About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Loyalists and Rebels

Class & Colour in South Africa 1850-1950

Jack & Ray Simons

Chapter 8

The Labour party claimed to have close on 16,000 paid-up members in 1912, and the trade unions about 12,000 members in 1914. Support for both came from the few scattered industrial areas in the port towns and at Kimberley, Bloemfontein and Pretoria, but the movement's stronghold was on the Witwatersrand. The Rand retained for many decades the feverish and unstable atmosphere of a mining camp; partly, some observers thought, through the unsettling effects of a high altitude in a sub-tropical region. The main contributory factors, however, were social. Recurring booms and slumps on the 'kaffir' share market injected a strong speculative element; while the big rewards and risks of deep-level mining encouraged a reckless and aggressive spirit in the mining community. Glaring contrasts between wealthy English-speaking suburbs and the squalid slums inhabited by Africans, Afrikaners, Indians and Coloured emphasized class, national and racial cleavages. Perhaps the most important cause of underlying tension was the presence and ceaseless rotation of the 200,000 African peasant workers. Isolated in the compounds, never allowed to become full members of the community, and yet indispensable to its prosperity, they were a constant reminder of the society's intrinsic immorality and a challenge to the democratic or socialist pretensions of the white elite.

Labour leaders often forgot that the Rand was unique. They identified the small body of artisans whom they represented with the interests of all workers. Labour's principles, said Creswell in January 1913, came from the working man's ' hard necessities' and 'were calculated to promote the best human interests of all classes'. Journals sympathetic to Labour echoed these sentiments. The movement, declared the South African Review, took as its platform 'those interests which are common to all'. Class consciousness meant only that workers recognized their special interests and the possibility of obtaining reforms through the political channel. The class war, on the other hand, ' was created, as it is sustained, by Toryism; it is the Labour movement which the class war seeks to destroy'. The government, urged the South African Quarterly, should distinguish between its political and economic functions, remaining neutral in the struggle for economic sovereignty. The feeling that the state was partial to the capitalists had prompted French syndicalists to urge its overthrow by means of the general strike. South Africa should meet this danger by enforcing the principle of collective bargaining through recognized trade unions.

A general strike, even if confined to the Rand, threatened to disrupt the country's economic nerve centre. Smuts was determined to forestall a repetition of the July upheaval. In December 1913 the government published the texts of five bills dealing with industrial disputes. Before parliament could consider them, a new round of strikes broke out. Prompted by the effects of an economic recession, retrenchment and alleged victimization, white coal miners in Natal struck work in December for 18s. a day and the reinstatement of men declared redundant. African coal miners followed with a demand for 4s. a day. The railwaymen were the next to threaten a strike against retrenchments. The union executive called on railway and harbour workers throughout the country to stop work on 8 January if the administration refused to stop retrenchment and re-employ men who had been discharged. H. J. Poutsma, the union's general secretary, urged the Federation of Trades to call a general strike in support; and appealed to the railwaymen at Pretoria 'not to resort to violence, not to do anything that civilized people as they were should not do, but just cease work'.

The Federation stood solidly behind the railwaymen, said J. T. Bain. The government, he added, had called out the troops and ' were preparing to use the same damnable force against the workers'. They, in turn, 'were prepared to use all the force they had in their power'. Smuts also was prepared, to the limit of his powers under the Defence Act. He mobilized the active citizen force, ordered armed guards to be stationed at railway premises, and instructed them to shoot after warning if any unauthorized entry was attempted. Ten thousand troops were brought to the Rand by 10 January, and trade union leaders in different towns were arrested, among them Waterston, Glendon, Colin Wade, Poutsma and other officials of the railway union.

South Africans make a practice of dramatizing their patterns of racial discrimination. While strike leaders were receiving 'courteous treatment' in the Pretoria jail, Sotho miners at Jagersfontein diamond mine suffered serious casualties in yet another of the so-called riots that resulted from the brutal suppression of African strikes. The men struck work on the 9th because a white overseer had kicked one of their comrades to death. When the manager refused to have him arrested, the strikers attempted to break out and join forces with men in other compounds. White employees were called together, cornered the strikers, fired on them, killing eleven and wounding thirty-seven. Most of the Africans then went back to work, but 250 or so who refused were marched to jail under armed escort. A judicial inquiry was held the white witnesses disagreed over the necessity for the shooting; and none of those responsible for the massacre was prosecuted.

