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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 24

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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 XXIV    Piet Grobler

  Lecture delivered by Mr. Sol T. Plaatje before the "Marsh Street Men's Own"
    Literary Society in the Lecture Room of their Institute,
    Hoe Street, Walthamstow, on February 26, 1915.

      Keep me in chains?  I defy you.
      That is a pow'r I deny you!
      I will sing!  I will rise!
      Up!  To the lurid skies --
      With the smoke of my soul,
      With my last breath,
      Tar-feathered, I shall cry:
      Ethiopia shall not die!
      And hand in hand with Death,
      Pass on.

      I shall not curse you.  But singing --
      My singing fatefully ringing
      Till startled and dumb
      You falter, the sum
      Of your crime shall reveal --
      This do I prophesy . . .
      O Heart wrung dry,
      Startle the world with thy cry:
      Ethiopia shall not die!
                                       Otto L. Bohanan.*

  * In the Kalahari language, BOHANAN means:  `Be combined'.

The gentleman whose name forms the title of my lecture
is a lawyer, a grand-nephew of the late President Kruger and,
till lately, a member of the Union Parliament.  He represented
the Dutch constituency of Rustenburg, a district whose Burghers
were responsible for a kind of administrative native land arrangement
in the Transvaal Republic.  This arrangement, the result of a petition
from Rustenburg, made it compulsory for native landowners in the Republic
to register their farms in the names of white people.
In accordance with it, Natives who bought land had to register it
in the name of the Minister of Native Affairs.  But as such Ministers
did not always command the trust of the Natives they resorted to the expedient
of registering their farms in the names of some European friends,
missionaries or otherwise.  Some European gentlemen thus became
the registered owners of land belonging to Natives, giving the Natives
receipts for the money and documents explaining the nature of the transaction.
Other Europeans, including missionaries, were not so scrupulous.
They gave the Natives no receipt, so that after their death
the properties of these Natives passed into the estates of the deceased.
The following case is an example.

The native peasants on a Transvaal farm found themselves in such a dilemma
after the death of General Joubert, late Superintendent of Natives
of the Transvaal Republic.  The black "owners" had no document showing
that they were the real owners of the farm and that General Joubert's name
was only registered to meet the requirements of the Volksraad.
In such circumstances they received notice from his executors
to leave the General's farm.  They appealed to the law-courts and adduced
verbal evidence in support of their purchase and ownership of the farm;
the sale had been a public one.  Besides, according to their ideas,
it needed no documentary evidence, since they were legally in possession.
The Court, after listening to the evidence concerning the sums paid
by individual Natives of the tribe, of the total sum paid for the farm,
and of the legal reason why the title bore a white man's name,
held that however unfortunate was the position of those Natives if their story
was true, it could only give judgment in terms of the title deeds.
Thus Natives who were originally dispossessed of their land
by conquest, and who swore to having purchased in hard cash
land in their own country from the conquerors, were now for the second time,
so they stated, dispossessed and turned off that land
all owing to the complicated registration under this "Besluit"
from Rustenburg.

After the British occupation in 1900, the Courts held
that the "Besluit" and its practices did not have the force of law,
and Natives took advantage of the ruling to transfer their properties
to their own names; but in 1913, Mr. Piet Grobler, M.L.A.,
moved and succeeded in getting the Natives' Land Act carried
in the Union Parliament, which has placed the Natives of the whole country
in a more terrible plight than were the Natives of the Transvaal Republic
before the war.

Since he took his seat in the Union Parliament, Mr. Piet Grobler,
like Mr. Keyter of Ficksburg, has given the Natives no rest.  He first made
his power felt in 1911, when General Smuts introduced a Bill to consolidate
the marriage laws of the four Provinces.  Mr. Grobler then moved
a fatal colour clause which had the effect of killing the Bill,
for the Ministry, on finding that the Bill could only be carried
with the assistance of the Unionists, preferred to drop it
rather than divide the Boer majority; and hence, thanks to Mr. Grobler,
the chaotic confusion still obtains in the South African marriage laws.

This gentleman, in 1913, led the attack in Parliament on Sir Richard Solomon,
the Union's representative in London, for not keeping his mouth shut
when he is among British foreigners, and for daring to suggest
British emigration to South Africa.  As stated above, Mr. Grobler demanded,
among other things, that the Government should introduce
"during this session" (1913) a law to stop the purchase and lease of land
by Natives, and the Natives' Land Act of 1913 was the result of the demand --
a measure whose destructive severity forced the Natives
to sue for Imperial protection against the South African Parliament.

