Mayibuye Uprising-black South Africans, slaves in the land of their birth, rose up to peacefully throw off their shackles

Saturday, 8 November 1952

In 1952 black South Africans, slaves in the land of their birth, rose up to peacefully throw off their shackles - with fatal results. Following is a context of the Mayibuye Uprising of November 8 1952.

Getting rid of the Shackles, by Johlene Mary

THE MAYIBUYE uprising in 1952 occurred not as an isolated event but as a result of the culmination of oppressive activities against the African people of South Africa, through the legislated encroachment upon the property rights and citizenship of Africans, by the colonial or Union authorities.

These oppressive measures can be seen in the litany of wars that were fought and the mass of laws passed to bolster what would become apartheid. The discovery of diamonds in 1870 saw the British Imperial government embarking on a process of expansion, which resulted in the 'Wars of Dispossession' with many chiefdoms being overpowered: Hlubi 1873; Gcaleka and Pedi 1877; Ngita, Thema, Mpondo, Griqua, Rolong 1878; Zulu 1879; Sotho l880; Ndebele 1893.

The Glen Grey Act orchestrated by Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Hofmeyer resulted, in a progressive system of dispossession of the African majority in South Africa. This Act resulted in the establishment of the local administration under which Africans would be forced to concentrate on local matters. The establishment of the council system under this Act resulted in the provision of infrastructure and important services such as education being shifted to the inhabitants of the reserves, imposing a labour tax of 10 shillings on any African male who had not worked outside his district for at least three months in the year. The authors of the Glen Grey Act expected that poverty and starvation would force Africans from the reserves to seek employment in the white farms and mines.

In 1911 Sol Plaatje stated 'Boers are now ousting the Englishman from the public scene and when they finished are with them, they will make a law declaring it a crime for a Native to live in South Africa unless he worked as servant in the employ of a Boer and from this it will be just one to step to complete slavery'.

During the years 1911 - 1913 the Union passed various acts which had disastrous consequences for blacks in South Africa. The Native Labour Regulation Act 1911 resulted in movement control and wage control of the African that essentially entrenched migrant labour and an average standard wage. The 1913 Native Land Act was born out of the idea that squatting on the farms resulted in an aggravated shortage of labour. It claimed that the presence of the settled African on the farms that led an independent life resulted in social contact between them and the whites, which was regarded as highly undesirable. These two Acts laid the basis for a race-based system of oppression and exploitation and led to various passive petitions to the King of Britain that were all unsuccessful. 1817 saw the Bucket strike followed in 1918-1919 by African and Coloured Dock workers' strikes.

Both of these however were very passive. In 1921 the Stallard Commission established by the Hertzog/Smuts coalition government recommended that the Government consider that 'the history of the races, especially having regard to South African history, showed that the coming together of black and white is undesirable'. The commission felt that Africans 'should only be allowed to enter urban areas, which were essentially the white man's creation, when he is willing to enter and attend to the needs of the white man and he should depart therefrom if he ceases to attend to those needs'. The commission also recommended firstly, influx control regulations; secondly the tightening of the pass laws; thirdly, the labour bureaux system of the 1950s; fourthly the 'Dompas' which became the monitoring instrument which the every African over the age of 15 years had to carry, as mechanisms to achieve these aims.

The Poll Tax Act of 1925 was imposed on all African males between the ages of 18-65 years. Development services for the African were paid from the poll tax of (pound) one per head. One fifth was set aside of the African education and four fifths to develop the African areas.

In 1943 the Smuts government issued a White Paper in which it set out its scheme to rehabilitate the reserves. Among the major features of the rehabilitation and betterment scheme was the culling of stock to the carrying capacity of the communal pasturage and the removal from residential areas of those who had no arable allotments and placing them in various' labour settlements.

The mass removal of people from areas they had occupied for half a century and more affected an estimated three million people. The land distribution in the various reserves became critical as millions of Africans were trapped between the grinding poverty of the reserves and the hammer of the laws that forced them put out of the urban and rural white areas.

Migrant labour became a way of life for the vast majority of able-bodied men. Before the formation of the Union in 1910 the need to unite in order to fight effectively against the determined attacks on the political rights of the Africans by the alliance of Britons and Boers had become apparent.

In 1950 the African, Indian, Coloured and white democrats realized that the fight against all the oppressive laws could not be fought by one section only. It was a total fight that required the mobilization of all the people. Also in that year the Suppression of Communism Act was passed and the next year the Bantu Authorities Act resurrected the chieftainships, which had been destroyed after the Wars of Dispossession.

The fifties saw the ANC going into action in the urban townships to organize workers and in the Bantustans to organize peasants in a peasant-led struggle against the racially inspired monster of Apartheid. People were mobilized to join trade unions. Scores of meetings took place in townships under the cover of darkness. It was a task carried out patiently and consistently.

On June 26,1850 a call was made to stay home. Exactly a year later the African National Congress, the Indian Congress, South African Coloured People's Organisation and the White Democrats launched a joint campaign. A planning council was established and the Defiance Campaign started on June 26 1952.

As part of the Defiance Campaign in Kimberley Dr Arthur Letele organized a group of volunteers to defy the segregation laws by sitting on the 'Europeans Only' benches at the Kimberley Station. They were arrested and fined £3 or ten days imprisonment. They all opted for the latter.

In Kimberley on November 8 1952, years before the Sharpeville massacre, another massacre took place. A dozen people were buried in a mass funeral on November 12 1952, at the West End Graveyard. They were innocent casualties who had been coming home from work: At dawn the following morning the police detained Dr Arthur Letele, Sam Phakedi, Pepys Madibane, Olehile Sehume, Alexander Nkoane, Daniel Chabalala and David Mpiwa who were regarded as the ringleaders.

Dr Letele, John Rholeng, Khabi Khabele, Mosata, Mabemba, Qwetha Hulana and several others marshalled the African National Congress at the time. The Defiance campaign saw 8326 people volunteering to defy unjust laws and facing court imprisonment. The benefits of the campaign saw it giving African National Congress membership on the ground an opportunity to be practically involved in the struggle against oppression.

The people shed the fear of jail as they realized the way to freedom passed through jail. The campaign inculcated the idea of the spirit of sacrifice of personal interest for the public good. Out of the campaign came a disciplined volunteer corps of men and women who gave freely of their time and energy without any remuneration in order to build the African National Congress and Alliance.

The Defiance Campaign put an end to deputations pleading with the government to grant rights which it had deliberately, as a matter of calculated policy, taken away from the oppressed and exploited majority. Forty-two years later all South Africans, irrespective of race, creed or colour, would be able to go to the polls to elect their own Government and break down the edifice of apartheid.

• Robben Island Mayibuye Archives
• theNewAge ,'Mayibuye revolt recalled'[Online] Available,[Accessed: 03 October 2013]
• nelsonMandela, 'GLEN GREY ACT' ,[Online] Available at:[Accessed: 03 October 2013]

Last updated : 07-Oct-2013

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

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