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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 9

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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 IX      The Fateful 13

  He hath disgraced me and laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains,
    scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends,
    heated mine enemies; and what is his reason?  I am a Kafir.
  Hath not a Kafir eyes? hath not a Kafir hands, organs, dimensions,
    senses, affections, passions?  Is he not fed with the same food,
    hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
    healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter
    as a white Afrikander?
  If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
    If you poison us, do we not die?  And if you wrong us,
    shall we not revenge?  If we are like you in the rest,
    we will resemble you in that.
                                       Merchant of Venice.

The Natives of South Africa, generally speaking, are intensely superstitious.
The fact that they are more impressionable than tractable causes them,
it seems, to take naturally to religion, and seems a flat contradiction
of Junius's assertion that "there are proselytes from atheism,
but none from superstition."  With some South African tribes
it is unlucky to include goats amongst the animals paid
by a young man's parents as the dowry for his bride; it was equally bad
to pay dowry in odd numbers of cattle.  The payment must be made
in an even number of oxen, sheep, or other animals or articles,
such as two, four, six, eight, ten, and so on.  The man who could not afford
more than one sheep to seal the marriage contract would have
to exchange his goat for a sheep to make up a presentable pair.
If he were too poor to do that, a needle or any other article
was admissible to make up the dowry to an even number,
and so avoid giving one or three, or more odd numbers of articles.
Conscious as they were of the existence of some Supreme Being,
but worshipping no God, true or false, the white man's religion
which makes such a worship obligatory through a mediator found easy access
among so susceptible a people; and with equal ease they likewise adopted
the civilization of the white man.  But the Natives received
not only the white man's civilization and his religion,
but have even gullibly imbibed his superstitions.  Thus is
their dread of the figure 13 accounted for.  The Native witch-doctors
in the early days took advantage of their credulity, whilst civilized people
traded on their susceptibilities, and the semi-civilized Natives also traded
upon the fears of their more impressionable brethren.

To give a concrete case or two, we might say that when
the main reservoir of the Kimberley waterworks was built,
one of the labourers one week-end lost the whole of his weekly pay.
He inquired, and searched everywhere he could think of,
but nobody had seen his missing purse.  But on Monday morning
he conceived a plan for the recovery of his lost purse.
In pursuance of this plan, on the Monday he asked for and obtained a day off;
then he declared to the gang of labourers that he was going
to the nearest location to consult a bone-thrower.  Instead of going
to the location, however, he went to the open country, gathered some plants,
returned to the dormitories while the others were at work, boiled the herbs
in a pot of water and put it aside to cool.  When the workmen returned
for their midday meal he announced an imaginary consultation he had had
with the bone-thrower, and that that functionary had divined
the whereabouts of the purse; it was to the effect that the purse
had been stolen and was in the possession of a fellow-worker.
"The doctor," he said, "gave me some herbs.  I have cooked them,
and by his direction each of you is invited to immerse his hands
in the decoction which is now cool.  If you are not the thief,
nothing would happen to you, but to the one who has stolen my money,"
he added with emphasis, "the doctor said that the medicine
will snap the thief's fingers clean off and leave him only with the palm."

One by one the men dipped their hands in the "medicine",
and as they took turns at the pot, one young fellow at length
became visibly disturbed, and believing that the concoction was true,
he confessed to the theft and undertook to refund the money,
rather than lose his fingers.

Another case was this.  "A Transkeian missionary once heard
of the serious indisposition of a Native.  It was not a natural sickness,
it was believed, but was the effect of sorcery, and news in that sense
was noised abroad.  Such cases primitive Natives believe
to be beyond the skill of a medical man.  White doctors,
they would say, know next to nothing at all about such things.
They do not believe in witchcraft and how could they be expected
to be able to smell it out of a patient.  Only a witch-doctor
-- if he is more skilful -- can smell out and subdue the charm
directed by another witch-doctor into the body of the bewitched.

