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R. Stone

South Africa

Forces and Issues in Recent Election

(June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 25, 21 June 1948, p. 3.. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last week)

The Nationalists propose to abolish the three whites who have, since 1936, been the Native Representatives in the House of Assembly. This installation had been Smuts’ sly trump card to calm the questioning and critical outer world and to disorient the black masses at home, for thereby he had presented himself in liberal guise.

To smokescreen their offensive against the non-European masses, and to smash all the meager political and industrial organizations and illusory rights which still linger on, the Nationalists intend to begin with the outlawing of the Stalinist party and the relegating of colored voters to a separate roll with a limited membership and the abolition of the dummy Native Representative Council, at best a deceptive and meaningless cipher, created by Smuts only to throw dust in African eyes.

Relations with the British Empire

The Nationalist victory also focuses the multitude of problems arising from the economic control of British finance capital over South Africa.

The first reaction of the London Stock Exchange to Smuts’ defeat was a 25,000,000 pound panic slump in South African gold and industrial stocks.

British investors, sure of a Smuts victory which would have conferred greater security on this their “safest area” for investments, were greatly perturbed at his unexpected defeat. But the victory of the traditionally anti-British Nationalists will not loosen the grip of British imperialism over South Africa.

The Nationalists are not strong enough, politically or economically, to pursue any independent policy in relation to the concentrated economic and political power of British imperialism and its agents in the country itself. In terms of overall European support, they are still in a minority. The total votes for the United Party and Labor Party combined was 551,590 and for the Nationalists and Afrikaaner Party, 443,719. The Nationalist victory was gained by the overwhelming support of the platteland (rural districts), which have a preference of 30 per cent in the electoral quota, giving the Nationalists a majority of parliamentary seats.

Any moves against British capital would dislocate and reduce to chaos the economic structure of South Africa. As Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the major gold baron of South Africa, declared: “For the gold mines it will be business as usual with the door still open for genuine British investment.” (Sunday Express, London, May 30, 1948)

The Nationalist victory might kill South Africa’s mushroom industrial boom, by frightening away its chief prop, British money, now to come under close government scrutiny.

The strategic position occupied by South Africa in imperial defense will not be drastically affected. South Africa is geographically hemmed in by British possessions. Britain still maintains her protectorates (Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland) which border on the Union, still hasher naval base at the southern tip of the continent in Simonstown, and surrounds South Africa from the north with a hump of colonies.

The present government will only be more discreet than was Smuts, who too openly trumpeted South Africa’s affiliation to Britain.

The Nationalists will hold themselves a little dearer, bargain more with Britain, secure more concessions in tariff and other commercial matters, use South Africa’s gold to maneuver between Britain and America. But they will not break the chain of empire.

Significance of the Vote

The elections in South Africa are significant in that they have pushed to the forefront a group of Calvinistic god-fearing lords of the sjambok, whose ideological antecedents date back to the Voortrekkers of the 19th century, who packed their oxwagons to escape the slogans and practices of a liberalism that filtered half-heartedly through from Europe to the Cape. Aided by British imperialism, they were both later to destroy all signs of this early liberalism.

The election reveals most pungently that South Africa is one of the most abysmally backward and reactionary areas in the world.

But the election might serve to shake the non-white workers, tribalists, teachers, mine laborers and farm toilers, the African, colored and Indian peoples as a whole into a realization of their identity of interests, and might serve as a sharp break into their habitual conditions of existence, to give a new impulse to the speedier growth and consolidation of a united national liberation movement.

To protect themselves, as a whole, against these new attacks, and to regroup and mass themselves from that starting point, the creation of a national liberation movement will provide the means with which to fight on the whole arena for their democratic, national and social emancipation.

Note by ETOL

1. The identification of Grace Lee Boggs as the author of this article is tentative, based on the fact that it the author’s name is the same as one of her pseudonyms.

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