South African Economic Racism

Throughout the course of the 19th and 20th century, economic considerations played a significant role in shaping both racial discrimination and concepts of white supremacy in South Africa. When large deposits of gold and diamonds were discovered in the latter half of the 19th century, the economic structure of southern Africa was dramatically altered. The mining industry necessitated vast amounts of inexpensive labor in order to be profitable. In the post South African War period, the necessity to return the Boers to self-rule without harming the mining industry resulted in a series of legislation that legalized racial discrimination to ensure a large and cheap labor force consisting of Africans. South Africa’s industrial revolution and the legislation passed during the period immediately following the South African War provided the economic bases of racial discrimination and white supremacy in South Africa.

In 1868, the Kimberly diamond strike propelled South Africa to a position as a world leader in diamond production. Similarly, the discovery of large gold deposits in the 18th and 19th century also attracted both foreign capital investment and immigration. The rapidly growing mining industries required massive amounts of inexpensive labor in order to be profitable. Hundreds of thousands of African workers sought employment in the developing mines and cities in industrializing cities. In the face of this increased competition, white workers benefitted from racial discrimination because it protected them economically from competition with African workers. White business owners sought a large and cheap African workforce; racial discriminatory practices ensured they were cheap and pliable.

In order to limit the bargaining power of African workers seeking higher wages and to ensure that none could flee in the face of harsh labor conditions, the British conquered the remaining independent African states, confiscated land, and imposed severe cash taxations during the 1880s and 1890s. This forced African labor that had previously chosen employment in the mining industry voluntarily to now do so under conditions set solely by the employers. In addition, a series of discriminatory practices were first introduced during this period including pass laws and urban ghettos, further ensuring the enforced cooperation and steady supply of cheap African labor. The industrial revolution in South Africa introduced a pressing need for incredible amounts of cheap labor. The introduction of racially discriminatory practices sought to meet this need by ensuring the In the aftermath of the South African War in 1902, the mining industry saw a depression in the face of a severe labor shortage. In response, South African capitalists and mining industry leaders worked with British imperial authorities to import massive amounts of Chinese laborers. Between 1902 and 1907, over one hundred thousand Chinese immigrated to South Africa.

However, Afrikaners opposed this vehemently arguing that it should be a white man’s country and that this influx of labor represented a new competitive threat for potential jobs. In 1906, the Liberals come to power in Great Britain. Many had opposed the South African War and were now calling for the return of self-rule to the Boers without endangering the mining industry. Afrikaners would take the place of skilled and semi-skilled English laborers at lower wages while newly enacted policies would force greater numbers of Africans to unskilled labor. The 1911 Mines and Works Act restricted African employment to menial and unskilled jobs, excluding them from most skilled categories of work. In effect, it legislated a racial hierarchy in the workplace and extended the practice throughout the South African economy beyond the mining industry.

Furthermore, the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924 restricted African rights to organize or to negotiate their terms of employment. In 1913, the Natives’ Land Act was enacted, restricting African ownership of land to designated areas comprising roughly 7 percent of the South Africa’s total land area and restricting Africans from establishing any businesses outside of this allocated space. In addition, the land partitioned for Africans was often of poor quality and could not possibly support its population. Thus, the law effectively prevented Africans from leading self-sufficient lives in rural communities. They were increasingly forced to work on Afrikaner owned farms, factories, and mines. In addition, restrictions on their movement and the right to reside in urban areas combined with the inability for rural areas to support significant numbers of Africans resulted in an endless system of migrant unskilled labor. Economic interests and considerations significantly influenced the segregation policies adopted in South Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries. The necessity of a cheap and controllable labor source resulted in harsh racially discriminatory policies and the rise of white supremacy.

In 1944, the chairman of the Broederbond stressed the special role of Afrikaners in a speech, “In every people in the world is embodied a Divine Idea and the task of each People is to build upon that Idea and to perfect it. So God created the Afrikaner People with a unique language, a unique philosophy of life, and their own history and tradition in order that they might fulfill a particular calling and destiny here in the southern corner of Africa. We must believe that God has called us to be servants of his righteousness in this place” (Clark and Worger, 32). Placing emphasis on divine support for their existence, their special place in the world, and righteous mission, this Afrikaner ideology can draw historical antecedents from the belief of Manifest Destiny in the United States in the 19th century and from the ethnic nationalist movement of Nazi Germany in the mid 20th century. This emphasis on the special Afrikaner identity heavily influenced Hendrik Verwoerd whose argument for apartheid centered on the inability for two cultures to achieve their ideal futures as each of their paths are unique. The intermingling of languages, traditions, and histories would be detrimental to both the Afrikaner and African peoples. These ideals of Afrikaner nationalism expressed in the quote draws historical antecedents back into the 19th century concept of Manifest Destiny.

During the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the North American continent due to the special virtues of the American people and through a special destiny that was divinely ordained. Similarly, the Broederbond chairman asserts the special role of the Afrikaner people and their divinely ordained origin. In addition, he argues for their expansion throughout southern Africa as both a divine calling and righteous mission. The ideas expressed in the quote by the Broederbond chairman also draw numerous parallels with the 20th century German nationalism found in Nazi Germany. Following his ascension to power in Germany, Hitler’s movement and theories resonated considerably in South Africa, particularly with the Purified National Party and the Broederbond. The Broederbond established a “voortrekker” movement for Afrikaner youth, arguably seen as analogous to the Hitler Youth. In 1938, the Ossewabrandwag was established on the model of Hitler’s national socialist movement.

By the end of 1939, over three hundred thousand Afrikaners had sworn loyalty to the volk, or Afrikaner people. It sought to establish an Afrikaner controlled republic in South Africa, by violent means if necessary. Additionally, in 1938, a centenary celebration of the Great Trek was organized that placed emphasis on the heroic struggle of the Afrikaners against British oppression. The articulation of this “sacred history” and of a struggle for survival sought to memorialize and legitimize the special place of the Afrikaner people. These sentiments are again arguably analogous to those found in the ethnic nationalist movement of Nazi Germany that stressed the special place in history of the Aryan race. In both Afrikaner nationalism and German nationalism, the nation has a mystical and divine quality. In addition, the Afrikaner and German people are also considered to possess certain special and unique characteristics such as language, culture, and history that transcend the individual and contribute to a national unity. The emphasis of a special and unique Afrikaner identity expressed in the quote by the Broederbond chairman in 1944 can be seen in Hendrik Verwoerd’s argument for apartheid in 1950.

As the minister of native affairs in the first National Party government, Verwoerd met with African members of the Native Representative Council to explain his theory and justification of apartheid. Basing his argument in the concept of ethnic nationalism, he asserts that Afrikaner and African communities must be divorced in order for both parties to prosper. It is impossible for two distinct and unique peoples to achieve their ideal futures while intermingled because each has their own particular path and calling. Verwoerd argues that tension and conflict are inevitable in mixed societies. The mixing of languages, traditions, and cultures in South Africa are only detrimental to the development of both the Afrikaner and African people.

Appealing to African leaders for their cooperation in installing an apartheid policy, Verwoerd states that, “Instead of striving after vague chimeras and trying to equal the European in an intermingled community with confused ideals and inevitable conflict, he can be a national figure helping to lead his own people along the road of peace and prosperity. He can help give the educated men and women of his people an opportunity to…fully realize their ambitions within their own sphere” (Clark and Worger, 141). His explanation of apartheid places a significant emphasis on the purity of a people’s descent and the continuation of this line as the key to secure an ideal future. Both Afrikaners and Africans can only truly realize their full potential within their own cultural and ethnic sphere.