Having heard this piece of native philosophy on witchcraft,
the missionary startled the Natives by telling them in their own tongue
that he could cure the disease.  And he did cure it.
He captured a baby lizard from the rocks which abound
in the craggy undulations of most parts of the Transkei.
He hid it in the inside pocket of his coat and proceeded to the sick-bed
with some real medicines in his hand.  "When a man who is not sick
imagines himself sick," says Dr. Kellogg, "he must be sick indeed,"
and truly, in accordance with this saying, the Native was dangerously ill.
A bone-thrower, who had in the presence and hearing of the sick man
divined his malady, pronounced that he was not only bewitched by a snake,
but also that the reptile was within him and was eating him to death.
In these circumstances the missionary administered an emetic
to the reluctant patient, in the presence of some incredulous spectators,
who had never known a white man to extract a reptile
from the person of a bewitched Native.  Further, by some agility of the hand,
the missionary produced from his pocket unobserved, just as
the emetic was acting, the baby lizard he had taken from the rocks.
So smartly was this done that everybody, including the patient,
believed the reptile to have been extracted from his body
by the power of the medicine administered by the missionary.
The sick man at once stood up and walked, and the missionary was known,
by all who witnessed the marvel, as the greatest witch-doctor
of the neighbourhood.

In like manner, when some civilized Christians made remarks
on New Year's Day about the figure 13, there was much gossiping
among the more superstitious Natives as to the form of trouble
which the year 1913 had in store for the Natives, although none knew
that a revolutionary law of Draconian severity would be launched
in their midst during this eventful year.

The powerful African potentate, Menelik of Abyssinia
(whose death had been falsely circulated no fewer than seven times
during the past dozen years), really died in 1913.

Letsie II, paramount chief of the semi-independent Basuto nation,
departed this life during this same year.

Dinizulu (son of the great Cetewayo, whose impis slew the Prince Imperial
in 1879), who was born to inherit the throne of his fathers, and who lived
to be one of the most disappointed men of his day, spent many years
in prison and in exile, and was known in his lifetime as the Black Napoleon;
was released from prison by the Union Government, and given back
his pension of 500 Pounds per annum.  Sharing the hopes of his people
that in accordance with the Government's erstwhile good intentions
now tottering before a growing Republicanism, Zululand would be restored
to the Zulus, and he established as their ruler under the Crown.  He, too,
died in the year 1913.

An unusually large number of good and noble men of greater or lesser renown
were gathered to their fathers during this year.

It is perhaps not generally known that few British statesmen
did so much for the South African Natives, in so short a term of service
at the Colonial Office, as the Hon. A. Lyttleton.  And he, too, left us
rather suddenly during this troublous year of 1913.  In this year, too,
South Africa was visited by a drought which for severity was pronounced to be
unprecedented in the knowledge of all the old inhabitants.
Remarks -- some pithy, some ugly -- were made upon the drought by Dutchmen.
They all remembered how the God of their fathers used to send them
nice soaking rains regularly each spring-time, and that it usually continued
to nourish the plants and other of the country's vegetation
throughout the summer, and they concluded that there must be some reason
why He does not do it now.  The majority of Dutchmen whom the writer
thus overheard attributed the visitation to the sins of the foreigners,
who are fast buying up the country, and cursing it by settling godless people
upon it.  One or two saw in it the vengeance of the Supreme Being
for the unnecessary persecution of His black creatures, but they were afraid
to say this aloud.  "See," said one, "is the drought not worse
in the `Free' State where Kafirs seem to be very hard hit by this new law?"
This was true.  Dutchmen's cattle were dying of poverty in the "Free" State,
and the land was so parched in some parts that it seemed difficult
to believe that grass could ever grow in these places again,
supposing the long-looked-for rain came at last.

