previous sub-section
Ideology and Administration in the Transkei
next section

Magistrates and Africans in the Transkei

Paternalism certainly presumed that Africans were to be ruled over. Nevertheless, magisterial rule was also more than just a coercive administrative net overlaid on the reserves. If administration gave the magistrate extensive say over the lives of reserve dwellers, administrators pointed out with pride that Africans also had “a voice in their own affairs” in the segregated institutions that, officials believed, softened the Africans’ induction into the modern present.[88] “Local government” institutions set in place in the reserves after the turn of the century thus sought to graft colonial onto traditional authority structures. The two institutions consolidated in the first half of this century to buttress direct rule through magistrates were the council system and the Native Representative Council. Administrators entertained high hopes for these two institutions, despite the different orientations they embodied.

Of the various channels of representation available to Africans, the Native Representative Council was viewed by Africans and whites alike as the most important forum for expressing “opinion” and “sentiment.” This body was the only institutional vehicle for Africans to consider and debate issues that affected them on a national basis. The NRC was composed of twelve black members elected through a system of communal and indirect elections, six departmental officials, and four black members nominated by the department. (In addition, the Native Representation Act also permitted Africans to send four white Native Representatives to parliament in a complex system of elections based on tribal association.) As a mark of the NRC’s importance, the Secretary for Native Affairs presided as chair over the council’s annual meetings, held in Umtata. The NRC’s powers were purely deliberative, however, and discussion was confined to those matters that affected Africans. What, precisely, constituted “Native issues” thus became the subject of acrimonious debate between the SNA and Africans, who repeatedly resisted attempts to isolate African politics from broader national debates. In the course of its active life-span, from 1936 to 1946, the NRC was to mirror the divisions within the ranks of Africans: radicals, moderates, members of the urban elite, and rural chiefs all sat together in the annual sessions held in Umtata.

It is therefore possible to find in the NRC’s published reports some of the most scathing and penetrating analyses of segregation, juxtaposed to the acquiescence and deep-seated conservatism of illiterate chiefs. Perhaps anticipating problems from an institution that could potentially consolidate African politics on a national basis, the select committee appointed to establish a representative body to compensate Africans in the Cape Province for stripping them of their voting rights set in place a deliberately complex voting process that undermined the weight of urban voters and inflated the role of tribal chiefs. In keeping with this spirit, Africans removed from the common voters’ roll in the Cape Province were not placed on a separate roll for NRC elections, as they had requested in an attempt to preserve their individual voting rights, but on a “communal” (i.e., tribal) voters’ roll.[89] The NRC was regarded within official circles as an important institution. At the same time, the body’s overt political stance, a phenomenon among Africans that Native administrators viewed with instinctive distrust, was compromised in the eyes of Africans because of its awkward origins in 1936 as a morally questionable compensation for disenfranchising Africans. In any case, the NRC never came to enjoy wide support among Africans, despite elections held in 1937, 1942, and 1948.[90]

In contrast, the council system established in the Transkei enjoyed both the regard of administrators and the cooperation of Africans in the Transkei. The council system, which formed the basis of local government in the Transkeian territories, is perhaps best viewed as a parallel but subordinate institution to magisterial authority. First advanced by the Cape Native Laws and Customs Commission of 1883—the body that piloted the strategy of subordinating the chieftaincy to magisterial rule—the idea of establishing a limited system of local government in the reserves was crystallized in the Glen Grey Act of 1894. As many have noted, the preeminent goal of the act was to function as a labor-procuring device, by virtue of the quit-rent tenure arrangements that it introduced.[91] But the Glen Grey Act sought to do more than just “civilise” Africans by the sweat of the brow. It also claimed to “ease the transition from barbarism” by “introducing natives to the complexities of modern government.” [92] The “local government” system it established consisted of a two-tiered arrangement of district councils and location boards. Location boards were subsidiary bodies intended to control individual locations; they consisted of three members elected by location inhabitants and approved by the magistrate. These boards constituted only a minor aspect of the administrative system, as their chief function was to keep magistrates in touch with issues relating to land usage.[93] District councils, which were higher bodies, were responsible for the administration of local affairs throughout the district. Eact district council was composed of twelve members, of whom six were nominated by the magistrate and six were elected by Africans, subject to the magistrate’s approval.

