representing 200 farmers of the Klipvoor Farmers' Association, sent in the following demands: "Freehold titles, equal voting rights, equal work equal pay, full education for all, more land, good homes, better transport, enough shops, good roads, proper farming implements, away with passes, away with racial discrimination and better living conditions."
Elizabeth Molete of Sophiatown demanded the right to own our own homes, and the land on which we built them; the right to leave (live) where we choose; housing loan schemes at low rates of interest; properly made roads and storm water drainage; better shopping facilities, particularly in the non-European townships; the right of all people to own and work their own farms; ending of the requirement to carry a pass or reference book; equal rights for all people; and, the right to vote." A similar list of demands was presented by Eric Mogosemang, who lived nearby on 60 Bertha Street, Sophiatown.
The bulletin of the Transvaal Provincial Committee of the COP, Forward to Freedom, published the following list of demands in March 1955:
"HERE IS WHAT SOME PEOPLE SAY:
- 1. From Roodepoort - I would like to make a law protecting the public from being assaulted by the police even when they are not resisting arrest.... People would marry whom they pleased.... I would do away with the badge of slavery, that is the passes;
- 2. From Coronationville””'Our children are continue being arrested for playing in the streets . . . have sports grounds, one especially for small children where all kids could play without being molested... I would see that non-Europeans be allowed to play in world federations';
- 3. From Bellevue””'The outlawing of weapons of mass destruction and agreements on general disarmament. .1 Admittance of non-Europeans to concerts and provide greater opportunities for cultural advancement. ... Reduction of defence expenditure; The list ends with the following call:
- 'Draw up your demands and send them in to us. And the time is now””There is only a short time left. So get cracking today.'
The multitude and politically variegated nature of the demands were sorted out by the regional committees and handed over to the provincial action councils. These were men submitted to the drafting committee of the NAC of the COP. The small size of the drafting committee and the 'silence' about its composition have provoked several penetrating questions about who actually shaped the social blueprint for a future South Africa. Take, for example, Lodge's comments and questions, which are reproduced here at some length:
The complication of the document must have been a complicated process and must have 'been informed by the perceptions and beliefs of those responsible. How members of the drafting committee worked, as well as the question of their identities, are not insignificant matters. Rendering thousands and thousands of demands 'into a social blueÂprint would have involved an order of priorities, issues of interpretation, and the values and ideas of those involved. Were they a homogeneous group ideologically and socially, were they representative of the different constituencies caught up in the Congress movement and in what fashion did they perceive their role? Joe Slovo has said that he was one of the people responsible for drafting the Charter, but who were the others? The silences on this subject in all the anniversary volumes leave untouched one of the chief topics of controversy about the Charter, the issue of whether the Charter can be read as the socially coherent programme of a particular section of the Congress movement or whether on the other hand, to quote a contemporary view of the Charter, it was a "vague haphazard document assembled from all kinds of contradictory suggestions from Congress branches."
I must confess that I have been unable to find answers to all the searching questions posed by Lodge. But a few comments by Lionel Bernstein might help to shed some light on this particular aspect of the campaign. Firstly, he confirmed that he was a member of the drafting committee. His response to question about the smallness of the drafting committee and its total composition, and the fact mat me final draft of the Freedom Charter was only made available at the last minute to the Nations Action Council on Thursday, 23 June 1955, was that these were "unimportant" . He contended that the draft of the Charter had gone through "several stages of consultations" ””ranging from demands flowing from grassroots level, the sifting and sorting out processes at provincial level, discussions with a wide range of leadership elements in the four Congresses in the various provinces and was finally open to ratification at the COP itself. He argued that the content of the Freedom Charter was a matter of concern to the leadership of the national liberation movement as a whole, and that it was pondered over for some time.
Finally, he expressed the view that the committee worked on the principle that it was only presenting a draft which was written over several times after consultations with various leadership elements, including those who were banned and restricted. Thus, the fact that the final draft of the Freedom Charter was only formally made available on the eve of me COP did not pose as a problem for Bernstein; in his mind, democratic processes had taken place prior to that. In the final analysis, each Congress was expected to make a thorough study of the document after the COP, and adopt or reject it at its annual conferences."
