The Impact of the First World War on South African Blacks

  • Albert Grundlingh


As far as South Africa is concerned, certain advances have recently occurred in the study of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902 providing systematic investigation of some of the wider effects of the war on the various societies involved.1 The same cannot be said of South Africa’s involvement in the First World War. For a background to the war period one is dependent on general, though stimulating, overviews by S. E. Katzenellenbogen2 and N. G. Garson.3 Given the lack of interest in South Africa and the First World War, it is not surprising to find that black participation in the conflict has passed almost unnoticed.4 Except for a pioneering article by Brian Willan on the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC) which served in France,5 little is known about black involvement and even less about responses that such a cataclysmic event as the First World War elicited from various African groupings. This chapter makes no claim to be exhaustive nor to cover the total impact of the war. Rather, it does attempt to evaluate some of the issues mooted by Willan and, in so doing, to apply some of the ‘ideas about war and society that are familiar to European history’ which David Killingray has noted ‘are now being moved south into Africa’.6 It will attempt to evaluate the general consequences of the war as they relate to the black population — in South Africa and to assess the hypothesis — common in some studies of war and society — that underprivileged groups in society tend to benefit from wartime changes.


Black Worker South African Government African Grouping Labour Unrest South African Police 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    P. Warwick and S. B. Spies (eds) The South African War,1899–1902 (London, 1980 ).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S. E. Katzenellenbogen, ‘Southern Africa and the War of 1914–18’, in War and Society, M. R. D. Foot (ed.) (London, 1973 ) pp. 107–22.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    N. G. Garson, ‘South Africa and World War I’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 8 (1979) 68–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    B. P. Willan, ‘The South African Native Labour Contingent, 1916–1918’, Journal of African History, 19 (1978) 61–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. For a more recent article focusing on Lesotho, see R. R. Edgar, ‘Lesotho and the First World War: Recruiting, Resistance and the South African Native Labour Contingent’, Mohlomi, Journal of Southern African Historical Studies, 3, 4, 5 (1981) 94–108.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    D. Killingray, War and society in British colonial Africa: themes and prospects’, in Into the 80s: the proceedings of the eleventh annual conference of the Canadian Association of African Studies, D. I. Ray, P. Shinnie, and D. Williams (eds) (Vancouver, 1981 ) p. 251.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Jason Jingoes, A Chief is a Chief by the People: the Autobiography of Stimela Jason Jingoes, J. and C. Perry (eds) (Oxford, 1975 ) p. 80.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Compare C. van Onselen, Studies in the social and economic history of the Witwatersrand, 1886–1914 vol. 2, New Nineveh (London, 1982) pp. 45–50.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Letter from Z. F. Zibi’, Imvo Zabantsundu 18 September 1917 (translated from the Xhosa).Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Quoted in S. M. Bennet Ncwana, Souvenir of the Mendi Disaster (Johannesburg, 1942 ) pp. 26–7.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    E. Roux, Time longer than Rope: a history of the Black man’s struggle for freedom in South Africa (Madison, 1972) p. 114.Google Scholar
  12. 35.
    See for instance G. Shepperson, ‘The comparative study of millenarian movements’, in Millennial Dreams, S. Thrupp (ed.), ( The Hague, 1962 ) p. 44.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    For a detailed analysis of these movements see R. R. Edgar, ‘Garvey-ism in Africa: Dr Wellington and the American Movement in the Transkei’, Ufahamu, 6, 3 (1976) 31–57;Google Scholar
  14. R. R. Edgar, ‘The Fifth Seal: Enoch Mgijima, the Isrealites and the Bulhoek Massacre 1921’, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1977, especially pp. 151–81.Google Scholar
  15. 40.
    ‘Interview with H. Selby Msimang’, Contact, 3, 3, 7(2 April 1960). Also see P. Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism in South Africa: The African National Congress,1912–1952 (London, 1970 ) pp. 50–1.Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism p. 52; ‘SANNC resolutions’, Tsala ea Batho 22 August 1914; S. T. Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa (London, 1917) pp. 260–1.Google Scholar
  17. 46.
    A detailed discussion of the work of this deputation is found in Grundlingh, ‘Die Suid-Afrikaanse Gekleurdes’, 339–48; and B. P. Willan, ‘The role of Soloman T. Plattje (1876–1932) in South African society’, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1979, 211–21.Google Scholar
  18. 61.
    R. H. W. Shepherd, Lovedale, South Africa: the story of a century (Lovedale, 1941 ) p. 323.Google Scholar
  19. 62.
    H. A. Chilvers, The story of De Beers (London, 1939) pp. 209–13; ‘Report on the annual meeting of shareholders’, Diamond Fields Advertiser, 29 July 1915; CAD, Mines and Industries (MNI), 258/ 2195/14, Memorandum on the closing of the mines, 15 August 1914.Google Scholar
  20. 66.
    F. A. Johnstone, Class, Race and Gold: A study of class relations and racial discrimination in South Africa (London, 1976 ) pp. 95, 104–5.Google Scholar
  21. For these developments see P. L. Bonner, ‘The 1920 Black Mine-workers Strike: a preliminary account’, in Labour, Township and Protest B. Bozzoli (ed.) (Johannesburg, 1979) pp. 173–297; Johnstone, Class, Race and Gold pp. 172–4; 181–4.Google Scholar
  22. 72.
    See, for instance, P. L. Bonner, ‘The Transvaal Native Congress, 1917–1920: the radicalisation of the black petty bourgeoisie on the Rand’, in S. Marks and R. Rathbone (eds), Industrialisation and social change in South Africa: African class formation, culture and consciousness,1870–1930 (London, 1982 ) pp. 270–313;Google Scholar
  23. P. L. Wickins, The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of South Africa (Cape Town, 1978) pp. 23–38; 43–4, 52–7; Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism, pp. 70–4, 89;Google Scholar
  24. F. A. Johnstone, ‘The IWA on the Rand: socialist organising among the Black workers on the Rand, 1917–18’, in Bozzoli (ed.) Labour, Township and Protest pp. 248–72; Johnstone, Class, Race and Gold pp. 174–9.Google Scholar
  25. 75.
    C. W. Pearsall, ‘Some aspects of the development of secondary industry in the Union of South Africa’, South African Journal of Economics, 5 (1937) 414;Google Scholar
  26. M. H. de Kock, Selected subjects in the economic history of South Africa (Cape Town, 1924) pp. 130; 290.Google Scholar
  27. Also see B. Bozzoli, The political nature of a ruling class: capital and ideology in South Africa (London, 1981) pp. 143–5.Google Scholar
  28. 83.
    A. Marwick, War and social change in the twentieth century: a comparative study of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States (London, 1974 ) pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  29. 86.
    P. Kallaway, ‘F. S. Malan, the Cape liberal tradition and South African politics’, Journal of African History, 15 (1974) 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Melvin E. Page 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert Grundlingh

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations