There have been various tracts dealing with the role of the Non European Unity Movement (the NEUM) in the Liberation struggle. Authors such as Jack and Ray Simons, The Readers' Digest's Illustrated History of South Africa, Tom Lodge, Colin Bundy, Ferida Khan, Ciraj Rassool, and others, have endeavoured to give their interpretations of the significance of the NEUM but, excepting I.B.Tabata's "The Awakening", and TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa - jjp) Journal articles, hardly anything has come from its founders or active participants. Except, that is, for "Signposts of the History of the Unity Movement" by Hosea Jaffe, published by the New Unity Movement and presented as two lectures delivered at the University of Cape Town (Sept-Oct 1992). Having carefully read the publication, I concluded that Jaffe's version of the events was more an attempt to glorify the past than to give an accurate and objective account of it. In response to this and as one who had been directly and actively involved in the organisation from 1950 to 1970, I hope to shed some light on the movement which I believe made a significant imprint on the liberation struggle. This article will attempt to trace its origins within the context of both national and international developments at the time and assess the parts played by some of those active in it.
I take as my starting point the year 1943 with Nazi Germany on the retreat following the decisive battle of Stalingrad. The Smuts regime now felt confident enough to abandon the placatory stance towards the non-Whites that it was driven to earlier: "the days of segregation being dead", and "new deals" for the blacks. In its place it set in motion the machinery to do to the `Coloured' community, i.e., those of `mixed' descent, what had been done to the Africans, namely to strip them of the last vestiges of the few remaining rights they had, and place them under the aegis of a separate department of state, which also would control their lives from the cradle to the grave. That intention was "categorically" denied by Harry Lawrence, the Minister of the Interior in charge of the operation. The Coloured Advisory Council, it was stated, was to be merely what its name implied namely to advise the government of the legitimate needs of the Coloured people.
But the era of collaboration had passed. No longer were the people prepared to have their destinies decided by the government stooges who were appointed to serve on the council. The New Era Fellowship, a cultural organisation that was formed in 1937 to discuss "everything under the sun" called a conference of all existing non-white organisations to weigh and consider the implications of the proposed Council. From that meeting was born the Anti-Coloured Affairs Council, which later became the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department or Anti-CAD, when the diagnosis advanced by the sponsors of the conference could no longer be denied by the government.
From the Anti-CAD, and the All African Convention in 1943 was born the Non-European Unity Movement, which totally transformed the political terrain. Probably for the first time it gave the continent of Africa an organisation with a clear political programme. The ten-point programme encapsulated the minimum demands for participation in a democratic society. It included among others: The full franchise, free education to the age of 16, freedom of speech, press, movement, the right to own land (with a new division of the land as a first requisite of a new democratic parliament), penal reform and the rights of workers to organise themselves. All those who accepted those minimum demands without reservation could become part of the NEUM. Non-collaboration - the refusal to participate in or work the instruments of their own oppression, became a cardinal feature of the movement. This principle of non-collaboration distinguished it from what had gone before: the deputations, the round-table conferences, the back-door deals, the membership of and participation in segregationist bodies. Coupled with this there was the weapon of the boycott.
The tacit belief of the leadership of the NEUM was that the way towards Socialism lay via the national movement. The task was conceived as a struggle for "Bourgeois Democracy", (which the Ten Point programme encapsulated) transmuting into Socialism.
What infuriated a voluble section of those who regarded themselves as Trotskyists, was that the NEUM leadership never publicly articulated these views. It drew forth fierce denunciations from members of the Forum Club, a Trotskyist political forum in Cape Town. The leadership of the NEUM were convinced that in their organisational structure they had found the secret weapon that would unite the oppressed and in time draw into it support from the Whites, thus creating the foundations of a decent democratic society for all regardless of so-called race, colour and creed. The structure was considered to be invulnerable to the attacks of the state machine. This was spelt out in a pamphlet called The Building and Basis of Unity by B.M Kies and I.B.Tabata. In brief the pamphlet put forward a novel view of setting about the task of organising the masses. The 'Building of Unity' propounded the view that the mass of the people was already organised in a multitude of organisations. These were churches, civics, rate-payers, cultural societies, sports clubs, sewing circles, mothers' unions, charities, etc. All that needed to be done, therefore, was for those organisations to be politicised, accept the ten-point programme and become part of the movement. Membership lay only through joining one of the affiliated organisations. Membership on an individual basis was disallowed since it was regarded as an attempt to by-pass involvement in the politicisation of the rank and file. Thus it was believed that it would be impossible for the state to ban the movement because of its diverse composition. The reasoning was almost poetic in its conception.
