Fighting breaks out on the Johannesburg market square

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Police disperse a strike meeting, Market Square, Johannesburg, 1913

Friday, 4 July 1913

On 4 July 1913 a scuffles broke between police, mounted soldiers and a riotous crowd at the Johannesburg market square. This was during the first miners' strike. The police were severely assaulted after strikers attacked them with stones.

 In the  period 1910 to 1914  organised labour began to find its feet in the Union. The first trade unionists in South Africa were the Uitlanders, the Dutch word for foreigners. These Europeans brought with them their knowledge of trade union activity. By 1910  trade unions had gained support and were beginning to lure the uprooted poor white Afrikaners and those who had failed on the land. These trade unions, however, were not recognised by their employers with the result that dissatisfaction increased among the miners on the Reef. In May 1913, the miners at the New Kleinfontein mine on the East Rand went on strike. Mine management ignored this small strike, refused to recognise the miners’ trade union.

The government did not consider the strikers' complaints or attempt to curb their aggressive behaviour until rioters set fire to Johannesburg's railway station on 4 July. Shop fronts were smashed and looting began almost immediately, especially in jewellery and gunsmith shops, where the rioters were looking for firearms.

The mob refused to disperse and fired shots at the military. One of the ringleaders, a tall red-headed miner from Nigel named J L Labuschagne, twice walked into the street, threw out his arms and cried, "Shoot me!" The second time, when the crowd behind him began to move forward, he was shot dead; a 13-year old boy, Monty Dunmore, was shot through the back while selling Strike Heralds to the crowd outside the Rand Club, and horses were killed in the crossfire.

References:
• Burpee, L.J. ‘Canadian Geographical Journal - Volumes 6-7’, 1933, P. 183
• Skyscrapericity.com, ‘Johannesburg, South Africa, City Gallery’, [online], available at www.skyscrapercity.com (Accessed: 13 June 2013)
• Norwich, Oskar, (1986) A Johannesburg Album, p.140.

Last updated : 04-Jul-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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