On our birthday, October 9, 1913, they hanged four murderers
who had been condemned to death at the preceding criminal sessions.
The selection of the morning of our birthday for the execution
of four prisoners at our home was curious as executions in Kimberley
take place only about once or twice in ten years.  The event, of course,
was purely accidental; but middle-aged Natives seemed
to have an aptitude for remembering catastrophes which,
in the lives of their fathers and their fathers' fathers,
followed such coincidences.  Whilst the executions were taking place,
on the morning of our birthday, an ugly ocean tragedy
was taking place away out on the Atlantic.  The `Vulturno' was ablaze
with a number of passengers on board.  Innocent white men and women
were being roasted alive, because the sea was too rough
to permit their transfer from the burning ship to the rescuing liners;
and so they perished, literally, "between the devil and the deep sea" --
within full view of relief.

Dutchmen as a rule are like Natives in that they live as long as they can,
and die only when they must; but in the Transvaal a Dutch farmer
all but exterminated his family on this day with a revolver,
which he had previously secured for the purpose.  On this day also
the mind of an English miner at Randfontein having suddenly become unhinged,
he shot his wife, his baby, and his aunt, then coolly pocketing the pistol,
he cycled down to the school, called out his two children,
shot them down in cold blood, and retired to a quiet place
where he put an end to his own life.  During that fateful week
in which disaster followed disaster in rapid succession,
there occurred the following, namely, the colliery disaster at Cardiff,
which left a thousand dependents without breadwinners, to say nothing
of the damage to property, which is estimated at over 100,000 Pounds.
There were also railway accidents and aviation disasters,
causing damage to life and property.  There were commercial troubles
due to the Johannesburg strike in July, and this effect of the strike
indicates the influence exercised by the "golden city"
over South African commerce.  In that sad upheaval in the labour world
many innocent people lost their lives and property, and unfortunately,
as is always the case, besides adding largely to the taxpayers' burdens,
seriously affected people who had nothing to do with the strike.
Yet when some of our friends expressed thankfulness that the year did not have
thirteen months, we were obstinate enough to refuse to waste valuable time
in considering the subject.

Individuals, like communities, suffered heavily from one cause or another
in the year 1913.  Thus the writer's little family also had
its baptism of sorrow.  On New Year's Day of that year 1913,
his little boy, a robust child of three months, was prattling in the house.
He first saw the light in the last quarter of 1912, on the very day
we opened and christened our printing office, so we named him after
the great inventor of printing type:  he was christened Johann Gutenberg.
Somehow or other he could never keep well after the New Year,
for though he tried to look pleasant, it was visibly
under serious difficulties.  It had been our fortune,
during a married life of fifteen years, to keep our children
in remarkably good health; but the health of this little fellow
showed unmistakable evidence that this immunity was reaching its end.
Vehement attacks of whooping cough now overtook the little ones.
The others got rid of it during the winter months, but with Gutenberg
the disease developed into inflammation of this organ, and of that;
and taking the whole year from January to December, it would not be too much
to say that the little boy scarcely enjoyed three full months of good health.
And by the end of the year it was clear that he was going the way
of half a dozen cousins who were gathered into eternity
all during one month -- December, 1913.  Before the New Year was a week old,
the doctor, who had then become a regular member of the family,
gave us the final warning.

For a month past loving aunts had tenderly relieved the child's
inexperienced parents of the daily ministrations and of the more exacting
night watches.  After the doctor's warning there came "the calm
before the storm".  It only lasted for one day; the deceptive strength
which had temporarily buoyed the little patient up was now passing away
and the inevitable reaction was setting in.  Oh, if he were only a year older
so that he could have communicated to us by speech his feelings and his wants!
His little body, which stood the long sickness with such fortitude, got frail.
His bright eyes, high forehead and round cheeks remained, however, to defy
the waste of the disease.  The parson came and uttered words of encouragement.
"Symptoms of death," he said, pointing to the sick-bed
(and he was no novice in such matters) "were very far from there,"
but the surroundings of the sick-bed seemed to us to ring out the command
with a force as strong as six peals of thunder, saying "Suffer little children
to come unto Me," and such Divine orders, comprehensible only to those
to whom they are issued, took precedence of any words of encouragement
that may be uttered by a mortal minister of religion.
That these good men of God know the ways of their Master is patent
in that they always couple the encouragement to the sick,
or to the friends of the sick, with the advice to surrender
to the Divine injunction.  The grandmother of the child was composed.
"When the Lord's will is to be done," she said, "no mortal can stay it,"
but his aunts were restless.  "Go, call the doctor at once,"
they demanded.  He came, gave a solemn look and stood silent.
After feeling the pulse he said:  "The child has collapsed.
I have done all I could and can do no more."  Next came the anxious looks
of the other attendants, the footfalls of inquiring neighbours,
messages to nearer and further relatives about the pronounced "collapse".

