Preferred Citation: van den Berghe, Pierre . South Africa: A Study in Conflict. Berekley:  University of California Press,  1967 [c1965] 1967.

Chapter Four— The Social Structure of Modern South Africa: Polity and Economy

Chapter Four—
The Social Structure of Modern South Africa:
Polity and Economy

The political structure of South Africa reflects the country's social stratification. To date, the whole political history of South Africa has shown a progressive trend towards the complete monopolization of power in the hands of the Whites. By the 1880's the military might of the African nations had been broken; the indigenous political organization became modified to serve as a subordinate tool of White administration; and White hegemony was secure over the entire territory of present South Africa. Only since the Second World War has the growing challenge from the non-White liberatory movements begun to threaten seriously the existing system. The discussion of the power conflicts between the various ethnic and interest groups will be reserved for the next three chapters. Here we shall deal with the state apparatus as it exists since the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

We have already seen that the South Africa Act of 1909 extended and entrenched the long-standing British policy of granting to the White settlers the power to manage the affairs of the country without any effective participation, or even consultation, of the majority of the population. Great Britain transferred, in effect, its prerogatives as a colonial power to the White-settler minority, giving rise to the dual nature of the South African government as "mother country" and a colonial power. The


Pretoria executive and the Cape Town Parliament constitute, in fact, a European power ruling over an internal colonial empire and a subject population.[1] The principle of White domination (or, to use the British euphemism, "civilized government") embodied in the South Africa Act was consistent with previous British policy, when the United Kingdom granted self-government to the White colonists of Natal and the Cape in the second half of the nineteenth century, and was only reversed in the late 1950's in former British Central and East Africa.

The Union (since 1961, Republic) of South Africa comprises four provinces (the Cape, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal), and administers South West Africa since the end of the First World War, as a Mandate under the League of Nations. Since the Second World War, the international status of South West Africa is the object of a dispute between South Africa and the United Nations, but, for all practical purposes, that territory has been incorporated as a fifth province of the Republic. While the provinces enjoy a measure of autonomy in such matters as education and road construction, the provincial councils have limited powers. The sphere of autonomy of the municipalities is even more stringently restricted. While the national government is not as highly centralized as that of France, for example, one cannot speak of a federal structure. Most essential powers are vested in the central government.

As a compromise between the old Boer Republics and the old English colonies of Natal and the Cape, the three branches of central government have their seat in different towns: the executive capital is Pretoria, Parliament meets in Cape Town, and the supreme judicial authority is in Bloemfontein. The bicameral Parliament, consisting of a House of Assembly and a Senate, is modeled after the Westminster system. Until the proclamation of the Republic in 1961, and the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth, a Governor General represented the British

[1] This dual nature of the South African state is lucidly analysed by Leo Marquard in South Africa's Colonial Policy .


Crown, but did not have any effective powers. That office has now been replaced by that of President. The Prime Minister and his cabinet are responsible to Parliament along British lines. Their maximum tenure is five years from the last parliamentary elections, but they can be voted out of office at any time by a majority vote of no confidence in Parliament.

This democratic façade is, however, devoid of reality, except, to a rapidly diminishing degree, for the Whites. Membership in Parliament is restricted to Whites under the South Africa Act of 1909, and the same rule applies to the provincial councils and practically all municipal councils, except in the Cape Province where a few Coloured representatives have held elective office, and in Stanger, Natal, where an Indian has been elected to the town council. Except in the Cape, the franchise is limited to Whites over the age of eighteen. In that province the Coloureds still have a vestigial voting right. Coloured men over twenty-one, fulfilling certain educational, property, and income requirements may elect on a separate roll four White representatives in Parliament. Except for subordinate posts, all positions in the civil service are held by Europeans, as well as all political and judiciary offices. A non-White is never in a position of authority over a White person. This applies even to the courts and administrative offices dealing exclusively with "Bantu affairs." Although the government has recently announced its intention to "Bantuize" the administration of the "Bantustans," and to promote Africans to higher positions, their authority will, however, still be limited to "their own people."

One of the cardinal principles of South African government is the removal of all non-Europeans from participation at all levels of the political process, and the relegation of "non-White affairs" to the sphere of arbitrary administration by the White authorities.[2] The non-Europeans are ruled entirely as subject peoples under laws passed by the White Parliament; these laws

[2] Since 1962 the Bantustan policy represents a departure from this principle, as we shall see later.


give the executive branch of the government a wide and ever increasing range of arbitrary powers. Africans have been subjected to this colonial system ever since the European conquest in the nineteenth century. Since the establishment of Native Reserves in the 1840's, and the series of military defeats of the African nation-states in the 1860's and 1870's, White hegemony over the African population has been progressively increased and perfected. With the advent of the Nationalist government in 1948, rigid apartheid has been logically extended to the Coloureds and the Indians, who were already subject to many disabilities. Each of the subordinate races is now governed by distinct executive agencies: the Africans by the departments of Bantu Education and of Bantu Administration and Development, the Coloureds by the Department of Coloured Affairs, and the Indians by the Department of Asiatic Affairs. The various White municipal authorities also share, to a diminishing degree, in the administration of urban "Native locations," but the tendency is towards increasingly centralized control.

