Above all, in discussing this type of long-standing grievance, a place of importance must be given to the recent developments of the systems of influx control and registration, which seek to control the movements of Africans from one part of the country to another, or even from one part of a single magisterial district to another part of that same district.
The pass laws are of a complexity which would require a lawyer to unravel: but any policeman knew that unless an African could produce his reference book, containing, in addition to his tax receipts, a whole series of official entries giving him permission to live where he happens to live and to work where he happens to work, he could be arrested on the spot. In any year, hundreds of thousands of Africans are arrested for pass offenses alone.
The complexity and severity of the laws have not only produced general confusion and suffering, but they have also become symbolical to the Africans of their helot status. To the Africans, the intention of the pass laws is to make it forever plain to each of them that his place on earth is not his by right but by permission. And “forever” here is not a rhetorical flourish; Dr. Verwoerd, the Prime Minister, has continually and grandiosely talked in terms of centuries.
The outlook for South Africa is an extremely grim one. If there is any hope at all, it lies in the fact that the government has applied its apartheid measures only in ways which have not affected the wealth and comfort of the white inhabitants of the country. But the wealth and comfort of the whites are now being affected, very deeply, by the ruinous policies which the government is pursuing.
The towns around Sharpeville, where the most severe rioting took place, were like ghost towns for days because so few Africans turned up for work. Ships stood idle outside Cape Town harbor, unable to unload because the dockworkers from Cape Town’s locations were on strike. A day of mourning for the dead of Sharpeville took the form of a call for a country-wide stay-at-home strike. The response to the call was vigorous, in spite of the hastiness with which it was called and the difficulties which faced any African leader who tried to move among his people. The Africans are back at work now, driven back by their own poverty, lack of organization, and the punitive measures of the government. But they will stay away again later, they will riot again later, unless the government is able to move and change swiftly and still maintain its supporters.
While white men sleep
Do the white people of South Africa value sufficiently their own lives and livelihoods to make this change? It is difficult to say. There does seem to be a fluidity about white attitudes which has never before been manifest, but little can be expected from those who are at present in power. They are people who dreamed of domination and authority, and though the dream has turned into a nightmare, and though they are now aware that it is a nightmare, they cling to it, more frightened of the common daylight than they are of the horrors they have themselves evoked.
If these leaders waken at all, it will be suddenly; but it may well be that nothing, not even the voice of their own simplest material ambitions, will ever rouse them from their tormented sleep. It is not only the blacks in South Africa whom the world should pity.