1922: C.C. Stassen, white miner

2 comments October 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1922, white miner Carel Christian Stassen was hanged in South Africa for murdering two blacks during the recent Rand Rising.

Also known as the Rand Rebellion or Rand Revolt, this rising saw a strike by white miners transmuted into outright insurrection … before being ruthlessly suppressed.

This seminal event in 20th century South Africa is also a classic study in the indeterminate solidarity of race and class, and would help set the stage for the apartheid system to come.

In the years preceding the Rand Revolt, an aristocracy of skilled white miners found itself, er, undermined by the sinking price of gold and the vast pool of underpaid black miners who had long been consigned to strictly unskilled jobs.

When white miners went on strike as the calendar turned to 1922, it was — self-consciously — in defense of white privilege: specifically, a color bar protecting white semi-skilled positions from black competition which white mine owners intended to breach.

In a context where the vast majority of mine workers overall were black, the strikers rallied under the banner,

“Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!”


Note the sign in the lower left with the racialized twist that old labor slogan.

Inspiring stuff.

The strike’s peculiar dynamics bear all manner of historical inquiry. In its opening months, South Africa’s native black laborers were entirely left out, neither engaged as potential allies (obviously) nor targeted as “scabs” or enemies (more surprisingly).

But this just-among-whites dispute broke out of the family around March 7-9 when — on the very eve of military conflict with Jan Smuts‘ government — rumors swept the white strikers’ communities “that the natives were fighting the Whites … and that the Strikers and Police were working in conjunction to suppress the natives,” that “the kaffirs will kill us all.”

The quotes are actual period citations given in Jeremy Krikler’s 1999 article “The Inner Mechanics of a South African Racial Massacre,” in The History Journal, Dec. 1999. Krikler’s subsequent book, White Rising: The 1922 Insurrection and Racial Killing in South Africa, explores this topic in much greater detail.

In Richard Seymour’s summary,

they took their appeal to be part of the white community seriously, and in their murders dramatised their desire to be in solidarity with the institutions of white supremacy that were about to massacre them: it was as if to re-direct the fire onto the ‘real’ menace, as opposed to the respectable white workers who only wanted their fair share.

C.C. Stassen was one of those conducting dramatic murder — in his case, of two natives in what Stassen insisted was self-defense against an aggressive black mob.

As one can discern from his presence in these pages, however, Stassen’s homicides did not arouse a sentiment of solidarity among the country’s owners. Shortly after crushing the revolt in March (around 200 people died) they gave notice of their preference for class consciousness above race consciousness, hanging Stassen over the objections of labor unions in South Africa and abroad.

The legacy of the Rand Rising and the hangings of Stassen and others was the Pact Government, an alliance of white miners and Afrikaans farmers that ousted Smuts in a 1924 election.

Even though this new state arrangement proceeded to firm up race privilege in the mining sector with the piquantly named “Colour Bar Act”,* it did so on the basis of the victors’ terms established by the Rand Revolt.

The Pact Government … … ensure[d] that skilled work on the mines remained the preserve of whites, [but] it made no attempt to reverse what the mine owners had achieved: the expulsion of whites from a range of semi-skilled occupations … White wages fell markedly and labour militancy was terminated. The Rand — site of enormous battles in the early twentieth century — never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike. The curtain came down upon an epoch of white labour. Whatever revolutionary tradition it had had, was rooted out forever.

White Rising

* The National Party that enacted the Colour Bar Act would, when it next controlled the government in 1948, establish apartheid.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,South Africa

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