Nakora Sharpeville rocked the Herrenvolk state as never before. The stage was set for a direct and systematic assault on the last remaining rights of the non-Whites. The NEUM responded with the weapon of the boycott. Membership on an individual basis was disallowed since it was regarded as an attempt to by-pass involvement in the politicisation of the rank and file. I recall some of the more striking ones to reveal their nature and range. The NEF ceased to meet; the Torch closed down; membership of the TLSA steeply declined probably because recruitment was suspended owing to fears of penetration by the security police.
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This document supplements the material we published in Revolutionary History Vol. It fills gaps in our knowledge of one of the important movements in South Africa, and also it illustrates vividly the importance of collecting systematically the recollections and experiences of participants in struggles and making them available to future generations of workers and scholars.
In the near future we will be adding a further collection of documents from the history of Trotskyism in South Africa to this site, which space did not permit us to publish in the journal. In response to this and as one who had been directly and actively involved in the organisation from to , I hope to shed some light on the movement which I believe made a significant imprint on the liberation struggle.
This article will attempt to trace its origins within the context of both national and international developments at the time and assess the parts played by some of those active in it.
I take as my starting point the year with Nazi Germany on the retreat following the decisive battle of Stalingrad. The Coloured Advisory Council, it was stated, was to be merely what its name implied namely to advise the government of the legitimate needs of the Coloured people.
But the era of collaboration had passed. No longer were the people prepared to have their destinies decided by the government stooges who were appointed to serve on the council. From that meeting was born the Anti-Coloured Affairs Council, which later became the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department or Anti-CAD, when the diagnosis advanced by the sponsors of the conference could no longer be denied by the government.
Probably for the first time it gave the continent of Africa an organisation with a clear political programme. The ten-point programme encapsulated the minimum demands for participation in a democratic society.
It included among others: The full franchise, free education to the age of 16, freedom of speech, press, movement, the right to own land with a new division of the land as a first requisite of a new democratic parliament , penal reform and the rights of workers to organise themselves. All those who accepted those minimum demands without reservation could become part of the NEUM. Non-collaboration — the refusal to participate in or work the instruments of their own oppression, became a cardinal feature of the movement.
This principle of non-collaboration distinguished it from what had gone before: the deputations, the round-table conferences, the back-door deals, the membership of and participation in segregationist bodies.
Coupled with this there was the weapon of the boycott. The tacit belief of the leadership of the NEUM was that the way towards Socialism lay via the national movement. What infuriated a voluble section of those who regarded themselves as Trotskyists, was that the NEUM leadership never publicly articulated these views.
It drew forth fierce denunciations from members of the Forum Club, a Trotskyist political forum in Cape Town. The leadership of the NEUM were convinced that in their organisational structure they had found the secret weapon that would unite the oppressed and in time draw into it support from the Whites, thus creating the foundations of a decent democratic society for all regardless of so-called race, colour and creed.
The structure was considered to be invulnerable to the attacks of the state machine. Kies and I. In brief the pamphlet put forward a novel view of setting about the task of organising the masses. The Building of Unity propounded the view that the mass of the people was already organised in a multitude of organisations. All that needed to be done, therefore, was for those organisations to be politicised, accept the ten-point programme and become part of the movement. Membership lay only through joining one of the affiliated organisations.
Membership on an individual basis was disallowed since it was regarded as an attempt to by-pass involvement in the politicisation of the rank and file. Thus it was believed that it would be impossible for the state to ban the movement because of its diverse composition. The reasoning was almost poetic in its conception. The inescapable stumbling block to unity lay in the divisions among the non-White communities. This had been achieved over the generations by a policy of divide and rule through which the rulers had created almost unbridgeable schisms among the population groups.
The major section, the Africans, was still subject to tribal separateness, and ancient hates were kept alive despite the efforts of the Congress movement, established in and the All African Convention, established in the mid-thirties, to strive to break down the barriers.
The Coloureds were also bought off by allowing them limited voting rights, and freedom from the kind of legislation that bound the Africans such as the pass laws, and the right to buy and sell property as well as giving the Coloured pupil more than double the amount of money in the educational system as compared with the African child. To keep the Coloureds in the White kitchen they were reminded that they had white blood that flowed in their veins.
The Indians on the other hand were enjoined not to associate with the other two groups as they, the Indians, came from a civilisation stretching back for a thousand years, etc.
To combat these divisions among the population groups the NEUM instituted the federal structure consisting of Three Pillars aimed at eventually uniting the three groups: the All African Convention for the Africans; the Anti-CAD for the Coloureds; and the Indian Congress for the Indians The leadership of the Indian congress because of its involvement with the merchant class, withdrew from the Unity Movement declaring that they were unable to accept the principle of non-collaboration.