The inescapable stumbling block to unity lay in the divisions among the non-White communities. This had been achieved over the generations by a policy of divide and rule through which the rulers had created almost unbridgeable schisms among the population groups. The major section, the Africans, was still subject to tribal separateness, and ancient hates were kept alive despite the efforts of the Congress movement, established in 1912 and the All African Convention, established in the mid-thirties, to strive to break down the barriers. "Purity of race" was another effective tactic used in order to prevent any linking with the Coloureds, the `mixed race' group. The Coloureds were also bought off by allowing them limited voting rights, and freedom from the kind of legislation that bound the Africans such as the pass laws, and the right to buy and sell property as well as giving the Coloured pupil more than double the amount of money in the educational system as compared with the African child. To keep the Coloureds in the White kitchen they were reminded that they had white blood that flowed in their veins. The Indians on the other hand were enjoined not to associate with the other two groups as they, the Indians, came from a civilisation stretching back for a thousand years, etc.
To combat these divisions among the population groups the NEUM instituted the federal structure consisting of Three Pillars aimed at eventually uniting the three groups: the All African Convention for the Africans; the Anti-CAD for the Coloureds; and the Indian Congress for the Indians (The leadership of the Indian congress because of its involvement with the merchant class, withdrew from the Unity Movement declaring that they were unable to accept the principle of non-collaboration). The hope was that when the ideas of unity became generally accepted, the Three Pillars would wither away and there would be only the Unity movement.
This was the situation when I formally entered the movement in 1949. The all-White elections saw the coming to power of the Nationalist Party of Dr Malan. It had ousted the softly, softly approach to social control issues of The United Party of General Smuts. The clarion call of Apartheid by the Malanites found the majority of the White population rapturously responsive. The stage was set for a direct and systematic assault on the last remaining rights of the non-Whites. The NEUM responded with the weapon of the boycott.
(a) It urged the people not to participate in the elections in which some had the right to vote but could not to be candidates.
(b) It called for the boycott of separate elections for White representatives for Africans in the Senate and the House of Assembly.
(c) It called on the people to reject the multitude of separate councils created to control the Africans such as the Native Representative Council or Bunga as it was known in the vernacular, and the Coloured Affairs Council.
The New Era Fellowship was the organisation where we began to learn our politics - learnt the nature of Capitalist Imperialism; how the media misrepresented the socialist world by labelling it as Russian Imperialism; why the ruling class- (henceforth called the Herrenvolk) - used Apartheid as a form of social control; why it was that sometimes it was possible to succeed when one challenged the government through the legal system, showing how the rule of law operated in South Africa. An attempt was even made to run study groups to teach the basics of Marxism, but which was discontinued for fear of possible infiltration by the security police.
The early fifties was a period of enormous intellectual ferment. I.B.Tabata wrote The Awakening of a People ; Dora Taylor under the pen-name of Nosipho Majeke, wrote The Role of the Missionaries ; Jaffe under the pen-name of Mnguni wrote Three Hundred Years - a History of South Africa ; Ben Kies wrote The Contributions of the Non-Europeans to World Civilization ; WP van Schoor wrote The Origins and Development of Segregation ; Edgar Maurice wrote The Colour Bar in Education and Jaffe, Wessels and C.Pieterse co-wrote about the French Revolution.