A parody of the African tribal system has been preserved in the rural Reserves, in that traditional institutions have been retained in modified form to suit the purposes of the White government. Local White administrators rule through the medium of appointed chiefs and headmen who are revocable and punishable at will, and who are deprived of most important powers. White functionaries administer justice in "Native Commissioner's Courts" according to a European conception of "Native Law and Custom."[3] In the urban areas White superintendents, assisted by the police, control the segregated "Native locations." Powerless "Native Advisory Boards," partly appointed, partly elected through a non-secret vote, are supposed to represent the wishes of the African population. Through this use of chiefs and headmen in rural areas, and advisory bodies in urban "locations," in industries, and in schools, the government maintains the fiction

[3] This was codified in Natal, though not in the other provinces.


that Africans have a voice in their affairs and are regularly consulted. In fact, almost every aspect of the daily life of Africans, and increasingly of Coloureds and Indians, is regimented by a White administrative machinery which has at its disposal a wide range of arbitrary powers of perquisition, confiscation of property, imprisonment, expulsion from the country, and banishment to isolated areas, not to mention the extralegal but effective use of police intimidation and brutality.

Together, the departments of Bantu Education and of Bantu Administration and Development constitute a colonial state-within-the-state in that they rule over two-thirds of the population without any check from, or responsibility to, the Africans. Until 1961 three White representatives in the House of Assembly defended the interests of the Africans in Parliament, but even this last vestige of indirect participation in the political process has been abolished. Recent apartheid plans for "self-government" in the "Bantu homelands" show the government's desire to amend the existing system by creating different trappings, and giving Africans a somewhat greater degree of local autonomy, but without any effective transfer of control. A closer examination of the policy of apartheid and its antecedents will be reserved for Chapter Six.

A corollary of the principle of White supremacy is the maintenance of a monopoly of repressive force in the hands of the White group. Except under rarely granted permits, only the Whites may own and bear firearms. The sale, and even the loss through theft, of weapons and ammunition to Africans are severely punishable offences. Military service in peacetime is the exclusive prerogative of Europeans. During the two world wars, non-Whites enlisted in the South African Army, but they served in segregated, unarmed, non-combattant units. The police force has members of all racial groups, but only White policemen carry firearms. Non-White constables are always supervised by White officers, and are armed only with clubs, or occasionally with spears. African, Indian, and Coloured policemen are used mostly


as auxiliaries to the White constables, in maintaining order and executing raids in their respective racial areas.

Since the abortive protest movement of 1960, the government is actively reorganizing its army and police, not so much to defend itself against possible (though unlikely) military intervention from other African states to the north, but primarily to suppress internal insurrections. Mobile commando and paratrooper units are created for the quick repression of revolts. The government even encourages the military training of the White civilian population against the non-Europeans. Pistol clubs where White women can be trained by the police to use firearms have been introduced in 1961, for example. By 1964 some 17,500 White civilians had been organized into four categories of police reserve to act as officially-sanctioned vigilantes in the event of internal uprising. The main role of the South African Police and Army is clearly the defence of White supremacy and privileges against the demands of the non-Whites.

Since the Nationalist Party victory at the polls in 1948, there has been a slow but steady deterioration of civil liberties for everybody, including the Whites, to the point where the democratic façade has become empty of meaning even for the privileged race. Successive dictatorial measures have slowly transformed South Africa into an increasingly arbitrary police state. Book and film censorship; indefinite imprisonment without trial; house searches and dawn arrests without warrant for political offences; banning of newspapers, of political parties, and of practically all forms of protest, including orderly meetings and passive resistance; declarations of states of emergencies; telephone tapping and other forms of police spying; political indoctrination in the schools; arbitrary refusal of passports; and political extradition have become the order of the day during the last few years of South African history.

In spite of a clear tendency towards totalitarianism, South Africa is not a Fascist state along the lines of Western European


or Latin American right-wing dictatorships.[4] The government is oppressive and reactionary,[5] and attempts at all costs to maintain White supremacy, but the ideology of apartheid is more a brand of nineteenth-century colonial paternalism than a form of modern Fascism. In its endeavour to maintain a master-servant relationship between White and Black, and to return to the golden age of the pastoral Boer Republics, the Nationalist government is resorting increasingly to the repressive techniques of modern Fascism. These techniques are dictated, however, not by the ideology of apartheid, but by the nature of South African society. In order to maintain an antiquated colonial system characteristic of an agrarian society under urban and industrial conditions, and to crush the increasingly militant freedom movements among the non-Europeans, the government is forced to use the methods of modern totalitarianism, thereby creating a superficial resemblance between South Africa and Fascist police states. Nevertheless, South Africa distinguishes itself from Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, or Franco's Spain through a number of ideological and structural factors.

