Hayes family of South Africa

The Banned Wagon

Some reminiscences by Steve Hayes

During the apartheid era in South Africa many opponents of the National Party regime were "banned" -- that is, restricted from being in (or away from) certain places, belonging to certain organizations, and doing certain things. Banning was used against many opposition political parties and groups. People who were banned included political prisoners who had served their sentences, trade union activists, and members of churches and NGOs, especially those whose activities brought them into contact with people belonging to differtent ethnic groups. Among those who were banned were many members of the Liberal Party of South Africa

The Liberal Party of South Africa was founded in 1953, and for fifteen years worked for a non-racial democratic South Africa. In 1968 it disbanded when the National Party government passed the Prohibition of Improper Interference Act which made non-racial political parties illegal.

Formerly banned members of the Liberal Party in Natal
Banned members of the Liberal Party
Pietermaritzburg, 12 May 1976
Left to right: Heather Morkill, Ken Hill, H. Selby Msimang, Cosmas Desmond, Jean Hill, Steve Hayes, Enoch Mnguni, E.V. Mohamed, Peter Brown
All except Cosmas Desmond had been members of the Liberal Party in Natal, and had gathered to celebrate the lifting of a ban on John Aitchison

What was banning?

The National Party came to power in South Africa in 1948, and immediately set about crushing any effective opposition to its policy of apartheid. One of the first pieces of legislation that enabled it to do with was the Suppression of Communism Act (Act 44 of 1950), which banned the Communist Party of South Africa, and enabled the Minister of Justice to impose restrictions on any person whom he was satisfied was engaging in activities which "further or may further" any of the objects of communism.

Banned people were usually prohibited from:

  1. Attending gatherings, especially political, social and educational gatherings

    • Social Gatherings - "that is to say, any gathering at which the persons present also have social intercourse with one another"
    • Political gatherings - that is to say, "any gathering at which any form of state or any principle or policy of a government of a State is propagated, defended, attacked, criticised or discussed"
    • Educational gatherings - "any gathering of pupils or students assembled for the purpose of being instructed, trained or addresed by you"

  2. Banned persons were also usually prohibited from:

    • Absenting oneself from a place (a distict, town, suburb or house)
    • Being within any "Bantu area"
    • Being within any "Bantu compound"
    • Being within any factory or workshop
    • Being within the premises on which any publication is prepared, compiled, printed or published
    • Being within any place that constitutes the premises on which the premises of certain organisations are situated (usually trade unions or political organisations)
    • Being within the premises of educational institution
    • Being within any area "set apart under any law for the occupation by Coloured or Asiatic persons"
    • Communicating in any way with any person who is also banned, or listed in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act
    • Having anything to do with preparing, compiling, printing, publishing, disseminating or transmitting any publication
    • Preparing, compiling, printing or distibuting, disseminating or transmitting in any manner whatsoever any docuiment (which shall include any book, pamphlet, record, list, placard, poster, drawing, photograph or picture) which is not a publication, and says anything political, or anything about a banned organisation, or a trade union etc.
    • Giving "any educational instruction in any manner or form to any person other than a person of whom you are parent"
  3. Banned persons were also sometimes required to report to the police at regular intervals, usually once a week.

Christopher Robin Shabalala, Natal regional organizer for the Liberal Party - banned in 1965
Chris Shabalala
Those who were so restricted were not necessarily communists, and in fact many of them were not. Nor did they necessarily engage in acts that furthered or were calculated to further any of the objects of communism. In this matter the criterion was not the engaging in activities or the furthering of the objects of communism that counted. The only thing that counted was the satisfaction of the Minister of Justice. There was no appeal to any court -- the Minister was not accountable to anyone on earth for his actions. His satisfaction was absolute. The Suppression of Communism Act (Act 44 of 1950) had a fairly long definition of what a communist was, but it ended with the catch-all that a communist was anyone the Minister of Justice "deemed" to be a communist.