Back on the Rand, an overwhelming majority of the Federation's affiliated unions voted in favour of a general strike, which was timed for the 13th. Smuts put his emergency plans into operation, proclaimed martial law on the 14th, and called out 70,000 armed men, 'a larger military force', he announced in parliament, 'than was mobilized by the late Republics at the beginning of the late war. Generals Beyers and de la Rey who were to lead an armed rebellion against the state in October - rode with the commandos into the Rand. A cordon of troops, training a field gun, besieged the Johannesburg trades hall. The police arrested the Federations entire executive, including Bain, Crawford, Andrew Watson, J. P. Anderson and Charles Mussared. They went to jail singing the ' Red Flag'. The police swooped in all the big industrial centres and arrested hundreds of strikers, trade union and labour party leaders, among them Creswell, Boydell and Andrews.

Deprived of their leaders, bewildered by press reports of capitulation, and intimidated by threats of dismissal, the workers lost heart. The Federation's acting executive, headed by George Kendall, tried hard to rally them by issuing a ,series of 'manifestos ' which claimed widespread support and explained the purpose of the strike. 'This is a fight for civil liberty, a fight for better conditions.' Prepare 'to suffer and endure for the biggest fight in history.' This was a war 'not against the Community, but for it. You are battling for genuine free labour - for a land of the free, a land that men can call as their own.' The last manifesto, issued on 22 January, called on Call workers to down tools' in the struggle for liberty, wages, and trade unionism. On the same day, however, Kendall announced that the executive had 'declared the strike off - for the present'.

Andrews, as chairman of the Labour party, issued a manifesto urging 'every patriotic South African' to condemn and show his abhorrence of 'the violent and provocative methods adopted by the government'. His appeal met with little response. Apart from Durban's railwaymen, few workers outside the Rand and Pretoria followed the Federation's lead. Though a majority of the unions affiliated to the Cape Federation voted in favour, the executive decided against the general strike. Six hundred Coloured stevedores at Cape Town's docks struck work on the 14th for an increase in pay from 4s. 6d. to 6s. a day and for an eight hour day; but the administration broke the strike by introducing Africans from the eastern Cape to work on the ships. Some 100 African miners broke out of the Van Ryn Estate mine compound on the 17th. They were rounded up by a large force of burghers; arrested and fined £1 each. One was shot in the leg while attempting to get away. Otherwise, reported the press, 'the attitude of the natives has in all cases been most exemplary'.

Smuts sealed his victory with a high-handed show of power. He decided to eliminate the 'dangerous men' and deter others of a like disposition while the country was in turmoil and before the labour movement could organize a public protest. Orders were given for the deportation of nine leaders: Bain, Crawford, Livingstone, Mason, McKerrill, Morgan, Poutsma, Waterston and Watson. They were rushed with great secrecy to Durban, placed on board the steamship Umgeni, and sent off to England on 30 January the opening day of the new parliamentary session. Smuts immediately introduced the Indemnity and Undesirables Special Deportation Bill to legalize the deportations and other unlawful acts committed under martial law. He based his defence on the urgencies of public safety, law and order; but could not deny Hertzog's accusation that since his victims had broken no law, and would not have been convicted in any court, he had ordered their abduction because he had no lawful reason to imprison them.

The six Labour members rose to great heights of parliamentary strategy in a filibuster against the bill. ' This was not a conspiracy on the part of the workers,' declared Creswell; 'it was a conspiracy between the Government and their friends, the capitalistic school of Johannesburg, to run the country in their own interests.' They had conspired to grind down the working man for the benefit of the mining magnates. Andrews said that the strike was orderly passive resistance; and accused the government of deploying the state's full resources to break trade unionism. The government had made a great blunder, he added; and would yet discover that it had failed to crush the spirit of the people. In England George Lansbury called for a general strike to secure the return of the deportees. Stop work, he urged, 'until both the home and the South African governments are brought to their senses. The right of combination, the right to agitate, and the right to preach revolutionary ideas must be maintained.' The deported men were advised to sue the shipowners for unlawful imprisonment on the high seas, but the action was discontinued after war had broken out. Smuts retreated under pressure and allowed the deportees to return to South Africa at the government's expense.

The arrests, imprisonment and deportations humiliated and angered the labour leaders. They were in no mood to respond sympathetically to the government's proposed measures for industrial peace. One of these, the Industrial Disputes Prevention Bill, empowered employers and employees to form conciliation boards or appoint arbitrators. Strikes and lockouts would be illegal unless preceded by an unsuccessful attempt to arrive at an agreement. The bill, which reached the statute book in an amended form only in 1924, contained a major colour bar. It excluded from the definition of employees and therefore from the conciliation machinery all pass-bearing Africans, including those subject to the terms of the Native Labour Regulation Act of 1911, and all indentured Indians. The parliamentary Labour party denounced, not the colour bar, but the partial ban on strikes. Andrews said that the bill was intended to cripple the trade unions. Creswell thought that it should be left alone until it could be considered by a new parliament 'in which the industrial population would be more congenially represented '. Haggar maintained that the class war had been forced on the workers and would be waged until one class was wiped out.