Ideologically, Fascism is based on the supremacy of the state, as represented by the party and the charismatic personality of the leader, over the individual. The ideology of Afrikanerdom and of the Nationalist Party is based on rugged frontier individualism, distrust of authority, and a sense of self-righteousness as God's Chosen People. The leader is fashioned after the image of the Biblical patriarch, and is more a traditional than a charismatic figure. The objective is not the creation of a new order, but the return to a romanticized pre-industrial past when the Afrikaners will again rule without the interference from British capitalism,

[4] For an earlier statement of this argument see my article "Apartheid, Fascism and the Golden Age."

[5] I am using these terms not as epithets, but in a precise sense. By "oppressive" I mean "ruling in the face of open opposition by the majority"; by "reactionary" I mean "endeavouring to re-establish past conditions."


overseas meddlers, and "cheeky Kaffirs." The ideal concept of government is one of "Herrenvolk egalitarianism" with only the minimum of central authority necessary to keep the Africans and the other non-Whites perpetually in the position of helots.

The racialism of Afrikaner ideology has often been compared with that of Nazism, and the rise of the Nazi-inspired Afrikaner organizations like the Ossewa-Brandwag[6] and the New Order has been pointed to in order to demonstrate the affinity between Afrikaner Nationalism and Fascism or Nazism.[7] Nazism and Afrikaner Nationalism are undoubtedly similar in their racialism and their exacerbated nationalism, but it does not follow that the movements are therefore identical. Racialism and Fascism are two distinct syndromes which were accidentally united in Nazism, but which are often dissociated. For example, Italian and Iberian Fascism are not racialist, and racialism is found prominently in the United States without any significant indication of Fascism. The English-speaking Whites in South Africa are as racialist as the Afrikaners, without either group showing ideological affinities to Fascism. The closest historical parallel to the South African political system is found in southern United States, and not in Nazi Germany.

It is also undeniable that Nazi-inspired Afrikaner movements arose in the 1930's, and that many prominent Afrikaner Nationalist politicians (including the present Minister of Justice Balthazar Vorster) openly sympathized with Nazi Germany. These facts do not allow one to jump to unwarranted conclusions, however. Afrikaner pro-German sympathies before and during the Second World War were much more the expression of anti-British than of pro-Nazi sentiments. This assertion is supported by similar shows of pro-German feelings among Afrikaners during the Boer War and the First World War, i.e., long before the rise of Nazism.

[6] Literally, the "Ox-Wagon Sentinel."

[7] For the history of the rise of Afrikaner Nationalist organizations, see Michael Roberts and A. E. G. Trollip, The South African Opposition, 1939–1945 .


As to the neo-Nazi movements such as the Ossewa-Brandwag and the New Order, they failed to rally Afrikanerdom behind them. It was Malan's "purified" Nationalist Party which finally rallied Afrikanerdom after the Second World War, after having squashed the New Order and the Ossewa-Brandwag.

Besides ideological factors, important structural characteristics distinguish the South African state from modern Fascism. Fascism presupposes a strong military tradition and an influential caste of career officers, on which the charismatic leader can build up the backbone of his power. These conditions are nonexistent in South Africa, where the traditional Afrikaner form of military organization was the ill-disciplined, individualistic Boer commando, a temporary force raised ad hoc to fight the Africans, spontaneously formed and disbanded, and led by non-professionals chosen democratically by the Boer farmers among their own midst.[8]

Another characteristic of Fascist regimes is their attempt to gain wide popular support, or at least to create the illusion of such support, by means of political indoctrination, mass demonstrations, plebiscites, popular reforms, and other demagogic techniques. Fascist governments claim to express the will of the people, and try to unite the nation behind party slogans and policies. The latter often include revolutionary aspects that appeal to the masses, and in some cases, such as Peron's Argentina, it is even difficult to distinguish a rightist from a leftist dictatorship. Fascist regimes aim to destroy the existing order, and replace it with something different. None of the above characteristics are present in South Africa, where the government rules against the open opposition of some 90 per cent of the population, does relatively little to create the impression of wide support, deliberately divides the population into segregated groups

[8] Even during both Anglo-Boer wars, the fighting forces of the Boer Republics were, with the exception of a few specialized units such as artillery troops, un-uniformed irregulars. Of the officers, only a handful were professional soldiers.


instead of uniting it behind a charismatic leader, and aims at maintaining the old colonial order. In domestic politics, if not in international forums, the South African regime shows its contempt for the aspirations of the non-Europeans masses by ignoring protests and denying legitimacy to popular leaders.

