FROM WORLD WAR ONE

Sunday Tribune - - HUMAN RIGHTS - MARTIN PLAUTT KIERAN GUILBERT Plaut is se­nior re­search fel­low, Horn of Africa and South­ern Africa, In­sti­tute of Com­mon­wealth Stud­ies, School of Ad­vanced Study.

THE out­break of the World War I, com­ing lit­tle more than a decade af­ter the An­glo-boer War ended, pre­sented white South Africans with a co­nun­drum. Should they join Bri­tain and her al­lies, de­spite hav­ing re­cently fought so fiercely against the colo­nial power, or should they back Ger­many and the cen­tral pow­ers, who had given at least moral sup­port to the Afrikan­ers?

For the gov­ern­ment of Louis Botha, a for­mer Boer gen­eral, this was no easy choice. Only four years ear­lier, Afrikaner lead­ers had brought to­gether four colonies in a Union.

They had also forged an un­likely al­liance with their for­mer English adversaries and were get­ting to grips with re­build­ing the coun­try’s dev­as­tated farms and mines. Should they par­tic­i­pate at all?

In fact, long be­fore Botha had made up his mind 1914: he would give the Bri­tish the sup­port they wanted. Both Botha and his right-hand man, Jan Smuts, saw their in­ter­ests as be­ing closely as­so­ci­ated with the Bri­tish Empire. Botha him­self went out of his way to be help­ful.

Win­ston Churchill wrote that in 1913, Botha had re­turned from a visit to Ger­many warn­ing that the sit­u­a­tion was omi­nous. “I can feel that there is dan­ger in the air,” the gen­eral had warned Churchill. “And what is more, when the day comes I am go­ing to be ready too. When they at­tack you, I am go­ing to at­tack Ger­man South-west Africa and clear them out.”

When war was de­clared, the first re­sponse Lon­don re­ceived from Pre­to­ria was promis­ing. On Au­gust 4, the South African gov­ern­ment of­fered to re­lieve the Bri­tish gar­ri­son based in South Africa so that it could be trans­ferred else­where. The colo­nial sec­re­tary, Lord Har­court, ac­cepted Botha’s of­fer and en­quired whether South African forces might seize ports in the Ger­man colony, South-west Africa.

The South African Cab­i­net met the same day to con­sider the re­quest.

Ac­ced­ing to Lon­don’s wishes was not go­ing to be easy. There was op­po­si­tion from many Afrikan­ers, who ques­tioned why they should take up arms on be­half of their old en­emy. It took the prime min­is­ter three days to achieve a unan­i­mous vote in Cab­i­net in favour of go­ing to war: even then, he had to prom­ise that the army would be com­posed solely of vol­un­teers.

Out­side the gov­ern­ment, there was strong op­po­si­tion from an­other Boer war vet­eran, Gen­eral JBM Hertzog. He had re­fused to ac­cept Botha’s pol­icy of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween English and Afrikaans-speak­ing whites and had been ex­cluded from the gov­ern­ment.

Then, in Jan­uary 1914, he broke with Botha to form the Na­tional Party.

When a re­bel­lion broke out among Afrikan­ers op­posed to the war, the gov­ern­ment had its hands full try­ing to put it down.

It was not un­til early 1915 that Botha could fi­nally take up com­mand of the South-west Africa cam­paign and lead his troops into the ter­ri­tory. It took six months of hard fight­ing to force a Ger­man sur­ren­der, but in July 1915, this was achieved. With in­ter­nal trou­bles be­hind him and South-west Africa un­der his con­trol, Botha could con­cen­trate on play­ing a full part in the wider war.

Smuts was dis­patched to lead the at­tack on Ger­man forces in Tan­ganyika (present-day Tan­za­nia). White South African troops were also sent to join the war in Eu­rope. They were to die in their thou­sands – more than 2 300 white sol­diers were killed in the bat­tle of Delville Wood alone.

Dis­as­ter struck when more than 600 African vol­un­teers, sent to dig trenches in France, were drowned af­ter their ship was ac­ci­den­tally rammed in the English Chan­nel in Fe­bru­ary 1917. Oral his­tory records that Rev­erend Isaac Wau­chope com­forted the men aboard the sink­ing ship with these words: “I, a Zulu, say here and now that you are all my broth­ers… Xhosas, Swazis, Pon­dos, Ba­sotho and all oth­ers, let us die like war­riors. We are the sons of Africa.

Raise your war cries, my broth­ers, for though they made us leave our as­segais back in the kraals, our voices are left with our bod­ies.”

On hear­ing of the tragedy, Prime Min­is­ter Botha led Par­lia­ment in stand­ing to pay trib­ute.

For South Africa’s African and coloured com­mu­ni­ties, World War I of­fered the same op­por­tu­nity as the Boer War: a chance to show their loy­alty to their coun­try and the Crown.

On hear­ing of the out­break of con­flict, the ANC (then still called the South African Na­tive Na­tional Con­gress) halted its ag­i­ta­tion against the MA­JOR cor­po­ra­tions that claim to be com­mit­ted to tack­ling the threat of forced labour of­ten tell “fairy tales” that be­lie work­place ex­ploita­tion and shirk re­spon­si­bil­ity for clean­ing up their sup­ply chains, an aca­demic has told a con­fer­ence on mod­ern slav­ery.

From tea and choco­late-mak­ers to ho­tels, many com­pa­nies signed up to anti-slav­ery cer­ti­fi­ca­tion schemes or codes of con­duct at the ex­pense of tak­ing di­rect ac­tion to en­gage with their work­ers and stamp out abuse, other ex­perts said at Yale Univer­sity, which hosted the an­nual event.

