The Mauser C96(“Construktion” 96) pistol Revolutionary for its time

The Mauser C96(“Construktion” 96) pistol Revolutionary for its time

Jan van den Bos: Curator, Military Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

The Mauser C96 pistol, also known as the Mauser broom handle became a customary weapon among officers during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). General J.C. Smuts and Commandant Jacobus van Deventer are among the many Boer officers who were issued with either a Mauser rifle and or a C96 pistol.  Armed forces of the South African Constabulary (SAC), a British unit founded in 1900, whose duties involved field operations and the guarding of blockhouses and blockhouse lines were issued with the Mauser pistol. Archival sources reveal a number of SAC soldiers who applied for a government permit to import the pistol from Germany. Captain H.L. Randall and Trooper R. Pincent to name a few, received government permission to import the pistol. Trooper D.H. Marks in particular also received permission to import 200, 7.63 mm rounds of ammunition for the C96.

The C96 semi-automatic handgun was considered revolutionary. The recoil action and locking breech block design are still used today in weapons such as the American Beretta M9 pistol.

The design of the Mauser C96, its long barrel and wooden shoulder stock make it one of the most stable and reliable pistols for long range shooting at the time.

 Mechanical action

The loading mechanism of the Mauser pistol consists of a recoil action. The barrel and the bolt which are locked together (See sketch in illustration 1 of the barrel pin below) move rearward under the force of a spring; the bullet slides forward and exits the gun. Simultaneously the locking block moves down, (See trigger sketch, illustration 1 below) the bolt moves to the rear, the fired cartridge case ejects and re-cocks the hammer. The bolt moves forward and picking up a new cartridge from the magazine, the next round is shifted into the chamber. The rectangular magazine in front of the trigger, takes 10 or 20 rounds. Cartridges are placed in a stripper clip, speed loader and pushed into the magazine. (See illustration 2 of the stripper clip below)

The long 99 millimetre barrel length and the wooden shoulder stock give the pistol more stability. The detachable shoulder stock has a dual function. The shoulder stock slides onto the back of the pistol grip, and enables the shooter to aim from the shoulder. The stock also serves as a holster or a carrying case. (See illustrations 2 and 3).


   Illustration 1: The Mauser C96 without the wooden shoulder stock. 


Illustration 2: The Mauser C96 with a detachable shoulder stock and 10 round stripper clip.



Illustration 3: The wooden shoulder stock also serves as a carrying case.                                                                                              


The first prototype of the Mauser pistol, known as the Feederle or P-7.63 pistol was developed in 1893 by the Feederle brothers, Fidel, Friedrich and Joseph. They were employees of the experimental workshop at the Mauser Waffenfabrik in Oberndorf, Germany. Peter Paul von Mauser (1838-1914), gunsmith, weapon designer and owner of Mauser patented the prototype in 1895. The patented pistol became known as the Mauser C96.

Peter Paul von Mauser who patented the Mauser C96 in 1895.  

The first Mauser C96 pistols came into production in 1897 and manufacturing continued until 1937. More than a million pistols were produced in Germany, mainly for personal sales and the commercial market. Kaiser Willem II, the emperor of Germany never adopted this pistol for his army.

Mauser C96 pistols in the Museum collection

The DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History is in possession of two Mauser pistols. The complete pistol with a detachable stock and stripper clip is in a very good condition (Accession number HG 5492). The other pistol (Accession number HG 4087) is rusted with no visible identification numbers or proof marks.

The visible identification marks (Accession number HG 5492) include a number “1020”, which appears on the barrel as well as a four-digit serial number which starts with a “2”. The cone hammer type visible on this pistol came into production between 1896 and 1899.

This Mauser pistol belonged to C.G.S Sandberg, Military Secretary of General Louis Botha. The inscription on the stock reads: CGS Sandberg Mil Secrs WD Comdt Gen L Botha; Tweede Vryheidsoorlog 11 Oct 1899-1900.

HG 5492: Mauser pistol and wood stock that belonged to C.G.S. Sandberg, Military Secretary of General Louis Botha.

