Peasants’ Revolt. Govan Mbeki
Govan Mbeki, the author of "The Peasant's Revolt", was a leading theoretician in the South African struggle as a member of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Govan Mbeki, the author of "The Peasant's Revolt", was a leading theoretician in the South African struggle as a member of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Resistance and Rebellion
THE PEASANTS RISE
Chapter 9 From "The Peasant's Revolt" By Govan Mbeki
South African peasants have a long history of resistance to oppression. They know what it is to be crushed by the armed forces of the whites, to be imprisoned without trial, banished to desolate parts of the country, and banned from normal social contact.
Since the enforcement of the Nationalist Party’s policies by harsh and frequently violent means, peasant resistance has been widespread and organized. Africans have resisted forcible removal from their homes to new territory. They have opposed the imposition of Bantu Authorities, the extension of passes to women, and schemes for the rehabilitation and reallocation of land.
Between 1946 and 1962 risings have been provoked in Witzieshoek, on the border of Basutoland; in Marico, just south of Bechuanaland; in Sekhukhuneland, in the north-west Transvaal; in Zululand, on the South Coast; and throughout the Transkei, especially in Pondoland. They have been suppressed with brutal force.
The Witzieshoek ‘disturbances’ resulted in 14 Africans shot dead, and two policemen killed. (Cape Times, 27 Novembcr 1950.) Many Africans were arrested and imprisoned. The leaders, including old Chief Paulus Mopeli, were deported.
Mopeli is still in banishment; for 14 years he has not seen his home. As elsewhere, the dispute culminated in violence because of the government’s open indifference to the peasants’ complaints.
The dispute arose over land and stock. The Witzieshoek reserve is a tiny fragment of what was once Sotho territory, annexed by the Boers in the 1860s. The reserve was given by treaty with the Orange Free State in 1867 to the great-grandfather of Paulus Mopeli, and his tribesmen.
Nearly a century later the peasants (descendants of the original owners of the Free State) were ordered to cull their stock and to cease using the watersheds as grazing land because of the effect on the ‘White’ farming area lower down. No alternative land was offered them.
These stock farmers refused to cull their cattle, and they cut the fences enclosing their grazing ground. They petitioned the Minister in 1947 to appoint a commission that would inquire into their grievances. The government refused their request and ordered the culling to continue. (South Africa: U.G. 26, 1951)
When the government eventually appointed a commission in November 1950, it was too late to avoid bloodshed.
Witzieshoek opened a decade of turbulence and struggle against apartheid and its armoury of unjust laws. Many thousands took part in the great Defiance Campaign of 1951/2; masses of women demonstrated against the pass laws; parents, children and teachers protested against the Bantu Education Act. These protests were centred in the towns but had their repercussions in the reserves.
Early in 1957, in the Transvaal, a major peasant revolt broke out against the extension of pass laws to women.
The government had introduced a new weapon in the Bantu Authorities Act, which the people had dubbed ‘Uzifozonke — cure all ills’. Dr Verwoerd, then Minister of Native Affairs, fell victim to his own propaganda that if the Chiefs accepted apartheid the people would too, that the Chiefs’ influence on the people was boundless, and that the people would endure any hardship as long as the Chiefs told them that their suffering was really a stepping stone to a glorious Bantustan future.
The new Bantu Authorities were no sooner announced by proclamation than the government used them to superintend the extension of the pass laws to African women.
In the Transvaal, as nowhere else, African women had experienced the burden that passes had settled on their menfolk. The pass laws bound all men of 16 and over to back-breaking work on the White farms at meagre rates of pay.
Women watched their menfolk wander from city to city and town to town, unable to secure employment because the entries in their pass-books dictated that they could take work only in prescribed areas, where the lower wage rates obtained. If a man looked for a better job elsewhere, he infringed the law and was sent back to the place where he was born, or where his father or father’s father had been born.
Men were thrown into prison, sometimes flogged because they failed to convince a government official that they had not been in an urban area for more than three days (72 hours) without obtaining permission. Not a home, not a woman did not know the searing anxiety that the pass laws brought. And now these hated laws were to be extended to women.
In the Marico district, adjoining the Bechuanaland border, is the Bafurutse reserve of Linokana. The recognized senior Chief was Abraham Moiloa. He had already been in bad odour with the authorities in 1956 for his unwillingness to sign the Bantu Authorities Act.
In March 1957 he was summoned to the office of the Commissioner in Zeerust and told to instruct the women of his tribe to take out pass-books. He simply conveyed the instruction. In April, the issuing unit arrived, but only 76 women took books.
Three days later the Commissioner arrived in the royal village and summarily deposed the Chief, who was ordered into exile. The tribe interpreted this as a drastic reprisal for their refusal of pass-books. Crowds of women forced the minority that had taken out the pass-books to surrender them, and the books were burnt.
Incidents flared up first in one village, then in another. When a group of women was pointed out to the authorities as being those responsible for a pass-burning, a large crowd of women thrust themselves forward, shouting: ‘If they are guilty, we are also, you must arrest us all.’
Meetings of more than ten were declared illegal. The government took under its protection the submissive Chiefs, whose bodyguards began a reign of terror against any tribesmen or woman who opposed them. When the bodyguards met with popular resistance the police force stepped in to reinforce them with rifle and sjambok.