A certain amount of halfhearted and ineffective indoctrination of apartheid takes place in government-controlled schools, and through the medium of the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation, and of official periodicals, such as Bantu . The Nationalists also claim, rather perfunctorily, that Africans support apartheid, except for a few misguided people swayed or terrorized by Communist or "Liberalist" agitators, outside meddlers, misguided clerics, and the English press. The authorities even quote puppet chiefs as "proof" of African support. Overseas, the State Information Office also engages in propaganda activities, but the latter are directed mostly at attracting tourists, by stressing how colourful the rhinos and the "Natives" are, and foreign capital, by pointing to the good investment climate, low wages, and other benefits favouring capitalists.[9] In recent years magazines like South African Scope also try to convince overseas readers that apartheid is a boon to the "Bantu," and that the Bantustans are but one step removed from independence; but the propaganda efforts of the South African government along the lines of political ideology are both clumsy and limited in scope.

All but the blindest of government officials are well aware of the overwhelming non-White opposition, and the government does not even resort to such old tricks as trumped-up plebiscites to salvage the fiction of popular support. Rather, the govern-

[9] That propaganda contains patent lies; thus, South African Scope (April, 1964) states that, in December, 1963, there were "only 15,000 people out of work" in the country. A 1962 study of unemployment among the some 230,000 Indians living in Durban estimated those out of work and seeking work at over 15,100 in that population alone (i.e., in some 2 per cent of the total population). Cf. Margo Russell and I. K. Allan, Unemployment Among Indians in Durban, 1962 , p. 5, Table 2.


ment's attitude is that non-White opinion is to be entirely ignored, and that, under no circumstances, should popular pressure be allowed to influence policy, as this would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. So entrenched is the tradition of ignoring non-White opinion that the government accepts with equanimity the statement of grievances, provided this is done with the proper subservience and through official channels. The subordination of non-Europeans is held to be of far greater consequence than their consent.

The Transkeian election of November, 1963, is interesting in this respect. For the first time the Xhosa of the Transkei were allowed to exercise the right of universal adult suffrage. The election was not a trumped-up plebiscite, since its results clearly indicated popular opposition to apartheid. The Transkeian constitution is such, however, that the "self-government" of the "Bantustan" consists of pro-apartheid chiefs, against whom the vast majority of the people voted. Thus the Transkeian election seems to be an extension of the grievance-stating machinery. A carefully controlled mechanism is set up whereby Africans are allowed to express discontent, but, after they have done so, their wishes are brushed aside, as being the product of agitation. Presumably, the government assumes that Africans will be satisfied to cast ballots, irrespective of whether they can thereby influence policy.

South Africa also distinguishes itself from Fascist regimes through the strength of its legal tradition and the survival of a measure of judiciary process. To be sure, the peculiarly South African heritage of judicial equity and autonomy, derived both from Roman-Dutch Law and English Common Law, is being gradually eroded and undermined through political appointments of judges, and the passage of legislation which conflicts with Western standards of justice. But the South African Nationalist regime never swept the legal system aside, as it had the power to do. There results the paradox that, in a state where the racialist legislation could hardly be any more far-reaching, a measure of fairness can still be expected in the courts. Policemen


are sometimes still punished (although very mildly) for murder and brutality;[10] as late as 1961 political opponents were occasionally still tried for treason and acquitted;[11] and racial legislation can still be fought (with diminishing effectiveness) in court, as was the case during the long but unsuccessful legal battle to prevent the disenfranchisement of the Coloureds in the 1950's.

In short, while there exists an unquestionable trend towards dictatorship in South Africa, that evolution has been comparatively slow because of the inhibitory factors just mentioned. The last remnants of the rule of law are being eliminated, but the agony of conventional legal justice has been long-drawn. This is what the government means when it refers to its restraint in the use of force.

The government is reactionary, oppressive, and racialistic like few in the world, but it is not Fascist in its ideology or its structure. The totalitarian measures developed in recent years are not the result of a deliberate plan, for, in that case, they could have been made much more effective, and have been implemented much faster and more drastically. They are, rather, ad hoc measures passed in reaction to waves of popular protest, and intended to suppress the non-White liberatory movements. The White opposition and the English press have, so far, been left practically

[10] E.g., in 1960 a police sergeant, N. J. J. Arlow, convicted of torturing and murdering African prisoners, was given a three-year gaol sentence, and was released in 1961 after serving fifteen months in prison.

[11] In December, 1956, 156 opponents of apartheid were arrested on charges of treason. After a preparatory examination, 91 of them were brought to trial. The case lasted until March, 1961, when all were acquitted; the accused were tried mostly under English Common Law rather than under such draconian South African laws as the Public Safety Act or the Suppression of Communism Act. While the government failed to obtain convictions, it did succeed, however, in rendering many key persons almost as politically impotent as if they had been convicted. The case was, nevertheless, regarded as a fiasco for the prosecution and a victory for the defence. The 1963 and 1964 treason and sabotage trials are of a very different nature, since the accusations are now based on dictatorial pieces of legislation.


undisturbed, partly because they do not constitute a serious threat to the Afrikaner Nationalists, but also because they are White.[12] Similarly the parliamentary and electoral process has not been tampered with, except within the legally permissible rules of the game, in a similar way as previous governments have done. It is true that the White opposition has no chance of unseating the government by constitutional means, but the parliamentary façade could have been swept aside altogether.