The rusted pistol (Accession number HG 4087) features a large ring hammer, dating the weapon between 1899 and 1905. According to the acquisition register the pistol was found at the Bronkhorstspruit River, 50 kilometres east of Pretoria.

HG 4087: Mauser pistol founded at the Bronkhorstspruit River.


Smith, J.E.(ed), Small arms of the World. A basic manual of small arms. Galahad Book, New York, 1973.



A brief History of Black Labour control in South Africa: Migrant Labour and Recruitments, 1890s-1970s

Motsane, G. Seabela, Curator: Anthropology, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History


The control of African labour dates back to 1834 after the abolition of slavery which resulted in perpetual labour demands brought by the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa. The Native Labour Department was established by the Chamber of Mines that would focus on the resources in the former Transvaal, in 1893. The department was formed specifically to recruit black labourers from Mozambique. It was succeeded by the Rand Native Labour Association which was installed to supply mines with labour force but also guaranteeing that there was no competition between mines. The Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA) commonly referred to as ‘Wenela’ followed. Set up in 1900, Wenela’s role in the initial stage was to recruit labourers from Mozambique for various industries. It was, however, later restricted to gold mines and the recruitment also expanded to other parts of Southern Africa.

The sub-Saharan exploitations and recruitments

The years 1890 to 1914 are considered a period of dramatic mobility of both capital and labour worldwide. During this period, “indigenous Southern African mine labour was alternatively either essentially ‘forced,’ appallingly cheap, bore a chilling resemblance to modern slavery or was just short of bondage”. The gold mining industry in South Africa, under the centralised control of the Chamber of Mines, founded in 1889, saw this as an opportunity for exploitation of blacks and rapidly established a monopolistic labour supply system of acquiring peasant African labour. It was the Chamber of Mines that first instigated the introduction of the pass laws, which stipulated that “African miners must wear a metal plate or a badge on the arm”.  The Glen Grey Act of 1894 was also employed as a tool to execute the process of African enslavement through the introduction of tax, which in the words of the mine owner, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, was to “remove the Natives from the life of sloth and teaching them the dignity of labour and made them contribute to the prosperity of the state and made them give some return for our wise and good government”.

Wenela became a powerful body with a lot of influence. A few years after its inception, it had devised a system of carefully collecting labour. By 1907, Wenela had obtained no fewer than 100 082 blacks from the then Transvaal, Swaziland, Bechuanaland, Cape Colony, British Central Africa Protectorate and Mozambique. The highest number of recruited labour was from Mozambique with 47 656. One of the reasons for obtaining Mozambican labour was that they stayed on a job for long and that they didn’t ‘mind’ working underground. For that reason, they became the most preferred area of recruitment. Apart from both the South African and Mozambican Governments benefiting from these recruitments in monetary, the labourers also had to pay a fee to the Mozambican Government per month.

As a form of labour control in South Africa, African labourers were recruited to work, but never on a permanent basis or allowed to bring their families along. This was so to ensure that they did not occupy areas which were reserved for Europeans but also, to make certain that they have no organised labour force and to break up the family unit. The Chamber of Mines emphasised that wages of African labourers needed not to increase as it would result in these labourers taking too long to return to the mines. Thus by paying them little wages ensured their return to the mines within a short period.

Recruitments boycotts

By 1936, 58 percent of the black labour force consisted of South Africans, however, the reopening of recruitment in the north saw the numbers dropping to 22 per cent in 1973. During the 1930s there was an even greater expansion of the Wenela recruitment which extended to Bechuanaland (Botswana), Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Angola and South West Africa (Namibia). These recruitments were accompanied by provisional labour agreements between South Africa, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1938 It was, however, replaced by the Inter-Territorial Migrant Labour in 1947. In 1965 Nyasaland and South Africa entered into a new agreement which was later substituted in 1967. In 1959 Tanzania declared it illegal for its citizens to work in South Africa and officially ceased with recruitments in 1961, followed by Zambia in 1966 as a form of protest against the apartheid government. Malawi supplied migrant labourers to South Africa constantly irrespective of criticisms from its neighbours. This continued arrangement with South Africa was due to the economic dependence and Malawi only withdrew its 120 000 migrant workers in 1974s.