The intellectual quality of the ideas drew some of the best brains from the universities to the NEUM, among whom were Seymour Papert, Sydney Brenner, P.V.Tobias and Norman Traub, from Witwatersrand University and Dr JG & Dora Taylor, Chaim Beimel, Marion Tobias, Leah Morgenstern and Benita Teper of Cape Town. To us if the best brains among the Whites accepted the ideas of the NEUM, a substantial number of the White group would indubitably follow and a South African nation would emerge purged of the evils of race, colour and creed.
The first split in the movement began to show as early as 1951, when I.B.Tabata let it be known at a general meeting of the NEF that The Society of Young Africa (SOYA) had been formed. We were told that the NEF was too advanced for young Africans. Its establishment was done secretively without the participation or knowledge of the rest of the movement. Goolam Gool and his sister Jane supported Tabata. [Alarm bells began to ring. Wessels, Beimel, and I - the enfants terrible- were summoned by Dr Gool to a meeting with Mr Tabata and Jane Gool and we were requested to accept the situation because the NEF, it was said, was too advanced for young Africans. They needed a more elementary grounding in the ideas of the movement. We could hardly refuse the request despite a suspicion that Tabata wished to create his own power base.] The rift in the movement grew steadily worse and came to a climax at a special general meeting held after a NEUM conference in 1952. Mr Tabata had criticised the views expressed by Ben Kies on the international situation at the conference of the NEUM, 1952. Kies had spoken of two opposing camps, The Western Bloc and The Eastern Bloc. Mr Tabata declared the analysis static and undialectical. The two foremost ideologues in the movement were locking horns. Mr Kies's appeal that personal differences should be set aside in the interest of co-operation was met by a vitriolic rebuttal: "Don't insult me. My differences are not personal, they are political !"
The words sent a chill through all those present at the meeting. Things in the movement would never be the same again. The rift soon became a chasm and people who before had been friends now became enemies; meetings were disrupted, once leading to the shameful situation where the police were summoned to eject SOYANS from a meeting called by the Local Co-ordinating Unity Committee at the Banqueting Hall in Cape Town (1960) for fear that there might be physical violence.
This background of the situation is important so that one can get a clearer understanding of the role of the person whom the Tabata faction regarded as the arch-villain namely Hosea Jaffe. Jaffeism was the choice invective hurled by the disciples of Mr Tabata. Hosea Jaffe began to play a more dominant role in the NEF after Ben Kies decided to refrain from coming to NEF meetings about 1953/54 believing that his presence had an inhibiting effect on the youth. Jaffe declined to follow suit and made the NEF his kindergarten. His views were definitive on all questions; his pronouncements became part of Movement lore. I recall some of the more striking ones to reveal their nature and range. Not all have stood the test of time.
(1) Historical progress was irreversible. As evidence he cited the fact that during the Nazi invasion of the USSR they were obliged to make use of the collective farm organisation, which was historically irreversible.
(2) Stages of political change could be telescoped. One could skip the bourgeois stage and go straight to socialism.
(3) Unless we solved the problem of political organisation, that is, drew the majority of the oppressed into the NEUM, freedom would come only on the back of a Stalinist Russian tank.
(4) It was impossible to achieve liberation without drawing a substantial proportion of the White population into the movement.
(5) The term Non-European did not mean Coloured, Indian or African, when referring to the NEUM, but meant anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist; anti-exploitative; etc.
(6) There is only one race the human race. It was fallacious to speak of multi-racialism, which was a contradiction in terms.
(7) There are no Africans, no Coloured, no Indians. All these categories are artificial. From the time Jaffe expressed this in 1958 it became customary to speak of so-called Coloureds, so-called Africans, etc. in the movement. Very soon it became the established form in the broad liberation movement, and reached its apotheosis in the late eighties when even De Klerk was compelled to accept non-racialism as the prescription for a future South Africa.
(8) Language was merely a tool of communication - therefore in the new South Africa there need be no other choice than English, it being a world language, superior to all the other languages.
(9) In a series in the Torch, the newspaper that was identified with the movement, Jaffe wrote a Marxian analysis of world culture. It was classic economic reductionism. Thus for example the reason for the Spanish dancing in a very small space was attributed to the restricted land area of the Iberian peninsula. Even staunch Jaffeists found this hard to swallow, but no-one openly contested this notion.