A poignant account of the Bafurutse ordeal is given in Brief Authority (Collins, 1960) by Charles Hooper. Many of the Bafurutse fled from the disturbed areas into Bechuanaland, leaving crops untended in the fields, and their cattle without herders. Those who had opposed the government became marked men, and their families were marked with them.
A series of prosecutions against the rebels was instituted in the courts. In one case, a judge commented that there had been widespread resentment against the issue of passes to women. The atmosphere in the area had been ‘one of menace’ and popular resentment had been ‘exacerbated by the tyrannical attitude of the Chief.’
Government officials attributed the peasant opposition in the Zeerust area to ‘agitators’, essentially the African National Congress. In fact, the African National Congress had mounted an intensive campaign against the pass laws and the Bantu Authorities. A.N.C. volunteers from the towns did go to their home villages to dissuade their wives from taking out passbooks and cooperating with the implementation of apartheid.
But A.N.C. organizers, or ‘agitators’, as they are dubbed by the government, do not create the conditions for struggle out of thin air. Zeerust throbbed with the spirit of resistance during those anxious days. The A.N.C. men and women, with many others who belonged to no political body at all, were able to lead only because the people were clamouring to follow.
The next place that trouble broke out among the peasants was also in the Transvaal, this tiine in the east, in Sekhukhuneland. Once again, opposition to Bantu Authorities flared into open resistance, when the government banished the Chief Moroamoche and some of his leading councillors.
The trouble began when a tribal meeting, pressed by the government to accept Bantu Authorities and Bantu Education, rejected both these facets of government policy in May 1956.
Several leading men of the tribe were exiled, and then the Commissioner arrived with police at the tribal headquarters to depose Chief Moroamoche himself. The Chief won an appeal against his suspension in March 1958, but he was deported, nevertheless, to the Transkei.
A retired policeman was appointed to act in his place, but the new Chief was rejected by the mass of the tribe, who refused to pay any taxes until Moroamoche was restored. Riots broke out in several villages and a mobile police force seized control of the area. More than 200 were arrested in one incident alone.
A grisly trial led to 11 death sentences, among them a woman chieftainess, but the sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Here are the names of the eleven:
Madinoge Morwamoele (the chieftainess)
John Makopole Kgolane
Jack Mogase Mariri
Johannes Machele Ngwako
Klaas Marweshe Mabinane
James Kgologi Mahlagaume
James Monompane Motubatse
Frans Morewane Tswaledi
Jim Kgoro Makgoleng
Jim Makalapeng Morewane.
In both these Transvaal reserves the struggle was brief, brutal and bitter. It was easy for the government to isolate and crush all open resistance because the Transvaal reserves are small and scattered in pockets in the vast ‘White’ farming areas.
The Bantustan octopus stretched its tentacles in other directions too. In Zululand the government seemed to be meeting with less organized opposition as it thrust the main Chief — Cyprian Dinizulu — forward to give the impression that the glory and splendour that once characterized the Zulu was being restored.
Yet opposition immediately developed in those areas where the government started implementing aspects of its Bantustan policy.
In Tokazi, for instance, popular opposition to land ‘rehabilitation’ was so strong that a clash occurred between most of the peasants and the few who were accepting land under the new government measures. The police were rushed in, and a number of people were sentenced to death after hut burnings and disorders in the area.
In Zululand, as everywhere else, the trouble centred around the administration of land. Chief Cyprian Dinizulu had accepted the betterment scheme, and in consequence a whole community of the Tokazi location in the district of Nongoma was ordered to move to a new area.
When the people refused to leave their old homes, the government retaliated by denying them the right to plough their arable allotments, as though to say: ‘If you do not do as we tell you, we shall see to it that you do not eat.’
In course of time some 24 families yielded to government pressure and moved to the allotted area. To show its appreciation, or deliberately to set one group against another, the government then allotted arable plots to the conformists and allowed them to till.
The anger of the resisters was now turned on these families, who were regarded as traitors. A party of over 200 strong attacked the collaborators, killing two.
This resulted in 29 being charged, originally with murder, though in the end only 14 were convicted, on lesser charges, to various periods of imprisonment ranging from 8 to 14 years.
The remarks of the judge in this case were significant. He said it was clear that there was deep resentment against Bantu Authorities and that the administration had been aware of this but had imposed the scheme in spite of opposition. In passing sentence he therefore regarded this resentment as an extenuating circumstance. The outstanding leader of the resistance movement in this struggle was a man called Pikinkani.
Similar struggles against the Bantu Authorities Act were fought in the Transkei, where the resistance of the peasants culminated in the Pondo revolt which broke into the open early in 1960. At first the government pretended that nothing untoward was happening in Pondoland. But soon it became clear that a minor war was in progress.
Emergency Proclamation 400 was gazetted in 1960 and according to the official figures, 4,769 men and women were held in custody for indefinite periods during that year. Of this number, 2,067 were eventually brought to trial. (House of Assembly Debates, 27 January 1961, C. 226)
The government suppressed the revolt by bringing in the military to assist the police, by using sten-guns, Saracen armoured cars, and jets against unarmed peasants, by terrorism and mass arrests. By that time, however, the Pondos had successfully smashed the Bantu Authorities system. Members of the Tribal and District Authorities had fled, while peoples’ courts were dealing with collaborators, and Chiefs were in the protective custody of the government.