The government shelved the Industrial Disputes Prevention Bill and its companion, the Trade Union Bill; but Labour could not stay the passage of the far more repressive Riotous Assemblies and Criminal Law Amendment Bill. This penalized attempts to force workers to join or not to join trade unions; banned strikes in public utility services; gave magistrates, acting under ministerial authority, wide powers to prohibit meetings expected to endanger the public peace; and allowed the police in certain circumstances to arrest speakers and listeners or, in the last resort, to fire. This was the strongest attack yet made by a South African legislature on civil liberties and working-class rights; and marked a new stage in the transition from a colonial economy to an industrialized society. Techniques of colonial repression, as exemplified by the Natal Code of Native Law, were from then on supplemented by more modern and pervasive restrictions on the labour and national liberation movements.

White voters demonstrated at the polls against Smuts's brutal attacks on trade unionism and the working class. Tom Maginess won a parliamentary by-election for Labour in Liesbeek, Cape Town; Morris Kentridge won another in Durban Central, giving Labour eight members in the assembly. Walter Snow, a victimized railwayman, was returned from Liesbeek to the provincial council. Labour won two provincial council seats in Durban and one in Bloemfontein during 1914, and scored its greatest victory in the Transvaal by contesting twenty-five and winning twenty-three seats in the provincial council. The Labour councillors had a clear majority of one in the chamber, but could not obtain control of the executive, and so were unable to implement their policy. Their two notable achievements were a new municipal rating ordinance, which the central government disallowed, and a revision of the municipal franchise, which was extended to white women and modified so as to incorporate the principle of proportional representation. Under the leadership of F. A. W. Lucas, a barrister and firm adherent of Henry George's land tax theory, the Labour group tried hard to substitute economic issues for Anglo-Afrikaner rivalries in provincial politics, and never wavered in their adherence to the party's white supremacy policy.

S. P. Bunting, who won the Bezuidenhout seat, set out the case for the policy in an election manifesto of 3,000 words. Written in his involved style, and studded with capitalized phrases, it contained both an analysis of South African society and a passionate protest against class oppression. It has additional significance as marking a stage in the development of a great South African radical. Born of middle-class parents in London in 1873 and a graduate of Oxford, Bunting came as a lieutenant in the British army to South Africa in 1900, took a law degree after the war, and settled down to practise as an attorney in Johannesburg Wybergh and Creswell were his intimate friends, and he came to share their belief in the white labour policy. He helped to found and took on the secretaryship of the White Expansion Society in 1909, with Patrick Duncan as its president and Lucas as one of the committee members. He then joined the Labour party in 1910, became the secretary of the Witwatersrand district committee, and was elected to the national executive in 1912. His manifesto, therefore, represented the views of a senior if exceptional member of the party.

He managed the Worker, his party's paper, in 1912, and sat on its editorial board; yet his manifesto, printed in heavy type with many capitalized phrases, came far closer in spirit to the radicalism of the rival journal Voice of Labour. Like Crawford, he believed that South Africa's industrial upheavals formed part of a world-wide struggle between international finance and the working classes. They were striking, not for higher wages, but FOR BETTER STATUS, the RIGHT TO LIVE, a PLACE IN THE SUN. They refused to be mere servants, and this was natural in South Africa 'where every white man has tasted more or less the sweets of masterhood himself'. But the ruling class in this, THE MOST CAPITALIST-RIDDEN C0UNTRY IN THE WORLD, was determined to suppress trade unions, dispense with white workers, and run the economy with white overseers, and "' cheap ", unenfranchised, unorganized Kaffirs'. This 'means eventually a Kaffirs land. THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION'. White South Africa was in danger, and only the Labour party resisted the REAL ANARCHIC CONSPIRACY AGAINST SOCIETY.

Labour would do away with the differences between master and servant, secure equal opportunities for all, and reconstruct society on a cooperative basis - 'the only possible means to TRUE AND UNIVERSAL LIBERTY AND WELL-BEING . It would be a white man's heaven. Africans were enemies within the gate: the ' allies, or rather tools, of Capitalism against the white workers '. There followed an odd qualification: ' But this is merely a temporary obstacle, for the native workers are bound to organize soon.' An obstacle to what? And would they organize with or against the white workers? If Bunting had misgivings about the African's role, he suppressed them in deference to the party's official policy. Ignoring the effects of industrialization and the pressures that forced peasants to enter the labour market, he maintained that they were landowners, who did not need to work if left to themselves. They were better off than the whites, and earned wages as a luxury. The party's policy was to separate them territorially, repatriate Asiatics, and gradually eliminate the Coloured by preventing miscegenation.

