South African Military History 
Society

P.O. BOX 12926
MOWBRAY
7705

CAPE TOWN BRANCH
NEWSLETTER NO. 348 - OCTOBER 2007

Our speaker on 13 September 2007 was Mr Rodney Warwick whose topic was the 1922 Rand Revolution. He started his talk by discussing the various books on the subject. The book "1922 -- The Revolt on the Rand" written by Labour Party member Norman Herd and published in 1966 was described as being a sober, even-handed history written while many of the participants were still alive, but which contained too few footnotes. Although Mr Jim Fouch was Minister of Defence at the time the book was written, the author was given no access to the SADF archives. The most recent book is by Jeremy Krikler and contains no references to SANDF archive documents at all.

The speaker described the background from which the white miners came - many were from England, Australia and America with their trade union socialist culture and other, more recent Afrikaner arrivals from the platteland. He described the earlier industrial unrest on the Rand in 1907 and 1913, which had been suppressed by the British Army garrison and in 1914, when the Burgher Commandos which were part of the newly-established Union Defence Force had restored law and order.

The nucleus of the permanent Force at that time was the force of five regiments of the SA Mounted Riflemen, which had previously been provincial police units and which were in fact mounted light infantry. Their main function was in fact was to contain black unrest and urban industrial unrest. In terms of the Defence Act, a permanent artillery battery was to be a component of each regiment.

At the end of 1921, the fall in the gold price, the rising mining costs and the imbalance between white and black wages led the Chamber of Mines to offer 25 000 semi-skilled jobs previously done by whites to black miners. When negotiations between the Chamber of Mines and the mine-workers unions broke down, the miners called for a general strike which started on 10 January 1922 and which was confined to the Witwatersrand.

The striker's Council of Action led by Percy Fisher then started organizing more militant action. Strike commandos, some mounted on horses or bicycles, were formed. These elected their own officers. In their ranks were many men who had served during the First World War. The strikers later armed themselves and started killing strike breakers, clashing with the police, derailing trains and blowing up mine head gears.

On 9 March 1922 the Prime Minister, Gen Smuts, mobilized the Active Citizen Force units in the Transvaal. Among the units mobilized were the Transvaal Horse Artillery with their 13-pdrs, Rand Light Infantry, Imperial Light Horse and the Transvaal Scottish. That day the police station at Newlands in Johannesburg was captured and the security situation worsened.

At 06h30 on 10 March, the Brakpan Strike Commando, led by John Garnsworthy, a former sergeant-major who had served on the Western Front, attacked the Brakpan Mine when the mine manager refused to surrender. The mine was defended by 25 armed mine officials and about a dozen special policemen. They were hopelessly outnumbered by the attacking strikers, who numbered between 500 and 600. When the defender's ammunition ran out, they surrendered. Eight of the defenders had been killed in the attack and 31 men were shot, bludgeoned to death or brutally assaulted after they had surrendered. Our speaker noted that this savage and brutal behaviour characterized the 1922 Revolt.

General Smuts now declared martial law and mobilized the Burgher Commandos whose General Officer Commanding was his old friend and comrade in arms Lieut Gen Jaap van Deventer.

The Imperial Light Horse were attacked at the old football ground at Ellis Park from the surrounding high ground and, although they lost 8 men killed and 40 wounded, the unit was fortunate not to have been overwhelmed on the following day. The strikers were led by Capt Hall MC.

The arrival of Genl Smuts and the Royal Durban Light Infantry on 12 March did much to restore morale in the government Forces as did the speed at which the Burgher Commandos had been mobilized. These now went into action and re-captured the East Rand on the following day. The Government Forces now went on the counter attack and, in addition to their superior manpower, they were able to use their DH9 aircraft in a ground attack mode and bring into action a whippet tank (the only one in the country at that time!). Artillery was also used to good effect. The area from Benoni to Springs was recaptured in two days.

The strikers abandoned their positions on Brixton Ridge on 12 March and withdrew to Fordsburg, where they surrendered on 14 March. Two of the main leaders of the strikers, Percy Fisher and Spendiff, committed suicide. Many strikers were arrested and taken to court - four of the strike leaders were executed.

The fighting was fierce and a number of atrocities were committed, mainly by the strikers but, in one case, by the Government Forces - the four Hanekom brothers were summarily executed by an ACF officer from the Transvaal Scottish. The areas where the fighting had taken place suffered heavy damage and some 230 strikers and 40 to 50 UDF members were killed in the fighting.

Mr Warwick's talk was well illustrated with a PowerPoint presentation. Thjs included contemporary photographs and others taken on a recent visit to the Rand Revolt sites. Some of the buildings of that time still exist today.

The Vice Chairman, Johan van den Berg thanked the speaker for a well researched, informative and entertaining talk and presented him with the customary gift.

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Subscriptions

The end of the year is fast approaching but a number of members have still not paid their subscriptions. If you have not paid, please do so as soon as possible either at our meetings or by post or deposit to our bank account at Nedbank Foreshore Branch, branch code 108309, account number 108 333 2058, noting your name in the "Remarks" field. Thank you.

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Next year's programme

The committee are looking at next year's lecture programme. If you have a subject you would like covered or have a talk which you would like to present, please let us know. Our objective is to provide a lecture programme which provides a variety of subjects and which will attract as many members and visitors as possible.

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Tour of Military Cemeteries on Saturday 13 October 2007

We will need to have definite numbers by our next meeting on 11 October 2007.

We meet at 0900 at Gate 10 of the Maitland Cemetery on the corner of Voortrekker Road and Vanguard Drive.

The route will cover:

* the Maitland Cemetery - Lutheran Cemetary, Commonwealth War Graves (WW1 and 2), 1800s and Boer War, Boer prisoners graves
* Wynberg near the Magistrates Court - Boer prisoners graves, British graves, Garden of Remembrance
* Constantia Parish Road - British graves Boer War to WWI
* Plumstead off Victoria Road - Commonwealth WW1 and WW2, including Gens Lukin and Tann

Please bring your own transport. Combine with others where possible. Bring your own packed lunch and drinks to avoid having to leave the route. Bring visitors - especially likely future members!! You can join or leave the party at any time.

This will be a long day. Note that the Simon's Town and other False Bay sites will be left to a later date as it would be impossible to include these with the others in one day.

Contact Anthony Gordon 021 671 4500 or 021 671 4502.

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Future Programmes

Thursday 11 October 2007 - MY TIME IN THE SADF AND SANDF - THE BORDER WAR AND THE UNITS I SERVED WITH

Bob Buser (Secretary / Treasurer)
Phone - Home evenings 021 689 1639 office mornings 021 689 9771
Email - bobbuser@webafrica.org NOTE CHANGE


South African Military History Society / scribe@samilitaryhistory.org