Why did Eastern Pondoland of all places rise in the way it did and on the scale it did? The Pondos have been well known in South African history for their allegiance to authority. There is no record of the Pondos ever having taken up arms against even the early British forces who first occupied Pondoland.
On one occasion in 1895, when it seemed that a clash was inevitable over the refusal of the Pondos to pay taxes and a British punitive force was on the point of marching to Pondoland, the situation was saved by Chief Sigcau himself, who surrendered at Kokstad and was subsequently transported to Robben Island.
From these early days successive governments have allowed Pondo Chiefs a much greater measure of control over the tribal structure than elsewhere. Here, as probably nowhere else, the missionaries, most of them from the Wesleyan Church, exercised great influence over the principal Chiefs.
Chiefs’ sons, the heirs to chieftainship, were trained at the homes of the White missionaries, many living with them as members of their families. On the completion of their apprenticeship, they returned to their people, bringing vigour and a new approach to the conduct of chieftainship.
Both at Qaukeni (Eastern Pondoland) and Nyandeni (Western Pondoland), the Chiefs erected modern offices and conducted cases on the pattern of a magistrate’s court. With slight modifications to adapt the pattern to heal conditions, the Pondo courts had officers, a dock, a fairly good recording of proceedings, and proper systems of filing.
For a long time the Pondo Paramount Chiefs were the only Chiefs in the Transkei with civil jurisdiction. They exercised real power over the distribution of land within the framework of government policy, and they used these comparatively wide powers to entrench their chieftainship. Up to the time that Bantu Authorities were introduced the people contributed to the Chiefs’ treasuries with little complaint.
Then the Nationalist government moved to invade the area with its new policies, and from the very start it went wrong, making the serious mistake of choosing as the arch-champion of Bantu Authorities Chief Botha Sigcau, a man already discredited in the eyes of his people.
As far back as 1939, when the choice had had to be made of a successor to the Paramount Chief of East Pondoland the government of the day had picked on Chief Botha in preference to his half-brother Nelson, who had been regarded by many as the rightful heir. The use of Chief Botha by the Nationalists to introduce Bantu Authorities, in the face of popular opposition to his chieftainship, was bound to provoke widespread resentment.
LUSIKISIKI AND BIZANA
Several years before revolt finally flared, the government had made efforts to induce the peasants to accept Bantu Authorities. In 1953 it tried, through Paramount Chief Botha Sigcau, to force the rehabilitation scheme upon Eastern Pondoland, but at a meeting held in Lusikisiki at which Botha Sigcau was present, the people categorically rejected the scheme.
The meeting was highlighted when one man by the name of Mngqingo turned his backside to Botha Sigcau, a sign of non-confidence; the people supported him and booed the chief and the officials. A few days later a large contingent of police entered the area, and Mngqingo took a large peasant army with him to the thick forests.
When the government appeared to give up the affair, however, Mngqingo emerged and disbanded his impi. He was eventually arrested and deponed to the district of Cala and the opposition to the government measure gradually subsided.
Discontent then manifested itself in the district of Bizana, which lies between Lusikisiki in the south and the Umtamvuna river on the border of Natal in the north. In September 1957, the Pondos of Bizana rejected Bantu Authorities, Bantu Education and the rehabilitation scheme at a meeting to which the peasants came in their thousands.
They demanded that Botha Sigcau should publicly declare whether he was the head of the Pondo tribe or the boot-licker of Verwoerd, the then Minister of Native Affairs. Botha Sigcau left surreptitiously, and the meeting went out of control, ending in disorder and the widespread cry — ‘Umasiziphathe uya Kusebenza sifile’, or ‘Bantu Authorities will operate over our dead bodies.’
Then, in 1958, all the Pondoland districts were invited to send representatives to a large gathering called by the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, Mr de Wet Nel, and Botha Sigcau. The people were led to believe that the gathering was some sort of celebration, but found on arrival that it was an attempt to get Bantu Authorities under way.
Chief Botha announced that he had been promoted to take over the chair of the Chief Magistrate of Umtata, and that in turn some of the Chiefs would be promoted in the various districts. The Pondo Court would be enhanced in status, and great changes would be brought about. In short, the people were told that they were getting self-government. (Memorandum sent to the U.N. by the Mountain Committee)
In practice, however, Chief Botha alone made promotions; it was he who selected councillors for the courts from his own supporters. The people steadily lost confidence in the courts, and corruption set in among the councillors, who knew that their position depended not on the goodwill of the people, but on their maintaining their friendship with Chief Botha. This cancer in the heart of tribal justice was one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the whole tribal structure, and for the subsequent development of a new system during the Pondo revolt.
The rot ate ever deeper into the once healthy organism of tribal life. Government appointees to positions of authority were increasingly spurned by the people, and had to rely on the police and the magistrates to impose their authority. Many Chiefs and headmen found that once they had committed themselves to supporting Bantu Authorities, an immense chasm developed between them and the people. Gone was the old give-and-take of tribal consultation, and in its place there was now the autocratic power bestowed on the more ambitious Chiefs, who became arrogant in the knowledge that the government’s might was behind them.
