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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 14

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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 XIV     The Native Congress and the Union Government

  Pity and need make all flesh kin.  There is no caste in blood
    which runneth of one hue; nor caste in tears, which trickle salt with all.
                                       Sir Edwin Arnold.

A native meeting was called to meet at Johannesburg on July 25, 1913,
under the auspices of the South African Native Congress.

The Congress was attended by Natives from as far south
as East London and King Williamstown, and from as far north
as the Zoutpansbergen in Northern Transvaal, and also from Natal, Zululand,
and from Bechuanaland; in fact from nearer and distant centres
in all parts of the country they had gathered to discuss
the situation arising from the serious conditions created
by the Natives' Land Act.  Thus the proceedings of the meeting
were conducted under a grave sense of responsibility.
There was little of the customary loquaciousness which characterizes
native gatherings; and there was much less free translation of the speeches
for the benefit of the European visitors.  Translations, as a rule,
take up a great deal of valuable time, and it was their curtailment
on this occasion, apparently, which caused the `Transvaal Leader'
-- a morning paper of the Rand -- to complain that Natives
had become unusually secretive and had ceased to be as communicative
as at previous meetings.  The `Rand Daily Mail', on the other hand,
referred to the closing session in a very few lines.  It said:
"Last evening, a number of Native women attended the Native Congress,
attired as befitting the solemnity and importance of the occasion.
The orderly behaviour of the 200 or more delegates was attributable
to the presence on the platform of Mr. Dube, an able chairman,
supported by two native solicitors who passed their B.A. in London."

Mr. R. W. Msimang is a solicitor who was articled to
a firm of solicitors in England; but the reference to
the second "native solicitor" and "London B.A." is about
the most undeserved compliment ever paid to the author,
who, until 1914 (a year after the Congress reported by the `Mail'),
had never been on board a ship, nor inside a London college.

At the annual Congress, March, 1913, a deputation had been appointed
to proceed to Capetown and to present to the Government the native objections
against the proposed embargo on the purchase and lease of land.
The deputation consisted of Mr. J. L. Dube, Dr. W. B. Rubusana,
Mr. Advocate Mangena, Rev. L. Dlepu, Messrs. W. Z. Fenyang, S. Msane,
L. T. Mvabaza, D. Le Tanka, and S. T. Plaatje; the writer, however,
was not able to proceed to Capetown at the time.  The July Congress
was specially called to receive the report of the delegates to Capetown,
and further to consider what other steps it might be necessary to take.

Dr. Rubusana gave a report on the deputation to Capetown.  They had
four interviews with the Minister of Native Affairs, and several interviews
with members of Parliament, urging the setting aside of some Government farms,
to which evicted native tenants might go, as the effect of the Bill,
then under discussion, would inevitably be to make numbers of them homeless.
The Minister, he said, never denied the possible hardship
that would follow the enforcement of such a law, but he seemed to be driven
by a mysterious force in the face of which the native interest did not count.
What that force was, he said, could only be surmised.  General Hertzog,
who had always advocated some such measure (though he had never been able
to carry it out), had just been excluded from the Botha Cabinet;
to placate his supporters, who were very angry over his dismissal,
the Government carried out this alleged policy of his,
so that while General Hertzog in office was not able to bring about
the enslavement of the blacks, General Hertzog out of office succeeded
in getting the Government to sacrifice their principles of right and justice
and to force the Act through Parliament, in order to retain
the support of the "Free" State malcontents.

When every effort with the Ministry failed, the delegates asked
for a postponement of the Bill pending the report of the Commission.
This also was refused by the Government.  Finally he wrote a letter
to Lord Gladstone, asking him to withhold his assent to the Bill
until he had heard the native view.  To this His Excellency replied
that such a course was "not within his constitutional functions".
All this took place in May, 1913.

In July, Mr. Dube, the president of the Congress, wrote to Lord Gladstone
asking for an interview to lay before him the nature of the damage
that the Act was causing among the native population.  Again His Excellency
replied that it was "not within his constitutional functions".