When the present European War broke out, Mr. Grobler was among
the Parliamentary clique of representatives whose Christian principles
forbade them to vote for an armed expedition against
their friendly neighbours, the Germans.  They said that,
in Deuteronomy 19:14, God specifically warned the Boers
against moving the landmarks of their neighbours.  But strange to say,
the religious scruples of these pious objectors never revolted against
removing the landmarks of their native neighbours and of appropriating,
not only their land and their labour, but even the persons
of these neighbours.  The Natives, according to Mr. Luedorf,
a German evangelist among the Bechuana, witnessed the Boer trekkers
maltreating conquered Natives and taking their children as slaves.
Children who were unable to walk to their serfdom being
gathered in a heap and burnt alive.  This, says Mr. Luedorf,
caused the Natives to exclaim:  "Mzilikasi, the Matabele King,
was cruel to his enemies, but kind to those he conquered; whilst the Boers
are cruel to their enemies and ill-treat and enslave their friends."*

* "The Boer States" (Keane), pp. 137-138.

Now, Mzilikasi had no Bible, but the Boer has the Bible and professes
to honour it.  But his Bible, being of a flexible sort,
it did not prevent a certain clique of Boers from taking up arms
against the Government of which Mr. Lloyd George (a gentleman
who staked his reputation and risked his life in his fearless protests
against the annexation of the Boer Republics) was a prominent member;
and against the Liberal Government, which, as compensation
for the mere change of flags, made them a nice little present
in the shape of the two old English Colonies of South Africa
and the undisturbed permission to rule all that is therein.  Mr. Piet Grobler,
the author of most of our miseries, reached the climax of his career when,
after voting against the Union expedition to German South West Africa,
he not only persuaded British subjects not to volunteer for service
in the expedition, but himself joined a force, as alleged
by the South African papers to hand by the latest mail, to shoot down
the King's loyal subjects.  He was taken prisoner by General Botha's forces
at the head of a rebel commando, presumably whilst on the way
to join the Kaiser's forces in the German Colony.  He is thus
one of the members of the Union Parliament who forfeited their seats
by breaking the Parliamentary oath and participating in the recent rebellion.

Mr. Solicitor Grobler's ideas about the sacredness of an oath
are curious and original.  Every member of the Union Parliament,
before taking his seat, has to subscribe to the following oath of allegiance
"before the Governor-General, or some person authorized by him",
usually a Judge of the Supreme Court:

I, M. . . . M. . . . do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance
to His Majesty King George V, his heirs and successors according to law.
So help me God.

Mr. Grobler, it is said, was caught red-handed in the treasonable act
of leading a force of fifty armed rebels against the Government,
and for his breach of the oath he was taken prisoner.  Last week,
whilst his trial was still pending, he applied for bail,
and in support of his application, he pleaded that he was anxious
TO ATTEND TO HIS PARLIAMENTARY DUTIES.  Here is a bit of Boer candour
for you!

The honourable and learned member is further stated to have pleaded
that his district provided the largest proportion of rebels and he was anxious
to be in Capetown when Parliament opens this afternoon,* in order to be able
to represent their case when the Legislature discusses the rebellion.
That is South African logic in a nutshell.  The Judge, however,
took a rational view of things and dismissed the application.

* The S. A. Parliament opened on the afternoon of the same day as the Lecture.

There may be motives other than those stated by the incarcerated
member of Parliament actuating his desire to get to Capetown.

Every member of Parliament who absents himself without leave
forfeits 2 Pounds a day out of his Parliamentary emoluments,
so that Mr. Grobler's continued confinement in prison would entail
a serious financial deficit.  This was not the only instance in which
anxiety of this kind was betrayed by recipients of Government bounties
in South Africa.  There are a large number of well-to-do Boers
who draw annually hundreds of pounds from the Union Treasury, salaries which
a paternal Government taxes the poorly paid labourers of South Africa
to provide.  This is particularly the case in the Transvaal.
There, princely salaries are paid for filling such superfluous posts
as that of "Inspector of White Labour", "Field Cornet", and kindred offices.
The Field Cornet of each sub-district of the Transvaal
is a very important gentleman, as is evinced by the intense labour
attached to his office.  The duties of this "hard-worked" functionary
consist of the checking of the Parliamentary voters list of his ward,
once every two years, and of acting as chief canvasser and election agent
for the Ministerial candidate, who, however, is usually returned unopposed;
and for these onerous duties he is rewarded by an ungrateful Government
with the "beggarly" salary of 260 Pounds a year.

Besides these, there are sundry little sinecures, equally remunerative,
to which well-to-do Dutch farmers, who are the more
generally preferred, aspire; and each fills his role
with acceptable dignity and a serious sense of responsibility.
Consequently, there is more gnashing of teeth on the farm
over the loss of one of these appointments than over
the failure of a whole year's crop.

