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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 1

Contents page

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 I       A Retrospect

  I am Black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar,
    as the curtains of Solomon.
  Look not upon me because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me:
    my mother's children were angry with me; they made me
    the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
                                       The Song of Songs.

Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native
found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.

The 4,500,000 black South Africans are domiciled as follows:
One and three-quarter millions in Locations and Reserves,
over half a million within municipalities or in urban areas,
and nearly a million as squatters on farms owned by Europeans.
The remainder are employed either on the public roads or railway lines,
or as servants by European farmers, qualifying, that is,
by hard work and saving to start farming on their own account.

A squatter in South Africa is a native who owns some livestock and,
having no land of his own, hires a farm or grazing and ploughing rights
from a landowner, to raise grain for his own use and feed his stock.
Hence, these squatters are hit very hard by an Act which
passed both Houses of Parliament during the session of 1913,
received the signature of the Governor-General on June 16,
was gazetted on June 19, and forthwith came into operation.
It may be here mentioned that on that day Lord Gladstone signed no fewer
than sixteen new Acts of Parliament -- some of them being rather voluminous --
while three days earlier, His Excellency signed another batch of eight,
of which the bulk was beyond the capability of any mortal to read and digest
in four days.

But the great revolutionary change thus wrought by a single stroke of the pen,
in the condition of the Native, was not realized by him
until about the end of June.  As a rule many farm tenancies expire
at the end of the half-year, so that in June, 1913, not knowing
that it was impracticable to make fresh contracts, some Natives
unwittingly went to search for new places of abode, which some farmers,
ignorant of the law, quite as unwittingly accorded them.
It was only when they went to register the new tenancies
that the law officers of the Crown laid bare the cruel fact
that to provide a landless Native with accommodation was forbidden
under a penalty of 100 Pounds, or six months' imprisonment.
Then only was the situation realized.

Other Natives who had taken up fresh places on European farms
under verbal contracts, which needed no registration, actually founded
new homes in spite of the law, neither the white farmer nor the native tenant
being aware of the serious penalties they were exposed to
by their verbal contracts.

In justice to the Government, it must be stated that no police officers
scoured the country in search of lawbreakers, to prosecute them
under this law.  Had this been done, many 100 Pound cheques
would have passed into the Government coffers during that black July,
the first month after Lord Gladstone affixed his signature
to the Natives' Land Act, No. 27 of 1913.

The complication of this cruel law is made manifest by the fact
that it was found necessary for a high officer of the Government
to tour the Provinces soon after the Act came into force,
with the object of "teaching" Magistrates how to administer it.
A Congress of Magistrates -- a most unusual thing -- was also called
in Pretoria to find a way for carrying out the King's writ
in the face of the difficulties arising from this tangle of the Act.
We may add that nearly all white lawyers in South Africa,
to whom we spoke about this measure, had either not seen the Act at all,
or had not read it carefully, so that in both cases they could not tell
exactly for whose benefit it had been passed.  The study of this law
required a much longer time than the lawyers, unless specially briefed,
could devote to it, so that they hardly knew what all the trouble was about.
It was the Native in the four Provinces who knew all about it,
for he had not read it in books but had himself been through its mill,
which like an automatic machine ground him relentlessly
since the end of the month of June.  Not the least but one of
the cruellest and most ironical phases -- and nearly every clause of this Act
teems with irony -- is the Schedule or appendix giving the so-called
Scheduled Native Areas; and what are these "Scheduled Native Areas"?

They are the Native Locations which were reserved for the exclusive use
of certain native clans.  They are inalienable and cannot be bought or sold,
yet the Act says that in these "Scheduled Native Areas" Natives only
may buy land.  The areas being inalienable, not even members of the clans,
for whose benefit the locations are held in trust, can buy land therein.
The areas could only be sold if the whole clan rebelled; in that case
the location would be confiscated.  But as long as the clans of the location
remain loyal to the Government, nobody can buy any land within these areas.
Under the respective charters of these areas, not even a member of the clan
can get a separate title as owner in an area -- let alone a native outsider
who had grown up among white people and done all his farming
on white man's land.

If we exclude the arid tracts of Bechuanaland, these Locations
appear to have been granted on such a small scale that each of them
got so overcrowded that much of the population had to go out and settle
on the farms of white farmers through lack of space in the Locations.
Yet a majority of the legislators, although well aware of all
these limitations, and without remedying any of them, legislate,
shall we say, "with its tongue in its cheek" that only Natives may buy land
in Native Locations.

