South African miners strike for higher wages, 1946

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Time Period:  
12 August
16 August
Location and Goals
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Witwatersrand hills
Increase wages to 10 shillings a day

In 1941 the pay disparity between black South African mine workers and white South African workers was R70 to R848, respectively. The African Mine Workers’ Union (AMWU) formed in response to address this issue. By 1946 the 12:1 ratio of pay had not changed, as black workers were paid R87 while white workers were paid R1,106.

On 4 August 1946 more than one thousand gold miners assembled in the Newtown Market Square because there was no hall available to black Africans to hold such a large-scale meeting. Workers mounted the platform one after the other calling for immediate action. By the end of the meeting, the miners had arrived at a resolution that expressed the demands of the miners: a minimum wage of 10 shillings per day and better work conditions.

If the Transvaal Chamber of Mines did not meet these demands, the miners would go on a general strike starting from 12 August. The miners called upon all Africans employed on the gold mines to join. The AMWU conveyed its decision from the meeting to general strike to the Chamber, making a last minute appeal for negotiations. This was ignored, and so the strike commenced on 12 August.

On the day of the strike about 60,000 miners walked off their job in the Witwatershed mine. The mass media reported on the decision of the AMWU to strike; the Rand Daily Mail portrayed the strike as a “complete failure” even before it had begun. The Guardian, a progressive South African weekly, was the only paper that supported the strike.

The Star, however, by that evening reported that tens of thousands of workers were out on strike from East to West Rand, that a special committee was formed to “deal with” the strike, and that thousands of police were being mobilized and drafted to the area.

On 13 August a peaceful procession of miners began to march to Johannesburg from East Rand. The police opened fire on the marchers, killing a number of them. Police at one mine chased workers down mineshafts with live ammunition.

The workers then proceeded to stage a sit-in, but were beaten by the police; the Star reported that the miners then “volunteered to go back to work.” The day became known as Bloody Tuesday.

On 14 August, a special conference of the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CONETU) called for a sympathy general strike in Johannesburg in response to the police brutality. On 15 August, CONETU called for a mass meeting of workers at the Newtown Market Square. The meeting was banned by the senior police officer under the Riotous Assemblies Act and the people were given five minutes to disperse.

Women tobacco workers were on a march to attend the meeting and were attacked by the police as well; one pregnant woman was bayoneted.

By 16 August 1946 the strike ended. Gold production had dropped by 169,000 tons, the lowest it had been since 1937. 75,000 strikers by record of the Director of Native Labour, but closer to 100,000 strikers by other records, were bludgeoned back to work by the police. Local African National Congress leaders were arrested and tried for treason and sedition.

Workers at 32 of the 45 mines on the Rand had participated in the strike. Hundreds of workers were arrested, tried, imprisoned, or deported. A total of 1,248 miners on strike were wounded and nine were killed.

Although the strike failed to force a raise in wages, it was noted to have been a historical event that catalyzed the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The participants of the strike were named as the forerunners of the freedom strikers of 1 May 1950 and the protest strike of 26 June 1950.

Research Notes

The strike by the African mine workers was noted to have been a historical event that catalyzed the Anti-Apartheid Movement; the participants of the strike were named as the forerunners of the freedom strikers of 1 May 1950 and the protest strike on 26 June 1950. (2)

Moodie, T. Dunbar. "The Moral Economy of the Black Miners’ Strike of 1946." Journal of Southern African Studies 13.1 (1986): 1-35. JSTOR. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.

Moorehead, Monica. "The Great South African Mine Strike of 1946." Workers World. Workers World, 29 Aug. 1996. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.

Naicker, Monty P. "The African Miners' Strike of 1946." (1976): n. pag. African National Congress. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.

Webb, Chris. "History of South Africa’s Cheap Labour Economy: The 1946 Miners Strike and the Marikana Massacre." Global Research. Global Research, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2012. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Yein Pyo, 22/11/2012