Such ini­tia­tives were of­ten sub­stan­dard and failed to com­bat worker ex­ploita­tion de­spite be­ing widely hailed by the pri­vate sec­tor, said Genevieve Le­baron, a pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor and anti-slav­ery aca­demic at Bri­tain’s Sheffield Univer­sity.

A study by Le­baron found some In­dian tea plan­ta­tions stamped slav­ery-free by groups such as Fair­trade and the Rain­for­est Al­liance were abus­ing and un­der­pay­ing work­ers.

“The sto­ries that com­pa­nies are telling us about ef­forts to fight forced 1913 Land Act. Its gen­eral sec­re­tary, Sol Plaatje, de­clared that Africans were keen to join up and “pro­ceed to the front” and in Oc­to­ber 1914 of­fered to raise a force of 5 000 men. The sec­re­tary of de­fence’s re­ply was brusque to the point of ru­de­ness.

“The gov­ern­ment does not de­sire to avail it­self of the ser­vices in a com­bat ca­pac­ity, of cit­i­zens not of Euro­pean de­scent in the present hos­til­i­ties.”

Even though they were for­bid­den to carry arms, large num­bers of Africans did par­tic­i­pate, mostly as labour­ers. Around 74 000 Africans served in South-west Africa, East Africa and France.

Coloured South Africans were just as en­thu­si­as­tic. The APO (African Po­lit­i­cal Or­gan­i­sa­tion) of Dr Ab­du­rah­man was keen to help with the en­list­ment: “By of­fer­ing to bear our share of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties”, said Ab­du­rah­man, coloured men would prove them­selves not less wor­thy than any other sons of labour in sup­ply chains are… ba­si­cally fairy tales,” she told the con­fer­ence.

“(Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion schemes) im­prove cor­po­rates’ reputations and give the im­pres­sion that the prob­lem of forced labour in sup­ply chains is slowly dis­ap­pear­ing, so that we don’t push for the al­ter­na­tives that would chal­lenge the sta­tus quo.”

Work­ers should be paid the so-called liv­ing wage, have job se­cu­rity and the power to ex­ert their labour rights, Le­baron added.

About 25 mil­lion peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be trapped in forced labour, from farm­work­ers to fac­tory work­ers, the UN says.

As the world strives to meet a UN global goal of end­ing the $150 bil­lion (R2.1 tril­lion) a year crime by 2030, con­sumers world­wide are in­creas­ingly de­mand­ing to know whether the prod­ucts they buy – rang­ing from cos­met­ics to clothes – are not pro­duced by com­pa­nies that treat staff as slaves. Yet anti-slav­ery cer­ti­fi­ca­tion the Bri­tish Empire.

Their of­fer was not re­buffed. In Septem­ber 1915, the gov­ern­ment de­cided to raise an in­fantry bat­tal­ion, known as the Cape Corps. They were to see ac­tion in East Africa, Turkey, Egypt and Pales­tine.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties rep­re­sent­ing coloured and African peo­ple were not un­der any il­lu­sion that their show of pa­tri­o­tism would sweep away the racism and seg­re­ga­tion­ist poli­cies at home. But par­tic­i­pat­ing in the war did bring its re­wards.

As ed­u­ca­tion­ist and politi­cian DDT Jabavu con­cluded, “in 1920, the Na­tive Labour Con­tin­gent… im­ported into this coun­try a new sense of ra­cial unity and amity quite un­known hereto­fore among our Bantu races. Com­mon hard­ships in a com­mon camp have brought them into close re­la­tion.”

Africans also noted their favourable treat­ment by French civil­ians and com­pared it with the racist be­hav­iour of some of their own of­fi­cers. Jabavu wrote: “The re­sult is that there is among the diver­si­fied Bantu tribes of this land a ten­dency to­wards mu­tual re­spect… founded upon the un­healthy ba­sis of an anti-white sen­ti­ment.”

For white South African lead­ers, World War I ce­mented their place within the im­pe­rial fam­ily. They had made their con­tri­bu­tion and shown the value of their friend­ship. The price they had ex­tracted from Bri­tain was that “na­tive af­fairs” would be strictly a do­mes­tic is­sue, in which Lon­don was not to in­ter­vene.

For black South Africans, the hard les­son was the same as it had been dur­ing the Boer War: sup­port for Bri­tain would bring few re­wards. schemes, ac­co­lades and awards were hardly re­li­able in­di­ca­tors for the pub­lic when choos­ing be­tween com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to Neha Mira, a traf­fick­ing ex­pert with the Us-based work­ers’ rights char­ity Sol­i­dar­ity Cen­tre.

“The same time as you’re giv­ing a gold star to a com­pany, they’re fir­ing work­ers for try­ing to or­gan­ise in the work­place… or women for get­ting preg­nant at work,” she said.

How­ever, such ini­tia­tives could play a role in mak­ing busi­nesses more trans­par­ent and be used to hold them to ac­count, said Luis de­baca, a US lawyer and for­mer am­bas­sador who led the gov­ern­ment’s anti-traf­fick­ing ef­forts un­der Barack Obama.

“For some com­pa­nies, sign­ing codes of con­duct might just be virtue-sig­nalling,” he told the con­fer­ence. How­ever, pres­sure could be placed on such com­pa­nies to com­ply with codes. Two stud­ies pub­lished last week found that pres­sure by big brands on sup­pli­ers to de­liver prod­ucts more quickly and cheaply fu­elled labour abuses in fac­to­ries. | Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

AC­TIVISTS take part in a ‘Walk for Free­dom’ to protest against hu­man traf­fick­ing in Ber­lin, Ger­many, last month. | Fabrizio Bensch Reuters

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