Several of these nominal "members" of the Union Civil Service
were said to have taken up arms and joined the rebellion.
According to the South African papers, the wife of one of them
applied to the defence office for the salary of her husband.
When it was pointed out to her that her husband was at that time engaged
in fighting against the forces of the Defence Department,
she coolly told the official that that had nothing to do
with his private affairs, i.e., the income from the Government.
In regard to the faithfulness of the class of officials just mentioned,
I cannot refrain from drawing the attention of my audience
to the fact that, as the electoral supporters of the Cabinet, they guided
the policy of the Union Government during the past five years, and they are
the type of legislators in whose tender care the Imperial Government
would fain entrust the liberties of the voteless Natives
without even the safeguard of a right of appeal.

Personally I am not revengeful, and would wish Mr. Grobler every success
in his defence; the Transvaal native taxpayer, on the other hand,
earns an average wage of 20 Pounds per annum:  out of this he pays taxation
on the same scale as the white labourer who earns 25 Pounds a month;
in addition, he pays a native tax of 3 Pounds 4s. per year, presumably as
a tax on the colour of his skin, for no white man pays that.  This extra tax,
apparently, is in order that Transvaal Field Cornets and members of Parliament
should more easily draw their pay.  In return for all these payments,
and as a result of Mr. Grobler's legislative efforts,
the Transvaal native taxpayer got the Natives' Land Act of 1913;
and I am afraid that HE will not be very sorry to know that some one else
enjoys the 400 Pounds per annum hitherto received by Mr. Grobler,
together with his free first-class travelling ticket
over the South African railways.

British pioneer officials, in Africa and elsewhere, have for generations
been left in charge of mixed communities of white Colonials and black Natives
and other immigrants.  In spite of occasional human lapses,
they have ruled these communities successfully throughout the past century,
and maintained the high administrative reputation of the English
in Africa, Asia and other parts of the globe.  The dominant race
in South Africa, on the other hand, may be fit to govern themselves,
but their dealings with us show them to be wholly unfit to rule
the native races.  There is no more glaring illustration of this weakness
than the conduct of the rebel Boers and the loyal Boers
during the present war.  According to my latest information
from different centres of South Africa, native peasants were horsewhipped
into the enemy's service as soon as the standard of rebellion was unfurled.
There can be no reason to doubt the veracity of my information
when the Press reports have clearly shown that even a white skin
has ceased to be a protection against illtreatment.  At least
one loyal Magistrate and a postmaster were violently assaulted by
General De Wet's Burghers, so the official dispatches say.  Those shopkeepers
who hesitated to open their stores to the rebels were sjambokked
as were the ordinary Natives, and the Mayor of a "Free" State town
was also flogged.

After the proclamation of martial law General Botha marshalled
the loyal Boers throughout the country.  These loyal Burghers,
taking advantage of the presence of martial law, committed all kinds
of excesses against loyal coloured civilians.  These atrocities
not only took place away in the Backveld, but sometimes
in Capetown and Kimberley, the centres of African civilization;
there black men were frequently tied to the wagon-wheels and lashed
by the loyal Boers, and some of these coloured victims, I am told,
have been cruelly done to death.

Of course, if the particular Burgher who dealt the death-blow
can be identified he will be prosecuted, but that will not resuscitate
the victims.  It will only add misery to the innocent family of the offender.
But the fact remains that during the South African War,
South Africa was a huge military camp, yet the unarmed Natives,
many of whom were then in the enemy's service, suffered nothing but kindness
at the hands of Imperial troops, and there never was any conflict
between the military and native civilians.  And it but reveals
the unfitness for self-government of the dominant race out there
that the Natives, who sympathize with the Government,
should be exposed to violence immediately the loyal Burghers are armed.
That is the condition of life under true South African ideals.

Having had the ear of the Union Government since the federation of the
South African States, Mr. Piet Grobler and other men of his way of thinking
have been largely responsible for the repressive native laws
that have found their way into the statute book of the Union.
If the Natives of the other three Provinces had votes
like those of the Cape Province, they would help to return
sober-minded members to Parliament who are not inimical to the public welfare,
instead of which they have been represented in the South African Parliament
by budding subalterns of the German Army in South-West Africa.
But since the Imperial Government in its wisdom when granting
a Constitution to South Africa saw fit to withhold from the blacks
their only weapon of protection against hostile legislation,
viz., the power of the ballot, they surely, in common fairness
to the Natives and from respect for their own honour,
cannot reasonably stand aside as mere onlookers while
self-condemned enemies of the Crown ram their violent laws
down the throats of the Natives.  The Imperial Government
by the obligations of its overlordship and its plighted word
to the Natives, at the time of the federation, is in duty bound
to free the unrepresented Natives from the shackles of these laws,
or otherwise, declare its guardianship of the interests of the Natives
to have ceased, and counsel these weaker races to apply elsewhere for relief.

     *    *    *    *    *

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Appendices etc.

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