oa Historia - Soldiers and politics : a study of the political consciousness of black South African soldiers during and after the Second World War

Volume 36, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



This article questions whether the common notion that the Second World War was a catalyst for the development of political consciousness amongst African soldiers who had participated in the war is also applicable to the 76 000 black South African soldiers. Changes in soldiers' attitude as well as in that of the government of General J.C. Smuts are investigated, and the nature and duration of these changes are emphasised. Specific reference is made to racial attitudes. Furthermore, the factors inhibiting change are highlighted. Ironically, it seems that both aspects -changes in attitudes as well as a lack thereof -might have given rise to the development of a political consciousness. However, to render any form of political consciousness effective solidarity amongst the participants was imperative. The question is whether any form of solidarity developed amongst these soldiers and, if so, at what level. Finally, an evaluation is made of the above-mentioned factors against the background of changes in the social and economic structures of South Africa -mostly induced by the War -in order to ascertain whether the war experience was indeed a catalyst for the development of political consciousness amongst the black South African soldiers.

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