Racial tolerance could not be expected of Labour councillors when a man of Bunting's calibre identified himself thus wholeheartedly with white supremacy. Reviewing their 'one-sidedness ', the APO listed some of their colour bar proposals. They refused to grant supplies unless the executive undertook to build roads departmentally and with white labourers only at adequate wages; voted money for public buildings at Warmbad with a proviso that Africans employed there be dismissed; and denied the municipal franchise to the darker peoples while conferring it on 'every pimp, prostitute and illicit liquor seller in gaol'. The Labour majority introduced free secondary education to white children in the province, and opposed schools for Coloured and Africans. Ware, sitting on the Witwatersrand School Board, moved the adoption of a resolution that 'the teaching of trades, or the use of tools, to Coloured people and Natives will be sternly discountenanced'. Labour members of the Johannesburg town council were notoriously rigid in denying Coloured, Indians and Africans the use of the municipal trams.

A solid phalanx of parliamentary parties - South African, Unionist, Nationalist and Labour - confronted black and brown South Africans on almost every issue involving racial discrimination. Individual Unionists occasionally protested. A few Cape liberals, notably Morris Alexander, Merriman and the Schreiners, consistently skirmished for Coloured rights. Labour stood always on the side of the extreme racialists, as in the debates on the colour bar regulations issued by Smuts under the Mines and Works Act of 1917. These reserved thirty-two categories of work for whites and prohibited the issue of certificates of competence in the Transvaal and Orange Free State to any person of colour. A certificate obtained by one of them in Natal or the Cape had no validity outside that province. Merriman took up the cudgels at the request of the APO and moved the deletion of the colour bar in 1914. A petition before the House, signed by 1,624 Coloured residents of the Transvaal, complained that they were prevented from earning their living by following their trades as engine drivers, carpenters, blasters, gangers, banksmen and onsetters; and prayed that the word 'white' should be replaced by the word 'competent' in the regulations.

Smuts admitted in the Senate that the discrimination against the Coloured man was indefensible and would have to go, though not in the immediate present. The strongest opposition to Merriman's proposal came from the Reef's representatives, both Unionist and Labour. Creswell repeated his familiar argument in moving an amendment to the motion. It was really directed against trade unionism, he said, and aimed at setting the coloured peoples against white workmen. His party advocated equal pay for equal work, whereas the mine owners wanted to hire labour at the lowest possible rate. They would not pay Africans a shilling more, but would, if allowed, give individuals something more to take over the white miner's occupation. It was for this reason that a number of Coloured were being given work in the mines. He was against the colour bar, as it instilled. a false sense of security in white men. His amendment declared that the abolition of the colour bar would increase profits at the expense of the white, African and Coloured population as long as the mining industry employed uncivilized, servile and largely imported workers, and as long as there was no legislation to guarantee miners a civilized standard of wages. Steps should be taken to change the system before the House could take note of the petition.

It was an impossible condition in the existing social order Indeed one must doubt if the white workers really wanted a change along the lines indicated by Creswell. They aspired, in Bunting's percipient phrase, to 'a better status' and 'a place in the sun': but not, as he suggested, to an egalitarian society. Their aim was to achieve recognition as members of the master race. They would rather supervise African servants than fraternize with persons whom they, like other whites, considered to be members of an inferior race. Creswell's party and the trade unions made no attempt to organize Africans and Coloured behind a demand for equal wages and opportunities. In spite of disclaimers, white workers had the same interests as mine owners in perpetuating the migrant labour system.

The APO drew the inescapable conclusion. There was a time, it said, when the Coloured were free to sell their labour on an open market. Their main concern then was to defend the franchise. As doors of employment were being closed to them everywhere, the question of where to find work overshadowed all other problems. In that frame of mind, they responded favourably to Labour leaders, and hailed their vigorous campaign in the Cape. The Labour party's attitude on the colour bar and Indian Relief Bill soon convinced many of its insincerity. The party would keep the Coloured out of the mines, and the Indian in a semi-servile condition on the sugar plantations so as to prevent him from finding employment in other occupations. This intolerable narrowness and selfishness would disenchant the Coloured. ' The continuance of the White policy of exploitation and repression of the Coloured races is gradually welding the latter into one solid mass.' None of the existing generations would be alive when black. humanity learned to speak with one irresistible voice; but that time would come.

The outbreak of world war delayed the event, opened old wounds, revived the conflict between British and Afrikaner, and checked the growth of an alliance between white Labour and Afrikaner nationalism. At a special session early in September 1914 parliament adopted a resolution by ninety-two to twelve votes affirming the 'whole-hearted determination' of the House to ' take all measures necessary for defending the interests of the Union and for cooperating with his Majesty's Imperial Government to maintain the security and integrity of the Empire'. No section of the population adhered more loyally to this pledge than the African, Coloured and Indian. They must endure their domestic burdens in solemn silence, declared the APO and prove themselves no less worthy than the empire's other sons. Abdurahman told a crowded Coloured meeting in Cape Town to forget their many grievances while the empire's very existence was at stake. Other leaders - Carelse, Veldsman, the Rev. Dr Gow, S. Reagon, Dr A. H. Gool - echoed his appeal and undertook to raise a Coloured war relief fund. 'With all its faults,' wrote Abdurahman, 'the Empire contains some attractive force which during periods like the present converts the silken thread into bonds of steel'. The APO offered to raise a corps of 5,000 men for active service. Fully 13,000 volunteered within a month. Africans also asked to be allowed 'to cast a few stones at the Germans'. Dube and other ANC leaders left a special conference on the Native Land Act to offer their services to the government at Pretoria.