(10) The principle of self-determination applied only to oppressed communities, not to oppressors.
(11) All principles are related to the laws of nature, such as gravity, the indestructibility of matter, etc. Human society was part of nature. Society consisted of social classes between which there were irreconcilable differences. Collaboration thus was a breach of natural law. Non-collaboration, thus was an irrefutable principle. But attitudes of kindness, fair play, loyalty, honesty, etc could not by definition be principles, and were simply sentimental notions.
(12) Being a member of The Teachers' League of South Africa ipso facto made one indisputably a superior classroom teacher regardless of ill-prepared lessons, irregular attendance, etc.
Tabata now held sway in the All African Convention. In 1958 the Anti-CAD delegates were refused entrance to the Conference in Bloemfontein.
Point seven in the ten point programme became a major source of conflict. It stood for the right to buy and sell land with the added rider that a new division of the land should be the first task of a Democratic parliament. This was interpreted by Tabata as meaning that any redivision of the land could take place only after the achievement of democratic rights. This we interpreted as a pro-middle class step. Jaffe cited the French revolution where the peasants had seized the manorial estates, during the uprising and thereafter were granted title deeds.
Jaffe monitored the Hungarian uprising of 1956. It was characterised as anti-Socialist. The Movement gave the Soviet intervention its complete support. Jaffe became the undisputed ideologist of the movement. There were seminars on philosophy, Imperialism and Culture to which he made significant contributions. Kies murmured occasionally but ineffectually, especially after his banning and expulsion from the teaching profession in 1956. The split with Tabata deepened. The followers of Tabata captured the leadership of the NEUM soon afterwards and renamed it the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA). They also established a new organisation, the African People's Democratic Union of South Africa, (APDUSA) a unitary organisation. But the screws of oppression were being tightened by the Herrenvolk so that it became almost impossible to recruit new cadres into the movement. In 1960 the Torch ceased to be published. The NEF closed shop soon afterwards.
In 1957, Jaffe felt the time had come to attack the 3 pillar federal structure of the NEUM. Prior to the banning of Ben Kies in 1956 Jaffe had kept his views on the three pillar federal structure of the movement relatively low-key. His first tactic was linguistic: he began to refer to the three pillars as the triangular structure, a small but significant difference. The task of the Anti-CAD was to 'de-Colouredise' the Coloured people; the All-African Convention was to `de-Africanise' the Africans. There was, however, still no third pillar to 'de-Indianise'. (The South African Indian Congress was affiliated to the Congress movement). Jaffe thus propounded something quite unique for a mathematician, a two sided triangle ! Up to this time Kies kept his silence, but when Jaffe expressed the view that the time had come to abandon the basic 3 pillar structure, Kies rose to defend the organisational form he regarded as an article of faith. He was at daggers drawn with Jaffe. In the December 1959 at a special meeting of the NEF convened to deal with this proposition, the membership gathered to debate whether the 3 Pillar structure should be scrapped. I cast my vote against Jaffe, and his motion was lost by one vote.
When the new school term opened in 1960, it was discovered that Jaffe had left the country. He left a letter for Ben Kies which attempted to explain the reasons for his departure. Suffice to say that his explanation was peremptorily dismissed and he was regarded as another "casualty" of the struggle. which was how all those who had left the country were designated.
When in the U.K. he strove vainly to have Tabata expelled from the Secretariat of the Fourth International. He drew up a statement detailing Tabata's political `crimes', signed by three in 1971. I used the nom-de-guerre "Sol Plaatjes".
Jaffe also published a number of works among which were the following:
Colonialism Today (1962);
Africa - From Tribalism to Socialism (1971);
Marx on Colonialism (1976);
The History of South Africa, 1652-1980;
A Pyramid of Nations(1981).
In the last mentioned work Jaffe propounded one of his most controversial theories, namely that the European worker produced a negative surplus value. He presented tables and diagrams referring to the period 1973-1975 in support of his contention. He also wrote tracts on the situation in Ethiopia; the Solidarity Movement in Poland and the creation of Bangladesh.