Chris Shabalala, who was the Natal Midlands Organiser for the Liberal Party before he was banned, told of the following conversation, which took place on one of the many occasions on which he was taken in for questioning by the Security Police (SB indicates the Special Branch interrogator, and CS is Chris Shabalala).

The Liberal Party objected to the arbitrary powers of the Minister of Justice in principle. Its aim was the establishment of a free and democratic society in which the law would protect citizens from the arbitrary abuse of power. The imposition of "banning orders" was clearly an abuse of power, but those who objected too strongly to such abuses were likely to be (and often were) banned themselves.

Why were members of the Liberal Party banned?

The Minister of Justice was not obliged to give reasons for banning anyone, and usually didn't. To do so might have exposed his reasons as frivolous or malicious. On this page I shall deal mainly with the banning of members of the Liberal Party in Natal. Members of the party in other provinces were also banned, as were members of other political, social and religious organizations. What appears here is just a small sample. While it is not possible to say for certain what went through the mind of the Minister of Justice in banning people, in the case of the Liberal Party in Natal, it is possible to guess.

Opposition to ethnic cleansing

The policy of apartheid required that people of specified racial and ethnic groups be separated -- geographically, socially, educationally and culturally. The geographical separation meant that as the policy of apartheid was implemented, certain parts of the country were designated by the government for the occupation of certain racial or ethnic groups. People who did not belong to the ethnic group for a particular area would be moved. This process has come to be known as "ethnic cleansing", a term that was coined in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s, but which is a concise and accurate description of the practical implementation of apartheid in South Africa.

Elliott Mngadi of Roosboom, one of the Liberal Party leaders who was banned.
The Liberal Party was opposed to such ethnic cleansing, and in Natal province there was a great deal of it. Among those most affected by it were blacks who had bought freehold land in areas later designated as "white". It was the avowed aim of the National Party to cleanse the "blackspots" from these "white" areas.

In many "blackspots" that were threatened with removal, the people living there opposed the removals. Some of these people threatened formed the Northern Natal African Landowners Association, some members of which were also members of the Liberal Party. One of the prime movers in this was Elliott Mngadi. When a branch of the Liberal Party was formed in Ladysmith, Elliott Mngadi turned up on his motorbike, and made quite an impression with his leather outfit. He lived at Roosboom, about 10 kilometres south of Ladysmith on the Colenso road, and was one of the places where blacks held freehold title to land, and was therefore under threat of removal.

Elliott Mngadi had a government job, as messenger of the court, but as he became more active in politics, he lost his job, and was then employed as a full-time organizer for the Liberal Party in Northern Natal. He also formed the Northern Natal African Landowners Association to oppose the ethnic cleansing that was taking place in the 1950s and 1960s. When he was banned, in 1964, he again lost his livelihood, since banned people were not allowed to attend any political gatherings, or discuss politics with anyone, or belong to any political party. So members of the Liberal Party helped him to set up in business with a fish and chip shop, which eventually was forced to close when most of the people at Roosboom had been moved to Ezahkeni. Any vehicle that stopped outside Mngadi's fish and chip shop had its registration number reported to the Security Police by the local pimps, so that the owners of the cars could be subjected to routine police telephone harassment.

When the people in a "blackspot" were threatened with removal, the Northern Natal African Landowners Association and the Liberal Party organized joint protest meetings. They also notified the press, and took legal action to either prevent or postpone the removals, or, if that were not possible, to ensure that fair compensation was paid for land and improvements, with independent valuation.

The government did not like the publicity. It preferred to conduct its ethnic cleansing quietly, with a minimum of resistance or publicity, and paying minimal compensation. The leaders of the Liberal Party and the Northern Natal African Landowners Association were therefore banned because they were seen by the government as hampering its programme of ethnic cleansing. Court applications and the payment of higher compensation slowed it down, because more money had to be budgeted. The publicity could also influence voters against the government, especially when it was shown that the manner in which the removals were carried out also caused a lot of hardship, for example when people were moved before they could harvest their crops, or when they were moved in the middle of winter, and the only accommodation in the places they were moved to was tents.

Sources of more information


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Created: 16 July 2001
Updated: 18 June 2013