Coloured and Africans who professed loyalty so spontaneously and without official exhortation were probably motivated by the usual sentiments and reasons of a people at war: a sense of duty, a spirit of adventure and desire to escape from the daily round, the prospect of a job and of gaining social esteem. Then, too, a Coloured man might hope to escape in uniform from the nagging humiliation of being 'different' and inferior. By taking part in the war effort and 'doing his bit', he would merge with the 'nation' and lay up credit for the day of victory. He could claim freedom and justice, and an easing of the black man's burden, to the extent that he made sacrifices in the common cause. This is what his leaders told him. He suffered a rude rebuff. The government would recruit Coloured men to groom army mules and drive transport wagons; but fighting Germans was a white man's privilege, reserved for the active citizens' force organized under the Defence Act of 1912.

Then came the rebellion of October. Six thousand burghers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State took up arms against Botha. Beyers, having resigned his post of commandant general, Maritz and Kemp, two high-ranking officers, and the veteran general de Wet led the revolt. It was a romantic, somewhat mystical resumption of the republics' struggle for independence, a protest against the invasion of German South West, and a crusade to avenge Slachtersnek, the concentration camp martyrs and the humiliation of Vereeniging. Botha proclaimed martial law, appealed for volunteers to fight in South West, and summoned the commandos against the rebels. Maritz led his men over the border to join the Germans. The Coloured in the northwest Cape asked for arms to defend themselves. The A P O repeated its offer to raise a corps, and was again refused. This was a white man's war, the government replied. It was anxious to avoid employing Coloured citizens, or others not of European descent, in a combatant capacity against whites.

Yet black and brown men were fighting on both sides in Europe and Africa. Even the Union had a quota of dark-skinned soldiers. The government assured Afrikaner nationalists that 'no armed Natives or Coloured persons were employed to assist in the suppression of the rebellion'. The statement rested on the false assumption that all South African soldiers were of pure European descent. In reality, many were coloured passing as white. 'Their dark complexion, the kink in the hair, the broad flat nose - these all betray their ancestry.' Some Coloured men made their way at their own expense to England, to enlist there for active service. Bewailing the refusal to lift the colour bar in South Africa, the A.P.O. declared that whites would rather see the empire fall than place Coloured men in the firing line. Their faith in the Allied cause remained undimmed. ' Thrice we offered our services, and thrice they were refused. We cannot do more.' They could only pray that peace would bring 'true British liberty and justice'; not the liberty that enabled a disloyal crowd to pass a Natives Land Act, rob men of their franchise rights, and ban them as outcasts; but a liberty ensuring to all in the empire an equal opportunity to live in freedom.

Botha announced the conquest of German South West on 10 July 1915. Abdurahman wrote that the Coloured had small reason to rejoice. He hoped that Botha would go forward in the path of duty to the king, and with a more tender conscience to the large Coloured and African population of the conquered territory. It would be a great mistake if he gave way to pressure and appointed only Afrikaners to administer them. Very few had been trained to deal tactfully and fairly with persons of colour; most of them suffered from centuries' old colour prejudice. At least the northern half of South West, which was inhabited mainly by tribal Africans, should remain a protectorate on the model of Basutoland, to be administered directly by the crown. The advice was sound, as time would show; but Botha had other considerations on his mind. Fixing his eyes on the approaching elections, he wished to reconcile Afrikaners to his successful imperial venture by promising them farms and administrative posts in the conquered territory.

Thousands of Coloured and Africans served with Botha's troops as transport drivers, medical orderlies and labourers. Now that the fighting had finished in South West Africa, troops could be sent to more distant fields, where the employment of Coloured combatants would be less obvious and perhaps less offensive to racial susceptibilities. A volunteer force had already been raised for Europe. The Coloured agitated once again for the right to kill or be killed. The war, they said, was not for white people only. The great majority of South Africans were not white. No army recruited in South Africa could be truly representative unless it included a Coloured contingent. At last, in September, they were told that the government had offered and Britain had accepted the formation of a Coloured infantry corps under white commissioned officers. Abdurahman was appointed to a recruiting committee and asked his people to take their proper place in the fighting line. 'Today the Empire needs us. What nobler duty is there than to respond to the call of your King and Country?'

