WITHIN THE past few days opponents of apartheid commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre when South African police gunned down 67 Africans (graphically pictured above). Afrikaanerdom would not bow before the winds of change or even sway in the breeze. Sharpeville was a political watershed, for it turned South Africa into a feared and wealthy pariah among the democratic nations.
In this splendid isolation, the Jews and the Afrikaners have coexisted uneasily in South Africa. However, throughout the long history of their relationship, there has been a fundamental difference of outlook between the adherents of Judaism and their Calvinist cousins.
The gold and diamond rush attracted many Jews hoping to make their fortune. Most were impoverished immigrants from Lithuania and the Baltic States, escaping from Tsarist persecution. They worked hard and they prospered.
In Afrikaner eyes, however. their cultural and economic enemy was the conglomerated British-Jewish capitalist. The Boers never forgot nor forgave. The leaders of Afrikanerdom, Herzog and Malan, saw it as their life’s task to stand fast by their Calvinist principles, to raise their people up from the depths and eventually to re-establish the Boer republic.
Jewish immigration worried Afrikanerdom so much that Dr Malan, as Interior Minister, introduced the Quota Act in 1930 which essentially restricted Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. When Hitler came to power, Jews from Germany also began to arrive. As Nazi persecution intensified, the numbers increased, reaching a maximum of 3,000 in 1936.
For the purist advocates of Afrikaner nationalism, this was a cause celebre, a suitable stick with which to goad their opponents. The Nationalists were rapidly becoming infected with the Nazi virus. Fascist groups such as the Greyshirts aped their German counterparts and openly expressed anti-Semitic views.
The secret cultural association, the Broederbond. which guided the affairs of Afrikanerdom. absorbed Nazi ideas. Germany sent Graf von Durckheim Montmartin to consult with Dr Malan and other leaders of the Broederbond to reorganise the body on Nazi lines. In return, Broederbond members were sent to Germany for instruction.
One Nationalist Senator, Visser, circulated a pamphlet which rewrote the constitution on the lines of the corporate State. Eventually, the Government succumbed to Nationalist pressure and introduced restrictions on emigration, thus leaving many who could have been saved to perish in Hitler’s concentration camps.
The Nationalists and their Nazi allies were not satisfied. When the last refugee ship, the SS Stuttgart. bringing 600 German Jews, arrived in Cape Town, thousands attended protest rallies.
Throughout 1937, Dr Malan lost no opportunity to attack the Jews. At a meeting at Stellenbosch on April 10, he commented: “By means of international organisation, the Jews endeavoured to monopolise the credit systems and banks of the world.” Malan criticised Jews for their participation in the Communist movement and the trade unions and for their condemnation of racial discrimination.
At a meeting at Parys in July of that year, the chairman introduced Malan with the words, “what Hitler and Mussolini have been to their countries, Dr Malan will be to South Africa.” Malan certainly said nothing to dispute the sentiment of those remarks. He told his audience that the Labour party was nothing but a subdivision of the Board of Deputies in Johannesburg.
When asked if he was against Jews in South Africa, he replied: “I am against Jews in South Africa because they are parasites.” When asked if Jews could become members of the Nationalist Party, he answered: “If the Jews were prepared to become Christians and lead a Christian life, they would be allowed to join the Nationalist Party.”
At a Nationalist meeting at Nieuwoudtville, Malan attacked the opposition candidate, Dr Steenkamp, as the candidate of the Jews. “Die Suiderstem” reported Malan as commenting: “I am going to fight Jewry. This will be a fight to the end.”
Another Afrikaans language newspaper, “Die Burger,” reported Malan’s statement that the time has arrived to discriminate against the Jews. “My point of view was always that there must be no discrimination between white and white in this country, but the Government has not taken effective measures to avert the Jewish danger from South Africa.”
There were many others who advocated such policies. J. G. Strijdom, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958, spoke of the “unassimilability” of the Jew. Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 to 1966, as editor of “Die Transvaler” propagated pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish opinions through the columns of his newspaper. He suggested a quota system for Jews in each profession: “Jews should be refused further trading licences until every section of the population has its proper share.”
Eric Louw, later Foreign Minister of South Africa, announced in Parliament a few months before the outbreak Of the Second World War: “I am convinced that if it were possible to remove Jewish influence and pressure from the press and from the news agencies, the international outlook would be considerably brighter than it is today.”
Louw. Malan and the others regarded the war as no concern to Afrikanerdom. It was a “Jewish imperialistic war.” The adherents of Afrikaner nationalism proposed in Parliament that South Africa should remain neutral. The vote was lost by the narrow margin of 13 votes.
Malan hoped that Nazi Germany would win the war, but kept his options open. For example, he refrained from an electoral alliance with the Greyshirts, but F. C. Erasmus, secretary of the Cape Nationalist Party and a future Minister of Defence, wrote to the organising secretary of the Greyshirts expressing “sincere appreciation of the useful work done” on the Jewish problem.