Africans were subjected to various forms of exploitation and repressiveness while white workers enjoyed working at supervisory positions. Migrant labourers were recruited for limited periods and in some instances their third and fourth generations were nothing more than just ’units’ to be shifted around at the unscrupulous discretion of their employers, whose only concern was to get rich quickly. Black people, mainly men, were forced to migrate and work on the mines while their land was dispossessed. To gain full control of black labour and exploitation of black bodies, both the colonial and apartheid governments initiated rigid legislation. Today in South Africa, Workers’ Day is commemorated to especially pay homage to the workers who endured the harshest working conditions during the colonial and apartheid periods. In the same vein, as we commemorate, we should continue condemning and resist similar conditions that the majority of black people are still experiencing in the mines, farms and other sectors as were experienced during the periods of oppression.


Davies, R. 1978. The 1922 Strike on the Rand. White Labor and the Political Economy of South Africa in Gutkind, P. C.W. Cohen, R. & Copans, J. (eds). African Labor History. 105.

de Vletter, F. 1985. Recent Trends and Prospects of Black Migration to South Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies. 23 (4). 667.

Massey, D. 1983. Class Struggle and Migrant Labor in South African Gold Mines. Canadian Journal of African Studies. South Africa. 17 (3), 431.

Meli, F. 1989. A History of the ANC: South Africa Belongs to us. Harare.

Prothero, R. M. 1974. Foreign Migrant Labour for South Africa. The International Migration Review. 8 (3), 383-388.

Steward, P. 2016. The Centrality of Labor Time in South African gold mining since 1886. Labor History. (57) 2. 171.

The South African Native Races Committee, 1909. The South African Natives, their Progress and Present Condition, African Affairs. London VIII (XXXII): 28-29.

Weinberg, E. 1981. Portrait of a People: Personal Photographic Record of the South African Liberation Struggle. London.

Yudelman and Jeeves. 1986. New Labor Frontiers for Old: Black Migrants to the South African Gold Mines, 1920-1985. Journal of Southern African Studies. 13:103.

The 4.7 inch (120mm) “Lady Roberts” naval gun Jan van den Bos, Curator Military Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

The 4.7 inch (120mm) “Lady Roberts” naval gun Jan van den Bos, Curator Military Collection, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

The “Lady Roberts” naval gun was used in many Anglo-Boer War battles. For example, the 4.7- inch formed part of a six-day battle at Dalmanutha near Belfast, Eastern Transvaal (today Mpumalanga) in August 1900. The battle started on 21 August 1900 and ended on the 27th when the Boers retreated. The British attacked 70 men of the Johannesburg Zuid-Afrikaansche Rijdende Politie Corps (ZARP). By September the Transvaal south of the Delagoa Bay railway line was under British control. The 4.7-inch British naval gun or “Lady Roberts” played an important part during this defence.

The gun was stationed on a hill near a British fortification that overlooked the Pretoria and Komatipoort road and railway line. General Ben Viljoen and his men attacked the British fortification and after 20 minutes of fighting the British surrendered and Viljoen took the gun by surprise. The Boers destroyed the “Lady Roberts” with dynamite because they did not have suitable ammunition. The remains were left in the veldt.  Just after the war these remains (see photograph) were brought to the newly built State Museum (later the Cultural History Museum in Boom Street, Pretoria). The gun received a prominent stand on the northern side veranda of the courtyard at the old Museum. With the establishment of the new Cultural History Museum in Visagie Street, (now DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History) the artillery moved to a specially built roof port on the western exterior of the building.

The “Lady Roberts” was manufactured at one of Britain’s gun works and originally designed as armament for battleships. It was initially mounted on a British ship in Simons Town, but later modified for field conditions to counteract the 155mm French Creusot or “Long Tom” guns of the Boers. The British was outranged and outgunned by the “Long Tom”. The Long Tom gun could firie a 42.6kg shell at a distance of about 10 154 meters. It left the British army with serious defence problems. The “Lady Roberts” on the other hand fired a 20kg shell at a distance of between 6 000 to 8000 metres, the best gun on Britain’s side in terms of distance.

