|South Africa Table of Contents
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 proved a divisive factor in the white community. Smuts favored entry into the war on the side of the British. Hertzog supported neutrality. Many of Malan's supporters wanted to enter the war on Germany's side. German National Socialism, with its emphasis on the racial superiority of Germanic peoples, its anti-Semitism, and its use of state socialism to benefit the "master race," had garnered many Afrikaner admirers in the 1930s. A neo-Nazi Greyshirt organization had been formed in 1933 that drew increasing support, especially among rural Afrikaners, in the late 1930s. In 1938 Afrikaners participating in the commemoration of the Great Trek had established the Ossewabrandwag (Oxwagon Sentinel) as a paramilitary organization aimed at inculcating a "love for fatherland" and at instituting, by armed force if necessary, an Afrikaner-controlled republic in South Africa. By the end of the decade, the Ossewabrandwag claimed a membership of 250,000 out of a total Afrikaner population of a little more than 1 million. Oswald Pirow, Hertzog's minister of defense until the end of 1939, formed a movement within the National Party called the New Order, a fascist program for remaking South African society along Nazi lines. Smuts prevailed, however, winning the support of a majority of the cabinet and becoming prime minister. Hertzog resigned and joined with Malan in forming the Herenigde (Reunited) National Party (HNP). South Africa sent troops to fight on the British side in North Africa and in Europe. In South Africa, several thousand members of the Ossewabrandwag, including a future prime minister, John Vorster, were interned for antiwar activities.
Economically and socially, the war had a profound effect. While gold continued to be the most important industry, providing two-thirds of South Africa's revenues and three-quarters of its export earnings, manufacturing grew enormously to meet wartime demands. Between 1939 and 1945, the number of people employed in manufacturing, many of them African women, rose 60 percent. Urbanization increased rapidly: the number of African town dwellers almost doubled. By 1946 there were more Africans in South Africa's towns and cities than there were whites. Many of these blacks lived in squatter communities established on the outskirts of major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Such developments, although necessary for war production, contradicted the segregationist ideology that blacks should live in their rural locations and not become permanent urban residents.
More unsettling still to the segregationists was the development of new black organizations that demanded official recognition of their existence and better treatment of their members. In Johannesburg, for example, James Mpanza proclaimed himself king of his Orlando squatter encampment, set up his own system of local government and taxation, and established the Sofasonke ("We shall all die together") Party. Urban black workers, demanding higher wages and better working conditions, also formed their own trade unions and engaged in a rash of strikes throughout the early 1940s. By 1946 the Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU), formed in 1941, claimed 158,000 members organized in 119 unions. The most important of these new trade unions was the African Mineworkers Union (AMWU), which by 1944 claimed a membership of 25,000. In 1946 the AMWU struck for higher wages in the gold mines and succeeded in getting 60,000 men to stop work. The strike was crushed by police actions that left twelve dead, but it demonstrated the potential strength of organized black workers in challenging the cheap labor system.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress