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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 8

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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 VIII    At Thaba Ncho:  A Secretarial Fiasco

  Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.

The beginning of September, 1913, found us in the Lady Brand district.
Besides numerous other sufferers of the land plague,
the writer was here informed of one case that was particularly distressing,
of a native couple evicted from a farm in the adjoining district.
After making a fruitless search for a new place of abode,
they took out a travelling pass to go to Basutoland with their stock.
But they never, so the story went, reached their destination.
We were told that they were ambushed by some Dutchmen,
who shot them down and appropriated their stock.  To a stranger
the news would have been incredible, but, being a Free Stater born,
it sounded to us uncommonly like the occurrences that our parents said
they used to witness in the early days of that precious dependency.
We were further told that one of the Dutch murderers
had been arrested and was awaiting his trial at the next criminal sessions.
As both the native man and woman were shot, it seemed difficult to conceive
how the prosecution could find the necessary evidence to sustain
a charge of murder.

The trial duly came off at Bloemfontein a month or two later,
and the evidence in court seemed more direct and less circumstantial
than we had expected.  For, not only were the stolen cattle found
in the possession of the prisoner, but the bullet picked up
near the bodies of the dead refugees (according to the evidence
given in court) fitted the prisoner's pistol.  General Hertzog
personally attended the court at Bloemfontein and conducted the defence;
and, presumably more by his eloquence than anything else,
he convinced a white jury of the guiltlessness of the accused,
who was acquitted and acclaimed outside the court by his friends
as a hero.  In justice to the police it must be added
that they re-arrested this man and charged him with the theft,
or with being in possession of the deceased Natives' cattle.
On this charge the prisoner was convicted before the Circuit Court
a few months later, and in sentencing him to three years, with hard labour,
the presiding judge is said to have made some references
to the previous trial and the manner in which the prisoner had escaped
the capital sentence.

From Lady Brand we travelled south towards Wepener, not far
from the Basuto frontier.  Evictions around here were numerous,
but beyond the inevitable hardships of families suddenly driven
from home, they had not suffered any great amount of damage.
Being near to the Basuto border, a Native in these parts, when ejected,
can quickly take his stock across the boundary, and leaving them
in friendly pastures, under sympathetic laws, go away to look for a new place.
But it became abundantly clear that the influx of outsiders into Basutoland
could not continue at the rate it was then proceeding
without seriously complicating the land question in Basutoland,
where chieftains are constantly quarrelling over small patches of arable land.

A pitiable spectacle, however, was the sight of those who had been evicted
from the centre of the Orange "Free" State.  It was heartrending
to hear them relate the circumstances of their expulsions,
and how they had spent the winter months roaming from farm to farm
with their famishing stock, applying in vain for a resting place.
Some farmers were apparently sympathetic, but debarred from entertaining
such applications by the sword of Damocles -- the 100 Pound fine
in Section 5 of the Natives' Land Act -- they had perforce to refuse
the applicants.  The farms hereabout are owned by Boers and English settlers,
but many are owned by Germans, Jews, Russians, and other Continentals.
Some of the proprietors do not reside on the farms at all;
they are either Hebrew merchants or lawyers, living in the towns and villages
away from the farms.  Many have no wish to part with the Natives,
who seem invariably to have treated their landlords well,
but they are forced to do so by the law.

It seems a curious commentary on the irony of things that South Africa,
which so tyrannically chases her own Natives from the country,
receives at this very time with open arms Polish, Finnish,
Russian and German Jews, who themselves are said to have fled
from the tyranny of their own Governments in Europe.  With a vengeance,
it looks like "robbing Peter to pay Paul".

Standing by the side of a kopje, very early on that September morning,
it was a relief to see the majestic tops of the mountains of Basutoland,
silhouetted against the rising sun, beyond the Caledon River,
which separates the "Free" State from Basutoland.

A number of fugitives were at that time driving little lots of stock
across the broad and level flats which extend in the direction
of the Basutoland Protectorate.  How comforting to know
that once they crossed the river, these exiles could
rest their tired limbs and water their animals without breaking any law.
Really until we saw those emaciated animals, it had never so forcibly
occurred to us that it is as bad to be a black man's animal
as it is to be a black man in South Africa.