These views are echoed by an activist of the time who claimed that the "Freedom Charter was not written by one person or just a committee of five. There was substantial collective input by the leadership from all organisations and discussions were held on all areas of difficultly; then some people prepared the draft.... By no means was it a hastily drafted document”” it was mulled over for some time and a great deal of discussion had taken place beforehand." He added that the "economic and nationalisation clauses" were included and were put forward by activists from various organisations. This does not mean that they did not emerge at all from the grassroots. On the contrary, economic demands were made but they were not "well worked out and presented" . What must also be remembered is that "at that time the possibility of immediate transformation was hardly on the agenda. Questions such as the future of monopolies, banks, land, etc., were not on the agenda as they are today. Then people were primarily concerned with immediate issues with a vague conception of an alternative social order."
Despite these clarifications on the processes of drafting the Freedom Charter, there is still a noticeable vagueness about specific questions. What exactly were the procedures of sorting, sifting and ordering of demands at provincial levels and who were involved in them? Who were the remaining members of the drafting committee? Who were the "leadership elements" that were consulted and what were their social backgrounds and ideological affiliations? These questions remain unanswered and should be me focus of further research in the light of the dramatic political changes that have swept through South Africa since the unbanning of the ANC and the SACP in 1990.
Some critics of the Charter have also questioned the procedures for the election of delegates to the COP, claiming that an assortment of gatherings ranging from huge rallies and small house or factory meetings without a coherent set of guidelines cannot be regarded as an effective and acceptable from of democratic process. This is an important question, despite the fact that a positive, direct form of mass participation at public meetings prevailed. It will be remembered that the Joint Executives of the Congresses rejected the proposals for the establishment of a Delimitations of Constituencies Committee arguing that the Congresses did not have the organisational resources to undertake such a project.
Joe Slovo addressed this question in a speech delivered at the launching of the COP campaign in the Transvaal in July 1954 in the following manner:
"We cannot at mis stage divide up the country into units and say that those units will be able to have so many representatives, because we want every section of our people to be represented. It is inevitable that a certain amount of numerical irregularities in constituencies cannot be avoided. We cannot, for instance, say that a farm””a European farm which employs, say, twenty African labourers can have one representative... and that a location like Alexandra Township should also have one representative for every twenty inhabitants. We cannot give you a precise guide, but one could say at this stage that the number of electoral units””that the number of constituencies””will depend on the active local COP committees. ... But what has been decided is something which has never happened in South African history before, that is, every person in South Africa, irrespective of race, colour or creed, will have vote and elect his/her representative to the COP."
The TAC had set aside 15 April 1994 for me "first truly democratic elections" to be held in South Africa. On the weekend of 16-17 April "thousands of meetings, big and small (were to) be held throughout the Transvaal" and these would be "used to the greatest possible extent to advertise the Congress and the Freedom Charter" and elect delegations.
The May 1955 issue of Forward to Freedom reported that in "Sophiatown the whole area has been divided into blocks which are being canvassed to elect delegates... and collect money. They are arranging a big public meeting to endorse the candidates." Similarly, Moroka, Jabavu and Alexandra "have been divided into blocks for canvassing (and) in each of the areas the ANC branch has appointed three people to nurse COP in their areas."
In Fordsburg, Newlands and Ophirton "house-to-house canvassing has been started and meetings are being called at which delegates will be elected and demands brought in." The issue also advertised that "special conferences" were to be held in Benoni, Sophiatown and Moroka to "elect delegates" . A public meeting had been scheduled for 22 May 1955 in Lady Selborne, Pretoria, to elect delegates and collect demands. The publication finally advocated that volunteers" tell... friends on the farms" by writing to them and "ask them to send as many delegates as they can."