The hope was that when the ideas of unity became generally accepted, the Three Pillars would wither away and there would be only the Unity movement. This was the situation when I formally entered the movement in It had ousted the softly, softly approach to social control issues of The United Party of General Smuts. The clarion call of Apartheid by the Malanites found the majority of the White population rapturously responsive.
The stage was set for a direct and systematic assault on the last remaining rights of the non-Whites. The NEUM responded with the weapon of the boycott. The New Era Fellowship was the organisation where we began to learn our politics - learnt the nature of Capitalist Imperialism; how the media misrepresented the socialist world by labelling it as Russian Imperialism; why the ruling class — henceforth called the Herrenvolk — used Apartheid as a form of social control; why it was that sometimes it was possible to succeed when one challenged the government through the legal system, showing how the rule of law operated in South Africa.
An attempt was even made to run study groups to teach the basics of Marxism, but which was discontinued for fear of possible infiltration by the security police. The early fifties was a period of enormous intellectual ferment. Pieterse co-wrote about the French Revolution.
To us if the best brains among the Whites accepted the ideas of the NEUM, a substantial number of the White group would indubitably follow and a South African nation would emerge purged of the evils of race, colour and creed. The first split in the movement began to show as early as , when I.
We were told that the NEF was too advanced for young Africans. Its establishment was done secretively without the participation or knowledge of the rest of the movement. Goolam Gool and his sister Jane supported Tabata. They needed a more elementary grounding in the ideas of the movement.
We could hardly refuse the request despite a suspicion that Tabata wished to create his own power base. Mr Tabata declared the analysis static and undialectical.
The two foremost ideologues in the movement were locking horns. My differences are not personal, they are political! Things in the movement would never be the same again. The rift soon became a chasm and people who before had been friends now became enemies; meetings were disrupted, once leading to the shameful situation where the police were summoned to eject SOYANS from a meeting called by the Local Co-ordinating Unity Committee at the Banqueting Hall in Cape Town for fear that there might be physical violence.
This background of the situation is important so that one can get a clearer understanding of the role of the person whom the Tabata faction regarded as the arch-villain namely Hosea Jaffe.
Jaffeism was the choice invective hurled by the disciples of Mr Tabata. Jaffe declined to follow suit and made the NEF his kindergarten. His views were definitive on all questions; his pronouncements became part of Movement lore.
I recall some of the more striking ones to reveal their nature and range. Not all have stood the test of time. As evidence he cited the fact that during the Nazi invasion of the USSR they were obliged to make use of the collective farm organisation, which was historically irreversible. One could skip the bourgeois stage and go straight to socialism.
It was fallacious to speak of multi-racialism, which was a contradiction in terms. All these categories are artificial. From the time Jaffe expressed this in it became customary to speak of so-called Coloureds, so-called Africans, etc. Very soon it became the established form in the broad liberation movement, and reached its apotheosis in the late eighties when even De Klerk was compelled to accept non-racialism as the prescription for a future South Africa.
It was classic economic reductionism. Thus for example the reason for the Spanish dancing in a very small space was attributed to the restricted land area of the Iberian peninsula. Even staunch Jaffeists found this hard to swallow, but no-one openly contested this notion. Human society was part of nature. Society consisted of social classes between which there were irreconcilable differences.
Collaboration thus was a breach of natural law. Non-collaboration, thus was an irrefutable principle. But attitudes of kindness, fair play, loyalty, honesty, etc could not by definition be principles, and were simply sentimental notions. Tabata now held sway in the All African Convention. Point seven in the ten point programme became a major source of conflict. It stood for the right to buy and sell land with the added rider that a new division of the land should be the first task of a Democratic parliament.
This was interpreted by Tabata as meaning that any redivision of the land could take place only after the achievement of democratic rights. This we interpreted as a pro-middle class step. Jaffe cited the French revolution where the peasants had seized the manorial estates, during the uprising and thereafter were granted title deeds.
Jaffe monitored the Hungarian uprising of It was characterised as anti-Socialist. The Movement gave the Soviet intervention its complete support. Jaffe became the undisputed ideologist of the movement. There were seminars on philosophy, Imperialism and Culture to which he made significant contributions. Kies murmured occasionally but ineffectually, especially after his banning and expulsion from the teaching profession in The split with Tabata deepened.
But the screws of oppression were being tightened by the Herrenvolk so that it became almost impossible to recruit new cadres into the movement.
In the Torch ceased to be published. The NEF closed shop soon afterwards. Prior to the banning of Ben Kies in Jaffe had kept his views on the three pillar federal structure of the movement relatively low-key. His first tactic was linguistic: he began to refer to the three pillars as the triangular structure, a small but significant difference. Jaffe thus propounded something quite unique for a mathematician, a two sided triangle! Up to this time Kies kept his silence, but when Jaffe expressed the view that the time had come to abandon the basic 3 pillar structure, Kies rose to defend the organisational form he regarded as an article of faith.
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