After the war, a captured German document reported a meeting between Malan and a Nazi agent in 1940 in which Germany promised to recognise an independent South African republic whose territory would include the three British protectorates. Indeed, in the entire course of the war, Louw, Strijdom and Verwoerd continued to expound anti-Jewish policies.
While Jews were dying in Auschwitz and Treblinka, nationalists ranted and raved against Jewish immigration into South Africa. Many refused to believe the first reports of mass extermination. For example, ranted immigration into Saut.1. refused to believe the first reports of mass extermination. For example, in 1942, leading nationalist J. L. Brill walked out of the Johannesburg City Council while a motion of protest against Nazi crimes was being discussed. “How do you know the Nazi atrocities are true?” he asked.
Verwoerd’s newspaper, “Die Transvaler,” carried material which was nothing less than Nazi propaganda. When the Johannesburg paper, “The Star,” published an article entitled “Speaking up for Hitler,” Verwoerd filed a law suit. The case was eventually lost. The judgement stated that Verwoerd was fully conscious of his action and of making his paper a tool of the Nazis. In later years, Verwoerd hinted that the case had gone against him because the judge had been a Jew.
It would have been thought that in the expectation of an allied victory, the Nationalists would have seen the error of their ways. Yet, in November, 1944, Verwoerd’s “Die Transvaler” accused the Vocational Guidance Bureau of the Board of Deputies of capturing the skilled trades for Jewish youths to the exclusion of the Christians.
Aftermath of horror
Even in the aftermath of the revelation of the full horror of the concentration camps, the Nationalists’ vehemence against the Jews and specifically Jewish immigration continued unabated. Anti-Jewish Nationalist leaflets handed out at the Hottentots-Holland by-election in January, 1947, ended with the phrase,’ “South Africa first! South Africans first!”
By 1948, with an election in the offering, Malan attempted to play down the now-embarrassing issue of anti-Semitism. Even so, Eric Loew could not contain himself. When a certain Johannes M. Rust suggested a rapprochement between South African Jewry and Afrikaanerdom, Loew asked what price would have to be paid in coming to an accommodation, since “A Jew gives nothing away gratis!”
Ten days after the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, the Nationalists swept to power in South Africa’s 1948 elections. Dr Malan assumed the premiership. Those who faithfully uttered anti-Jewish sentiments were given top government posts.
R. Swart, who was appointed Minister of Justice, had labelled his opponents a few years earlier “the backwash of the ghettoes of Europe.” One of his first acts was to release imprisoned Nazi collaborators. These included Robey Leibrandt, who had been landed by German submarine on the Smith African coast, and Holm, who, like Lord Haw-Haw, had broadcast Nazi propaganda from Berlin.
Most South African Jews were unhappy, to state the obvious, and the introduction of the apartheid system did nothing to dissipate their nervousness. The communal leadership, however, anxiously tried to secure acceptance and approval from Malan and his cohorts.
The Nationalists, too, shared a common desire to put the politically dangerous spectre of Nazism and anti-Semitism -behind them. Malan’s pragmatism permitted the immigration into South Africa of relatives and those required for the well-being of the community. By the early ‘fifties, communal leaders were stating that Malan had never been anti-Semitic, and in 1953 he visited Israel.
Nonetheless, Jewish people in South Africa of different ideological outlooks have opposed the oppression, of the non-whites even when they were in the position of being privileged whites. They have paid the price with long terms of imprisonment, and many have been forced into involuntary exile.
Every now and again there are disparaging remarks from the high priests of Afrikanerdom. Verwoerd and Vorster, and more recently police chief Kruger, expressed their opposition to Jewish involvement in anti-Government protests and gestures.
Jews have been prominent in the Progressive Party and the National Union of South African Students. Mrs Helen Suzman, the lone -bearer of the standard of racial harmony for so many years in the South African Parliament, is Jewish. However, 30 long years of unyielding oppression meted out by successive disciplinarian Nationalist leaders have effectively fatigued Jewish opposition.
In the ‘seventies, and particularly after Soweto, many Jews left for England, the United States, Israel and more recently Australia. Most young people who have the capacity to analyse the situation leave the country after their studies. Those Jews who remain indeed profess their opposition to apartheid, but at the same time accept the comforts of the system.
Neither is the Jewish commitment to human rights appreciated by the black races of South Africa. In a report published last year by the liberal South African Institute of Race Relations, coloureds, Indians. Zulus, Tswanas and South Sothos were asked to indicate in order of preference the ethnic groups of South Africa. ln every case, out of a dozen groups listed, the Jews were placed near the bottom of the pile. Only the Afrikaners were disliked more. It was more than symbolic when, in 1976. the liberal Jew, Dr Melville Edelstein, was murdered in the Soweto revolt in of all places, the Morris Isaacson High School.
The writing is on the wall for South African Jewry. It has been there for some time and they have read it many times. Does the wall have to collapse on them before they pack their suitcases?
Jewish Chronicle 4 April 1980