The Labour front was less united. The party's conference of January 1913 had committed it to a watered down version of the Socialist International's Stuttgart and Basle resolutions. If war threatened, the conference agreed, workers of all countries concerned should try to prevent it by a simultaneous stoppage of work. It was an innocuous motion, said Creswell, since it would not place any country in the position of being crippled by a general strike while its adversary carried on with the backing of the workers. In keeping with this resolution, the administrative council, with Andrews in the chair, appealed on 2 August 1914 to workers everywhere to organize against the war. It had been fomented by capitalist governments, was unjust, and could benefit only armament manufacturers and other enemies of the working class. The S.A. Industrial Federation, the Cape Town SDF and Durban SDP passed similar resolutions. This was a brave stand, which put South African radicals well in the vanguard of international socialism. They found little support among the party rank-and-file.

The Worker, then edited by Wybergh, whipped up enthusiasm for the war after Britain's entry. A leading article in the issue of 6 August argued that the German workers had failed to make an effective protest. 'And if your best friend goes mad and attacks you with deadly weapons, you have no choice but to defend yourself.' Creswell agreed. 'If you are attacked,' he said, 'you have got to fighr.' The government undertook on 10 August to invade German South West. Parliament met a month later to give its approval. Botha told the House that South Africa was legally and morally committed by her allegiance to the crown. Only Hertzog's Nationalists stood out for neutrality. The South African party, Unionists and Labour, including Andrews, carried a motion of loyalty to the king and support for the war by ninety-two votes to twelve on 14 September. Madeley abstained, but joined the pro-war group before long. The first troops sailed for South West Africa on the same day.

A patriotic wave swept through the party as one branch after another voted for war in defiance of the executive's policy. The industrial federation also rescinded its anti-war resolution. Creswell and Maginess left to serve in South West. The Worker conducted a pro-war campaign. There was resistance to the war fever only at the highest level of the party's leadership. D. Ivon Jones, Bunting, Colin Wade and P. R. Roux claimed that the party was bound by its resolution of 1913 and the Basle declaration. The administrative council under their direction passed a series of resolutions urging the international labour movement to convene peace conferences. Wade and his colleagues formed the War on War League in September, and published the War on War Gazette. Though censored out of existence at the end of November, it left an imprint. Branches of the League appeared along the Reef, in Durban and Cape Town, linking pacifists and radical socialists in a united front.

Who was the defender of the true faith: Creswell, fighting in a major's uniform to extend South Africa's frontiers; or Jones, the consumptive teacher from Wales, fighting for lost causes and the underlying masses? The League maintained that the Creswellites had surrendered the party's principles for the sake of parliamentary seats. Reinforced by Andrews, and in control of the party machine, the anti-war group mustered a majority of the delegates to the annual conference at East London in January 1915. Creswell was on active service and Andrews in the chair. Conference had before it John Ware's pro-war motion. James Clark, another Transvaal provincial councillor, moved that all wars under capitalism injured the working class. Conference evaded the issue in the interests of unity by adopting a 'neutrality ' resolution from which only Wybergh dissented. It allowed every member to decide, according to his reason and conscience, whether to support or oppose the war.

The conference put the War on War group in the saddle by re-electing Andrews, Jones and Weinstock to the posts of president, secretary, and treasurer, and giving them a majority on theexecutive. Party members, however, responded more eagerly to the call of war than to the call of peace. The executive intensified efforts to recruit Afrikaners, who were less susceptible than the British to war fever. Bunting had earlier predicted that a pro-war stand would ruin the prospect of attracting Afrikaner workers. The party, he said, could not hold its own with Unionists and Nationalists in the 'patriotic game'. To appreciate the significance of his comment, one should bear in mind the steady movement of unskilled Afrikaners into the industrial centres, and earlier attempts by the labour movement to gain their allegiance. As far back as 1908 Frank Nettleton, the secretary of the Pretoria trades council, had cooperated with officials of Het Volk in forming Arbeid Adelt, a non-political society of unskilled Afrikaners on a white labour policy platform. The party's executive decided in January 1912 to print its constitution in Afrikaans and English. The whole-hearted participation of Afrikaners in the miners' strike of 1913 alerted the movement to their potential role.

The Labour party and Hertzog's Nationalists had much in common, argued the Worker at great length in August. Both rebelled against the oppression and exploitation that stemmed from capitalism; both advocated racial segregation and a ban on the importation of cheap contract labour; both represented the forces of progress. Hertzogism was bound to shed its 'racial' bias against the British and develop its socialistic side, the paper predicted. Nettleton, then endeavouring to organize railway and other transport workers in one union, made a special drive to recruit Afrikaner gangers, drivers and labourers. Afrikaner leaders were not prepared, however, to stand aside while their people fell into the clutches of foreign socialists and atheists. The Rev. Brandt launched a Christian Union in Johannesburg. Madeley asserted that it was Botha's brain child. The prime minister had proposed the union's formation, took a hand in drafting its rules, and promised to obtain recognition for it on the mines.