Frustration and dissatisfaction were mounting, and at the Isikelo Location in the district of Bizana anger boiled over. The people called a meeting to demand that Mr Saul Mabude, Chairman, and members of the District Authority explain Bantu Authorities to them. Mabude did not attend. The meeting was punctuated with grim silence, a premonition that all was not well in Pondoland.
Laughter and easy talk, characteristics of the Pondos, were totally absent. The meeting ended in disorder. On a Sunday morning, some time later, a large impi marched to Mabude’s kraal, while the women raised the war cry — ‘I — iwuuu I ii wu iwu!’ Mabude’s house was surrounded, his pigs and fowls were slaughtered, and his hut was set on fire.
The government struck back savagely. Police traversed the country in heavily meshed cars; armed police swarmed into the kraals on the hillsides, terrorizing women and children, arresting the men. Two battalions of the Mobile Watch moved in with armoured vehicles and camped at the villages of Bizana, Lusikisiki and Flagstaff. 6o ‘Native’ police underwent special courses to assist in the training of home guards.
THE MOUNTAIN COMMITTEE
A vast popular movement of resistance arose amongst the people in March 1960, and although meetings were illegal, they were held just the same and attended by thousands of peasants, who came on foot and on horseback to chosen spots on the mountains and ridges. This is how the movement became known as ‘Intaba’ (the Mountain), when it was not referred to as ‘Ikongo’ (Congress).
The Mountain Committee rallied the majority of the tribesmen in their Bizana district into open struggle against the authorities and their henchmen. But its series of huge meetings, summoned to discuss the plight of the Pondos and make plans to carry on their struggle, inspired neighbouring tribesmen from other districts in East Pondoland who carried back the news to their areas.
Repeated requests by the Mountain Committee for the magistrate to come and hear the people’s grievances were ignored, and the only reply returned was that the meetings were illegal and should cease at once. At this stage the government officials made it clear that they would have no dealings whatsoever with the leaders of the popular movement and would continue to carry out government policies through the channel of Bantu Authorities.
The Pondos then found that news of their meetings was reaching the magistrate’s ears and that their new-found unity was being undermined from within by government agents. Drastic action was taken against these informers; their huts were fired, and many were forced to flee from the area. Between March and June, 27 kraals were reported to have been burnt down.
The most serious clash took place on June 6 in a valley adjoining Ngquza Hill, between Bizana and Lusikisiki. Africans from a score of kraals had met there to discuss their complaints. Two aircraft and a helicopter dropped tear-gas and smoke bombs on the crowd, and police vehicles approached from two directions.
The Africans raised a white flag to show that their meeting was a peaceful one, but police suddenly emerged from the bushes surrounding the meeting-place and fired into the crowd. At first the government refused to disclose how many had been killed, but strong representations were made and finally an inquest was ordered.
Relatives found the bodies of 11 men which had been left all day for dogs and other animals to feed on. Twenty-three Pondos were arrested after the meeting on a charge of ‘fighting’, and of these nineteen were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 18 months with 6 strokes to 21 months.
Subsequently, at an inquest on the shootings, the magistrate declared that the firing of sten-gun bullets was ‘unjustified and excessive, even reckless’. Several of the men shot by the police had been found with bullets through the backs of their heads.
Policing of the area increased after this incident. Saracens and radio cars were brought in. The breakdown between the authorities and the Pondos was complete.
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Recognizing that police massacres could not break the people’s resistance, the government announced that a Commission of Inquiry, composed of Bantu Administration officials, would be appointed to hear popular grievances.
The demands of the people were: the withdrawal of the Bantu Authorities and Bantu Education Acts; representation in the Republic’s Parliament; relief from the increased taxes and passes which hampered free movement; and the removal of Paramount Chief Botha Sigcau.
The findings of the Commission were announced at a public meeting near Bizana on October 11 and it is significant that on this occasion the government was forced to by-pass its much vaunted Bantu Authorities machinery in order to convey its findings to the people, and negotiate with the Mountain Committee which had become the generally accepted tribal representative.
The Commission ignored or brushed aside the popular demands and gave irrelevant replies to selected grievances. For instance, to the request that Africans should receive the same education as Whites, the Commission replied: ‘Bantu Education is not inferior.’ On the hardships of reference or pass-books, the Commission’s comment was that ‘the hardships were due to non-compliance with the law.’ (Cape Times, 12 October 1960)
The Pondos were far from satisfied with the Commission’s findings. At a meeting on 25 October, they formally announced their rejection of the report, and expressed their determination to continue the struggle against Bantu Authorities. They decided to stop paying taxes.
This momentous decision taken by thousands of Pondos, many of them delegates from distant locations, was a sharp reminder that the Pondos were in a desperate frame of mind. At the same time, five top leaders of the Pondoland National Committee surrendered to the police as they had lost their appeal to the Supreme Court and had been refused bail. They had been sentenced to over a year in prison for attending an illegal meeting!