This was at noon, and each one expected that he could hold out for two hours
at the most; but he breathed throughout the afternoon with a gallantry
that was wonderful in its way.  His large round eyes turned upward
as though they had become blind to their immediate surroundings.
It seemed that those eyes could no longer see the objects in the room
and its anxious inmates; truly they could no longer see
the sun or the moon and stars that night.  Kimberley was no longer a home
to the little chap whose short lease of life was clearly drawing to an end.
A new outlook seemed to have dawned over his now brightening face.
His eyes were riveted on the New Jerusalem, the City of God,
and he seemed to be in full communion with the dear little cousins
who preceded him thither during the previous month.  Evidently they
were beckoning him to leave this wicked South Africa and everything in it,
and come to eternal glory.  In this condition we left him
early in the afternoon to answer the call of our daily and nightly drudgery
-- it would be gross extravagance to call it "duty" -- an occupation
which has no reverence for mournful occasions.  At 9.15 p.m.,
just about the time of his birth sixteen months before, the little soul
was relieved of its earthly bonds.

There he lay robed in a simple white gown, his motionless form
being an eloquent testimony of the indelible gap left in our domestic circle
as a visitation of 1913.  But the celestial expression of his face,
his deep-brown colour, and his closed eyelids, seemed to say to us:
"Be at ease, I have conquered."

Still, it must be confessed that to us this wrench was
a most painful experience, and that the doctrine of "Thy will be done"
was found to be a great deal more than a mere profession of faith.
The sympathies of relatives, friends, and other mourners,
their deeds and words of condolence, followed by a solemn religious service,
took the sting out of the affliction, although it must again be confessed
that so deep was our sorrow for the dead child's mother that for some time
we could not bear to look her in the face.

Painful and unusual solemnities and formulae were gone through
during the next day, and these again were lightened by
the kind and sympathetic assistance of genuine friends,
like Messrs. Joseph Twayi, H. S. Poho, and others, some of them delegates
to a Temperance Conference then sitting in Kimberley.

In the absence of the pastors of St. Paul's Mission, who were both
attending the annual synod at Pniel, two Wesleyan ministers --
Rev. Jonathan Motshumi of Kimberley, and Rev. Shadrach Ramailane of Fauresmith
-- took charge of the funeral service, and a row of carriages
followed the hearse to the West End Cemetery.

As the procession turned round Cooper's corner into Green Street, Kimberley,
something caused us to look out of the carriage window;
we then caught sight of one of the carriages that formed the procession
in which some little girl friends and relatives of the deceased were driving,
their plain white dresses relieved only by a scrap of black ribbon
here and there.  Their silent sympathy, expressed with
girlish shyness, was evident, though their snow-white dresses
were in striking contrast to the colour of their carriage and of the horses,
and the sombre black of the rest of the funeral party.
As we saw the solemn procession and heard the clank of the horses' hoofs,
we were suddenly reminded of that journey in July, 1913,
when we met that poor wandering young family of fugitives
from the Natives' Land Act.  A sharp pang went through us,
and caused our heart to bleed as we recalled the scene of their night funeral,
forced on them by the necessity of having to steal a grave
on the moonless night, when detection would be less easy.
Every man in this country, we thought, be he a Russian,
Jew, Peruvian, or of any other nationality, has a claim
to at least six feet of South African soil as a resting place after death,
but those native outcasts, who in the country of their birth,
as a penalty for the colour of their skin, are made by the Union Parliament
to lead lives like that awarded to Cain for his crime of fratricide,
they might, as in the case of that wandering family, be even denied
a sepulchre for their little ones.

