Unravelling the Rand Revolt Casualties

One of the many thousands of questions that I have asked myself since I started photographing war graves was: “How many people were killed during the Rand Revolt?” The assumption being that you actually knew what the Rand Revolt of March 1922 was.  I do not recall learning about it in school, although I only took history for the first 2 years of high school so may not have gotten there yet. I really started to learn about it when I started the war grave photography and even then (and even now) I never could figure out what it was all in aid of. At the end of the day all that happened was many people lost their lives, the status quo remained unchanged for a while, neighbours and work colleagues looked at each other with suspicion, dead were mourned, jobs were lost, the damage was repaired and Jan Smuts would see his government fall as a result of his actions. 

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions; I only see the lost lives and rarely the circumstances that led them to lose their lives. It may sound callous but with almost 100 years between the events of 1922 and now that is really the only way to deal with this. 

The biggest problem is that there was no unified casualty list published that I have been able to find, and the accepted death toll was:

Military 43
Police 29
“Revolutionaries” 11
“Suspected Revolutionaries” 28
Innocent civilians 42
Total 153

Towards the end of June I started to look up the death notices of the known casualties and investigate all potential deaths in 1922 that happened in and around the province of “Transvaal”. It became evident that there was no way that the table above was even close. Fortunately, those killed in the revolt had their death notices endorsed accordingly. The example below is taken from one such death notice. 

Once I started on the mission I started to fill in as many gaps as I could, including such data as occupations, cause and date of death and final burial place.  It does make for gruesome reading though because the 42 innocent civilians really had nothing to do with the mobs that seemingly were armed with weapons of mass destruction!  A brother and sister were both caught up the fighting and were both killed on 10 March 1922.  

Alic and Dora Zackey. Image courtesy of Sarah Welham Dove

The question I would like to ask is: what made one a “Revolutionary”? and what gave them the right to butcher innocent people in the name of their cause? I will grant the following: not everybody that lost their lives was killed by a “Revolutionary”, some were killed by the military or by police. 

There is also a lack of information as to how the African mineworkers were treated in the revolt; especially when you consider that the role of African miners and unskilled White miners was part of the problem in the first place. I was only able to pinpoint 10 African casualties (of which three were policemen) but who knows how many bodies were found and reburied as an unknown without making the connection to the revolt? 

It is reasonably easy to pinpoint the areas involved in the strike: Johannesburg, Fordsburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Dunswart, Brixton, Crown Mines and  Jeppe. Even today you can find buildings that still survive from that era and famously the municipal toilets in Fordsburg even had bullet holes until recently.  You will however struggle to find memorials and literature about the revolt, but you will find realms of rhetoric sprouted by the Marxists that had a foot in the door. This was not only about miners, it was about Capitalism vs. Marxism, randlords vs. labour, civilians vs. the government. 

After completing my task I was able to positively identify a total of 181 casualties of the Rand Revolt. Most of which are buried in Brixton, Braamfontein, Primrose, Benoni and Boksburg cemeteries. The final list is at my  Rand Revolt Casualty List.  It is probably one of the more comprehensive lists out there because it is backed by those all-important death notices. 

Many people helped to complete that page too: Sarah Welham Dove, Terry Cawood, Ronnie Lovemore,  Peter Moss, Alan Buff and those who put pen to paper so many years ago. I do recommend reading all the Rand Revolt related pages at the Heritage Portal, and  I also hope that at some point all of those names will be on the lists of the South African War Graves Project too. But things being the way they are this personal project has now reached its conclusion and will be laid to bed unless I find anything new. 

No longer forgotten, the casualties tell their own tale, of good and bad, and everything in-between.  And once again I cannot help coming back to  my all-purpose analogy about the warden/guard/policemen/Gestapo chief/KGB operative/inquisitor coming home at night after a hard day beating and torturing and remarking to his wife and children that he had had a good day.  I am sure the likes of Long, Spendiff and Fisher all felt the same way. 

DRW 2020 -2021. Created 11/07/2020


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