Afrikaner names appeared with growing frequency from August onwards in the Worker's reports of branch activities along the Reef and, more surprisingly, in Transvaal country towns. The general strike of 1914 and the subsequent deportations gave further impetus to the spread of the party's influence among Afrikaners. S. T. Pienaar and G. H. Kretzchmar, the first Afrikaners to represent Labour in a legislative chamber, were elected to the provincial council in March by English and Afrikaner voters in Denver and Vrededorp. English-speaking candidates were returned in the predominantly Afrikaner constituencies of Krugersdorp, Maraisburg and Pretoria West. Jock van Lingen polled 600 votes for the party in the platteland constituency of Heidelberg in May. Afrikaner audiences at Ficksburg, Brandfort, Edenburg and other Free State towns gave Labour speakers a sympathetic hearing. E. W. Connelly, the secretary of the Bloemfontein branch, wrote in August that if the party were to cultivate them at every opportunity, thousands of Afrikaners would soon follow the labour movement.

The favourable trend was checked, though not halted, by the rising of Afrikaner nationalism in the north after the Beyersde Wet rebellion of October 1914. Colin Wade's anti-war group tried to persuade the party's administrative council to negotiate a peaceful settlement, but it would do no more than send a deputation urging de Wet to 'obey constituted authority'. The new executive, elected in January, renewed the effort to attract Afrikaners. It appointed a rural propaganda committee headed by Bunting, who co-opted half a dozen Afrikaners, and conducted an extensive campaign in country towns with the assistance of Gideon Botha, a former member of the miners' union, and Bob Waterston, the Australian-born mechanic who had been deported by Smuts in 1914. Ivon Jones reported on 6 June 1915 that though the prospect of winning country seats at the next election had to be discounted, 'a great and unexpected advance' had been made on the platteland. Afrikaners, even when linked to a racialist party, were anxious to learn about Labour principles. From all parts came a demand for Labour leaflets and literature.

The party's efforts to establish a basis among Afrikaners received a permanent setback in the second half of 1915. Anti-German riots broke out on the Rand after the sinking of the Lusitania. Andrews and his executive protested publicly against the mass hysteria, whereas Creswell's supporters used the occasion to whip up sentiment for the war. He returned from the front to lead the campaign, and issued a circular letter on 30 June urging party members to endorse his 'see it through' policy at the forthcoming special conference. Most of them, he claimed, approved of the decision to vote for Botha's loyalty motion. Not one of the Labour men in parliament would have been elected if they had told their voters to disregard all ties and feelings other than the 'principles of international socialism'. Like the vast majority of socialists in the belligerent countries, he refused to believe that being a socialist involved any repudiation of one's patriotic duties. The anti-war group replied in a pamphlet denouncing the war as an imperialist venture. Creswell's policy, they maintained, disregarded the sentiments of Afrikaners. It was the party's duty, not to win the next elections at all hazards, but to stand firm on the principles of peace, international goodwill and working-class solidarity.

Bunting's report of 5 August argued that an anti-war policy was politically expedient. The party had to choose between the Afrikaner vote and support for the war. Its position in country districts had been made 'frankly desperate' by the violent imperialist sentiments of prominent members. His committee could neither disclaim nor defend such jingoism before Afrikaner audiences. The party had already lost the mass of the Afrikaner vote, and would lose it for perhaps twenty years if the forthcoming conference adopted a war policy. 'At present the Party appeals to the Afrikander about as much as to the Kaffir.' Hope of a Labour majority in parliament could never be realized until the party had regained the sympathy of the country vote.

Creswell himself preferred the assumed certainty of the British working-class vote to the doubtful prospect of obtaining Afrikaner votes in rural constituencies. Harassed by the government press, he wanted to rid the party of the taint of disloyalty. The special conference, meeting in Johannesburg on 22 August, was packed by Creswellites. They carried a pro-war resolution by eighty-two votes to thirty, and so put an end to Labour's assault on the citadels of Afrikaner nationalism.

The anti-war group staged a dramatic withdrawal, taking with them the senior officers, Andrews, Clark, Jones, Weinstock, Bunting, and half the administrative council. They went on to form the International League of the South African Labour Party. As the title indicates, their intention was to remain in the party so as to preserve unity and win it back to its 'native principles' of international socialism and anti-militarism. One of their first actions was to produce a weekly, the International. It soon had a clear field in the movement, for the Worker, having lost its chief contributors, ceased publication before the year was out.

