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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 11

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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 XI      The Natives' Land Act in Cape Colony

  It must not be lost sight of that all land held by Europeans
    in Africa has been acquired by conquest or diplomacy,
    and that the aboriginal Natives have been ousted by the white man:
    that being so, I cannot see any reason why the Native
    should not be allowed to buy back what he has lost; in my opinion
    he should be encouraged to do so. . . .
  He is a better citizen than the thriftless European who lives
    from hand to mouth and makes no effort to better his circumstances. . . .
  Legislation should be carefully watched lest endeavours be made
    to deprive deserving Natives of the privilege of acquiring title to land.
    In the Transvaal strong efforts are being made to restrict
    the acquisition of land by Natives; but I can see
    neither justice nor reason in such a measure.  If the Native
    by his education, honesty, thrift and industry has got the means
    to buy land, even in the Transvaal, why should he not be allowed
    to do so? . . .
  The Natives are already pretty tightly "squeezed" in the matter of land
    in South Africa, and it is time this "squeezing" process came to an end.
    They must have somewhere to live.  What would we do in this country
    without them?
                                       Mr. J. Hemming, a Cape Magistrate.

During the month of October, 1913, the fell work of the iniquitous
provisions of the Natives' Land Act was done so remorselessly
that the British blood of certain editors of Natal dailies
rose superior to their Colonial prejudices and they lashed out against
such wicked and wholesale injustice on the part of the legislation
against the peaceful native population.  It has already been pointed out
that when the Secretary for Native Affairs started to tour the districts,
to teach Magistrates how to enforce the new Plague Act,
some people thought that the tour was part of a scheme to alleviate
the distress that followed the enforcement of the Natives' Land Act,
but the Natives and those of their sympathizers who followed
Mr. Dower's itinerary very soon discovered that the authorities
were waging a war of extermination against the blacks;
and that they were bent upon reducing the independent black peasantry
to a state of thraldom.  Commenting on Mr. Dower's visit to the "Free" State,
the `Natal Advertiser' of October 4, 1913, said: --

The explanation of the Natives' Land Act, given to the Barolongs of Thaba Nchu
by Mr. Dower, is so illuminative of the wretched unsatisfactoriness of the Act
that the occasion certainly merits notice.  It would be difficult
to conceive a more thoroughgoing and drastic condemnation of the Act
than this attempt at faint praise of it, delivered by
the Secretary of the Native Affairs Department.  All he can say
to these unfortunate Natives is, that it would be better
to engage as labourers or sell up than to trek from pillar to post,
till all their cattle had died.  As to saying that farmers
always had power to evict, the interrupting Native hit the nail on the head
by his ejaculation:  "But we could go elsewhere."

On October 5, the daily papers published the following telegram
from Johannesburg:

As the result of the passing of the Natives' Land Act, groups of Natives
are to be seen in the different Provinces seeking for new land.
They have crossed over from the Free State into Natal, from Natal
into the Transvaal, and from the Transvaal into British Bechuanaland. . . .

Yesterday a native arrived in Johannesburg from the Umvoti district, Natal,
and reported that a chief, together with his tribe, had been evicted
from a farm in the Greytown district, Natal, and that feeling in the matter
had become acute.

In the Western Transvaal hundreds of natives are crossing over
into the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and in the Eastern Transvaal
they are concentrating on three farms in the Wakkerstroom district
that have been bought by a native land company.

At present the attention of those working for the repeal of the law
is being concentrated on the collection of funds for the purpose of sending
a deputation to England.  They hope to arouse public opinion there
by lectures and other means.

The `Natal Mercury' said:

We pointed out at the time that the Act was passed that it was being
rushed through the House without any proper inquiry and without much regard
for native opinion or native feeling in a matter that affected
their most vital interests.  It was replied that the administration of the Act
would be carried out on sympathetic lines, and that Mr. Sauer
would make himself personally responsible for the administration
being carried out in a manner which would inflict the least possible hardships
on the Natives affected.  The industrial crisis was followed
by the untimely end of Mr. Sauer which made his tour impossible,
and the Act now seems to be put in force on the most approved red-tape lines,
with the result that the Natives are in a state of great alarm and agitation.
At the recent Missionary Conference at Maritzburg on July 8,
the question was the subject of considerable discussion,
and a series of resolutions were passed.

What is happening is that in many places the Natives are being driven off land
where they have been from time immemorial, so to speak.  They consider the Act
as an attempt to drive them into slavery, and numbers of them are being placed
in the position of having no place to which to go.