The interviews in Suttner and Cronin's book provide conflicting views about the manner in which delegates were elected. Christmas Tinto claims that delegates were "not non-ANC members" , whereas Mahopa from Sophiatown notes that delegates were not exclusively registered members of the Congresses. Billy Nair emphasised that the "most democratic methods were used" in factories where SACTU was organising for me COP, and supports the view that non-Congress members were eligible for election as delegates.
The latter view is verifiable by a document dealing with elections, which stated that nominees need not necessarily be members of the sponsoring organisations and it stressed that "non-members should be encouraged to accept nomination" . It stipulated that in the townships the number of delegates to be elected should be in the proportion of one delegate to 1,000 residents, and that after nominations, the area should be canvassed to gain support for the candidate. It advanced a simple slogan:
The Congress knows no bars””bar no one!"
What emerges from this brief survey is mat elections were held over a period of two months in big and small meetings in homes, in public and at factories, and the democratic process entailed the calling for nominations and ratification or endorsement by the audience. As the Congresses had rejected parliamentary electoral procedures in denned constituencies, this can be interpreted as a practical democratic procedure.
The Congress of the People, 25-26 June 1955 ↵
Whatever deficiencies there might have been in the campaign, by June 1955 there was a flurry of activity and energetic enthusiasm for the historic Congress of the People. Volunteers were instructed to "whip up the people's feelings" for the Congress and complete the processes of electing delegates and submitting demands. For the volunteers in the Transvaal a long and arduous campaign lasting almost eleven full months were about to come to a dose. But not yet! On 21 May 1955 all volunteers had to attend a Special Preparatory Conference to discuss details about the hosting of the COP itself. Lionel Bernstein has left us with a vivid description of the mood prevailing just before the COP:
It is the eve of the Congress of the People. The work of knocking on doors, speaking to housewives, labourers, teachers and mechanics draws to a dose. The demands of simple people for the things they want in life begin to form a pattern whose sum will be stated in the Freedom Charter. The request for delegates' credentials and still more credentials grows into a speeding torrent. It is three weeks before June 25,1955””too late now to do all the things that might have been; too early to know whether everything has succeeded as was planned and hoped for... The COP struck an echo because it was timely, because it expressed the need for a charter of change, for a programme of struggle for change, which the majority of our countrymen, for one reason or another, are seeking.
The Congress of the People, held over the weekend of 25-26 June 1955, was a colourful and dramatic affair. It was an exceptional and moving experience for the thousands of delegates and observers that attended it, one that would not be easily forgotten, but remembered, perhaps, forever. Billy Nair described the scene as follows:
"When we reached the Congress there was a carnival atmosphere. In fact, the organisation was immaculate; it was of a very high standard.... It was the first non-racial gathering of its size we have ever had in this country. It was actually a landmark in the political development of me people."
For Ellen Lambert the COP was seen as "the day of liberation””like Martin Luther's meeting where he gave the 'I have a dream....' speech. I thought from here nothing is going to stop us.... It I can express in a religious way””to the it was like the Israelites coming out of the desert and into the land of wine and honey." For the Reggie Vandeyar/ Eastern Cape, the COP was a "great moment in (his) life. Through all the years of going through meetings, listening to all the speeches and seeing the dynamism of mass struggle in the Passive Resistance Campaign and the Defiance Campaign, one felt that this was the epitome of one's contribution to the struggle.... Just the delegates were in their thousands. Every delegate was a speaker””if he/she was called upon to say something, he/she would be able to articulate his/ her grievances and the people he/she represented. They would be able to say something about their plight in South Africa and that was the most inspiring thing of all."