The “Lady Roberts” can be viewed at DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History during weekdays between 8h00 to 13h30.

Acquisition number: HG 798: Remains of the “Lady Roberts”

Sources, The South African Military History Society, Newsletter October 2001.
Malan, J. Boere-offisiere van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, 1899-1902. JP van der Walt, Pretoria, 1990.

International Workers’ Day (1 May) and Victory Day (9 May) in Russia

International Workers’ Day (1 May) and Victory Day (9 May) in Russia

David Rilley-Harris
DITSONG: National Museum of Military History
April 2021

In 1889, a meeting of the Marxist International Socialist Congress chose 1 May as the date to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre (4 May 1886) where police in Chicago, USA, fired on and killed protestors who were demanding an eight-hour work day. This meeting also set up the Second International as an organisation to succeed the International Workingmen’s Association. The date was meant as an annual opportunity to incite protest in favour of workers’ rights and became known in most countries as International Workers’ Day or Labour Day. In Russia it became known as the Day of International Workers Solidarity until 1992 when it was renamed the Day of Spring and Labour.

1 May rally in Moscow 1960 (Wikipedia).

In Russia 1 May began as a day of protest, and “celebrations” on that date were made illegal. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union maintained 1 May as an important official holiday celebrated with civil and military parades. A notable 1 May parade in Russia was in 1941 and hosted a German military delegation less than two months before Germany invaded Russia. Until 1965, the only 1 May celebrations which had been cancelled were the ones during Russia’s time in the Second World War where the Soviet Union lost 27 million lives. In 1965, a 1 May celebration was cancelled to make way for the Moscow Victory Day Parade to remember Russian sacrifice and celebrate Russian victory in the war. Military parades continued being held on 1 May until 1969, and in 1979 there was a brief exhibition drill and military tattoo of the Moscow Garrison. Steadily, the 1 May was again becoming a date on which to protest for workers’ rights, and the 9 May celebrations took precedence in Soviet government planning of celebrations.

Victory Day was celebrated throughout the Soviet Union’s existence as well as in satellite countries of the Eastern Bloc. From 1965, Russians could enjoy Victory Day on 9 May as a day off work. The Russian heroism of the Second World War, or the Great Patriotic War, became increasingly important as the events of the Cold War placed ever increasing pressure on the Soviet Union.

With the Cold War ending, 1 May regained prominence quickly. In 1991, fifty thousand people rallied in Red Square and, in 1992, there was “a rally of communist-orientated organisations” in Red Square. While 1 May remains prominent in Russia, there have been efforts to prevent protests and the day was renamed the Day of Spring and Labour in 1992, taking some of the bite out of it. Initially, the 9 May celebrations became much more frugal after the Cold War but that began to change again with the rise of Vladimir Putin. In 2005 and 2015, the 60th and 70th anniversaries of Victory Day became the largest popular holidays in Russia since the end of the Cold War.

Russia continues to work on retaining the world’s memory of Russia’s massive contribution in the Second World War, and in the DITSONG: National Military History Museum, the South African chapter of a Russian organisation called the Volunteers of Victory, is building a new display commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad

Victory Day, Moscow, 2005 (Wikipedia)

Different types of Trade Unions in South Africa

Different types of Trade Unions in South Africa

Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Curator, DNMMH
APRIL 31, 2021

Trade unions in South Africa (SA) have been in existence for many decades, which is historically date back into 1880s. From the early days trade unions were predominantly European men organisation. As time goes trade unions get transformed as new Non-European trade unions were established. Trade unions began to open its doors to all workers of race and gender. However, trade unions get involved in politics, economy, and other social activities, which was largely encountered with resistance. This article focuses of the historical development of trade unions and the different types of trade unions in South Africa.