It must not be supposed, however, that all English colonial journalists
regretted the operation of this atrocious law.  The `Cape Times',
for instance, vied with the Hertzog press in congratulating the minister
on having successfully passed it, and in belittling the hardships
of the victims of the Act.  One English farmer wrote to the `Farmer's Weekly'
that the evictions were effective, but at the same time he regretted that
"as long as the Native kept to the public road he still had a resting place
for the hollow of his foot."  The Native had been successfully legislated
off the land, and apparently this farmer wanted him to be legislated
off the roads as well.  Another English journalist wrote to the `Sunday Post'
that the hardships are exaggerated, as he had himself seen
only twelve families evicted in one day and on one farm.
The question which this statement suggests is:  How many families
must be ejected from one farm in one day to constitute a hardship;
and whether this journalist would view with the same coolness
a law which forcibly turned twelve white families off a farm,
against the wishes of themselves and the landowner?

Again, it cannot be said that South African politicians as a whole
were indifferent to the suffering of the luckless victims of the Land Act,
but they eased their consciences with the palliative thought
that the sufferers were not so many.  However this blissful
though erroneous self-satisfaction was nailed to the counter
by the Rev. A. Burnet of Transvaal, when he said:  "I have yet to learn
that a harsh law becomes less harsh, and an act of injustice less unjust,
because only a few people are affected by it."

The section of the law debarring Natives from hiring land
is particularly harsh.  It has been explained that its major portion
is intended to reduce the Natives to serfs; but it should also
be noted that the portion of the Act that is against Natives
acquiring any interest whatsoever in land aims directly
at dispossessing the Natives of their live stock.  Section 5
provides for a fine of 100 Pounds, or six months' imprisonment,
to a farmer convicted of accommodating a Native on his farm.
And if after the fine is paid, the Native leaves the stock on the farm,
for a number of days, while he goes to search for another place,
there will be a fine of 5 Pounds per diem for each day the cattle remain
on the farm.  The cattle should be consigned to the road
immediately the order is given for the ejection, and they should remain
without food till their owner sells them, or finds employment under a farmer
as a wage-earner.  Thus it would seem that the aim of Section 5
is not only to prohibit native occupation of land, but, in addition to it,
makes it impossible for him to be a cattle owner.

When this harsh provision of the law was brought to the notice
of Cape politicians, they shrugged their shoulders and remarked
that they were happy that things in the Cape were not so bad.
But this is no excuse at all, for in accordance with the wording of the Act,
as substantiated by its results upon the Cape Natives,
the condition of these Natives is worse in many instances
than it is among the Natives of Natal, or of the Transvaal.
In these two Provinces a European who has no intention of evicting his Natives
may retain their services under certain restrictions (see Sub-sect. 6 (c));
but in the Cape and the Orange "Free" State, the Native,
according to Section 1, may retain no interest whatever in land,
including the "ploughing on shares".

Well-to-do Natives, from Grahamstown to the Transkeian boundaries,
mainly derived their wealth from this form of occupation.  It enabled them
to lead respectable lives and to educate their children.  The new prohibitions
tended to drive these Natives back into overcrowded locations,
with the logical result that sundry acute domestic problems,
such as disordered sanitation caused by the smallness of the location,
loss of numerous heads of cattle owing to the too limited pasturage
in the locations, are likely to arise.  These herds of cattle
have been the Natives' only capital, or the Natives' "bank",
as they truthfully call them, so that, deprived of this occupation,
the down-grade of a people, under an unsympathetic quasi-Republican Government
like the present Union Administration, must be very rapid.

The fact that the traditional liberal policy of Cape Colony
has broken down through this law can no longer be disputed:
indeed, the only comfort that had been held out to the Natives
was that Mr. Sauer would make the Natives' Land Act a dead letter.
This statesman having since died, we were anxious to see how the Cape Natives
were faring under the Act, so we left Kimberley on November 1, 1913,
on a tour of observation in the eastern districts of the Cape Province.
Our programme included visits to two alleged defenders of the Act,
in the persons of Rev. James Henderson of Lovedale, and Mr. Tengo Jabavu
of King Williamstown, editor of the Xosa Ministerial newspaper.
Our object in visiting these gentlemen was to acquaint ourselves
with their point of view, and if possible to arrive at an agreement with them.

We reached Alice in the forenoon and walked through the town
to the famous Native Institution.  We made our first acquaintance
with Lovedale, and we hardly remember having seen so many native boys
housed in any one place before.  But it pained us to think what must be
the future lot of this great gathering of young fellows, who are now
debarred by law from rights of ownership of the soil of South Africa,
their own homeland.

