845A.411/8–2151: Despatch

The Third Secretary of the Embassy in the Union of South Africa ( Dembo ) to the Department of State

confidential
No. 108

Subject: Race Conflict and the Native Outlook

Native resentment of white baaskap (supremacy) and Native disappointment with America’s “failure” to oppose apartheid were the main impressions made on an Embassy officer after a two-hour talk with a group of Natives in Pretoria. The group was informally brought together to meet the officer by a Native minister. It included a school teacher, a clerk in the Department of Native Affairs, a shopkeeper, a printer, an employee of a non-European affairs department of the Municipality, three others and the minister. Points made by them during this discussion are put under three heads:

  • I. Inevitability of race conflict;
  • II. Shortcomings of Native organizations; and
  • III. Disappointment with United States foreign policy.

I. Inevitability of Race Conflict

The group agreed that a compromise solution of South Africa’s racial difficulties was impossible. Revolution, they felt, was unavoidable. The whites of all parties were one in their support of white baaskap, while the Natives claimed equality of opportunity as their right. They unhesitatingly blamed the Nationalists for inflaming racial feelings to the point where today every Native regarded every white man as his enemy.

II. Shortcomings of Native Organizations

The group acknowledged that the bulk of the Native people were unorganized. One said the ANC was like a head without a body. He guessed that the Congress only had about 1,000 active members. Another claimed that the drawback to effective Native organization was the “Native intellectuals”, that is, themselves. The educated Natives were only interested in making a good thing out of their education. They did not care to work among the people in rural areas who were ready for leadership. Another observed that dynamic leadership could never be expected from men who were civil servants and who could be sacked if they became too outspoken. Communist prestige, on the other hand, was rising because they were the only ones who appeared ready to stake their all in the struggle against oppression.

The certain feeling of the group was that whenever effective leadership did appear the Native people would follow as one man the attack on baaskap. Their struggle against oppression, they felt, was a developing one. The present unformed state of Native organizations was not, therefore, a bad sign. This showed the Native pot was bubbling. Fusion would come later. The Native minister here interjected that African religious separation was a case in point. The 1,000-odd separate Bantu churches showed that the Native was rejecting [Page 1449] white overlordship. They were essentially a movement away from the oppressor. If it were not for ministers like himself who tried to stem this separatism, the Native religious rebellion by now would have been complete.

III. United States Foreign Policy and South Africa

The reporting officer was impressed by the group’s disappointment with America’s “support” of South Africa at UN. His counter-argument to put this issue into perspective was not taken and they predicted that the Native people would sympathize with the Soviets in a war with the West. The Native people were not Communists, they stressed, but the Soviet Union did appear to side with them in their struggle against oppression. America did not and they could not see why. They understood British truckling to Nationalist prejudice. Britain, they said, was a broken power; but America was now the great western exponent of freedom and they expected her to use her influence in their favor.

The group also showed concern with recent press stories of arrests of American Communists. They are afraid that their own advocacy of racial equality might lead to their arrest as Communists under the Suppression of Communism Act. And without fully understanding the American scene, they feared there was a “white supremacy” motive behind these arrests.

Comment:

The Embassy believes the observations reported here are typical of informed Native opinion in South Africa. Native anger and frustration are apparent everywhere in those urban areas which are best known to Embassy officers. Apartheid has only served to intensify their bitterness. The informed urban Native, moreover, assesses world developments in terms of the black and white struggle in South Africa. He may be sophisticated enough to know that there is more to Communist propaganda than appears on the surface but he finds it hard to resist its magnetism because in South Africa communism alone ranges itself on the side of racial equality. Our information task with them is important because the value of South Africa as a secure ally in a war against Russia is weakened to the extent of their susceptibility to Communist propaganda. The system of white supremacy is powerful and effective but, as the thinking here reported reveals, Native anger is growing. An outstanding leader willing to make personal sacrifices or harsh Government action which provoked a large segment of the native people, such as a pass system for Native women, could cause trouble.

Morris Dembo