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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 5

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Introduction etc. | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Appendices etc.

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Chapter V       Another Night with the Sufferers

  Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans le calme des soirs,
  Avant ces jours affreux de carnage et de haine!
  Ils se sont endormis, le coeur rempli d'espoirs,
  Dans un reve d'amour et de concorde humaine!

  Ils n'ont pas entendu la sinistre remeur
  Qui monte des hameaux consumes par la flamme,
  Ni les cris des enfants et des vierges en pleurs,
  Ni le gemissement des vieillards et des femmes!
            Heureux les morts!
                                       Maurice Kufferath.

We parted sadly from these unfortunate nomads of an ungrateful
and inhospitable country, after advising them to trek from the Union
into the arid deserts of Bechuanaland.  In our advice we laid special stress
upon the costliness of such an expedition as theirs and upon
the many and varying regulations to be complied with, on such a trek,
through the Western Transvaal.  But, cost whatever it may,
they, like ourselves, understood that as the law stood
they would be better off and safer beyond the boundaries of the Union.

From here we worked our way into the Hoopstad district.  There we saw
some Natives who were, as it were, on pins and needles, their landlords
having given them a few days in which to consider the advisability
of either accepting the new conditions or leaving their houses.
Our advice to these tenants was to accept, for the time being,
any terms offered by their landlords, pending an appeal to His Majesty
the King; we also passed through a few farms where the white farmers were
visibly sympathetic towards the harried Natives.  Some of the white farmers
were accepting Natives as tenants on their farms in defiance of the law.
We naturally thanked these for their humanity and went our way,
promising never to disclose their magnanimity to the Government officials.
"What has suddenly happened?" one of these landlords asked.
"We were living so nicely with your people, and why should the law
unsettle them in this manner?"

We may here mention that a fortnight later we were in General Botha's
constituency in the Transvaal.  A few days before we arrived there
a meeting of white farmers was held at one of the Dutch farm-houses
at which it was resolved to take the fullest advantage of the new law,
which had placed the entire native population in the hands of the farmers.
It was further resolved that a Kafir who refused to become a servant
should at once be consigned to the road.

A similar resolution was passed at another meeting of landlords
at another place.  Part of the proceedings of this meeting
was reported in some, though not all, of the Dutch newspapers.
Without breaking our promise not to disclose any names of landlords
who felt it a duty to resist injustice, even though it bears the garb of law,
we will mention Mr. X., a Boer farmer, of the farm ----, near Thingamejig,
between the town of ---- and the river ----.  He protested at the meeting,
stating that the Transvaalers were not compelled to turn the Natives out,
and that they were only debarred from taking any new native tenants;
that it was wicked to expel a Kafir from the farm for no reason whatever,
and so make him homeless, since he could not, if evicted, go either
to another farm or back to his old place.  For expressing his views so frankly
Mr. X. was threatened by his compatriots with physical violence!
His opponents also said that, if he continued to harbour Kafirs on his farm
as tenants, they would hold him responsible for any stock
that they might lose.  The incidents of the meeting were related
to the Natives by Mr. X. himself.  He told the Natives, further,
that he would go to the expense of fencing his farm with the Natives inside,
so that they may be out of the reach of his infuriated neighbours.

We spent the next night in some native huts on a farm
in the district of Hoopstad.  On that occasion we met a man
who had had a month's notice to leave his farm, and was going
from farm to farm in search of a new place.  He had heard
alarming stories about evictions wherever he went.  During that evening
we were treated to some more pitiful stories concerning
the atrocities of the wretched land Act.  Many native wanderers
had actually passed that farm during the preceding few days,
trudging aimlessly from place to place in search of some farmer
who might give them a shelter.  At first they thought
the stories about a new law were inventions or exaggerations,
but their own desperate straits and the prevailing native dislocation
soon taught them otherwise.

The similarity in the experiences of the sufferers would make
monotonous reading if given individually, but there are instances
here and there which give variety to the painful record,
and these should yield the utmost satisfaction to the promoters of the Act,
in proving to them the fell measure of their achievement.
One example of these experiences was that of a white farmer
who had induced a thrifty Native in another district to come and farm
on his estate.  The contract was duly executed about the end of May, 1913.
It was agreed that the Native should move over to the new place
after gathering his crops and sharing them with his old landlord,
which he did in the third week in June.  On his arrival, however,
the new landlord's attitude towards him aroused his suspicions;
his suspicions were confirmed when, after some hesitation,
the landlord told him that their contract was illegal.  Having already
left his old place the legal embargo was also against his return there,
and so his only course was to leave that place and wander about
with his stock and family.  They went in the direction of Kroonstad,
and they have not been heard of since.