The official report of the NAC on the COP stated that there were 2844 delegates" representing all the most important centres" with "approximately 300 delegates from Natal, 250 from the Easter and Western Cape, 50 from the OFS" and the "balance came from the Transvaal, mainly from Johannesburg." It noted with "some concern" that the "overwhelming majority of delegates came from the main urban centres, i.e., from areas where the Congress branches have been operating for many years.... The Northern Cape, the Transkei and Ciskei, the Transvaal and OPS countryside were hardly represented. The figure of nine representative from the reserves throughout South Africa suggested very strongly that the campaign did not effectively reach the countryside." In an unduly harsh criticism of itself and the sponsoring organisations the NAC added that "very little" work was done to popularise the COP in the rural areas. Equally hard-hitting was its comment on the relatively small delegation of organised workers. "Only a minute proportion came from the factories or mines.
It also indicates that the Congress movement as an organised weapon has not yet made its impression at the point of production." Robert Resha, presenting the report of the credentials committee at the COP, informed the delegates that there were" 2,884 delegates.... from Natal, Sekhukhuneland, Zululand, Transkei, Ciskei, Almost every place in the Transvaal, Cape Town, Durban/East London and Port Elizabeth." Sectoral representation was as follows:
"2,186 African delegates, 320 Indians, 230 Coloureds, 112 whites, and of the total 721 were women. Sixty delegates from the Cape were detained at Beaufort West and railed to appear at me COP." The Star reported that "more than 150 delegates from other provinces had been held up... by members of the Special Branch who had refused to allow them to continue on their way."
The Congress of the People opened””under the chairmanship of Dr. W. Conco””with a prayer by Rev. Gawe and a speech delivered on behalf of Chief Luthuli, who could not attend because of his banning order. This was followed by the presentation of the Isitwalandwe””an honour of a bird feather conferred on distinguished sons of the Xhosa people””to Chief Luthuli, Dr. Dadoo and Father Trevor Huddleston "in recognition of their work to build a better life in our country, founded upon democracy and equality." 141 After this each clause of the Freedom Charter was motivated by various speakers, limited discussion and comments were elicited from the delegates, and the clause was adopted by a show of hands. Below is a list of the clauses of the Freedom Charter and the speaker for each:
Preamble of the Freedom Charter - A.S. Hutchinson
The People Shall Govern - N.T. Naicker
All National Groups Shall Have Equal Rights - Dr. Letele
The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth - B. Turok
The Land Shall Be Shared Amongst Those Who Work It - T.E. Tshunungwa
All Shall Be Equal before me Law - Dr. A. Sader
All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights - ms.s. Bunting
There Shall Be Work and Security - L.S. Massina
The Doors Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened - E. Mphahlele
There Shall Be Houses, Security and Comfort - Ms. H. Joseph
There shall be Peace and Friendship - C. Mayekiso
This process ended with the entire Freedom Charter being put to a vote, and being adopted. During the latter part of the Sunday programme" about 200 armed European and Native police and a squad from the Special Branch surrounded the open air meeting of about 3,000 delegates... searched everyone present, took their names and addresses, and took possession of papers and banners." This was done ostensibly in the process of "investigating a charge of treason." Father Huddleston described the charge as being "ludicrous" and added that "communism was being used as a bogey to intimidate people,... but mis irresponsible and deplorable misuse would recoil upon those responsible, with serious consequences for them." The last of the delegates finally left the assembly at 8.00 p.m. on Sunday.
The historical significance of this "people's assembly" is beyond question. The document that it adopted led to the consolidation of the Congress Alliance on the basis of a principled political programme, the eventual breaking away of the Africanists and the formation of the Pan African Congress, the marathon treason trial lasting years, and, more recently, the resurgence of political activity on the basis of the Freedom Charter. Suttner and Cronin best capture its political significance in a paragraph:
In one sense the adoption of the Charter represented a continuation of earlier resistance. But in another, it marked the start of a new phase in the South African struggle. For the first time in the history of South African resistance, the people were actively involved in formulating their own vision of an alternative society. The majority of people would no longer seek to modify the existing order, to be assimilated into a society whose basis they fundamentally rejected. While the process by which the masses had come to this decision had been developing over decades, the Congress of the People represented the crucial historical moment: a completely new order, based on the will of tile people, was put on the agenda. local committees for the COP and Volunteer Chiefs, 16 March 1955."