n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Sosio-ekonomiese dimensies van Suid-Afrika in die dekade 1930-1940 : arm, maar darem, of ondernemend en presterend?

Volume 44, Issue 2_3
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Historians differ about the impact the Great Depression (1929-1933) had on South Africa. It undoubtedly increased poverty in the country. Gold production was the most important stabiliser of the South African economy, but especially the agricultural sectors were severely hit by the exceptional drought which simultaneously hit the interior. The Hertzog government's bold maintenance of the gold standard could not prevent a massive drain of capital to foreign countries. It increased poverty and created serious political problems. The appeal of Tielman Roos for closer political co-operation in order to meet national needs, enhanced the Coalition between Hertzog and Smuts.
The prevailing poor white problem in South Africa reached its climax during the early 1930s. The Carnegie Report recommended the return of the poor to the rural areas, but poverty could only be appropriately solved in the towns and cities, e.g. by extended job creation, technical training and opportunities in the civil service. Ultimately the Second World War solved the problem of poor whites to a great extent.
The poor black problem, however, remained unresolved. Black people in their homelands were restricted by various negative factors, such as over-population, traditional life-styles and under-developed infrastructures. Black labourers on white farms were also bogged down by small wages and limited training opportunities. Black people in urban areas were likewise economically restrained by inter alia low wages, limited job opportunities and insufficient training. The vexed question remains: why could the poor white problem be solved, whereas the plight of poor blacks perpetuated after the 1930s?
Today, in a post-industrial South Africa, one should carefully take note of the unique socioeconomic experiences of the 1930s. The government should not subdue private and individual entrepreneurship. On the other hand, individual and group interests must not aversely affect national priorities. Finally, it is imperative to acknowledge that South Africa, as an integral part of the African continent, must face the international world with its political constellations and economic cartels affecting the daily lives of individuals and societies.

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