On the 21st March 1960, the massacre of Sharpeville occurred. It found the NEUM totally marginalised and ineffectual to respond to the uprising. Sharpeville rocked the Herrenvolk state as never before. Paul Sauer, a Nationalist cabinet Minister echoed Smuts's "the days of segregation are dead", when the flight of capital threatened to bankrupt the country. The government responded with 'kragdadigheid' : banned the ANC, PAC and declared a state of emergency. Somehow Apartheid South Africa survived its worst crisis. But the NEUM and the Anti-CAD collapsed like a pack of cards.
There were painful attempts to come to terms with the changed situation. I suggested that perhaps the organisational aims were flawed: that it was incorrect to believe that one could build a movement on the basis of politicising social, sports, and church clubs. This was not countenanced. Thereafter, especially in Cape Town a malaise befell the organisations. The NEF ceased to meet; the Torch closed down; membership of the TLSA steeply declined probably because recruitment was suspended owing to fears of penetration by the security police. In the country town of Worcester, membership held steady and even rose due to successful canvassing among new teachers, prompting the TLSA central executive to summon us to enquire why this was so !
The TLSA was the only organisation in the Movement that continued to function and publish the Educational Journal. It held successful regional conferences in the country districts and continued to work in the PTA's to prepare parents for the planned take over of Coloured Education by the Coloured Affairs Department. It forced the authorities to delay the transfer until April 1964. The CAD invited teachers to attend inaugural meetings before the actual transfer, and most TLSA members refused the invitation. Most but not all.
The decision regarding the annual conference aroused bitter argumentation. Wessels led the group insisting that we meet the challenge head-on. Others, including myself maintained that we would be presenting the League stalwarts on a tray to the authorities, to be proscribed or dealt with as they deemed fit. The pro-Conference motion was lost, and the rump TLSA somehow survived holding its first conference since 1963 in May 1992.
The attempt to build a Federal Council of Teachers, uniting The Cape African Teachers' Organisation and the TLSA, which began with such high hopes in the fifties also failed to survive the whips and scorns of time.
The movement lost some of its foremost thinkers in the seventies, Victor Wessels (1978) and Ben Kies (1979). Their passing at a critical time when the political log-jam was beginning to crack was a grievous blow. The new situation required a radical rethink of the aims and objectives of the organisation that seemed becalmed in the ideology of the past. There appeared to be none of their stature able to take their place. However in 1989 after two preliminary meetings, the New Unity Movement arose from the ashes of the defunct NEUM. The situation seemed apposite for a return of Jaffe to a - if not the - leading role in the movement.
With his periodic return visits to South Africa Jaffe's influence soon became evident. In the Journal of the Teachers' League of South Africa, June 1992, there appeared a brief article in "Notes in School" regarding the developing conflict in Yugoslavia. "the strong motivating force of Serbian Nationalism is in fact (sic) the desire to prevent the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation..." (my emphasis - no comment needed) The article also eulogised the Yugoslav state of Marshal Tito as: "...the most promising socialist experiment..." etc. Yet when Tito broke with the Soviet Union in the fifties he was denounced in vitriolic terms by the NEUM.
The support for the Serbian Fascism of Milosovic and Arkan, the war criminal, which paraded as Socialism was continued in the Bulletin of The New Unity Movement, Volume 6 No.2 (Sept 1992). The views expressed have been dealt with in more detail in Searchlight South Africa (No. 10), and I shall therefore not repeat them. But Jaffe outdoes himself regarding the Muslims of Bosnia.
"Muslims ... are descendants not of the Turks who dominated the Balkans from the 15th to the 19th century, but of Christian Bosnians who found it convenient to embrace Islam." Whether Jaffe possesses verifiable evidence for this is a moot point but certainly it couldn't justify the horrendous brutality of Serbian ethnic cleansing ! His conclusions are refuted by research into the period. What on the other hand has been researched is the fact that Turkish rule did not force Christians to become Muslims. Tax records show that conversions were slow. But to support his pro-Serbian stand, Jaffe had no difficulty in finding the necessary corroboration.
