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2012-03-04. 1919 Passive Resistance Against Passes in SA

2012-03-04. 1919 Passive Resistance Against Passes in SA

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Published by Enuga S. Reddy
An account of passive resistance by Africans against passes for African men, and the brutal repression
An account of passive resistance by Africans against passes for African men, and the brutal repression

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Published by: Enuga S. Reddy on Dec 26, 2013
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March 4, 2012
 The demonstrations against passes in the Transvaal in 1919 was the first mass movement and the first attempt at non-violent resistance organized by the ANC. It is of great importance in the history of the ANC then called !o"th African Native National Congress #!ANNC$ and of the liberation str"ggle b"t has received little attention from scholars. In %"ly 191&
the !ANNC '(ec"tive Committee passed a resol"tion calling on the )overnment to abolish the pass laws which shac*led African men with contract passes. The Transvaal Congress leaders raised the matter at meetings with the +rime ,inister and other ,inisters b"t the )overnment too* no action. The %ohannesb"rg branch of the Congress then decided to appeal to the African people to throw away their passes and co"rt arrest in order to obtain attention to their grievances. They had realised li*e )andhi in 19 that appeals and dep"tations were ineffective witho"t some force behind them. /ther 0itwatersrand branches of the Congress followed the e(ample of %ohannesb"rg. The passive resistance movement began on  ,arch 1919 when a mass meeting of two tho"sand Africans in 2rededorp decided to re3ect the passes. The ne(t day abo"t three tho"sand Africans demonstrated in front of the %ohannesb"rg pass office and left sac*s f"ll of passes at that office. It was an entirely peacef"l demonstration. 4"t police charged the crowd with batons and arrested h"ndreds of people incl"ding 5constables6 appointed by the ANC to *eep the demonstration non-violent. Three leaders of the movement 7 8oratio I. 4"dd ,belle 0. "n3wa and +.%. ,otsoa*ae 7 went to the office of
The Star 
 on 1 April to e(plain the movement. According to
The Star 
:5As*ed why they had r esolved on passive resistance ,belle said they had tried to get redr ess thr o"gh ma*ing r epesentations fr om time to time for the alleviation of the gievo"s diff ic"lties "nder which the  Natives in the Transvaal labo"red  b"t all their efforts had  been witho"t avail. Ased what their  principal grievances were the dep"tation stated that a part f om many minor diffic"lties connected with the administr ation of the pass law in the Tr ansvaal their grievances co"ld be gro"ped "nder two heads:
1.The denial of the rights of citizenship. ;. The denialthro"gh the opeation of the colo"r bar  of the ights of ordinary h"man beings< 5As*ed what their  progr amme was they said they wo"ld insist on order  being maintained by their  peo ple. They had f ormed a gro"p of s pecial consta bles to collect stic*s and every weapon which any of the Natives may  be  possessed of  and rom ever y  platf or m the  Natives wo"ld be told that thee were to  be no sho"ts or threats or anything that wo"ld incite p"blic f eeling. In case of arr estthe Natives wee told that they m"st s"bmit ="ietly and m"st go to gaol. No  pic* eting
had  been a"thor ised
and the Natives had simply  been invited to sto p wor* <. 5>0e hold? said , belle >that the +ass @aw is nothing more or less than a system of slavey.?< 5"estioned as to the e(tent to which they  pr opose to car y the movement the dep"tation said they sim ply invited all  Natives whether wor* ing in stores or in ho"ses to sto p wor*  and invitations wee also  being sent to the Natives wor*ing on the mines.6
,ore than two h"ndred Africans were bro"ght to co"rt and charged with dist"rbing the  peace or inciting the wor*ers to stri*e. Crowds of Africans o"tside the co"rt were attac*ed  by mo"nted police in3"ring tho"sands of Africans incl"ding women. ,ary 4enson ="otes a letter to
The Star 
 by 0illaim 8os*en
 an eye witness. 5
+olicemo"nted and on foot arr ived to be greeted by hearty cheers from the  Natives then some booingfollowed by Babsol"te ="ietB. Not a single hostile move was made by the Natives. 5Then - Bto my astonishmentB said 8os*en Bthe mo"nted police s"ddenly sp"rred their horses and charged on the crowdB. The police "sed their staves vigoro"slyriding over Natives - who incl"ded women. 0here"pon a civilian  began Bslashing with a stic* at every Native he came near and finally str"c* a  Native woman a severe blowB. 8os*en remonstrated and demanded the manBs name b"t was ignored. 8e heard one bystander e(claiming: B0o"ld I had a
 Thomas aris and )wendolen ,. Carter
 From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-19!
 2ol"me I pages 1-1D.
 ,r. 8os*en a liberal politician had been chairman of a committee formed in 199 of '"ropean sympathisers with the Indian passive resistance led by )andhi.
machine-g"n and I co"ld then do some e(ec"tion.B As he went along the street he came across more whites intercepting Natives.E
+rotests contin"ed in %ohannesb"rg and other towns for several days. 0hite vigilantes attac*ed Congress meetings some of them shooting at the Africans with imp"nity. Abo"t five h"ndred more Africans were arrested and sentenced to fines imprisonment with hard labo"r or lashes. Nearly all those sentenced to fines chose to go to prison. The )overnment appointed a one-man commission to investigate the events and it e(onerated the police 5in view of diffic"lt circ"mstances6. !.,. ,a*gatho in his +residential Address to the !ANNC on  ,ay 1919 called on the )overnment to abolish the Transvaal and Free !tate passes and deno"nced the violence against the demonstrators in the Transvaal: 5They #Africans$ were driven li*e cattle tram pled by mo"nted  policemen "nder their horsesB hoosshot at by white vol"nteers and some men and women are in their gaves as a res"lt of their re"sal to  b"y any mor e  passes<.  5Tho"sands of Natives ae s"ffering imprisonment at the  present time and in spite of the lawmany tho"sands since last month are co"rting arrest by wor*ing witho"t any passes.6 Geferring to the e(c"se of the a"thorities that passes help the Nativesas they serve to identif y the dead and stop crimes he pointed o"t:  5< there were no passes in %ohannes b"g beoe 1&9 and there was less crime  propor tionately in those daysH b"t since the m"lti plication of  passes %ohannesb"g has  been *nown as the niversity of Cr ime. Again li*e the Ca pe Nativeswho carry no  passes white men also die in %ohannes b"rg and
has never been s"ggested that they too sho"ld cary identiication passes.6 8e contin"ed: 5 No mention is made of the amo"nt of reven"e raised by the )ovenment from o"r  people by means of this badge of slavery. The )overnment retains a share of the s poil. The Transvaal +rovincial Co"ncil alone gets JK ann"allyom the scant earnings of o"r  pooly-paid  peo ple to  b"ild and maintain schools for white children while o"r ed"cational needs emain "nattended.6
 ,ary 4enson
South Africa: The Struggle for a "irthright 
 #International efence and Aid F"nd for !o"thern Africa @ondon November 19&L$ page K

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