"Providing for the legitimate labour requirements of employers": Secondary industry, commerce and the state in South Africa during the 1950's and 1960's

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
It is government policy to provide for the legitimate labour requirements of employers. Marxist discussions of the South African State during the 1950s and '60s have emphasised the ways in which, contrary to liberal expectations, this ideological promise was in fact fulfilled. The striking economic growth rates of the 1960s - 9.3% between 1963 and 1968 - at a time of intensified political repression, are prima facie evidence of their case that overall, Apartheid did not damage the cause of economic development in South Africa. The migrant labour system, influx control policies and the state's refusal to permit the registration of African trade unions, are shown to have reproduced an abundant supply of cheap black labour on which the economy thrived. However, there are limitations in examining the relationship between Apartheid and economic development in solely synchronic terms, as an outcome rather than an ongoing process. This sort of approach is typically disinterested in the relationship between the original intentions of Apartheid and its actual outcomes, and the factors interposing between the two. As a result, by implication, Apartheid during the '50s and '60s is depicted as if a relatively static, nationally homogenous policy, a political 'fait accompli'. (Thus, it is usually only when 'revisionist' analyses move on to the 1970s that the foundations and methods of state policy are examined for signs of vacillation and change). Furthermore, the bourgeoisie is cast largely as the passive beneficiary of this system, having rapidly "learned to live with the pass laws, migrant labour and native Reserves" and whose political and ideological protests were at best short-lived. A closer look at the '50s and '60s reveals, however, an uneven combination of continuities and shifts in state practice. Neither these continuities nor changes are self-explanatory. They indicate the fluctuating balance of forces - political, ideological and economic - which either kept Apartheid policies on the course intended by its practitioners, or deflected their outcomes to the point where the negation of fundamental principles of Apartheid produced some significant changes in the intentions and methods of state policy. Moreover, the bourgeoisie was an active participant in this process, rather than its quiescent beneficiary. This paper focuses on the role of secondary industry and commerce in particular, in shaping the production of some key aspect of Apartheid policy. Both the direct political interventions of organised commerce and industry, and the indirect political pressure exerted by the weight of routine industrial and commercial practice, evidence an ongoing struggle with the state over the distribution, composition and accessibility of the black labour force in secondary industry and commerce. This discussion thus sheds a less functionalist light on the relationship between economic and political interests. Apartheid neither automatically nor uniformly promoted capitalist interests. The paper begins with a brief description of some of the declared intentions of Apartheid policy during the 1950s. It then shows how, in the context of the relative stasis and ultimate decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1950s, secondary industry and commerce were (partly) responsible for subverting some of these original goals. The last part of the paper then identifies the resultant shift in declared state policy, evident by the early 1960s, and discusses the impact of secondary industry and commerce upon these policies during the boom conditions of the 1960s.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 29 October, 1984
Labor supply. South Africa , Working class. South Africa , Labor policy. South Africa , Blacks. Employment. South Africa , Blacks. Employment. Law and legislation. South Africa