The historical development of trade unions

Trade unions have a hallmark history, which is linked to the struggle against apartheid system, the violation of human rights and labour exploitation in the country. They also have been a vital agent of social transformation and played a significant role of social responsibility which was largely ignored. People in general had negative perceptions about trade unions. Most they are assuming that trade unions served a little purpose other than to endorse industrial unrest and create difficulties for employers. However, the main purpose of the trade unions is to be a watchdog over the relationship between employees and their employers. There are international and national statutory bodies which regulates trades unions.

In South Africa, trade unions are currently regulated under the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (the LRA). Post 1994, the new democratic SA government has broadly transformed the labour laws. The South African Constitution safeguard and guarantees workers the right to freedom of association and the formation of trade unions. These rights are also regulated in terms of the LRA.  South Africa as country is the member of International Labour Organisation (ILO) which sets international standards on the role of the trade unions. SA trade unions have also been affiliated with/and endorsed by a various number of international conventions such as International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), World Federation Trade Union (WFTU), International Confederation Federation Trade Union (ICFTU-AFRO), which constitute international law and human rights law, and these have influenced the development of labour law in South Africa.

Definition of trade union: “An association of workers whose main purpose is to regulate relations between employees and employers, including any employers’ organisation” – the LRA.  “Any organisation, whose association involves of workers, which seeks to organise and advocates their members’ interests both in the workplace and society, and, in specific, seeks to regulate their employment relationship through the direct process of collective bargaining with employers/management” – the Salamon.

Different types of SA trade unions

There are different types of trade unions in South Africa: Craft, Industrial, General and Federation. They operate in three levels which are local, national and federation. South Africa is member of International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is the first largest trade union federation with 21 affiliated trade unions in South Africa.  COSATU was founded on the 30 November 1985 and officially launched on the 31 December 1985. It is affiliated with the ITUC, WFTU, and ICFTU-AFRO. COSATU is also the member of Tripad Alliance, which is African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU. It has revolutionary motto quoting “An injury to one is an injury to all” reveals the vision the union has of social solidarity that binds the working class.  COSATU key leadership include Zingiswa Losi President, and Bheki Ntshalintshali General Secretary. Office location at Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) is the second largest national trade union centre federation or confederation in South Africa. FEDUSA was founded on the 1 April 1997. It is affiliated with the ITUC.  Its key leadership include Godfrey Selamatsela, President and Riefdah Ajam, General Secretary and Martle Keyter Deputy Secretary. Office location at Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa.



The Confederation of South African Workers’ Unions (CONSAWU) is one of four national trade union centres South Africa, CONSAWU is affiliated with the ITUC.  Its key leadership include Mr. Joe Mfingwana, President; Mrs Thelma Louw, Deputy President; Mr. Khulile Nkushubana, General Secretary. Office location at Pretoria Centurion, Gauteng South Africa.


The National  Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) is a national trade union centre in South Africa.  It was founded in 1986 affiliated with the ITUC.  Its leadership include Narius Moloto, General Secretary. NACTU office is located in Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa.



The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is of the second largest trade union confederation in South Africa with 21 affiliated trade unions organising 800,000 workers. SAFTU was founded on the 21 April 2017. Its key leadership include Mac Chavalala, President, Nomvume Ralarala, First Deputy President and Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary.



Trade unions in South Africa has developed from the European men organisation to the labour movements that has open doors to all workers of race and gender. South Africa have a strong background legislation which has developed from wore to better since the first the trade unions were established in the country. Trade unions got involved into politics and struggle against the apartheid system, violation of human rights and against the labour exploitation. Finally, the new democratic era, post 1994, has ushered the freedom for all workers to associate and join party of their own choice. South African Constitution and Labour Relations Acts of 1995 regulates these rights and trades unions. Today we are proudly having large federations which are COSATU, FEDUSA, NACTU, CONSAWU and SAFTU. Most trade unions in the country affiliated with these large federations. For instance, at Ditsong Museums of South Africa an Agent of Department of Sport, Art, and Culture (DSAC), have two official trade unions which are NEHAWU which is affiliating to COSATU and SAPTU which is affiliating FEDUSA.


Labour Relations Acts of 1995

Trade union Training Authority Act of 2000

Salamon, M. Industrial Relations Theory and Practice 3ed (1998)

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