To think that this "Free" State land from which these people are now expelled
was at one time, and should still be, part and parcel of Basutoland;
and to remember that the fathers of these Natives, who are now fleeing
from the "Free" State laws, were allies of the Boers, whom they assisted
to drive the Basutos from this habitable and arable part of their land;
that with their own rations, their own horses, their own rifles,
and often their own ammunition, they helped the Boers to force the Basutos
back into their present mountain recesses, and compelled them
to build fresh homes in all but uninhabitable mountain fastnesses,
in many instances inaccessible to vehicles of any kind,
in order (as was said at the time) to give themselves "more elbow-room";
to see them to-day fleeing from the laws of their perfidious Dutch allies,
expelled from the country for which they bled and for which
their fathers died; and to find that, at the risk of intensifying
their own domestic problems in their now diminutive and overcrowded
Mountain State, the Basutos are nobly offering an asylum to those
who had helped to deprive them of their country; and to remember
that this mean breach of faith, on the part of ex-Republicans towards
their native allies, is facilitated by the protection of the Union Jack,
sheds, in regard to the Basutos, a glorious ray of light
upon black human nature.

Look at these exiles swarming towards the Basuto border, some of them
with their belongings on their heads, driving their emaciated flocks
attenuated by starvation and the cold.  The faces of some of the children,
too, are livid from the cold.  It looks as if these people
were so many fugitives escaping from a war, with the enemy pressing hard
at their heels.

It was a distressing sight.  We had never seen the likes of it
since the outbreak of the Boer War, near the Transvaal border,
immediately before the siege of Mafeking.  Even that flight of 1899
had a buoyancy of its own, for the Boer War, unlike the present
stealthy war of extermination (the law which caused this flight),
was preceded by an ultimatum.  But the sight of a people
who had loyally paid taxation put to flight in these halcyon times,
by a Parliament the huge salaries of whose members these very exiles,
although unrepresented in its body, have meekly helped to pay,
turned one's weeping eyes to Heaven, for, as Jean Paul says, "There above
is everything he can wish for here below."  But if the Native of other days
has been sold by the perfidy of his Dutch allies of the day,
the British soldiers and British taxpayer of the present day
have been deceived by "we don't know who".  They fought and died and paid
to unfurl the banner of freedom in this part of the globe,
and the spectacle before us is the result.  This must be
what A. H. Keene referred to when he said, "The British public were also dumb,
and with that infinite capacity for being gulled which is so remarkable
in a people proud of their common sense, acquiesced in everything."

Visiting the farms, we found some native tenants under notice to leave.
We informed them that Mr. Edward Dower, the Secretary for Native Affairs,
would be in Thaba Ncho the following week, and advised them
to proceed to the town and lay their difficulties before
this high representative of the Union Government, with a request
for the use of his good offices to procure for them
the Governor-General's permission to live on farms,
a course provided in Section 1 of the Natives' Land Act.
We made no promises, as previous requests for such permission
had been invariably ignored.  But we hoped that the Government Secretary's
meeting with the sufferers and speaking with them face to face
would soften the implacable red-tape and official circumlocution,
and perhaps even open the way towards a modification of the administration
of this legislative atrocity; but we were mistaken.

The meeting duly took place on Friday, September 12, 1913.
A thousand Natives gathered at the racecourse on the wide level country
between the railway station and Thaba Ncho town.  A few historical facts
relative to Thaba Ncho might not be out of place.

Thaba Ncho (Mount Black) takes its name from the hill below which
the town is situated.  Formerly this part of Africa was peopled by Bushmen
and subsequently by Basutos.  The Barolong, a section of the Bechuana,
came here from Motlhanapitse, a place in the Western "Free" State,
to which place they had been driven by Mzilikasi's hordes from over the Vaal
in the early 'twenties.  The Barolongs settled in Thaba Ncho
during the early 'thirties under an agreement with Chief Mosheshe.
The Seleka branch of the Barolong nation, under Chief Moroka,
after settling here, befriended the immigrant Boers who were on their way
to the north country from the south and from Natal during the 'thirties.
A party of immigrant Boers had an encounter with Mzilikasi's
forces of Matabele.  Up in Bechuanaland the powerful Matabele
had scattered the other Barolong tribes and forced them
to move south and join their brethren under Moroka.  Thus during the 'thirties
circumstances had formed a bond of sympathy between the Boers and Barolongs
in their mutual regard of the terrible Matabele as a common foe.