Again, the Locations form but one-eighteenth of the total area of the Union.
Theoretically, then, the 4,500,000 Natives may "buy" land in only
one-eighteenth part of the Union, leaving the remaining seventeen parts
for the one million whites.  It is moreover true that, numerically,
the Act was passed by the consent of a majority of both Houses of Parliament,
but it is equally true that it was steam-rolled into the statute book
against the bitterest opposition of the best brains of both Houses.
A most curious aspect of this singular law is that even the Minister,
since deceased, who introduced it, subsequently declared himself against it,
adding that he only forced it through in order to stave off something worse.
Indeed, it is correct to say that Mr. Sauer, who introduced the Bill,
spoke against it repeatedly in the House; he deleted the milder provisions,
inserted more drastic amendments, spoke repeatedly against
his own amendments, then in conclusion he would combat
his own arguments by calling the ministerial steam-roller
to support the Government and vote for the drastic amendments.
The only explanation of the puzzle constituted as such by these
"hot-and-cold" methods is that Mr. Sauer was legislating for an electorate,
at the expense of another section of the population which was without
direct representation in Parliament.  None of the non-European races
in the Provinces of Natal, Transvaal and the "Free" State
can exercise the franchise.  They have no say in the selection of members
for the Union Parliament.  That right is only limited to white men,
so that a large number of the members of Parliament who voted for this measure
have no responsibility towards the black races.

Before reproducing this tyrannical enactment it would perhaps be well
to recapitulate briefly the influences that led up to it.
When the Union of the South African Colonies became
an accomplished fact, a dread was expressed by ex-Republicans
that the liberal native policy of the Cape would supersede
the repressive policy of the old Republics, and they lost no time
in taking definite steps to force down the throats of the Union Legislature,
as it were, laws which the Dutch Presidents of pre-war days,
with the British suzerainty over their heads, did not dare enforce
against the Native people then under them.  With the formation of the Union,
the Imperial Government, for reasons which have never been
satisfactorily explained, unreservedly handed over the Natives
to the colonists, and these colonists, as a rule, are dominated
by the Dutch Republican spirit.  Thus the suzerainty of Great Britain,
which under the reign of Her late Majesty Victoria, of blessed memory,
was the Natives' only bulwark, has now apparently been withdrawn or relaxed,
and the Republicans, like a lot of bloodhounds long held in the leash,
use the free hand given by the Imperial Government not only to guard against
a possible supersession of Cape ideals of toleration, but to effectively
extend throughout the Union the drastic native policy pursued by the Province
which is misnamed "Free" State, and enforce it with the utmost rigour.

During the first year of the Union, it would seem that General Botha
made an honest attempt to live up to his London promises,
that are mentioned by Mr. Merriman in his speech (reproduced elsewhere)
on the second reading of the Bill in Parliament.  It would seem
that General Botha endeavoured to allay British apprehensions and concern
for the welfare of the Native population.  In pursuance of this policy
General Botha won the approbation of all Natives by appointing Hon. H. Burton,
a Cape Minister, to the portfolio of Native Affairs.  That the appointment
was a happy one, from the native point of view, became manifest
when Mr. Burton signalized the ushering in of Union, by releasing
Chief Dinizulu-ka-Cetywayo, who at that time was undergoing
a sentence of imprisonment imposed by the Natal Supreme Court,
and by the restoration to Dinizulu of his pension of 500 Pounds a year.
Also, in deference to the wishes of the Native Congress,
Mr. Burton abrogated two particularly obnoxious Natal measures,
one legalizing the "Sibalo" system of forced labour, the other prohibiting
public meetings by Natives without the consent of the Government.
These abrogations placed the Natives of Natal in almost the same position
as the Cape Natives though without giving them the franchise.
So, too, when a drastic Squatters' Bill was gazetted early in 1912,
and the recently formed Native National Congress sent a deputation
to interview Mr. Burton in Capetown; after hearing the deputation,
he graciously consented to withdraw the proposed measure,
pending the allotment of new Locations in which Natives evicted
by such a measure could find an asylum.  In further deference
to the representations of the Native Congress, in which they were supported
by Senators the Hon. W. P. Schreiner, Colonel Stanford, and Mr. Krogh,
the Union Government gazetted another Bill in January, 1911,
to amend an anomaly which, at that time, was peculiar to the "Free" State:
an anomaly under which a Native can neither purchase nor lease land,
and native landowners in the "Free" State could only sell their land
to the white people.

The gazetted Bill proposed to legalize only in one district
of the Orange "Free" State the sale of landed property by a Native
to another Native as well as to a white man, but it did not propose
to enable Natives to buy land from white men.  The object of the Bill
was to remove a hardship, mentioned elsewhere in this sketch,
by which a "Free" State Native was by law debarred from inheriting
landed property left to him under his uncle's will.  But against
such small attempts at reform, proposed or carried out by the Union Government
in the interest of the Natives, granted in small instalments of a teaspoonful
at a time -- reforms dictated solely by feelings of justice and equity --
ex-Republicans were furious.