Another line of evidence in favour of my thesis concerning the discrepancy between the means and the ends of apartheid can be found in an examination of legislation. Nationalist laws fall into two discernible categories. On the one hand, such acts as the Population Registration Act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Group Areas Act, the Bantu Education Act, the Extension of University Education Act, and the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act all fall into an internally consistent, long premeditated, and undeviating pattern, namely the steadfast implementation of the ends of apartheid. On the other hand, laws like the Public Safety Act, the Suppression of Communism Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Riotous Assemblies Act, the Unlawful Organizations Act, the "Sabotage" Act of 1962, and the "No Trial" Act of 1963 share the character of improvised, ad hoc , repressive measures, hurriedly passed during, or just after, crises, to give the police powers to crush opposition. These purely instrumental laws do not fall into the coherent,

[12] There have been numerous threats of censorship against the English daily press by Nationalist politicians, but these threats have not yet materialized. Under growing unrest and pressures, censorship of English dailies may well become a reality. On April 27, 1964, Verwoerd ominously declared that opposition newspapers approached "the border of treason" (The Times , London, April 28, 1964). So far, the English press has met these threats by "voluntary censorship." E.g., after the Sharpeville shootings of 1960, most papers refrained from publishing the photographs of the victims. Now that the African struggle for freedom has entered the violent stage, the government's tolerance of the White opposition has notably decreased, and it is an open question whether the self-censorship of the English press will keep pace with governmental demands for "White unity."


logical master plan of the apartheid laws proper. Rather, these laws, which fall more within the Fascist pattern, are hastily drafted, expedient responses to unforeseen contingencies. Interestingly, these laws are usually quite colour-blind in their provisions and apply indiscriminately to all, unlike the apartheid laws proper, which all contain specifically racial clauses.

The Afrikaner Nationalist government continues in the tradition of previous White South African governments. It is simply more thorough and more consistent in its attempt to restore the golden age of the Boer Republics and to entrench White supremacy. The South African state still preserves its dual character of a democracy for the Herrenvolk and a racialist colonial regime for the non-Whites. The increasing powers that the Afrikaner Nationalist government has arrogated itself have, so far, only been used against those Whites who have collaborated with Africans and Indians in the liberatory movements; the official opposition is willing to give sweeping powers to the government in order to keep control over Africans, and with the tacit understanding that the United Party will not itself become a victim of tyranny.

We must now turn to the last major aspect of the social structure of South Africa, namely the economy. The general trend of the economy has been towards increasing diversification and rapid industrial expansion. Whereas South Africa remained almost exclusively a pastoral and agricultural country until the latter part of the nineteenth century, it is today a relatively highly urbanized and industrialized nation. Of all the African countries, South Africa is by far the most economically developed: its Gross National Product accounts for 24 per cent of the total for the continent, while its population makes up about 6 per cent. With its per capita income of £ 152.5, South Africa stands out among African states, being twice to thrice as well off as Ghana, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, the former Central African Federation, and Senegal; five times as well off as the Congo (Léopoldville), Nigeria, Kenya, and the Sudan; and eight to ten times as well


South Africa and Adjoining Territories. Provinces and Principal Cities.


off as most other African states south of the Sahara.[13] The three largest cities south of the Sahara are South African. Even by world standards, South Africa can be termed an industrial nation, since mining and manufacturing make up a third of the national income.

From its beginnings in 1652, as a refreshing station for Dutch vessels on the way to India, until the discovery of diamond fields in 1867, the South African economy was based mostly on cattle-and sheep-raising, and secondarily on cereal- and fruit-growing, and handicraft production. The vast territorial expansion of the Boers into the interior entailed few economic consequences, because the inaccessibility of markets forced the Boer farmers into the same type of pastoral subsistence economy as the Africans whom they displaced. The only marketable product of any importance was wool. Wool exports from South Africa increased rapidly after the Great Trek from 144,000 pounds in 1834, to 1,060,000 pounds in 1841, to 40,896,000 pounds in 1870.[14] This rapidly expanding trade did not, however, drastically affect the country's economic structure which remained based predominantly on subsistence and market farming.

The opening of the Kimberley diamond fields in the late 1860's marks the first major step in the diversification of South African production. Mining gradually overshadowed agriculture in relative importance, and remained the largest sector of the economy (in terms of contribution to national income) until the start of the Second World War. Surface deposits became quickly exhausted, and diamond diggings became deeper, thereby putting a premium on equipment and heavy capitalization. Large combines, such as De Beers, quickly dominated the mines, and ushered South Africa's entry into world capitalism. Spectacular as the diamond rush of the 1860's and 1870's had been, it was eclipsed in the late 1880's by the gold rush on the Witwatersrand. The

[13] Africa Report , August, 1963, back cover.