The attempt to reconcile conflicting loyalties within the party was short-lived. Electoral rivalries made compromise impossible. The new leadership insisted that every party candidate for public office should pledge loyalty to the pro-war policy. Andrews and Clark resigned in order to stand for parliament against the party nominees. A final split followed. A general meeting of League members decided on 22 September 1915 to secede and form the International Socialist League (S.A.), with Andrews as chairman, Jones as secretary, and a committee that included Clark, Crisp, Weinstock, Bunting and Dunbar.

The October parliamentary elections gave the South African party 54 seats, the Unionists 39, the Nationalists 27, Labour 4 and Independents 6. Botha remained in office with the aid of the Unionists. Labour contested 44 seats on a platform of moderate social reforms and obtained 24,444 votes, nearly 10 per cent of the poll, though its share of the Transvaal votes amounted to 16 per cent. Maginess retained Liesbeek with a majority of one vote. Labour's other candidates in the Cape peninsula, Batty, Forsyth, Freestone, Haggar and Whitaker, were heavily defeated, in spite of their attempt to woo the Coloured vote with a local manifesto urging the extension of the Cape franchise to other provinces. This violated the party's constitution, said the APO and the deception was too palpable to deceive anyone. The paper called on Coloured electors to oppose every Labour candidate. The party's record in the Transvaal provincial council showed that it was composed of Ca greedy pack of vultures, who would keep the black man as a helot'. They were the 'avowed enemy of the Coloured man, who should spurn them with loathing and disgust'.

Coloured and African unity often buckled under the strain of coping with the bribes and blandishments of white candidates, some of whom were not averse to promoting the growth of rival organizations among the electors. A section of the APO leadership hived off from the parent body in response to such pressures in 1904, 1910 and 1913. The APO did not escape internal dissensions in the 1915 elections. Its members in Paarl and Stellenbosch defied the leaders by supporting Nationalist party candidates; while Abdurahman himself broke discipline when he backed John Hewat, the Unionist candidate in Woodstock, against the decision of the APOs executive to work for the return of the independent candidate W. Mushet. Hewat won the five cornered contest by a comfortable margin, and the APO never fully recovered from the effects of its president's refusal to abide by the majority decision.

Abdurahman was by then deeply committed to the Unionists. They had allowed him to be returned unopposed to the provincial council in 1914 and the town council in 1915. Their candidates advertised heavily in his newspaper. It significantly ceased publication shortly after the elections for want of financial support by agents and readers. When the Unionists amalgamated with the South African party in 1921, he gave the new force his full allegiance and came to be known as Smuts's man. This involvement in white party politics exposed him to attacks from right and left. Creswell, fighting a losing battle in Kimberley in 1915, accused him of being an ally of De Beers and the 'constant catspaw' of the Unionists, the 'bulwark of the Mining Houses'. Yet their policy of importing 'cheap Kaffir labour' was equally detrimental to Africans, the civilized Coloured, and the white worker. Abdurahman's reply listed the colour bars introduced or proposed by the Labour party. He was, 'however reluctantly, forced to conclude that they are the greatest political enemies of the Coloured races'.

The split in the Labour party left Coloured and Africans unmoved. Like Creswell, they were patriotic and pro-war, but his party's racialism shut the door to any prospect of gaining their goodwill. He and Sampson removed doubts that might have arisen on this score after the split by reiterating their opposition to an extension of the franchise. Sampson, looking for a scapegoat to bear the blame for his party's defeat, accused the Unionists and the South African party of plotting to enfranchise Coloured and Africans in the north. 'If this Parliament lasted five years,' he said, ' there would be very few white workers here to vote at the next election.' Though the International Socialists, in contrast, soon began to discard their racial bias, their violent opposition to the war made them unacceptable to Coloured and African leaders. Isolated, and without a mass basis in the working class, the socialists could offer nothing besides a bitter struggle against authority. Andrews and Clark, representing the ISL in the parliamentary elections for Georgetown and Langlaagte, constituencies which they had previously won for Labour, lost their deposits by polling no more than eighty-two and fifty-eight votes respectively.

One is tempted to attribute this resounding defeat to the ISLs stand against the war. Since pro-war Labour candidates fared only little better, it is more reasonable to suppose that voters turned their backs on Labour politics for the duration. Their reaction tended to obscure the long term consequences of the cleavage. Its immediate effect was to disrupt the party organization in its stronghold on the Rand, where eight branches went over to the ISL. This initial support faded as the East African campaign gained momentum and the economy expanded. The split may have contributed to Labour's reverses in the 1915 elections. Some historians go further and suggest that it contributed to the party's destruction. This verdict is too severe, however. The party's recovery in 1920 suggests that the rupture did not permanently impair its parliamentary prospects. In the final analysis, the right wing probably suffered less from the defection of the radicals than from its growing involvement with Afrikaner nationalism.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.