Proclamation 32 of 1894 first introduced the Glen Grey system to four districts in the Transkei (Butterworth, Idutya, Mqamakwe, and Tsomo), with alterations that tightened the department’s grip over District Councillors. The selection of the councillors, who were reduced from twelve to six, became entirely a function of administrative functionaries, with four elected by headmen and two by the governor-general (in effect, by the local magistrate.) District councils met on a quarterly basis, providing councillors with the opportunity to address the areas of jurisdiction conferred on them: road maintenance, cattle dipping, tree planting, combating soil erosion, eradicating noxious weeds, and imposing local levies to finance local administration. Revenues were derived from quit-rent on land and from a local tax of ten shillings levied on every hut occupied by persons who did not pay the quit-rent.[94]

In 1931, the Transkei and Pondoland councils were amalgamated to form the United Transkeian Territories General Council (UTTGC), known as the Bunga (“discussion”). The resolutions passed by district councils were channeled to the Transkei General Council. Although the Bunga’s purview was widened to empower it to discuss and pass resolutions on any issue bearing on the economic and social conditions of Africans in the Union, its recommendations remained purely advisory. Still, the Bunga’s work was fairly sizable: it dealt with an annual budget of £300,000, and expenditures amounted to a sizable £7,176,266 between 1932 and 1947, in which time it established three agricultural schools, a sheep farm, and three experimental farms, and employed 174 agricultural demonstrators.[95] Lord Hailey observes, however, that these achievements undermined the very goals of self-government that Union policy ostensibly sought to promote in the reserves. The dominance of magistrates over district council meetings, their powers to override council resolutions, and the fact that the councils’ revenues derived from a state-imposed general tax and not from decisions taken freely by the councils all militated against the “progressive intentions” of state policy.[96]

He might have said the same about the right of magistrates to review and veto the resolutions formulated by the Bunga. The 108-person membership of the UTTGC was composed as follows: the CMT, presiding as Chair over the Bunga; twenty-six Magistrates; three Paramount Chiefs ex officio (from Thembuland and Eastern and Western Pondoland); and three representatives sent up from each district council. The local magistrate chaired the district council’s quarterly meetings. This composition yielded a ratio of whites to Africans of 27:81 and a ratio of elected representatives to administrative officials of 78:30. The clear numerical majority of elected Africans was circumscribed, however, by the powers that direct rule lodged in the Transkei’s magistrates. In 1943, it was recorded that out of 101 resolutions passed by the Bunga in the preceding three years, the Official Conference of white magistrates had supported 67, not supported 23, and forwarded 11 without comment; furthermore, the government had rejected 30 out of the 67 resolutions supported by the Official Conference, meaning that more than half the Bunga’s resolutions eventually foundered on either magisterial or ministerial disapproval.[97]

Just as the dominance of magistrates curtailed the power of the African elite over local affairs, regulations also ensured that the power of ordinary peasants was undermined by the disproportionate voice of the rural elite within the council system. A convoluted method of indirect “election” ensured that chiefs and headmen were likely to predominate within the district councils. From 1932 onward, “ratepayers” (i.e., landholders) in each electoral ward convened to elect three representatives once every three years; thereafter, these representatives would meet to elect four from among their ranks to join two government nominees on the district council. Three representatives would then be elected by the district council (subject to the magistrate’s nominal approval) to serve on the Bunga.