The solemnity of the funeral procession, of which we formed the mainmast,
almost entirely disappeared from our mind, to be succeeded
by the spirit of revolt against this impious persecution
as these things came before us.  What have our people done
to these colonists, we asked, that is so utterly unforgivable,
that this law should be passed as an unavoidable reprisal?
Have we not delved in their mines, and are not a quarter of a million of us
still labouring for them in the depths of the earth in such circumstances
for the most niggardly pittance?  Are not thousands of us
still offering up our lives and our limbs in order that South Africa
should satisfy the white man's greed, delivering 50,000,000 Pounds
worth of minerals every year?  Have we not quarried the stones,
mixed, moulded and carried the mortar which built the cities of South Africa?
Have we not likewise prepared the material for building the railways?
Have we not obsequiously and regularly paid taxation every year,
and have we not supplied the Treasury with money to provide free education
for Dutch children in the "Free" State and Transvaal, while we had to find
additional money to pay the school fees of our own children?
Are not many of us toiling in the grain fields and fruit farms,
with their wives and their children, for the white man's benefit?
Did not our people take care of the white women -- all the white women,
including Boer fraus -- whose husbands, brothers and fathers were away
at the front -- in many cases actively engaged in shattering our own liberty?
But see their appreciation and gratitude!  Oh, for something to --
    Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
    Crack Nature's moulds, all germins spill at once!
        That make ungrateful man!

When one is distressed in mind there is no greater comforter
than an appropriate Scriptural quotation.  Our bleeding heart
was nowhere in the present procession, which apparently
could take care of itself, for we had returned in thought
to the July funeral of the veld and its horrid characteristics;
and a pleasant reaction set in when we recalled a verse of Matthew which says:
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head."  How very Christlike
was that funeral of the veld.  It resembled the Messiah's
in that it had no carriages, no horses, no ordained ministers,
nor a trained choir singing the remains into their final resting place.
The veld funeral party, like the funeral party of the Son of Man,
was in mortal fear of the representatives of the law; it, like that party,
had not the light of the sun, nor the light of a candle,
which charitable friends in our day would usually provide
for the poorest of the poor under ordinary circumstances.
Still, it was not cold at Golgotha, or should not be to-day
as it was on the first Good Friday; but even the Madonna and the disciples
must have had some house in which to gather to discuss the situation.

One of the most astounding things in connexion with
the unjust treatment of the Natives by the Whites of South Africa
is the profound silence of the Dutch Reformed Church,
which practically is now the State Church of South Africa.
This Christian body does not only exclude coloured worshippers
from participating in its services, but would arraign them before the law,
or otherwise violently assault them should they visit its places of worship
at other times.

When it is remembered that the predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church
in the old Republics dare not pronounce the benediction
on a coloured congregation, we think it will not be considered
unfair to say that the calculatingly outrageous treatment
of the coloured races of South Africa by the Boer section of that community
is mainly due from the sanction it receives from the Dutch Reformed Church.
If the predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church would
but tell their congregations that it was gross libel on the Christian faith,
which they profess, to treat human beings as they treat those
with loathsome disease -- except when it is desired to exploit the benefits,
such as their taxes and their labour which these outraged human beings
confer upon the Dutch:  we say that if the predikants
would but instruct their congregations so, then this stain,
which so greatly disfigures the Christian character of the Boers
would be removed.

The Dutch almost worship their religious teachers; and they will continue
these cruelties upon the Natives as long as they believe that they have
the approval of the Church.  Let the predikants then tell their people
that tyranny is tyrannical even though the victims are of a different race,
and the South African Dutch will speedily abandon that course.