[14] De Kiewiet, op. cit. , p. 58; M. H. De Kock, The Economic Development of South Africa , pp. 36–42.


value of the Transvaal gold production increased from £1,869,000 in 1890 to £16,000,000 in 1898.[15] The White population of the Transvaal quadrupled between 1872 and 1890, while that of Natal, the Cape, and the Orange Free State only doubled during the same period.

Another immediate consequence of the opening of the gold and diamond fields was the rapid development of means of communication, mostly of railways. A Cape Town-Kimberley line was started in 1873, and by 1885 Kimberley was linked by rail with Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London. In 1892 the Cape Town-Kimberley line was extended to the Rand; in 1895 another line linked Johannesburg with Lorenço Marques, and in 1896 the Durban-Johannesburg line was completed. In scarcely over twenty years the interior of South Africa had lost its isolation, and had become quickly accessible from all the major harbours.

The development of the mining industry also brought in its wake urban expansion. Until the 1860's Cape Town was the only town of any importance in South Africa. In 1871 Kimberley, with a population of approximately fifty thousand, had become the country's second largest town. The discovery of gold on the Rand quickly transformed the mushroom town of Johannesburg into the very heart of the South African economy, and contributed greatly to the expansion of Durban as the nearest South African harbour. By 1911 the population of Johannesburg already approached the quarter-million mark, overshadowing that of Cape Town by nearly one-half.

All these rapid economic transformations played a determining political role in bringing about the Second Anglo-Boer War and the downfall of the Boer Republics. By the beginning of the

[15] M. H. De Kock, op. cit. , p. 52. Until 1961 the South African pound has been on par with the British pound sterling. Since the devaluation of the British pound in 1949, its value has fluctuated around $2.80. In 1961 South Africa adopted a decimal currency, the Rand, which is worth 10/or $1.40. For purposes of simplicity, most values will be mentioned in pounds throughout this work.


twentieth century the old pastoral economy (and the social order that went with it) had been relegated to the second place. Mining, particularly gold mining, had become the mainstay of the economy; large urban concentrations had grown all over the country, linked by a rapid and reliable railway network; and Johannesburg had become an important centre of world finance. In short, South Africa had become the continent's first country to begin its industrial revolution.

Following the development of mining, South Africa entered the third and last major stage in its process of economic diversification, namely the growth of secondary and tertiary industry. Mining, with its consequent urbanization and rail transport system, created the necessary conditions for large-scale manufacturing. No precise date can be assigned for the beginning of this last phase of capitalist development, for manufacturing and service industries grew more gradually and less spectacularly than mining. World War One gave South African industrialization its first major impetus, but mining continued as the economy's most important single sector until the late 1930's. After the slowdown of the Great Depression, the economy started to recover in 1933. The Second World War and its prosperous aftermath established the preponderance of manufacturing over mining and the coming age of South Africa as a complex industrial country (Table XVIII). This is not to say that mining did not continue to expand and to be an important sector of the economy. Coal mining was developed in Natal, and, more recently, booming new gold fields were opened in the Orange Free State. Between 1911 and 1958 the value of mining production increased sevenfold from £ 36,000,000 to £ 256,800,000. In terms of percentage of national income, however, mining declined from 27.5 per cent to 12.9 per cent during the same period, whereas manufacturing increased from 6.8 per cent to 24.5 per cent (Table XVIII).

A few figures will illustrate the rapid rate of economic development in South Africa in the twentieth century. Between 1911 and 1955 the gross value of output in secondary industry in-


creased seventy times. Between 1937 and 1951 alone, the increase was fivefold. Of course, inflationary prices account for a major portion of the growth, but even correcting on the basis of a price index, the value of the output did more than double in the 1937–1951 period.

This industrial expansion was accompanied by an increase in national income. Between 1912 and 1958 the national income increased over fifteen times, from £ 131,000,000 to £ 1,988,000,000; it has more than doubled between 1949 and 1958, and more than quintupled between 1938 and 1958 (Table XVIII). Correcting for the increase in prices and in population, the average per capita real income still shows a rise of some 40 per cent between 1938–1939 and 1952–1953. With an average annual percentage increase of 6.89 per cent in the value of manufacturing production between 1910 and 1940, South Africa's rate of industrial expansion was over three times faster than that of the United States (2.23 per cent) and Canada (2.06 per cent) and over seven times faster than that of Great Britain (0.87 per cent) during the same period.[16] South Africa's national income increased at an average annual rate of 3.81 per cent between 1910 and 1940, i.e., nearly twice the rates of Great Britain (2.12 per cent), the United States (2.02 per cent), and Canada (2.09 per cent).[17] In 1918–1919, 143,000 persons were employed in secondary industries, compared with 779,000 in 1950–1951.

