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CAMPAIGN AGAINST PASSES IN THE TRANSVAAL IN 1919 E. S. Reddy
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 1- ,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. 9"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 resolved on passive resistance ,belle said they had tried to get redress thro"gh ma*ing representations from time to time for the alleviation of the grievo"s diffic"lties "nder which the Natives in the Transvaal labo"red b"t all their efforts had been witho"t avail. As*ed what their principal grievances were the dep"tation stated that apart from many minor diffic"lties connected with the administration of the pass law in the Transvaal their grievances co"ld be gro"ped "nder two heads:
1. The denial of the rights of citizenship. ;. The denial thro"gh the operation of the colo"r bar of the rights of ordinary h"man beings< 5As*ed what their programme was they said they wo"ld insist on order being maintained by their people. They had formed a gro"p of special constables to collect stic*s and every weapon which any of the Natives may be possessed of and from every platform the Natives wo"ld be told that there were to be no sho"ts or threats or anything that wo"ld incite p"blic feeling. In case of arrest the Natives were told that they m"st s"bmit ="ietly and m"st go to gaol. No pic*eting had been a"thorised and the Natives had simply been invited to stop wor*<. 5>0e hold? said ,belle >that the +ass @aw is nothing more or less than a system of slavery.?< 5A"estioned as to the e(tent to which they propose to carry the movement the dep"tation said they simply invited all Natives whether wor*ing in stores or in ho"ses to stop wor* and invitations were also being sent to the Natives wor*ing on the mines.61
,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+olice mo"nted and on foot arrived to be greeted by hearty cheers from the Natives then some booing followed 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"sly riding 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 Caris 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 1 +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 trampled by mo"nted policemen "nder their horsesB hoofs shot at by white vol"nteers and some men and women are in their graves as a res"lt of their ref"sal to b"y any more passes<. 5Tho"sands of Natives are s"ffering imprisonment at the present time and in spite of the law many 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 Natives as they serve to identify the dead and stop crimes he pointed o"t: 5< there were no passes in %ohannesb"rg before 1&91 and there was less crime proportionately in those daysH b"t since the m"ltiplication of passes %ohannesb"rg has been *nown as the Iniversity of Crime. Again li*e the Cape Natives who carry no passes white men also die in %ohannesb"rg and it has never been s"ggested that they too sho"ld carry identification passes.6 8e contin"ed: 5No mention is made of the amo"nt of reven"e raised by the )overnment from o"r people by means of this badge of slavery. The )overnment retains a share of the spoil. The Transvaal +rovincial Co"ncil alone gets J1K- --- ann"ally from the scant earnings of o"r poorly-paid people to b"ild and maintain schools for white children while o"r ed"cational needs remain "nattended.6
,ary 4enson South Africa: The Struggle for a "irthright #International 9efence and Aid F"nd for !o"thern Africa @ondon November 19&L$ page K-
This passive resistance of 1919 inspired by the s"ccess of the anti-pass campaign of Free !tate women and the Indian satyagraha of 19-.-1K co"ld not be s"stained and failed to achieve even partial s"ccess. The pass law for men "nli*e the imposition of passes on women in the Free !tate was integral to the contract labo"r system. The )overnment responsive to the interests of the mine owners did not hesitate to cr"sh the men?s passive resistance. 0hile Indian passive resistance had received powerf"l political and financial s"pport from India as well as some s"pport and "nderstanding in 4ritain and within the white comm"nity in !o"th Africa d"e to the patient efforts of )andhi over several years the African resistance co"ld not co"nt on s"ch s"pport. 'ven some African leaders wedded to constit"tional agitation did little to help. 4"t passive resistance remained in the conscio"sness of African leaders. It was only after the emergence of yo"ng leaders prepared for sacrifice and the adoption of the +rogramme of Action in 19K9 that the ANC felt that the time was ripe for mass passive resistance. The 9efiance Campaign of 19L; and the anti-pass campaigns of 19.- followed. 4y then some whites in !o"th Africa had allied themselves with the ANC and the !o"th African racism was condemned internationally. 4"t the regime was able to s"ppress the resistance as it was protected by powerf"l foreign interests which deno"nced apartheid in words b"t acted otherwise. These campaigns however became dress rehearsals for the ,ass 9emocratic ,ovement of the 19&-s s"pported by armed actions and effective international solidarity which sec"red the end of passes and all other crimes against the people. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM ,r. '. !. Geddy is a former Assistant !ecretary-)eneral of the Inited Nations in charge of the Centre against Apartheid.
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