The Natives' Land Act, which was then law, was read to the assembled Natives,
most of whom narrated their experiences and the result of their observations
of the effect of the Act during the six weeks that it had been in force.
Congress considered these, and as a result of their deliberations
it was resolved to appeal to His Majesty's Government; and also to take steps
to apprise the British public of the mode of government carried on
in British South Africa under the Union Jack, and to invoke their assistance
to abrogate the obnoxious law that had brought the Congress together.

The Congress considered at length how His Majesty the King
and the British public could best help the Natives in these matters;
and it was concluded that if South Africa were really British,
then any suffering taking place in that country must be of concern
to His Majesty the King and the British public.  The next point
for inquiry by the Congress was the journey of a deputation to be chosen
to proceed on this mission, a journey consisting of six thousand miles by sea
and a thousand miles by rail.  When the Europeans of South Africa
went to England to ask the Imperial Government for a Constitution,
their delegates were easily sent, because the native taxpayers,
although with hardly any hope of benefiting by the gift
-- which amounted to a curtailment of their rights -- were compelled
to contribute to the travelling and other expenses of these envoys;
but in the Natives' own case no such funds are at his disposal,
even though he goes to the Imperial Government to point out
that his taxes had been used by a Parliament in which he is unrepresented
as a rod for his back.  In order to meet this necessary demand for
ways and means, Mr. Msane was deputed to tour the country and ask for funds
from the Natives.  A Johannesburg committee was appointed
to superintend this effort and take charge of the funds which he might raise.
The members of the said committee were:  Messrs. W. F. Jemsana (chairman),
Elka M. Cele (treasurer), D. S. Letanka, R. W. Msimang, H. D. Mkize,
B. G. Phooko, D. D. Tywakadi, D. Moeletsi, M. D. Ndabezita,
H. Selby Msimang (hon. sec.), S. Msane (organizer).  Finally a deputation
was appointed to proceed to Pretoria to lay before the Union Government
three resolutions that the Congress passed.  The first,
condoling with the Government on the death of Hon. J. W. Sauer,
late Minister of Justice and Native Affairs, who died just as the Congress
was about to meet; the second resolution, that the Natives
dissociated themselves entirely from the industrial struggles
on the Witwatersrand and elsewhere, and preferred to seek redress
for their grievances through constitutional rather than by violent means.

The third resolution, that humble representations to the authorities against
the eviction of Natives from farms, having proved unavailing, the Natives
had now decided to raise funds for the purpose and convey their appeal
to His Majesty the King and to the British public.  That Mr. Msane
had been appointed organizer of the appeal fund and that a safe conduct
was requested for him to tour the native villages.  The following deputation
was appointed to present these resolutions to the Union Government
at Pretoria:  Chief Karl Kekana and Mr. S. M. Makgatho of the Transvaal,
Mr. E. Mamba of the Transkei (Cape), Mr. Saul Msane and Rev. R. Twala (Natal),
Mr. S. T. Plaatje (Kimberley), and Mr. J. M. Nyokong
of the Orange "Free" State.

Mr. S. F. Malan, the Minister for Native Affairs pro tem.
received the deputation in the Government Buildings,
which were the Transvaal Houses of Parliament before Union.
With the Minister of Native Affairs were Messrs. E. Barrett,
Assistant Secretary for Native Affairs, Mr. Pritchard,
the Johannesburg Commissioner, and Mr. Cross, a Rand Magistrate.
The Minister readily received the resolutions and confessed to
a feeling of relief at the moderation of their tone.  Further,
he listened to the story of hardships already suffered by the Natives,
as a result of the enforcement of the Land Act, specific instances of which
were given, some being of Natives not far from Pretoria,
who, after being evicted from their old homes and having found new homes,
were told by the Commissioner that they could not settle therein.

The delegates submitted to the Minister that their complaint
was not a sentimental grievance, but real physical suffering.
The Minister having listened to these statements, pointed out
that this Act was the law of the land, which must be obeyed.
He was not so sure, he said, that the Natives could achieve anything
by means of a deputation to England as the law had already been signed
by His Majesty's representative on the spot without hesitation.
He could not see why the Natives should be interfered with
when holding meetings and organizing a deputation to go to the King,
as long as they kept within the four corners of the law.  But it seemed to him
that they should have waited until a commission had been appointed
under Sections 2 and 3 of the Act.  An appeal to the Sovereign, he added,
was the inherent right of every British subject; but he expressed the desire
that the appeal to England should be dropped until the commission
had first made its report.  The delegates explained that as the law
had in six weeks done so much harm, it was alarming to think
what it might do in six months, while there was nothing definite to hope for
from the report of a commission not yet appointed, and whose report
might conceivably take six years.

The deputation made it clear that the appeal to the King
would be dropped if the Government undertook to amend the law
pending the report of the commission.

                        THE NATIVES' LAND ACT IN NATAL

In the following months both the Minister in charge of Native Affairs
and the Chief Native Commissioner of Natal asked Rev. John L. Dube,
President of the S.A. Native National Congress, to furnish them
with information and particulars of Natives in misery
as a result of the Natives' Land Act.  Mr. Dube had been collecting
some concrete cases of hardship, including Chief Sandanazwe of Evansdale,
Waschbank, who stated that he and fifty members of his tribe
"are given notice to remove, and that he has made representations
to the authorities in Maritzburg asking for land without success."

Mr. Dube sent the following letter to the Secretary for Native Affairs,
with a list of evicted farm tenants, on September 12, 1913.

Sir, --

The Chief Native Commissioner for Natal approached me
shortly after the publication in the Press of my open letter*
with a request similar to that made by you, viz., that I should furnish him
with particulars and information.  From time to time
I did so furnish those names to the Chief Commissioner,
and I send you herewith a list of those names and also additional names
which have come to my knowledge since my correspondence
with the Chief Native Commissioner.

* Mr. Dube was here referring to an open letter which he sent
  to the `Natal Press', explaining the hard lot of the Native victims
  of the Act, and appealing to the colonists to intercede
  with the South African Government on behalf of the sufferers.

In regard to the concluding paragraph of your letter to the effect
that the only result of the Chief Native Commissioner's request
was the submission of the case of a Native in the Weenen County
who received notice from his landlord over a year ago,
you must be misinformed.  As you will see from the list,
scores of names were furnished to the Native Commissioner, and furthermore,
some of the individuals themselves who were suffering hardship
were sent by me to the Chief Commissioner and were interviewed by him.
The trouble has been that the Chief Commissioner, instead of dealing
with these individual cases himself, has, I am informed, in many instances,
sent the individuals on to the Magistrates, and my letters also
have been forwarded to the Magistrates, with the request that Magistrates
would go into the matter.  However anxious the Magistrates may be
to help in this matter they are but human, and in many cases,
I am informed, they are overweighed with other work and have been unable
to give the attention to these matters that they required.
Moreover the Magistrate acts purely as an official, and the Native
who is wandering about the country helpless does not get
the immediate sympathy and attention which his case deserves and demands.
In many cases the individuals I sent on are under the impression,
rightly or wrongly, that nothing is being done for their relief.

If I might make a suggestion, it would be that some independent gentleman
should be appointed to investigate these cases -- some gentleman
who would have sufficient time to devote to the investigation
of the various instances of hardship that would come before him,
and who would be empowered to do what was necessary to relieve the deserving.

I may say further that since the introduction of the Squatters Bill
during the 1912 session of Parliament eviction by farmers has been
much increased, possibly in view of the impression that prevailed generally
among the farming community that the Squatters Bill or some similar measure
was to be re-introduced by the Government, the result being that those Natives
who had been evicted by farmers now the Natives' Land Bill has become law,
are prevented from entering into agreements with land owners
as rent-paying tenants, and only under servile conditions, with the result
that in many cases they become wandering and helpless vagrants.

Another form of hardship which prevails very generally
as the result of the Natives' Land Act is this:  The younger Natives
do not receive the wage from farmers as can be easily earned,
say, on the Rand mines, with the result that the younger men
leave their homes and their fathers and proceed to the mines;
the father is unable to supply the labour demanded by the landlord
owing to the absence of his sons, and as a result he is evicted --
many cases of this sort can be cited.

