White Rising: The 1922 Insurrection and Racial Killing in South Africa

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White Rising: The 1922 Insurrection and Racial Killing in South Africa. By Jeremy Krikler. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. Pp. xvi, 405; 39 illustrations. $59.95.

This is a wonderfully tight and painstaking microanalysis of the "Rand Revolt" of 1922. It was a short-lived miners' strike that began on 10 January, evolved into a declaration of a general strike on 6 March and then into a regional insurrection in the second week in March. By 16 March the last of the killings occurred and on 17 March the strike was abandoned, the miners utterly defeated. In a few intense days it was all over. The superior forces and fire power of the South African military were brought full bore on the static strikers, their uncoordinated commandos and their vulnerable citizenry. For a variety of reasons numbingly detailed by Krikler, it was no contest almost from the start. In some locales, mostly because of foresight, surprise, organization and aggressive leadership, the commandos were able to make significant gains against the police and those defending the mines. But mostly, although the strike was effective, the insurrection fizzled badly.

Particularly innovative are Krikler's treatment of the roles of women in backing and prodding the strikers; the impact of service in World War I on the tactics, structure, and vocabulary of the movement; the motives of the strikers; the interplay of nationalism, socialism, and class struggle; and the issues of command. The way in which the strike had been "captured" from the union movement by the more militant "Council of Action" is worth studying, too, provoked as the miners were by the Smuts government's wholehearted support for the employers. The miners were cornered into feeling that they had no place to turn for a fair hearing of their grievances.

If I have a complaint about this book, it is that the tone of analysis and shadings of the prose tend clearly to show a preference for the miners' side, almost to the point of rationalizing violent behaviors that ought to be condemned. Krikler seems to want to lay ultimate blame for the racial murders on the capitalists. He seems to be saying that if the miners hadn't been under extreme pressure by the management and if they hadn't felt that their dignity and rights as citizens were being undermined then they would not have been driven to attack the even more exploited and powerless black population in their midst. Mine management was simply interested in profits. …