Lucien van der Walt, 2006, “Neil Roos, Ordinary Springboks: white servicemen and social justice in South Africa, 1939-1961”, International Review of Social History, volume 51, part 3, pp. 501-504.
REVIEW: Roos, NEIL. Ordinary Springboks. White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939- 1961. Ashgate, Aldershot [etc.] 2005. xvi, 23 I pp. £45 .oo;
A growing literature has drawn attention to the role of the state military in the political culture of South Africa’s white working class. Many of the key figures in the anarchist and
syndicalist movement of the early twentieth century, like S.P. Bunting, Wilfred Harrison, and Tom Glynn were former soldiers. Jeremy Krikler noted the impact of World War I on the strikers’ militias of the 1922 Rand Revolt, the ‘commandos’ . Walking to the gallows in Pretoria in November 1922, strike leader Taffy Long called out “Are we downhearted?”, to which the other condemned called back, “No, we are not!”, a refrain common to British troops in the bloody trenches of Flanders.
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Rather less, however, is known about the impact of World War II – much of the literature has focused on domestic developments, like the rise of African unions in the wartime economy – and so Neil Roos’s elegant study fills a major gap. It is an important and fascinating social history, although Roos’s reliance on American “whiteness studies”, which tends to conflate white identities, in general, with the particular politics of racial privileges for whites, creates some problems, to which I return below.
Between 200,000 and 260,000 white South African men volunteered from 1939, along with around 110,ooo white women and 8o,ooo people of colour (pp. 26-27). Volunteers were drawn from a broad spectrum of South Africa’s diverse nationalities, but the war issue was also deeply divisive. The Afrikaner nationalists, generally a right-wing populist movement, typically opposed support for the British Empire (some openly sympathized with fascism, pp. 23-27), while the multi-racial Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) initially stressed the contradiction between “anti-fascist” rhetoric and South Africa’s segregated order. Yet poor whites, particularly Afrikaners, were disproportionately represented amongst recruits, a large pool of desperate men (pp. 30-34, 41-43). My own father, a poor white and Afrikaner nationalist, was one of many recruits whose nationalist convictions Read more of this post