As a mark of their anger at the jailing of their leaders, and in protest at the attitude adopted by most of the Whites in Bizana, the people decided to boycott the town. The Pondos felt that the traders in Bizana had shown partiality towards the government instead of sympathizing with the people from whom they made a living. One Pondo explained: ‘We boycott the traders because they helped the government in trying to break us. When we boycott them, we are boycotting the government.’
A further sign that the government had decided to suppress the popular Pondo movement and return to the offensive was the arrest and banishment of Anderson Khumani Ganyile, the young Pondo leader.
From January 1960, the Nationalist government had assumed complete control of Fort Hare University College, where Anderson Ganyile was a student, and in February, when Fort Hare was due to reopen, the new administration notified Ganyile and a few other students that they would not be re-admitted. Ganyile’s political activities as an African National Congress Youth Leaguer had caused his black-listing.
Ganyile returned to his home at Bizana, where he was immediately drawn into the peasant struggle. The post-Sharpeville national state of emergency caused his detention for four months at the Fort Glamorgan jail in East London, but once released he threw himself into the Pondoland struggle again without reserve. After his return from Fort Glamorgan, he and other Pondoland leaders — Mvangeli Solomon Madikezela, T. Tshangela, H. Mbodla, S. Mpini, and N. Ntshangase helped direct the struggle.
A few months passed, during which the Mountain movement grew from strength to strength. Then the government confined the people’s lawyer, Rowley Arenstein, to the magisterial district of Durban, thus preventing his appearing in the Bizana court where he had successfully defended a number of cases.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
In November 1960 the government declared a state of emergency, promulgated in Proclamation 400 (Government Gazette of 30 November 1960)
Proclamation 400 provides for the prohibition of meetings, control of entry to and exit from the areas affected, limitation of free speech, and powers of banishment. Any meeting not permitted by the Bantu Commissioner is illegal. It may be dispersed with force, and those attending commit an offence.
No one except a resident of the area may enter without the written permission of the Bantu Commissioner. Migrant labourers returning after years of employment in an urban area have frequently found themselves in jail for having entered their ‘homeland’ without a permit. Likewise, residents may not leave the area without permission. This virtually imprisons the entire population of the Transkei.
Any person making a subversive statement, undermining the authority of the Bantu Commissioner, organizing a boycott, or treating his Chief with contempt is guilty of an offence. Chiefs are clothed with wide powers of banishment, and boundless powers to do what they please with the immovable property of those they banish.
In short, they can ruin a man and his family. A Chief has power to order the removal of an African, together with his family and household goods, from one area to another under his jurisdiction and to destroy his hut. In other words, the Chief can lay waste a man’s whole life’s work, the fruits of his resources and energy, and force him to start all over again in a territory where he has no friends.
The Proclamation is still in force.
The government was out for vengeance and life became a nightmare for peasants in the troubled areas. Thousands of men and women were held in prison for indefinite periods. Some were released after sitting in cells for several months, only to be rounded up again and thrown into jail a second time. What offences had they committed? More often than not they did not know, because they were not brought to court and faced with any charge. Distressed relatives thronged the police stations and offices of the Bantu Commissioners to seek news of family members who had disappeared, but were told: ‘It is a state of emergency, a time when the operation of normal laws is suspended.’
Between 24 August and 28 October of the following year, 30 Pondos were sentenced to death for complicity in the Pondoland revolt. It is significant that the murders of pro-government Chiefs, for which these sentences were given, took place in the main at the end of 1960, after the responsible leaders of the campaign had already been banished, jailed or had disappeared.
Women played an active part in the campaign against Bantu Authorities. They remained at home when the men took to the hills, and raised the war cry to mark the arrival of police Landrovers. They wore black to show that Pondoland was in mourning. They refrained from any action that might bring strife to the tribe, knowing that unity was all-important.
The campaign was non-racial, and Whites were invited to lend their support. White traders were asked to be civil to African customers, not to report meetings to the police, and not to recruit Pondos to take the place of fellow-workers who might be on strike for higher wages. Traders who collaborated with the government were boycotted.
Peoples’ courts took the place of the Bush Courts controlled by the Chiefs. Justice, not money became the criterion; people did not have to pay in order to have their cases heard. These courts were faced with the formidable task of sifting chaff from wheat, fighter from traitor. If a man was a member of a school board, or school committee, he was ordered to resign in conformity with the boycott of Bantu Education, and show evidence that he had done so. Those who were found guilty of greed or selfishness were fined and the money used later for defence in cases which the government brought against the people. Those who did not agree with the ruling of the people’s court could appeal to the Pondoland High Court on Ndlovu Hill, headquarters of the Mountain movement.
Proclamation 400 of 1960 still applies to the Transkei. If tourists see fewer road blocks, it is because the police have relaxed their vigilance along the highways and stepped it up amongst the people in the locations by the employment of more informers, by lending stronger police support to individual Chiefs, and by increasing the striking capacity and mobility of the police. Army and police manoeuvres, with Regulation 400, have sealed off the Transkei from the rest of the country, and White South Africa has carried on unconcernedly, ignorant of what is taking place in the largest of the reserves or, if aware, satisfied that law and order is being maintained.