In 1993 Jaffe published Sign Posts of the History of the NEUM under the aegis of the New Unity Movement. Although the rubric indicated there were two lectures given at the University of Cape Town, this was denied by the Head of History who complained that Jaffe had not obtained the required permission to use the University's name on the publication. There had only been one lecture, and the more pointed criticism, that the oral delivery differed substantially from the published one. The critique below, ipso facto, refers only to the written version. The signposts Jaffe has pointed out in my opinion do not reflect the situation as it really existed during the period 1950-1970.
Jaffe first deals with the labelling of the movement as Trotskyist. Jaffe argued that the movement was "not Trotskyist in the classical sense". He quotes an extract from a "famous letter" written by Trotsky in 1935 to the members of The Workers' Party:.
"the South African Republic will emerge first as a 'Black Republic': this does not exclude, of course, either full equality or brotherly relations between the two races ...We must accept with all decisiveness ... the complete and unconditional right of the Blacks to independence ... It is possible that the Blacks ...will find it unnecessary to form a separate Black state in South Africa; certainly we will not force them to establish a separate state... The proletarian revolutionaries must never forget the right of oppressed nationalities to self-determination, including full separation."
Jaffe's comment is that "the Unity Movement at no time would subscribe to one word of this paragraph in Trotsky's letter". What is baffling is that at no time was the letter ever discussed in the period when I was in the movement. [It was occasionally referred to in hushed tones, but generally to underscore the fact that "The Old Man himself" had practically given his personal endorsement to the Movement before his assassination.]
Jaffe next attacks the reference to "races" in the letter above stating that "pioneer thinkers in the movement" had more and more distanced themselves from this concept. This is such a blatant deception that the mind boggles. In 1935, when the letter was written the existence of races was not seriously contested. The pioneer thinkers in the movement like Kies and Tabata accepted the term. It featured in all their writings and even P.V. Tobias, the anthropologist and member of the Movement, declared that race was a biological fact. Remarkably it was only in 1958 in a seminal address at a meeting of the NEUM in the Drill Hall, Cape Town that the view was expressed that there was only one race, the human race. That radical statement was by none other than Mr Jaffe himself. Ever since then it became politically correct to use the term in inverted commas. Veracity is again called into question, when Jaffe asserts-
"UM writers have publicly criticised this weakness of Trotsky"
By doing a post hoc attack on Trotsky, Jaffe endeavours to dismiss the Trotskyist label. In light of the above I find Jaffe's fulminations against the epithet manifestly hollow.
Jaffe proceeds next to extol the excellence of The New Era Fellowship. He likened it to Milner's Kindergarten of post Boer War fame. This is probably because the NEF became his territory as I indicated earlier. From this base Jaffe attacked the federal structure of the movement and proposed a unitary structure, which was narrowly rejected in 1959 before he departed from the country. Yet he slips into his lecture a seemingly innocent aside
"The NEUM later enabled individual membership in ... local branches where local committees were not feasible".
Not once does Jaffe reveal his role in the split in the movement that set in as early as 1951, but pretends that the schism was only a 1958 event. For someone who was so integrally involved in the split, he certainly is economical with the truth.
What Jaffe does do well is list the numerous activities in which the NEUM was involved. There certainly was no lack of enthusiasm in "taking a nation to school". The movement did what none of the other organisations thought important or even necessary, which was to explain the nature of their oppression to ordinary working people.
Teachers came to the homes of the poor and a spirit of camaraderie was fostered. The Parent-Teacher Movement that grew in the period from 1952 to 1970 was a particularly glorious stage in the work of the NEUM, in which all members including Jaffe played sterling roles.
What I endeavoured to do is to give an account as objectively as possible of the movement indicating its strengths, hopes, problems and failures. Most of the previous historiographers were outside of the Movement or, having leanings towards the Congress movement, gave a biased account. Jaffe, to my knowledge, is the first to write from the point of view of a participant. My article attempts to give a more objective account of the NEUM and point out some of his errors and omissions.