I may here cite two cases within my personal knowledge:
(1) Bhulose was living on Mr. R. Miller's farm, "Dalmeny",
near Phoenix.  He was evicted with his wife and family in June last.
He is seeking a place now to reside on, but cannot obtain one.
(2) A native woman Vatplank, a widow with a family, was evicted
from the property of a farmer, Mr. Adendorff, near Newcastle; this woman
with all her household goods and her family had to camp out on the veld.
She was barred by the Act from going to neighbouring farmers for a residence.

I have done my utmost to give you concrete examples and names of persons
suffering hardship.  If I can supplement the information
contained in this letter and in the accompanying list I shall only be
too happy to do so.

Might I suggest further that you should ask the Chief Native Commissioner
to forward to you all my correspondence with him on this matter?
This will show you and the Government that the statements contained
in my open letter are not mere fabrications, but are based upon solid facts.

                                   John L. Dube.

Mr. Dube's list includes evictions from the districts of Greytown,
New Hanover, Ekukanyeni, Homeless (a very appropriate name
in the circumstances), Howick, Estcourt, and Mid-Illovu.

Here is a specimen of notice: --

I hereby give you Mandwasi notice to leave my farm Blinkwater
by the end of July, 1913.

  July 20, 1913.                   Freestone Ridge.

"The wheels of administration moved slowly" (to borrow an official phrase)
between the Native Affairs Department and the other departments of State.
Thus, while the authorities were temporizing with this
and similar representations, the Natives' Land Act was scattering the Natives
about the country, creating alarm and panic in different places.
The high officials of State, instead of relieving the distress thus caused,
were interviewing Natives and urging them not to send a deputation to Europe.
The Natives received this advice hopefully.  They believed
it was an indication that the Government was about to amend the law,
in which case, of course, the deputation would be unnecessary;
but, besides this advice, the officials in each instance promised no relief.

The Natal Native Commissioner held a similar meeting with a number of Zulus.
The meeting asked for some relief for the evicted tenants
who were roaming about the country, but the official significantly
evaded the point.  The disappointment of the meeting, created by
his evasive replies, having overcome the proverbial native timidity
when in the presence of authority, resulted in one petty chief
saying to the Commissioner:  "Local authorities levy a tax every year
on each of our dogs.  We don't know what they do with the money.
You have never complained against that waste, so why should you complain
if our money is spent in sending a deputation to the King?"  The answer,
if there was one, is not reported.

General Botha, until then, never met native tax-payers
to discuss their grievances with them.  But in the latter part of 1913,
he actually met some Natives in the Eastern Transvaal, who desired
to inform him of the ravages of the Act.  But instead of holding out any hope
that an asylum would be found for the wanderers, he proceeded
to advise them against sending a deputation to England.  The Natives
having given specific instances of the plight of certain evicted tenants
in the neighbourhood, asked for an abode for them, but on that point
the Premier would not be drawn.  The Government's indifference
to native sufferings being thus revealed, the Natives of Vryheid
became more eager to help to organize the proposed deputation.

General Botha's efforts against the deputation, without offering any homes
to the evicted Natives, was probably the best stimulus
towards the deputation fund.  The Premier visited a northern tribe
some time after and was said to have warned the chief and his people
against the pretensions of the Native Congress.  When Mr. Dube called there
a few days later, they handed him 200 Pounds towards the deputation fund,
which they had collected since General Botha's visit.  Mr. Saul Msane
similarly raised 360 Pounds for the fund in the Eastern Transvaal
where the Premier first warned the Natives against the deputation
without offering them any relief.

Those Natives who were not immediately affected by the Act
were rather lukewarm regarding the proposed deputation.
But when the officials warned them against wasting their money on a deputation
and told them in the next breath that it was a breach of the law
to find an abode for the evicted wanderers, these Natives,
perceiving the hollowness of the Government's advice,
determined that as a last resort a deputation should be sent to England.

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