The next example is that of the oldest man in the "Free" State.
He had been evicted (so we were told during that evening on the farm)
along with his aged wife, his grey-headed children,
the children's children and grandchildren.  We may here add that we read
a confirmation of this case in the English weekly newspaper of Harrismith.
The paper's reference to this case will also illustrate the easy manner
in which these outrageous evictions are reported in white newspapers.
There is no reference to the sinister undercurrent and hardships
attending these evictions.  The paper in question, the `Harrismith Chronicle',
simply says: --

                               AN ANCIENT COUPLE

A venerable Native whose age is no less than 119 years,
accompanied by his wife, aged 98, and a son who is approaching 80,
left Harrismith on Tuesday by train for Volksrust.  The old man
acquired some property in the Transvaal, and is leaving this district
to start a new home with as much interest in the venture
as if he were a stripling of twenty.  The old lady had to be carried
to the train, but the old man walked fairly firmly.  The aged couple
were the centre of much kindly attraction, and were made
as comfortable as possible for their journey by the railway officials.
It is difficult to realize in these days of rapid change
that in the departure from the "Free" State of this venerable party
we are losing from our midst a man who was born in 1794,
and has lived in no less than three centuries of time.
Good luck to them both; may they still live long and prosper!

Now, as a matter of fact, this "ancient couple" had not left the "Free" State
of their own free will.  Their stock had been expelled from
their grazing areas, and they were told that they could only continue to graze
if the centenarian tenant agreed to supply a certain number of labourers
to work on the landowner's farm and with his sons ceased to do any ploughing
as tenants.  This system of sharing the crops has been followed
ever since the Boers planted themselves in the "Free" State, and the family
had had no other means of support.  Happily the aid of Providence
in the case of this "ancient couple" was speedy, as the old people
quickly found an asylum on the farm of Mr. P. ka I. Seme, a native solicitor
in the Transvaal.

At the same place on the same evening we were told of a conversation
between a well-known Dutchman and a Native.  "The object of this law,"
said the Burgher, "is to goad the Natives into rebellion,
so that the Government may legally confiscate what little ground
was left to them, and hand over the dispossessed Kafirs and their families
to work for the farmers, just for their food."  The policy of
goading the Natives into rebellion is not wholly foreign to Colonial policy;
but the horrible cruelty to which live stock is exposed under the new Act
is altogether a new departure.  King Solomon says, "The righteous man
regardeth the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked
are cruel"; but there is a Government of professed Bible readers who,
in defiance of all Scriptural precepts, pass a law which penalizes
a section of the community along with their oxen, sheep, goats,
horses and donkeys on account of the colour of their owners.
The penalty clause (Section 5) imposes a fine of 100 Pounds on a landowner
who accommodates a Native on his farm; and if after the fine is paid
the Native leaves his stock on the farm to go and look for a fresh place,
there will be an additional fine of 5 Pounds for every day
that the Native's cattle remain on that farm.  They must
take the road immediately and be kept moving day and night
until they die of starvation, or until the owner (who is debarred,
by Section 1, from purchasing a pasturage for his cattle) disposes of them
to a white man.

Such cruelty to dumb animals is as unwarranted as it is unprecedented.
It reads cruel enough on paper, but we wish that the reader had accompanied us
on one journey, say, during the cold snap in the first week in August,
when we travelled from Potchefstroom to Vereeniging,
and seen the flocks of those evicted Natives that we met.
We frequently met those roving pariahs, with their hungry cattle,
and wondered if the animals were not more deserving of pity than their owners.
It may be the cattle's misfortune that they have a black owner,
but it is certainly not their fault, for sheep have no choice
in the selection of a colour for their owners, and no cows or goats
are ever asked to decide if the black boy who milks them shall be their owner,
or but a herd in the employ of a white man; so why should they be starved
on account of the colour of their owners?  We knew of a law to prevent cruelty
to animals, but had never thought that we should live to meet in one day
so many dumb creatures making silent appeals to Heaven for protection
against the law.  "What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to see",
and oh! if those gifted Parliamentarians could have been mustered here
to witness the wretched results of one of their fine days' work
for a fine day's pay!  But "they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne",
then draw their Parliamentary emoluments and retire to the quiet
of their comfortable homes, to enjoy more rest than is due to toilers
who have served both God and humanity.

