Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 1. 1965.
Economics Of Apartheid
Economics Of Apartheid
The Student Press in New Zealand, like most newspapers in the Western world, indulges in frequent outbursts against apartheid. The writing is usually emotive, and it is right that it should be so, for this is a subject on which the writers concerned feel strongly, one way or the other.
It is refreshing, however, to come across an article like the one below, written by John Jordi of the Globe And Mail. It is unfortunate that Jordi has not been able to separate these two topics completely; emotive phrases such as "heart-ache." which impose a value judgment, have no place in a basically analytical article. Nevertheless, the facts that he reports are interesting.
Apartheid is now being challenged and undermined by the very boom that helps it defy the world. The industrial colour bar that is the heart if not the soul of it is being bent and breached at many points by the manpower demands of South Africa's expanding economy.
Many South Africans, progressives included, are hoping that the process will continue to the point where their argument will be proved correct—that it is natural prosperity rather than artificial poverty induced by foreign sanctions that has the best chance of defeating, or at least emasculating, apartheid.
The backbone of the industrial colour bar is the system of "job reservation" through which the Minister of Labour labels different categories of employment as being exclusively for one or other racial group.
He may also lay down percentage ceilings in any trade above which the labour force of any specified race—invariably a non-wnite race may not rise. The system has as many variations and ramifications as it has heartaches, and it has the last in abundance. Its only so-called merit is that it is a consistent part of overall "separate development policy" aimed at compelling men of different races to work exclusively within and for their own communities.
In fact, what it amounts to is the artificial protection of the white worker against the everincreasing upward pressure of skilled, semi-skilled, and would-be skilled competitors from other races.
This "sheltered employment" of many white workers has long been part of the South African way of life. And for long it has been condemned not only on moral and political grounds but also because it distorts and impedes the economy through its unnatural restraints on the supply and demand of labour. But never has that distortion been more obvious than now, as the boom breeds jobs that cannot be filled because the only applicants carry the wrong race-classification cards.
In Cape Town, for example, there is a shortage of men to drive the buses that carry other workers to their factories—but this shortage is primarily due to the fact that, by law, only 16 per cent of this city's bus drivers may be non-white.
Now, however, the position has reached such an advanced point of absurdity that, without admitting any policy change, the government is being compelled to give more and more ground.
The apartheid machine still churns out job reservation regulations, but in the background exemptions from these regulations are being granted by the thousand. In fact, in the words of a spokesman for organised industry, "the job-reservation law virtually exists only in theory these days."
And work-bench integration, whether authorised or surreptitious is increasing daily simply to keep the wheels turning. Now this process has reached something of an historic landmark in the case of the state-owned railways, traditionally a sacrosanct preserve of white labour right down to the semi-skilled level. A mission sent abroad to recruit migrants to remedy the transport system's serious manpower shortage returned to report almost complete failure.
As a result, a powerful white railwaymen's union has now agreed to the enlistment of a handful of non-whites for semiskilled artisans' jobs.
"Purely a temporary measure," said the union's president. And purely a temporary measure is the official way of regarding every dent now being made in the industrial Colour bar. Unless South Africa's prosperity itself turns out to be temporary, there is no-sign of the manpower crisis being eased—except through the massive enlistment of non-white labour.
The Transvaal Chamber of Industries estimates, for instance, that there will be a labour shortage of something like 100,000 skilled and semi-skilled men in the engineering, building and other industries next year.
What is happening, of course, is that the basic flaw in the countries economic structure is being undermined by boom conditions; the flaw ' is in the assumption that any country can conduct its business profitably and sensibly by relying, for both executive and skilled-labour material, on the cream that comes to the top of only one minority section of its population.
But, if the thin end of the wedge is now being driven into apartheid, how wide is that wedge? The time may not be far off when Dr. Verwoerd knows that he can no longer have it both ways; when he has to choose between the maintenance, let alone expansion, of the economy, and rigid apartheid.
And if he has to make that choice will he really try to follow the dictum that he gave last year —that it is better for South Africa to be "poor and white than rich and mixed."