An important demographic corollary of industrial development has been the rapid rate of urbanization. In 1904 only 23 per cent of the population were classified as urban, compared with 39 per cent in 1951. Absolute numbers showed a more than fourfold increase between the same two dates.[18] By 1960 nearly 47 per cent of the population, or 7.5 million people, lived in cities and nearly two-thirds of the urbanites were non-Whites (Table

[16] J. C. du Plessis, Economic Fluctuations in South Africa , p. 36.

[17] Ibid.

[18] N. N. Franklin, Economics in South Africa , p. 241.


IV).[19] In 1911 South Africa had only two cities of over 100,000 inhabitants; in 1946 it had seven; and in 1957, eleven. In 1960 Johannesburg had passed the million mark, while Cape Town had over 700,000 inhabitants and Durban over 600,000. With urbanization, an ever growing proportion of the population is drawn from the traditional subsistence economy into the cash economy. Between 1946–1947 and 1952–1953, for example, wage earners increased at an average of 8.5 per cent a year, as compared with a population growth of 2.1 per cent a year.[20]

In short, South Africa has become, since World War Two, a complex industrial nation deriving over one-third of its national income from mining and manufacturing, and only a little over one-tenth from agriculture. Trade, finance, and transport together account for approximately one-fourth of the national income. As an industrialized country, South Africa occupies a unique position on the continent. No other African country has an economy that even remotely approaches the level of complexity of South Africa, and, were it not for political factors, South Africa could play an important role in the economic and technical development of the rest of the continent.

Several factors, however, give the South African economy a structure that is atypical of most industrial countries. The small portion of the national income contributed by agriculture is not only the result of the relatively high development of other sectors of the economy, but also of the underdevelopment of the rural areas. Some 53 per cent of the population are still living on the land, and contribute only a little over one-tenth to the country's wealth. Not only are the Native Reserves impoverished, eroded, overpopulated rural slums, incapable of feeding their population, and subsisting on the margin of the cash economy, but even the European farming areas have comparatively low yields because of low rainfall and poor soil quality. In this respect, South Africa

[19] W. H. Hutt, The Economics of the Colour Bar , p. 181.

[20] The Manufacturer , May, 1956.


is typical of the rest of the continent. There results an acute disequilibrium between the productive and the relatively unproductive sectors of the economy South Africa thus combines some of the characteristics of both industrial and developing countries. One may speak of two parallel economies: sub -subsistence agriculture on the one hand, and an industrial wage economy on the other.

The role played by gold mining is another factor making for the exceptional character of the South African economy. While the gold mines no longer play the paramount role that they once did, they still constitute the country's largest single industry.[21] Their importance resides not only in their contribution to the state budget, the national income, and to the South African balance of international trade, but also in the special character of gold. Because of the stability in the price of gold, gold mining constitutes a built-in antidepression mechanism. In a deflationary period, when the price of most goods and services tends to decline, the stable price of gold leads to an increased margin of profits for the mines. Conversely, in a period of prosperity, the gold mines constantly face the threat that increased wages would make production unprofitable. This is not to say that South Africa is immune to business-cycle fluctuations. The Great Depression of the early 1930's, for example, also affected South Africa. But, due to the fact that the gold industry operates in reverse to the

[21] South African mining constitutes a tight oligopoly controlled by a largely English-speaking oligarchy. The main co-ordinating body for gold, uranium, and coal mining is the Transvaal and Orange Free State Chamber of Mines of which some ninety mining companies and thirteen financial corporations are members. Gold mining proper is controlled by seven major financial empires of which the Anglo-American Corporation is the largest. These giant corporations with interlocking directorates control an intricate pyramid of gold, coal, and other mining companies, banks,newspapers, manufacturing industries, and other subsidiary concerns. The pyramidal organization of these empires allows the major financial groups to control subsidiary companies in which they only own a small minority of the shares. Cf. State of the Union Year-Book for South Africa , 1959–1960, pp. 156–158.


rest of the economy, it plays an important stabilizing role, and tends to reduce the depth of the fluctuations.

Not only is gold an economic stabilizer; it also is the largest generator of wealth within the country, and it makes possible a much higher level of imports than would be possible without the export of bullion. In 1957, for example, the gold mines paid £ 17,000,000 in taxes, £ 73,000,000 in salaries and wages, and £ 105,000,000 for the purchase of supplies.[22] Only through gold exports does South Africa maintain a favourable balance of trade. From 1950 to 1958 the trade balance showed an export surplus of £ 459,100,000 if one includes the sale of gold. Without gold, the trade deficit would have been £ 1,091,300,000 during the same period (Table XX).