The class character of District Councillors in the mid-1950s reflects the elitist results. According to Hammond-Tooke, of the 138 men serving as District Councillors in 1955, 105 (76 percent) were either chiefs or headmen, only 60 of whom were elected. “Of the rest,” he continues, “what might be considered professional men (teachers, clerks and agricultural demonstrators) numbered only twelve (9 percent) of the total.” If “professionals” were overwhelmed by their more affluent and influential compatriots, they at least enjoyed a small measure of representation, which was denied to the Transkei’s poorest inhabitants. The exclusion of migrant workers and the landless from direct access to local government institutions is reflected in the Recess Committee appointed to consider the integration of the Bunga and the Bantu Authorities systems: of the 89 committee members, 63 (71 percent) were either chiefs or headmen, and the next largest category was 6 “peasant farmers.”

Two themes emerge from this overview of administration in the Transkei: the department’s continued, if hazy, commitment to evolutionary gradualism and the subordination of chiefs to magistrates and headmen. Despite growing evidence that the NRC and the Bunga were increasingly impatient with the “temporary” nature of segregation, no substantive initiative emerged from within the state to deal with the administration of the reserves. The result was that the department’s growing interest in “rational administration” was focused almost completely on urban administration. With the publication of the report of the Fagan Commission, Smuts’ government at least possessed a blueprint of some kind for broaching urban administration. The reserves, in contrast, were barely mentioned in the commission’s report, providing evidence of the extent to which the DNA’s claimed expertise in the management of rural populations had been badly eroded by the demographic and industrial developments of the interwar years. Moreover, while urban cadres groped for ways to rationalize administration, the magisterial ranks in the reserves displayed no such initiative. A sense of marking time pervaded the immediate postwar years. By the end of the war, African leaders had reassessed their grudging decision to accept “temporary” institutions such as the NRC and the indefinite limbo in which the Bunga was suspended. The trajectories of these two bodies, however, were to diverge sharply.

In its ninth annual session, held in 1946, the NRC signaled its break with evolutionary gradualism when it unequivocally embraced the militant demands of the ANC and identified with working-class mobilization in the urban areas; the council made these developments clear by adjourning indefinitely in August 1946.[98] The Bunga, however, refrained from such combative confrontations with the state. Instead, after venting its impatience with the paternalist model touted by the DNA, the Bunga actively sought to bend apartheid policy to its own interests. Before addressing (in the next chapter) the complicated steps leading to the Bunga’s murky alliance with the Bantustan model, it is important to accentuate the clarity of the NRC’s unambiguous repudiation of the racial state in the late 1940s.

In the speech that effectively shut down the NRC in 1946, Dr. J. S. Moroka, member of the NRC and later president-general of the ANC, pointedly refused to rank-order yet again the elements of Africans’ opposition to segregation. The gravamen of the fiery critique he presented on 15 August 1946 was that racial segregation was unacceptable in its entirety. It should be noted that the decision to adjourn indefinitely was not an impromptu response to the brutal quashing of the strike staged by African mineworkers on 4 August 1946 (in defiance of laws that expressly outlawed strikes by African workers), as has been claimed.[99] It stemmed, instead, from a carefully arranged accord reached between the NRC and A. B. Xuma, then President-General of the ANC and chair of the Anti-Pass Committee. At the request of Xuma, the NRC agreed to terminate its session unilaterally unless Smuts’ government agreed to abolish all pass laws, recognize African trade unions, and repeal the MNA’s authority to banish Africans without trial.[100] Thus, the NRC’s decision to suspend its 1946 session vividly conveyed the limits of the body’s patience while also, by the same stroke, emphasizing the leading role of the ANC in molding African politics.

