White Revolt on the Rand
The last in the present series of 'White Workers Power' looks at the White Revolt on the Rand in 1922. This article was originally published in the South African Patriot to which we give our acknowledgements.
“White Workers of the World Unite and Fight for a White South Africa”
― slogan of the Boksburg Kommando during the 1922 syndicalist revolt on the Rand.
IN NOVEMBER 1921, the Chamber of Mines (owned by Anglo-Jewish, Rothschild-Oppenheimer interests) announced that the 1918 status quo agreement (which allocated job and wage categories to White and Black mine workers and which had been negotiated with the White Mine Workers Union) was to be unilaterally abandoned.
On 28th December, the Chamber of Mines announced that 25 semi-skilled job levels held by Whites would be given to Blacks, and that the redundant Whites would be mass-fired. Under government pressure, the Chamber gave assurance that the first step would be limited to mass-firing 2,000 White workers.
At the same time, coalmine owners announced serious wage cuts, as did engineering firms, while the Victoria Falls power station turned down wage increases. Fisher, Secretary of the Mine Workers Union ― a Communist elected on a fraudulent ballot ― formed a Miners Council of Action and called for a general strike. However, events soon passed out of Communist hands.
The Rand workers broke into three main camps:
- Labour Party moderates led by Crawford, president of the South African Industrial Federation.
Afrikaner Mynwerkersbond ― Afrikaner bywoners (poor Whites, farmers impoverished by the British scorched-earth tactics in the Anglo-Boer War and forced into mines), Hertzogite Afrikaner Nationalists to a man. Many were veterans of the 1914 pro-German bywoner revolt crushed by renegade ex-Boers Botha and Smuts and many were also ex-Kommando Boers from the 1899―1902 Second South African War of Liberation. When armed commandos were formed on the Rand, they were joined by their gun-toting cousins from the farm districts.
- Communist Party ― led by Fisher, Shaw and Spendiff. Their influence wanned so drastically that when the miners floated the slogan "Keep South Africa White", the Communists were forced opportunistically to support it (rationalizing among themselves that after the revolt they would challenge the colour bar. The Communist Party of South Africa is still to this day embarrassed by any mention of the Revolt.)
Having balloted its members, the South African Industrial Federation (SAIF) brought out the coal miners, goldminers, engineers and power workers on the Rand and nearby areas. Backing the action were the Labour Party and the National Party. On the 14th of January, 1922, the Afrikaans newspaper, Die Vaderland carried a letter by Tielman Roos, leader of the Transvaal Nationalists, urging Active Citizen Force members to disobey any call-up.
PM Smuts urged negotiations, but the Chamber of Mines refused and instead demanded a new work ratio of only 2 Whites to every 21 Blacks ― meaning many more thousands of fired Whites. Fisher of the Mine Workers Union now called for a Red International of Labour Unions linked to Moscow, but had few takers.
On the 30th January, the opposition National and Labour parties opened an extra-legal 'parliament' to debate the issue. On February 5th, R.B. Waterston called for the proclamation of an Independent South African Republic.
Communists Fisher and Shaw were jailed. Crawford of the SAIF authorized the creation of a strike commando to stop Black scabs, but at the same time the SAIF turned down a general strike call. PM Smuts now caved-in to his mineowner masters and ordered all mines open and all strikers back to work. In response, the Miner Councils of Action deployed their commandos throughout the Rand. Smuts declared them unlawful and ordered police action against them. Three Whites were killed at Boksburg. Hertzog's National Party demanded an inquiry in Parliament. On the 2nd March, the SAIF requested new negotiations, but the Chamber refused. Only then did the SAIF proclaim a general strike. Armed commandos seized Johannesburg and declared a White Workers Republic.
Mine officials, straw-bosses and scabs were executed, including 30 Black scabs. Smuts mobilized the Active Citizen Force, declared martial law and launched his forces. The ACF backed by volunteer commando and the S.A. Air Force attacked Johannesburg and the Rand. Massive bomber raids levelled the miner's quarters. On 14th March, 1922, the strike HQ at Benoni was stormed and the strike leaders declared "suicides". The last resistance was quashed by 16th March.
In 1924, however, Hertzog's National Party (with support from the Labour Party) was elected to power. Job reservation was strengthened on the statute book, particularly in the mines ― the strikers of 1922 had still won a famous victory.