Bourke-White’s visit to South Africa coincided with growing protest against white supremacy. While she was there, protest_3Afrikaner nationalists introduced new bills into Parliament forcing population registration by racial category, strengthening segregation laws, and suppressing dissent. In 1950 the “Suppression of Communism Act” made it illegal to advocate “any political, industrial, social or economic change by the promotion of disturbances or disorder,” including “promoting feelings of hostility between the European and the non-European races.” This broadly drawn law outlawed nearly all dissent against the country’s racial division, regardless of political affiliation. Nevertheless, many “Non-European” South Africans, with a few white allies, resisted this assault on their remaining liberties.

At first, Bourke-White “could find no channels through which to meet native Africans and

“Fear is everywhere in South Africa. It nourishes the social system of apartheid and reaches to every heart, black and white.”

–Margaret Bourke-White,

the ‘coloreds’.” With typical persistence, she eventually met with trade unionists organizing a “mixed” union of African and Coloured canning workers. Her contacts from India led her to Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and Manilal Gandhi, both members of the South African Indian Congress and advocates of non-violent protest. Dadoo and Gandhi urged cooperation between Africans and Indians against apartheid. Finally, she attended and photographed a mass protest meeting (organized by the Communist party) against the pass laws and police brutality.  There is no evidence, however, that she met with members of the African National Congress, the central organization engaged in protesting apartheid.

Not one of these images of individual activists or collective protest against apartheid appeared in the pages of Life magazine. Perhaps this was because most of the dissent recorded by Bourke-White was associated with the South Africa Communist Party. The Cold War and domestic anti-communism in the United States might have discredited such activity.


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