The mobile army has spotter planes and helicopters that have landed almost on the threshold of peasant homes in the reserves. Villages have been encircled and searched from hut to hut for suspects, who have been collected in thousands and driven away in packed army trucks for screening at the main depot in Bizana. An eye witness reported (in the columns of New Age):
A large contingent of armed police and soldiers seal off an area, usually after midnight. Each hut is raided by two armed men who take away everything that remotely resembles a weapon. In some areas, even hoes are confiscated.
Gruesome stories of ill-treatment have seeped out of the sealed area. Thousands of men and boys were at first kept standing at the screening depot the whole day or longer without food, and then finally crowded into jails throughout the Transkei and pressed to give information that would lead to the charging and conviction of people in connexion with some of the deaths and burnings. During one preparatory examination into the death of a government supporter, the accused told the court how they had been subjected by the police to cruel torture. They related how they had been beaten up, and then been given a series of electric shocks.
At Lady Frere some of the more than two hundred men and boys who had been rounded up and packed into guarded army trucks and driven to Queenstown for screening related how they had been left without food in crowded conditions for two days.
Many peasants have reported how soldiers and police burst into their huts at night and looked on while women, taken by surprise, crossed hands over the fronts of their bodies to hide their nakedness. They have told of how their food was looted, their milk cans and calabashes turned upside down and emptied, their money stolen. Stories are common of how some of the army and the police interfered with women and forced them to have sexual intercourse with them, of how men were made to stand or sit down in a doubled-up position, with their arms tied and thrown over a stick slipped behind the knees, so that the skin over the buttocks was fully stretched and the area properly exposed to beating or kicking. Others have related how they were made to stand against a wail and their heads dashed against it until they collapsed.
Indaba Zase Monti (East London News) in its issues of 20 February 1960 and 19 March 1960 reported the following incidents:
A certain Mr Makoko escaped with his life by a narrow margin. On one day a sub-chief in the Umtata District, Nxeko Mtirara, in the company of his bodyguard came to Makoko’s home and demanded that he slaughter a sheep. He refused claiming that he would rather slaughter for his family than for them.
Shortly after this incident Makoko was summoned to appear at the Chief’s Bush Court, where he was charged with treating a chief with disrespect. The fine was an ox, or 10 flock of sheep, or R20 (£10). When he could not pay the fine, he was immediately seized upon and a rope tied round his neck. In an unoccupied hut he was belaboured with sticks and rhino skin. As a result of this severe beating Mr Makoko was taken to the Umtata hospital in an ambulance.
Another incident occurred in the Engcobo district. A young man, Leonard Ntolosi, of Nomaheya location in the Nqamakwe district, was asked by his host Mr Makangela, with whom he was staying during a short holiday at Xonya in the Engcobo digtrict, to drive a beast to Tora, a neighbouring location. Unable to accomplish his business and return home before dark, Leonard asked for shelter, as peasants so often do, at some home.
The owner of the home reported the matter to the local sub-chief who came with his bodyguard. After interrogating him they searched his person and found a pin which they alleged to be a dangerous weapon. He then had his hands bound with a rope and was hung from a cross bar. Thereafter the sub-chief and his bodyguard made a fire under him, and his body dangled from a cross bar in the roof of a hut. Subsequently when the man appeared in a Native Commissioner’s Court charged with being found in possession of a dangerous weapon, he was found not guilty and discharged.
From Pondoland the terror has extended its sway to other parts of the Transkei — Tsolo Umtata, Willowvale, Kentane, Engcobo. At the same time as the army has swept through villages to crush all manifestations of resistance, it has carried out police duties, collecting arrear taxes, confiscating stock in lieu of cash, and enforcing communal fines where whole villages have had to make amends for the burning down of a collaborator’s hut. Peoples’ leaders have been arrested and charged with holding illegal meetings.
In the case of Solomon Madikizela and three compatriots who were acquitted on the charge and released from custody in Maritzburg — outside the area under a state of emergency — the four men were virtually kidnapped and whipped back into the Transkei, to be held in terms of the emergency proclamations.
The declaration of a state of emergency in 1960 was not limited to Pondoland. After Sharpeville and the successful strike in protest against the shootings, when the burning of passes spread through the country, all South Africa was blanketed in martial law.
In the urban areas, the struggle proved to be short and sharp: the fire leapt in one place while the government tried to quell the blaze in another, but resistance could not last longer than a few weeks in urban areas where army and police might was concentrated.
Yet in Pondoland, throughout the months of the emergency, resistance, far from abating, spread not only from village to village, but also into neighbouring districts, increasing all the while in intensity. It was in these reserve areas, too, that the struggle assumed the truly mass character which it lacked elsewhere. Every peasant had to show himself in favour of or hostile to Bantu Authorities.
Although they had long been encouraged by the officials who administered them to think of themselves in terms of a specific locality under a certain sub-chief, the people soon realized that they had a common enemy in the government and the Chiefs who supported its oppressive policies. They coordinated their struggle and conducted it under a unified leadership. Ndlovu (the elephant) — the name given to the leadership of all the locations — symbolized in their minds that in unity they had the strength of an elephant.
The Pondoland struggle had its origin in local grievances, and in their initial protests the Pondo people limited their demands to issues of immediate concern. At first their methods of struggle were the traditional ones the holding of meetings, deputations to the magistrate, and written petitions.