Given its resolve to secure nothing less than the termination of segregation, the NRC’s unilateral adjournment was a foregone conclusion. Still, the department’s paternalist response to the increasingly angry tones emanating from the NRC immediately after World War II fueled the body’s outrage, especially given the tense climate set by the killing and whipping of striking mineworkers. The outbreak of the African mineworkers’ strike coincided with Smuts’ participation in a United Nations conference in Paris. Because the SNA, W. J. G. Mears, was preoccupied by the strike and because the MNA, P. K. van der Byl, was unpopular with the NRC, it was left to a relatively junior official, Under-Secretary Fred Rodseth, to deal with the crisis brewing in the NRC. Rodseth was summoned to serve as chair of the NRC on the very morning that the body assembled in Pretoria; according to one source, he was “completely unaware of the contents of the agenda.” [101] In his opening address before the council, Rodseth said nothing about the strike, a matter of burning importance to the council, and furthermore he was not in a position to comment on the matter when pressed. Thus, Rodseth unexpectedly presided over the furious broadsides against Smuts’ government that culminated in the NRC’s decision to adjourn indefinitely.

Two subsequent developments illuminate the chasm that separated the NRC from Smuts’ government. The first was the haughty paternalist rebuke that Hofmeyr, serving as Acting Prime Minister in Smuts’ absence, handed down to council members on 20 November. Peremptorily brushing aside Hofmeyr’s liberal defense of segregation policy and his lecture on the value of patience, the NRC responded with a demand for direct and unrestricted African representation at all levels of the state.[102] Smuts delivered the second insult in person when he attempted to bridge the impasse between the NRC and his government in May 1947. While he agreed to “extend the system of Native representation,” his proposals (which he tactlessly described as “a bone for the Council to chew on”) actually marked a return to suggestions that Hertzog had tabled before parliament in 1928. Smuts informed the NRC that the body would be expanded to fifty members, as Hertzog had recommended, and merely proposed to withdraw the six white Native affairs officials and abolish the four nominated members, so that all fifty members would be elected by Africans. In addition, the council’s advisory powers would be widened. Again, the NRC used Smuts’ proposals as an opportunity to reject segregation in its entirety.[103] The ensuing stalemate between the NRC and the prime minister became irrelevant when the NP unexpectedly won the general election of May 1948 and Verwoerd decided to abolish the NRC altogether, bringing the council’s unhappy life to a definitive end.

The NRC therefore brazenly initiated steps that culminated in what it viewed as its own honorable demise. In contrast, the Bunga refrained from emulating the NRC’s combative skirmishes with the state and almost instinctively distanced itself from working-class struggles in the country’s urban areas. Still, as the next chapter illustrates, this conservative and eminently rural body did challenge the administrative constraints that governed its workings and limited its horizons. Frustrated by the department’s sketchy plans for the Transkei’s political future and placed in an increasingly invidious position with peasant farmers increasingly opposed to the department’s unpopular interventions into the subsistence economy, the headmen and chiefs who monopolized the body responded by demanding a greater role for themselves in the administration of the Transkei. However, their rumblings of discontent remained a largely departmental affair in the late 1940s—testimony not of their unimportance to the administrative machine in the Transkei but of their marginal position in the configuration of South African politics.

Curiously, the virtually simultaneous disappearance of the two antagonists, the NRC and Smuts’ liberal government, unexpectedly set the stage for the Bunga to gravitate to the forefront of the DNA’s attention in the 1950s. The Bunga’s journey from rural obscurity to the center of the apartheid stage was marked by a complicated series of steps that suggest a considerable degree of voluntary cooperation from the rural elite. Chiefs and headmen were intrigued by promises from Eiselen and Verwoerd that their subordinate position to the Transkei’s ubiquitous magistrates would be terminated. Some of their cooperation was unwitting, as subsequent chapters illustrate, and many chiefs and headmen either disdained Verwoerd’s administrative structure from the outset or soon came to regret their collaboration with a civil bureaucracy that rapidly became identified with communal fission and violent bloodletting. In sum, however, the elevation and bureaucratic modernization of the Bunga became the means by which the DNA aggressively imposed its authority over the country’s largest labor reserve and altered the very meaning of apartheid with the active cooperation of chiefs and headmen.

previous sub-section
Ideology and Administration in the Transkei
next section