Just two instances by way of illustration.  Ten years ago we attended
an election meeting at Burghersdorp, a typical Dutch constituency at the Cape.
The present Minister of Railways and Harbours was wooing the constituency,
and he appeared to be the favourite candidate among three others.
Dutchmen from the surrounding farms flocked to attend the meeting.
The speeches were all in the Taal.  No hall in the town was large enough
to hold the number that came, so the four candidates addressed the gathering
in the Market Square.  This was how Mr. Burton asked the Dutch electors
for their votes:  "Whenever you speak of making South Africa comfortable
to Afrikanders, do not forget that the blacks are the original Afrikanders.
We found them in this country, and no policy can possibly succeed which aims
at the promotion of the interests of one section of the Afrikander race
to the neglect of another section."

There were a few native listeners in the throng, and we blacks
at once thought that the speaker had held out the red-rag to the bull,
and that every word of this candid statement would cost him
at least fifty Dutch votes.  But we were agreeably surprised,
for the open air rang with the loud cheers and "Hoor, hoors"*
from hundreds of leather-lunged Boers.  One old farmer turned round to Tommy
-- the blackest Native in the crowd -- held him by the shoulders,
and shouted as brusquely as his tongue could bend to the vernacular:
"Utloa, utloa, utloa!"**

* "Hear, hear", in Dutch.
** "Hear, hear", in Sesuto.

Mr. Burton was returned at the head of the poll.

A more recent instance:  In 1913, the South African Asiatic laws
operated so harshly against British Indians that Westminster and Bombay
demanded instant reform.  In deference to this outside intervention
the Union Government appointed the Solomon Commission
to inquire into the matter.  While the investigations were in progress,
emphatic protests were constantly uttered against this "outside interference".
Some of the South Africans went as far as to assert that "if Imperialism
meant a `coolie'* domination in South Africa, then it was about time
that South Africa severed her Imperial bonds."  The clamourers
who designated the inquiry as a concession to outsiders
seemed almost to dictate to the Commission not to recommend anything
that "savours of a surrender to the coolies".*

* A contemptuous South African term for British Indians.

But when General Smuts, in terms of the Commission's report
and as a concession to Anglo-Indian feeling, tabled a Bill in 1914,
to amend the hardships before they had been a year in operation, the clamour
at once died down; and we have not heard that any one in South Africa
was a penny the poorer as a result of this "outside interference",
and its consequent "surrender to the coolies".

Dutchmen only follow their leaders.  Hence, let the leaders
direct them into cruel ways as they are seemingly doing
at the present time, then if Mr. Burton's assertions be right
(and we think no one will deny that he is right when he says
the one-sided policy can never succeed), these leaders,
instead of producing a South Africa which is rich and contented,
will only succeed in producing a South Africa which is poor and discontented.
Those, too, who wish well for South Africa and are at the same time
sympathizers of the present Government, let them also strive to induce
the Ministry to cease its policy of dilly-dallying and of equivocation
at the expense of the coloured tax-payers.  So that the Dutch
throughout South Africa, as did the Dutch of Cape Colony,
under the able leadership of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, may pursue a fresh course --
the course of political righteousness.  When the Labour Party discover
that white votes alone will not give it the reins of Government, its leaders
will most probably advocate a native franchise in the Northern Colonies
similar to the native franchise of the Cape.  And we can assure them
that the first man who would successfully tackle such a problem
will not only secure for his party the votes thus created,
but that sheer gratitude will in future place at his disposal
the coloured vote of the Cape as well.

It is also our belief, in regard to the Dutch, that if a trusted leader
from among them were to propose a native franchise for the Northern Provinces,
the proposal would ultimately be accepted.

The predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church, who largely influence
the leadership of the South African Dutch, ought to know
that the English colonist can be just as devilish as the Boers
on questions of colour; and that some of them, with their
superior means and education have almost out-Boered the Boer in this matter;
but that even they have been held in check by the restraint
imposed upon them by the English Churches in the country.
Thus, knowing the Dutchman's obedience to the commands of his pastor,
we are afraid that if ever there come a day of reckoning
for the multifarious accumulation of wrongs done to the Natives,
the Dutch Reformed Church, owing to its silent consent to all these wrongs,
will have a lot to answer for.

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