The revolutionary struggle of the black masses in South Africa is at its inception, and the problems of what path it must take—rural or urban guerrilla, a strategy based on the Reserves, on foreign base-camps or on the city ghettoes and shanty-towns—are still unsolved. It goes without saying that as socialists our fundamental commitment is to those who are already confronting the repressive apparatus of the South African régime with arms in their hands. But at this early stage of the struggle, the very power of that régime has led to a certain pessimism in some quarters about the possibilities for its revolutionary overthrow. Hopes are consequently placed in some evolutionary erosion of white dominance as South Africa’s economy expands, which will in turn lead to a more ‘normal’ bourgeois democracy—no longer based on race lines—in which a ‘normal’ class struggle could re-emerge. It is this reformist thesis which is the subject of the article which follows; the aim is to demonstrate that only
An examination of the origins, historical development and consequences of race discrimination and ideology in South Africa will not only reach radically different conclusions to those suggested by the reformist thesis, but will in addition afford the opportunity of highlighting the significance for political analysis of examining a society’s specific historical legacies; the fundamental relation between structure and superstructure and the too often neglected effects that the latter has upon the former. South Africa affords a specific and ideal opportunity for such an examination; for race discrimination is not only embedded in her social, political and economic structures, it is also embedded in the consciousness of her peoples.
From shortly after their arrival at the Cape in 1652 the European Dutch, through superior force of arms, were in a position to dominate the indigenous Hottentot population. As a direct result of this situation, the resultant socialization process, in terms of the allocations of roles and status between the two groups, lay primarily in the hands of the European. However, in this early period of South African history, this ‘naming’ of roles and status was defined by the European primarily in terms of religious belief rather than skin pigmentation. Non-literate coloured races were seen by the European either as ‘little lost souls’, to be rescued and converted to Christianity or, alternatively, as ‘pagans’ who had no soul to lose and were therefore born to slavery. Thus a non-European at the Cape, once baptized into the Christian religion, was immediately accepted as a member of the white (Christian) community. And if baptized as a slave, was entitled to his freedom.
With the importation of a considerable number of slaves from the East, European attitudes with regard to race underwent a significant change. The Europeans came to associate all forms of manual labour with servility, and became increasingly reluctant to undertake this form of work. Thus economic factors gradually began to intrude and undermine the original Christian/Heathen status differentiation. In place of the latter distinction, an economic and social hierarchy based on skin pigmentation was set up because those in the lowest economic and status groups were clearly distinguishable by their skin colour.
By the beginning of the 18th century, European agricultural expansion was taking place at the Cape; there arose the beginnings of a frontier society, and a resultant frontier mentality which was decisively to affect race attitudes in South Africa. Being intensively engaged in the struggle for survival, a frontier society can afford to give
The development of the ideology of race in South Africa, based on the historical, political and socio-psychological legacies previously outlined, arose in its overt form as a result of three fundamental and interlocking factors. Firstly, the late-19th century rise of Afrikaner nationalism in opposition to British Imperialism. Secondly, the acceptance by British Imperialism, through the mineowners, of the already existing racial master-servant social fabric. Thirdly, due to 20th-century industrialization, the competition of black and white for urban employment.
Afrikaner nationalism developed out of the Boers’ need both to reestablish their identity, and to create a group homogeneity through which they could ultimately rectify and overcome the humiliations and defeats which they had suffered since the events leading up to the Great Trek of 1836—events which culminated in their pacification by the British in the Boer War of 1899–1902. As the Boer leader General Botha remarked, ‘the battle which was won and lost in the fields of war must be fought again upon the political platform.’ As developed and eventually formulated (in the notorious Draft Constitution of 1941), this drive for power had as its ultimate object the total domination of South Africa in order to protect and promote the interests of Afrikanerdom.