During our three hours' stay at Lovedale we had an interview
with Mr. Henderson, the Principal, about things in general,
and the Native College Scheme in particular, and lastly, but not least,
about the Native Land Act.  Unfortunately we could learn nothing
from the eminent educator, for we found that his conclusions
were based on second-hand information.  He had never met
any member of the Government, or their representatives,
in fact it was news to the Principal that in going to Lovedale, that morning,
we had met men on their way from the Magistrate's office in Alice,
not far away, who had been definitely warned by the Magistrate
against re-ploughing their old lands on the farms.  Of course Mr. Henderson
was moved with sympathy for a people so ruthlessly treated by a Government
they had loyally served.  And it would seem that the Principal of Lovedale
had since made independent inquiries, for we have read in the Lovedale paper
other evidence of the operation of this drastic law that had not come under
our own observation.  Thus in supporting the case of the Native Deputation
in the Imperial Parliament on July 28, 1914, Sir Albert Spicer
effectively read passages from the `Christian Express', the organ of Lovedale.

One of the instructors at Lovedale very kindly lent us a horse,
and Mr. Moikangoa accompanied us to an all-night meeting at Sheshegu,
a famous political "rendezvous" which has acquired this distinction
because it is the centre of numerous little locations,
within easy reach of four surrounding Magistracies.  At the all-night meeting
at Sheshegu there were chiefs, headmen, and other Natives from the Peddie,
Fort Beaufort and Alice districts.  There were a number of school teachers
also from these districts, and two or three native storekeepers.
The disclosures made by the several speakers concerning
the operation of the Land Act among the Natives made one's heart bleed.
The chieftain Kapok Mgijima, who entertained many of the visitors
to the meeting, had his own peculiar experience under the Act.
Not only had he been debarred from re-ploughing his own lands,
but he had also been ordered to move his oxen from a farm owned by a European,
where for fourteen years he had grazed his oxen.  Another Native,
who had been ploughing in the direction of King Williamstown,
was warned by the authorities not to resume his ploughing in 1913.
He could only do so as a servant in the employ of a white landowner.
He was further warned that if he connived with the white man to cheat the law,
by representing themselves as master and servant, they would, when found out
to be still carrying on their old relation of landlord and tenant,
be dealt with very severely.

The landlord was furious.  "Why," he asked, "did you tell them
of your intention?  You should have done your business quietly;
now that you have apprised them they will watch us, you fool."

"But," said the Native, "owing to the existence of East Coast fever
in Transkei, no animals can be taken from one plantation to another
without a magisterial permit disclosing the object of the removal.
I had to tell what I wanted to come here for.  I was asked
at the Magistrate's office if I did not know the law.
I said that I was aware of such a new law, which had created
a lot of disturbance in the Northern Provinces, but I had never heard
that it was applicable to the Cape.  To this the Magistrate's clerk replied
that it was not a Provincial law, it was a law of the Union,
of which the Cape formed part.  There were certain exemptions,
the clerk added, but they did not exempt the Cape Natives from
the prohibition of ploughing on white men's farms and grazing their cattle
on those farms."

Other speakers narrated their experiences under the Act, and these experiences
showed that the Plague Act was raging with particular fury
in the old Cape Districts of Fort Beaufort, Grahamstown, King Williamstown,
and East London.  At this meeting it was resolved to support a movement
to send an appeal to His Majesty the King, against this law.

Our visit to these places took place just after the glorious showers
of the early summer.  On the wider tracts of land owned by Europeans
the grass looked invitingly green.  The maiden soil,
looking beautiful and soft after the soaking rains, cried silently
for cultivation.  The people who had hitherto depended on such cultivation
for their subsistence were now prohibited by reason of their colour
from earning their usual livelihood, as directed by Almighty God,
"In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread."

This prohibition seems particularly contemptible when it is remembered
that the majority of the Natives of these locations are Fingoes,
and that their fathers in the early days joined the British
in fighting most of the Kafir wars, side by side with British troops.
They shared in all the massacres and devastating raids
committed upon the British settlers by unfriendly native tribes.
As a mark of recognition of their loyalty to the Government,
and of their co-operation with the British forces in the field of battle,
this country was given, in the name of Her late Majesty Victoria,
to their chiefs by a British Governor.  But in spite of this treaty,
the people have been gradually dispossessed of the land during the past
three-quarters of a century.  Hence the occupation, now crystallized
into ownership, passed bit by bit into white hands.  Hitherto the right
to live on, and to cultivate, lands which thus formerly belonged to them
was never challenged, but all that is now changed.  Naturally the ingratitude
meted out to these people by the authorities in return for services
consistently rendered by three successive generations of them will be a blow,
not only to the economic independence of a loyal and patriotic people,
but to the belief in British sense of justice.

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