But the story of the relations between the Boers and the Barolong
needs no comment:  it is consistent with the general policy of the Boers,
which, as far as Natives are concerned, draws no distinction
between friend and foe.  It was thus that Hendrik Potgieter's Voortrekkers
forsook the more equitable laws of Cape Colony, particularly that relating
to the emancipation of the slaves, and journeyed north to establish
a social condition in the interior under which they might enslave the Natives
without British interference.  The fact that Great Britain
gave monetary compensation for the liberated slaves did not apparently assuage
their strong feelings on the subject of slavery; hence they were anxious
to get beyond the hateful reach of British sway.  They were sweeping
through the country with their wagons, their families, their cattle,
and their other belongings, when in the course of their march,
Potgieter met the Matabele far away in the Northern Free State
near a place called Vecht-kop.  The trekkers made use of their firearms,
but this did not prevent them from being severely punished by the Matabeles,
who marched off with their horses and live stock and left the Boers
in a hopeless condition, with their families still exposed to further attacks.
Potgieter sent back word to Chief Moroka asking for assistance,
and it was immediately granted.

Chief Moroka made a general collection of draught oxen
from amongst his tribe, and these with a party of Barolong warriors
were sent to the relief of the defeated Boers, and to bring them back
to a place of safety behind Thaba Ncho Hill, a regular refugee camp,
which the Boers named "Moroka's Hoek".  But the wayfarers
were now threatened with starvation; and as they were guests of honour
amongst his people, the Chief Moroka made a second collection of cattle,
and the Barolong responded with unheard-of liberality.
Enough milch cows, and sheep, and goats were thus obtained
for a liberal distribution among the Boer families, who, compared with
the large numbers of their hospitable hosts, were relatively few.
Hides and skins were also collected from the tribesmen,
and their tanners were set to work to assist in making veldschoens (shoes),
velbroeks (skin trousers), and karosses (sheepskin rugs)
for the tattered and footsore Boers and their children.
The oxen which they received at Vechtkop they were allowed to keep,
and these came in very handy for ploughing and transport purposes.
No doubt the Rev. Mr. Archbell, the Wesleyan Methodist missionary and apostle
to the Barolong, played an active part on the Barolong Relief Committee,
and, at that time, there were no more grateful people on earth
than Hendrik Potgieter and his party of stricken voortrekkers.

After a rest of many moons and communicating with friends
at Cape Colony and Natal, the Dutch leader held a council of war
with the Barolong chiefs.  He asked them to reinforce
his punitive expedition against the Matabele.  Of course they were to use
their own materials and munitions and, as a reward, they were to retain
whatever stock they might capture from the Matabele; but the Barolongs
did not quite like the terms.  Tauana especially told Potgieter
that he himself was a refugee in the land of his brother Moroka.
His country was Bechuanaland, and he could only accompany the expedition
on condition that the Matabele stronghold at Coenyane (now Western Transvaal)
be smashed up, Mzilikasi driven from the neighbourhood
and the Barolong returned to their homes in the land of the Bechuana,
the Boers themselves retaining the country to the east and the south
(now the "Free" State and the Transvaal).  That this could be done
Tauana had no doubt, for since they came to Thaba Ncho, the Barolong had
acquired the use of firearms -- long-range weapons -- which were still unknown
to the Matabele, who only used hand spears.  This was agreed to,
and a vow was made accordingly.  To make assurance doubly sure,
Tauana sent his son Motshegare to enlist the co-operation of a Griqua
by the name of Pieter Dout, who also had a bone to pick with the Matabele.

Pieter Dout consented, and joined the expedition with a number of mounted men,
and for the time being the Boer-Barolong-Griqua combination
proved a happy one.  The expedition was successful beyond
the most sanguine expectations of its promoters.  The Matabele were routed,
and King Mzilikasi was driven north, where he founded
the kingdom of Matabeleland -- now Southern Rhodesia -- having left the allies
to share his old haunts in the south.