During this same night in Hoopstad district we were also told of the visit
of a Dutch farmer in the middle of June, 1913, to his native tenants.
One of the Natives -- named Kgabale -- was rather old.  His two sons are
delving in the gold mines of Johannesburg, and return home each spring time
to help the old man and their two young sisters to do the ploughing.
The daughters tend the fields and Kgabale looks after the stock.
By this means they have been enabled to lead a respectable life
and to pay the landowner fifty per cent. of the produce every year,
besides the taxes levied by the Government on Natives.
Three weeks before our visit, the farmer came to cancel
Kgabale's verbal contract with him and to turn the family
into unpaid servants, in return for the privilege of squatting on his farm.
As Kgabale himself was too old to work, the farmer demanded of him
that his two sons should return immediately from Johannesburg
to render manual service on his farm, failing which, the old man
should forthwith betake himself from the place.  He gave Kgabale seven days
to deliver his two sons.

Naturally this decision came upon Kgabale and his daughters
like a bolt from the blue.  The poor old man wandered from place to place,
trying to find some one -- and it took him two days to do so --
who could write, so as to dictate a letter to his sons in Johannesburg,
informing them of what had happened.  The week expired before he could get
a reply from Johannesburg.  The landlord, in a very abusive mood,
again demanded the instant arrival of his two sons from Johannesburg,
to commence work at the farm-house the very next morning.
Kgabale spent the whole night praying that at least one of his sons
might come.  By daybreak next morning no answer had arrived,
and the Dutchman came and set fire to the old man's houses,
and ordered him then and there to quit the farm.  It was a sad sight
to see the feeble old man, his aged wife and his daughters
driven in this way from a place which they had regarded as their home.
In the ordinary course, such a calamity could have been made more tolerable
by moving to the next farm and there await the arrival and advice of his sons;
but now, under the Natives' Land Act, no sympathetic landowner
would be permitted to shelter them for a single day.  So Kgabale was said
to have gone in the direction of Klerksdorp.

One of the sons arrived a week after the catastrophe.  He found
his old home in ruins, and that his aged parents and their children
had become victims of the turpitude of an Act of Parliament.
The son went in search of his relatives across the Vaal,
but it was not known if they succeeded in finding the refuge
which the law had made unlawful.

Among the squatters on the same farm as Kgabale was a widow named Maria.
Her husband in his lifetime had lived as a tenant on the farm,
ploughing in shares until his death.  After his death
Maria kept on the contract and made a fair living.  Her son and daughter,
aged fourteen and sixteen respectively, took turns at herding her cattle
and assisting the mother in other ways.  During the ploughing season,
they hired assistance to till the fields, but they themselves
tended and reaped the harvest and delivered 50 per cent of the produce
to the landowner.  Such were the conditions on which she was allowed
to live on the farm.  Maria, being a widow, and her son being but a youth,
it was hoped that the landlord would propose reasonable terms for her;
but instead, his proposal was that she should dispose of her stock
and indenture her children to him.  This sinister proposal makes it evident
that farmers not only expect Natives to render them free labour,
but they actually wish the Natives to breed slaves for them.
Maria found it difficult to comply with her landlord's demand,
and as she had no husband, from whom labour could be exacted,
the Dutchman ordered her to "clear out, and," he added with an oath,
"you must get another man before you reach your next place of abode,
as the law will not permit you to stay there till you have a man
to work for the Baas."  Having given this counsel the landlord is said
to have set fire to Maria's thatched cottage, and as the chilly south-easter
blew the smoke of her burning home towards the north-west, Maria,
with her bedclothes on her head, and on the heads of her son and daughter,
and carrying her three-year-old boy tied to her back,
walked off from the farm, driving her cows before her.
In parting from the endeared associations of their late home,
for one blank and unknown, the children were weeping bitterly.
Nor has any news of the fate of this family been received
since they were forced out on this perilous adventure.

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