The Ambassador in South Africa ( Erhardt ) to the Secretary of State *

No. 166

Subject: Communist Influence in South African Trade Unions.

The current influence of Communism in South African trade unions is complicated by recent developments which have resulted in the dissolution of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and the passage of an Act declaring the CPSA an unlawful organization. It was known early in the last session of the South African Parliament (the 3rd session of the 10th Parliament which commenced on January 20 and ended on June 24, 1950) that the Nationalist Government intended to pass an Act outlawing the Communist Party. As the debate on the anti-Communist legislation got under way, the Communist Party of South Africa, occasioned surprise throughout the country by dissolving itself through a unanimous resolution of its Central Committee on May 7, 1950. According to Communist spokesmen, this [Page 1835] action was accepted unanimously by general meetings of every district subdivision of the organization. A public statement was issued under Communist auspices on June 20 announcing the dissolution of the CPSA and this announcement was read to the House of Assembly on the same day by Sam Kahn, Communist MP. Subsequently Parliament passed the Suppression of Communism Act which received the Governor General’s assent on June 26, 1950, thus coming into force on that date as Act No. 44 of 1950.

As a result of the dissolution of the CPSA and the passage of the anti-Communism Act there can be no such thing—legally—as a Communist in South Africa. Anyone who professes Communism or is declared to be a Communist is subject to specific legal penalties. To refer to a person as a Communist, if that person is not a Communist, renders one legally liable to a charge of slander and defamation in the Union of South Africa.

[Here follow those portions of the despatch, comprising 10 of the 16 pages of the source text, presenting a detailed review of the reaction in South Africa to the Suppression of Communism Act, an analysis of the numerical strength of Communist and non-Communist trade unions, the relative influence and effectiveness of Communist and non-Communist unions, and aspects of the strategy and internal activity of Communist-led unions.]

7. Sources of Communist Strength at the Present Time.

The great source of Communist strength in South Africa at the present time is the restrictive and often repressive treatment of Natives. Until its dissolution the Communist Party was literally the only political party a Native was eligible to join, as he was not eligible to membership in any other recognized political party, and is still not eligible. The Native problem is a complicated one, but suffice it to say in the interests of brevity, the Native in South Africa receives low wages, has inadequate housing, limited opportunities, and under the apartheid (racial segregation) policy of the present government is considered a member of an inferior race which must be held clown in order to maintain white supremacy. The legitimate grievances of Natives are legion and among the few persons who espouse these grievances the majority of vocal ones are Communists. Racial relations have deteriorated so badly in South Africa since the advent of the Nationalist Government that there are few white people in the country who have anything like an adequate understanding of what is going on among Native leaders and Native organizations. Liberals like the Ballingers, Senator Brookes and others are fearful that in the final analysis the Natives will have to turn to Communism for help, because as their plight grows worse they are coming to the conclusion that, whether Communism is a good or bad thing, it is the only outside [Page 1836] force that they can call upon for assistance. Even moderate Native leaders, such as Dr. Xuma, the former President General of the African National Congress, has admitted that his colleagues among Native leaders believed they must utilize Communist help in their struggle. They hope that African Nationalism will eventually win the day after the issue of white suppression has been settled by revolution. Alarming as these statements appear, it is a fact that moderate white opinion has been discredited among urban Natives because it has been so ineffective in securing any redress of legitimate grievances. As the tide of white opinion in South Africa grows overtly more pro-apartheid, the Communists are able to assert, “We are your friends, all other white people are your enemies and those who pretend to help you are hypocrites whose real aim is to maintain apartheid” In the non-European unity movement (an attempt to unite Natives, Coloreds and Asiatics) a strong part of the incentive comes from Indian leaders, and the most prominent of these leaders, Dr. Y. M. Dadoo, President of the South African Indian Congress, was a member of the Central Executive of the legally defunct Communist Party of South Africa.

One of the most optimisic signs on the horizon has been the plea, of prominent industrialists for better treatment of the Natives in order to use them more effectively in an expansion of the country’s industry. So far the Government has paid no heed to these industrial leaders. Their views are not taken seriously by Native opinion which distrusts them. These industrialists do not talk to the Natives, and it is so easy for Communists who know the Natives, and often know them very well, to undermine the appeals of industrial leaders for a more tolerant attitude on race. Where Communists in South Africa have the advantage is that they are the only organization which is; assertedly in favor of complete racial equality. To say that they are not sincere carries no weight with the Natives because they know that even the white Liberals do not go this far, and the Natives want to believe in complete racial equality.

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It is difficult to speculate on what effect re-armament will have on Communist strength in the Union. Communist propaganda is hard at work preparing Native opinion to oppose the “white imperialist nations” if another world war comes. Present anti-Communist legislation and the dissolution of the CPSA will make any overt increase in Communist strength unlikely. It does seem probable, however, that in the event of another war, the Communists would attempt to provoke internal strife in the Union by agitating the Natives.

[Here follows the concluding portion of this despatch examining the caliber of Communist and non-Communist union leadership.]

For the Ambassador
Joseph Sweeney

  1. The Embassy wishes to acknowledge the assistance which it has received in the preparation of this report from members of the staff of the Consulate General in Johannesburg, particularly Charles O. Thompson, Consul, and Gideon A. R. Uys, locally employed economic analyst. [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. Native opinion is a difficult term to define. Obviously it is a vague concept because of the limitedness of Native organization. It is confined to the urban Native who represents anywhere from a third to a half of the total Native population of some 8½ million. It is popular to say that Native opinion does not exist, but this is wishful thinking on the part of advocates of “white supremacy.” As the term is used here it means the expression of Native leaders, stretching from Professor Matthews of Fort Bare on the right, through the moderateness of Dr. Xuma in the center, to the progressive leftism of Dr. Moroka, the current President General of the African National Congress; the statements issued by Native organizations, such as the African National Congress, the All-African Convention, the Native Advisory Boards Congress, etc.; the editorials of representative Native newspapers such as Inkundla ya Bantu and The Voice of Moroka (Johannesburg) and the planned or spontaneous reaction of Natives in their protest against apartheid. The Embassy believes the cohesiveness of Native opinion is generally underestimated. [Footnote in the source text.]