Another characteristic of the South African economy is the high degree of geographical concentration of its industry. The bulk of mining and manufacturing is centred in four areas. By far the largest industrial complex is the Witwatersrand. Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the satellite Rand cities such as Germiston, Springs, and Benoni constitute a large urban area of some two million inhabitants, and are the very heart of the country's economy. Following in order of importance as industrial centres are the three harbours of Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. There are, in addition, other minor centres such as East London, Kimberley, and Bloemfontein, but large areas of the country such as the Great Karoo, the Northern Transvaal, and all of the Native Reserves are devoid of industry. Manufacturing clearly crystallized around the Rand mines and around the main peripheral harbours.

Like most other African countries, South Africa depends heavily on foreign investments. While British investors own by far the largest interests, the United States, Germany, and other Western countries also have sizable assets in the Republic.

[22] Ibid. , p. 157.


As of the end of 1956, for example, South Africa's total foreign liabilities were £ 1,396,400,000, while its foreign assets were only £ 411,100,000, leaving net liability of nearly £ 1,000,000,000.[23] A Nationalist industrial manager, Martinus Smuts Louw, estimated in 1958 that 88 per cent of South African banking, 71 per cent of short-term insurance, 60 per cent of the gold-mining industry, and 40 to 50 per cent of secondary industry were controlled by foreign owners.[24] The international implications of this situation are obvious. On the one hand, the value of South African shares on foreign stock exchanges is highly sensitive to internal unrest, but, on the other hand, Western investments have been one of the factors restraining the governments of the United States, Great Britain, and other Western countries from voting in favour of sanctions against the Republic at the United Nations. We shall return to this in Chapters Eight and Ten.

Finally, the unique socio-political structure of South Africa has a number of economic consequences, to which we shall return later, but which must at least be mentioned here. A number of politically inspired regulations restrict economic expansion and activity, notably in the field of labour migration. Political unrest and the repressive measures of the government undermine the confidence of overseas capital on which South Africa is still heavily dependent. Vast disparities in the distribution of income make for a low purchasing power of the masses, and, hence, for a small internal market for consumer goods. A number of factors contribute to the perpetuation of a vicious circle of low wages and low productivity. The divorce between economic power concentrated in the hands of a small English capitalist class and the political power of the Afrikaner Nationalists constitutes one of the aspects of the conflict between the two dominant White groups. The economic exploitation of the non-European masses and the repression of trade unions add to political oppression in creating an explosive situation. At the same time, the dynamic

[23] Ibid. , pp. 304–305.

[24] Cited in Hartmann, op. cit. , p. 30.


processes released by rapid urbanization and industrialization are in conflict with the reactionary objectives of the government, and generate ever deepening maladjustments in the structure of South Africa.

As a manufacturing and mining country, South Africa is more akin to the capitalistic countries of Western Europe in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth century. The weak position of the trade unions, heavy reliance on great masses of unskilled workers, low wages and low productivity, great wage discrepancies between various levels of employment, and high masculinity ratios in the urban areas are so many characteristics of the early stages of industrialization. Both the semicolonial nature of South Africa and the late date of industrial development (as compared with Europe and the United States) account for this state of affairs.

The intricate interrelations between the various parts of social structure will be treated in the following chapters. Before turning to that task, however, let us summarize the major characteristics of South African society. Few countries are as complex, heterogeneous, and ridden with conflict and disequilibrium as South Africa. Culturally, South Africa is the meeting ground of several African, European, and Asian peoples, but, due to European technical, economic, military, and political dominance, the general trend has been towards the gradual Westernization of the non-Europeans. This summary statement hides, of course, the extremely complex nature of the process of acculturation, but we shall return to that problem in Chapter Nine. Overlapping only in part with cultural differences, a rigid system of social stratification divides the South African population in a number of ways, foremost among which is "race." The ascriptive colour-caste hierarchy pervades practically every aspect of South African life, and contributes more than any other single factor to the country's uniqueness. Race consciousness is not the prerogative of South Africa, but in no other country, except in Hitler's Germany, has racism been erected into a paramount principle of statesmanship.


Politically, South Africa is an antiquated White-settlers' democracy, ruling as a colonial power over 80 per cent of the population. In its desperate attempt to maintain a pre-industrial, paternalistic relationship between Whites and non-Whites, the Afrikaner Nationalist government is turning increasingly, though halfheartedly and inefficiently, to the methods of modern Fascism, but, basically, the South African brand of tyranny is that of an obsolete, nineteenth-century, colonial state. The same dual character of the South African polity is reflected in the economy. The country is at once an underdeveloped colonial area and an industrial power. As a late-comer in the industrial race, South Africa presents most of the characteristics of European nineteenth-century capitalism.


Chapter Four— The Social Structure of Modern South Africa: Polity and Economy

Preferred Citation: van den Berghe, Pierre . South Africa: A Study in Conflict. Berekley:  University of California Press,  1967 [c1965] 1967.