But very early on, new features made their appearance, and the aim of resistance became the attainment of basic political ends. Towards this end the movement adopted the full programme of the African National Congress and its allies as embodied in the Freedom Charter.
Consequently the struggle in Pondoland became linked with the national struggle for liberation, and brought alive to the leadership of the A.N.C. in a manner it had never done before the vital need for linking up the struggles of the peasants with those of the workers in the urban areas.
While pressing for the attainment of the ultimate goal — the enjoyment of political rights on an equal basis with the Whites — the Pondo peasant leadership did not for one moment allow the people to avert their eyes and efforts from active struggle to fight purely local wrongs.
So the Pondoland struggle had a long-range view, coupled with an unerring appreciation of the practical local issues which cried out for immediate solution. It is this which brought the peasants in their masses into the struggle and filled them with confidence in the inevitable victory of their cause.
The demands which they placed before the government commission that investigated the causes of dissatisfaction bear testimony to the clarity and foresight of the leaders and their people. In broad outline the basic demands of the people in Pondoland were summed up in the comprehensive statement made by Khumani Ganyile. ‘We’, he declared ‘shall be satisfied with nothing short of going to Parliament.’
Not only did the leaders of Pondoland resistance see the need to link their struggle with the national one, but they were acutely aware of the urgent need to coordinate the struggle in Pondoland with that taking place, in varying degrees, in other parts of the Transkei.
They realized that as long as the 21 other districts of the Transkei just passively expressed their dissatisfaction with Bantu Authorities, victory in Eastern Pondoland would be doubtful. No opportunity, therefore, was lost to coordinate the struggle in various parts of the Transkei.
Next, the leaders always left open the door for negotiation with the government and made it plain that they looked to the commissioner to arrange meetings between their representatives and himself as well as with the Chief Bantu Commissioner. In this respect history will record, unmistakably, how the Nationalist government — as so often, before and since — ignored the hand of peace and instead produced the report of a Depart-mental Commission which totally ignored the people’s demands and displayed a provocative intransigence.
The struggle in Pondoland showed once again how even in the most desperate of trials Africans have not allowed themselves to lose sight of the real issues and be blinded purely by racial considerations instead. During the course of Pondo resistance, the Nationalist government once again tried to explain away the trouble as a conflict between two racial and therefore irreconcilable groups.
The Civic Association, the mouth-piece of the White trading community in the Transkei, expressed itself on the side of the government. But the people of Pondoland kept their struggle above the level of racial animosities. To them the dividing line was clearly between one group that wanted equal rights for all, and another, led by the Nationalist government, which upheld, as a divine gift, the right of the Whites to dominate the Blacks.
There is another vital feature which this struggle disclosed and which had a resounding impact both on the thinking of the Congress leadership and the people themselves. The Pondo movement succeeded by example in accomplishing what discussion had failed to do in a generation — convincing the leadership of the importance of the peasants in the reserves to the entire national struggle.
The leaders realized at last that a struggle based on the reserves had a much greater capacity to absorb the shocks of government repression and was therefore capable of being sustained for a much longer time than a struggle based on the urban locations. The urban-based campaign, which starts on a high note after very intensive and costly propaganda work, consumes itself by the intense energy it generates to carry the masses to the climax — usually a general strike.
And because, among other factors, vast masses of the workers are concentrated in a comparatively small area which is easily sealed off by the police and army, urban-based struggles are more difficult to sustain for much longer than a few days.
The struggles of the peasants start from smaller beginnings, build up to a crescendo over a much longer time, are capable of pinning down large government forces, and are maintained at comparatively much lower cost.
A proper blending of the peasant and worker struggles, therefore, coupled wit skilful timing of joint action, is a matter which must engage the serious thinking of the leadership.
The Pondo struggle had another distinctive feature: it developed a new sense of discipline in political struggle. For the first few months, the firing of homesteads belonging to people who supported Chiefs and who were hostile to the people’s cause was almost the only method of struggle employed. That hut-burning had successful results there can be no doubt, more particularly because it was not used indiscriminately nor in order to settle personal scores.
Yet even at the height of the hut-burning campaign, those who waged the struggle against Bantu Authorities did not shed their humanity. Hundreds of lives might have been lost in the blazing huts. But in by far the most instances, the people whose homes were to be set alight were given due warning to leave, and once outside were not beaten or injured physically.
On the whole the burning of huts was a warning, if harsh, that the owners should mend their ways. This attitude helped to win more and more people to the popular ranks, and showed how even a method of struggle that left destruction and desolation in its wake could be used constructively in the hands of forces bent on achieving the popular good.
The same hut-burning method, in the hands of the Chiefs at Mbizana and Bolotwa in Matanzima’s domain, was employed to wreak vengeance on whole villages: personal effects that the victims managed to flee with were wrenched from them and thrown back into the fire.
That is the difference between a people’s organized force and a band of thugs collected for the sole purpose of sustaining a tyranny that lives in perpetual fear of its own failure, as the Chiefs today and pile government that has appointed them are doing.
Again, the widespread refusal to pay taxes showed how the movement enjoyed mass support, and how well the leadership knew the pressure points. Not since the Bambata rebellion in 1906 had there been any attempt even by the national movement to call for the non-payment of taxes.