This successful expedition was the immediate outcome of the friendly alliance
between the Boers in the "Free" State and Moroka's Barolong at Thaba Ncho.
But Boers make bad neighbours in Africa, and, on that account,
the Government of the "Free" State thereafter proved a continual menace
to the Basuto, their neighbours to the east.  Pretexts were readily found
and hostile inroads constantly engineered against the Basuto
for purposes of aggression, and the friendliness of the Barolong
was frequently exploited by the Boers in their raids,
undertaken to drive the Basuto further back into the mountains.
This, however, must be said to the honour of the mid-nineteenth century
"Free" Staters, in contrast to the "Free" Staters of later date:
that the earlier "Free" Staters rewarded the loyalty of their Barolong allies
by recognizing and respecting Thaba Ncho as a friendly native State;
but it must also be stated that the bargain was all in the favour of one side;
thereby all the land captured from the Basuto was annexed to the "Free" State,
while the dusky warriors of Moroka, who bore the brunt of the battles,
got nothing for their pains.  So much was this the case that Thaba Ncho,
which formerly lay between the "Free" State and Basutoland,
was subsequently entirely surrounded by "Free" State territory.

Eventually Chief Moroka died, and a dispute ensued between his sons
concerning the chieftainship.  Some Boers took sides in this dispute
and accentuated the differences.  In 1884, Chief Tsipinare,
Moroka's successor, was murdered after a night attack
by followers of his brother Samuel, assisted by a party of "Free" State Boers.
It is definitely stated that the unfortunate chief valiantly defended himself.
He kept his assailants at bay for the best part of the day
by shooting at them through the windows of his house,
which they had surrounded; and it was only by setting fire to the house
that they managed to get the chief out, and shoot him.  As a matter of fact
the house was set on fire by the advice of one of the Boers,
and it is said that it was a bullet from the rifle of one of these Boers
that killed Chief Tsipinare.

President Brand, the faithful ally of the dead chieftain,
called out the burghers who reached Thaba Ncho after the strife was over.
He annexed Thaba Ncho to the "Free" State, and banished the rival chief
from "Free" State territory, with all his followers.
The Dutch members of the party which assassinated the chief
were put upon a kind of trial, and discharged by a white jury at Bloemfontein.

Of course, Boers could not be expected to participate in any adventure
which did not immediately lead to land grabbing.  But, fortunately for
some Barolongs, the dead chief had in his lifetime surveyed some farms
and granted freehold title to some of the tribesmen.  In fact,
his death took place while he was engaged in that democratic undertaking.
The Boer Government, which annexed the territory, confiscated all the land
not yet surveyed, and passed a law to the effect that those Barolongs
who held individual title to land could only sell their farms to white people.
It must, however, be added that successive Boer Presidents
have always granted written exemptions from this drastic measure.
So that any Native who wanted to buy a farm could always do so
by applying for the President's permission, while, of course,
no permission was necessary to sell to a white man; several Natives,
to the author's knowledge, have thus bought farms from Natives,
and also from white men, by permission of the State President,
and the severity of the prohibition was never felt.  But after
the British occupation in 1900, the Natives keenly felt this measure,
as the Governor, when appealed to by a Native for permission to buy a farm,
always replied that he had no power to break the law.
Thus, under the Union Jack, sales have gone on from black to white,
but none from white to black, or even from black to black.
In the crowd which met Mr. Dower that morning were two Barolong young men
who had lately inherited a farm each under the will of their deceased uncle,
and the law will not permit the Registrar of Deeds to give them title
to their inheritance; their numerous representations to the Union authorities
have only met with promises, while lawyers have taken advantage of the hitch
to mulct them in more money than the land is worth.  The best legal advice
they have received is that they should sell their inheritances to white men.
Now the Natives' Land Act, as applied to the whole Union of South Africa,
is modelled on these highly unsatisfactory conditions relating to land
in the "Free" State.  The six months' imprisonment, the 100 Pounds fine,
and other penalties for infringement of the Land Act, are borrowed from

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