Yet here in the heat of a struggle that the people felt to be their own, they seized upon this method of resistance as one among others. The money that would otherwise have helped the government pursue its oppression, was diverted instead to funds used to further the struggle, such as the defence of those who in consequence of their resistance, were charged before the Commissioner’s Courts.
Boycott as a method of struggle was developed one stage further, for never before in South Africa have the commercial activities of an entire business village been brought to an absolute standstill. For weeks on end all the shops of Bizana were boycotted.
The technique of economic boycott has in other places been successful against individual business enterprises, while the people were left free to purchase their day-to-day requirements from other traders, or in the case of a boycott against a special commodity, substitutes of similar quality have always been left free to fill in the gap.
For example, when the United Tobacco Company products were boycotted, those of other industrial concerns were left free to be sold. But when a boycott of Nationalist products was declared, that of the U.T.C. commodities was lifted. But the boycott of Bizana was in a class of its own; it was not directed against any particular shop, nor against any particular commodity.
It was aimed at hitting the trading community as a class and as a branch of the Civic Association, and so at moving the Civic Association itself — as an organization with considerable influence over the Whites in the Transkei — to exercise pressure on the government to change its policies.
Carried out on as successful a scale in other parts of the Transkei, this move would have had the effects that a successful politically-inspired general strike would in the first place have on industry and commerce and the main public services.
It was enough to hint to the teachers that if they opposed the people’s struggle the schools would themselves be boycotted by the children.
A decision to boycott all labour-recruiting agencies — which include, among others, recruiting agencies for the gold, coal, and other mines, for the sugar plantations, and for the farms — was also taken, and but for a request by the agencies to give them an opportunity to despatch the labour whose contracts they had already finalized, the declaration of the Emergency Regulations at the end of November 1960 would have found this method of struggle in an advanced state of development.
Had this technique been widely adopted by the people, as the chances were favourable that it would have been, it is difficult to see how the sugar industry, which depends largely on labour recruited from Pondoland, would have survived the shock.
This would have taught a new tactic in the national struggle — the withdrawal of migrant labour at its main source of supply, in the reserves, rather than in the urban locations which, as we have already observed, are so readily exposed to intimidation by police and employers.
Another technique of struggle — the ostracism in life and death of those supporting Bantu. Authorities — proved very effective in reducing the number of collaborators. At the funeral of the late Saul Mabude, a close supporter of Chief Botha Sigcau, the entire village kept away, and his grave, which would normally have been dug by voluntary labour, was left to a few members of his family to dig.
Mass demonstrations by thousands of peasants took place on an unprecedented scale in the reserves. The march through Bizana, when an old man carrying a black flag at half-mast led a procession of 5,000 peasants without any experience of mass forms of pressure, must be one of the greatest feats of organizational ability that the liberation movement and the oppressed people of this country have so far accomplished.
As one method of struggle after another was introduced by the leadership and handed down to the ranks for execution, the people gained greater confidence in their leaders because they saw how effective such methods could be in use. Further-more new heights of discipline were reached as the people themselves realized the need for it if the struggle was to be carried to a successful conclusion. One of the most outstanding manifestations of this mass self-control was the decision to suspend weddings, because nothing should be allowed to threaten the unity which the people had created out of the hard struggle of so many months.
In these areas of the Transkei conflicts usually occur between boys of different locations at wedding parties, and more often than not, in the excitement of battle between the opposing groups, the men from the respective localities have found themselves in the fray taking sides. These frays have sometimes aroused bitter feelings, and when a struggle such as the one that was waged in Pondoland is conducted across location boundaries, it was absolutely essential that the highest measure of unity should be sought and maintained. It was.
As the people began to realize their strength, they set about creating their own machinery of administration, so as to sever practically all connexion, with the Chiefs and the Bantu Commissioners. As area after area came under the influence of the movement, informal peoples’ courts arose, and they ad-ministered a popular justice as a promise of the democratic way of life that the peasants would one day have. It was this glimmer of real self-rule that made people withdraw their cases from the Chiefs’ and Commissioners’ Courts, and to pay fines — light by comparison, even for those who had committed the serious offence of supporting Bantu Authorities — with the satisfaction bf knowing that their money was not going to be used to line the pockets of a corrupt tyranny, but to further the popular cause. The setting up of these peoples’ courts probably did more than anything else to show the peasants what a difference it would make to run their own machinery of administration in keeping with the democratic goals that they had set for themselves.
There were other lessons not well learnt in time, however. When the village struggle was at its peak, the peasants tended to forget that they had declared war on a powerful government, ruthless and equipped with an armoury of techniques for repression. The hut-burnings of collaborators were watched by jubilant crowds, and it was accordingly easy for the authorities later to pick out victims for reprisals.
The Pondos paid dearly for their failure to ensure the safety and security of their forces at the height of the struggle. And in this they were not alone. Zululand and Zeerust suffered similarly, although on a smaller scale. But the people do not bear sufferings, such as they bore when the army occupied the Transkei, without becoming steeled in their determination to regroup, re-examine their methods of struggle, develop new ones, and retain the spirit that seeks forever for freedom.