From platform, Press, and pulpit it was suggested that
General Botha's administration was too pro-English and needed overhauling.
The Dutch peasants along the countryside were inflamed by hearing
that their gallant leader desired to Anglicize the country.
Nothing was more repellent to the ideas of the backveld Dutch,
and so at small meetings in the country districts resolutions were passed
stating that the Botha administration had outlived its usefulness.
These resolutions reaching the Press from day to day
had the effect of stirring up the Dutch voters against the Ministry,
and particularly against the head.  At this time General Botha's sound policy
began to weaken.  He transferred Hon. H. Burton, first Minister of Natives,
to the portfolio of Railways and Harbours, and appointed General Hertzog,
of all people in the world, to the portfolio of Native Affairs.

The good-humoured indulgence of some Dutch and English farmers towards
their native squatters, and the affectionate loyalty of some of these
native squatters in return, will cause a keen observer, arriving at
a South African farm, to be lost in admiration for this mutual good feeling.
He will wonder as to the meaning of the fabled bugbear anent the alleged
struggle between white and black, which in reality appears to exist
only in the fertile brain of the politician.  Thus let the new arrival go
to one of the farms in the Bethlehem or Harrismith Districts for example,
and see how willingly the Native toils in the fields; see him
gathering in his crops and handing over the white farmer's share of the crop
to the owner of the land; watch the farmer receiving his tribute
from the native tenants, and see him deliver the first prize
to the native tenant who raised the largest crop during that season;
let him also see both the Natives and the landowning white farmers
following to perfection the give-and-take policy of "live and let live",
and he will conclude that it would be gross sacrilege to attempt to disturb
such harmonious relations between these people of different races and colours.
But with a ruthless hand the Natives' Land Act has succeeded
in remorselessly destroying those happy relations.

First of all, General Hertzog, the new Minister of Native Affairs,
travelled up and down the country lecturing farmers on their folly
in letting ground to the Natives; the racial extremists of his party
hailed him as the right man for the post, for, as his conduct showed them,
he would soon "fix up" the Natives.  At one or two places
he was actually welcomed as the future Prime Minister of the Union.
On the other hand, General Botha, who at that time seemed
to have become visibly timid, endeavoured to ingratiate himself
with his discontented supporters by joining his lieutenant
in travelling to and fro, denouncing the Dutch farmers for not
expelling the Natives from their farms and replacing them with poor whites.
This became a regular Ministerial campaign against the Natives,
so that it seemed clear that if any Native could still find a place
in the land, it was not due to the action of the Government.
In his campaign the Premier said other unhappy things which were
diametrically opposed to his London speeches of two years before;
and while the Dutch colonists railed at him for trying to Anglicize
the country, English speakers and writers justly accused him of speaking
with two voices; cartoonists, too, caricatured him as having two heads --
one, they said, for London, and the second one for South Africa.

The uncertain tenure by which Englishmen in the public service
held their posts became the subject of debates in the Union Parliament,
and the employment of Government servants of colour was decidedly precarious.
They were swept out of the Railway and Postal Service
with a strong racial broom, in order to make room for poor whites,
mainly of Dutch descent.  Concession after concession
was wrung from the Government by fanatical Dutch postulants for office,
for Government doles and other favours, who, like the daughters of
the horse-leech in the Proverbs of Solomon, continually cried, "Give, give."
By these events we had clearly turned the corner and were pacing backwards
to pre-Union days, going back, back, and still further backward,
to the conditions which prevailed in the old Republics,
and (if a check is not applied) we shall steadily drift back
to the days of the old Dutch East Indian administration.

The Bill which proposed to ameliorate the "Free" State cruelty,
to which reference has been made above, was dropped like a hot potato.
Ministers made some wild and undignified speeches, of which
the following spicy extract, from a speech by the Rt. Hon. Abraham Fischer
to his constituents at Bethlehem, is a typical sample --

"What is it you want?" he asked.  "We have passed all the coolie* laws
and we have passed all the Kafir laws.  The `Free' State
has been safeguarded and all her colour laws have been adopted by Parliament.
What more can the Government do for you?"  And so the Union ship
in this reactionary sea sailed on and on and on, until she struck an iceberg
-- the sudden dismissal of General Hertzog.

* A contemptuous South African term for British Indians.

To the bitter sorrow of his admirers, General Hertzog,
who is the fearless exponent of Dutch ideals, was relieved of
his portfolios of Justice and Native Affairs -- it was whispered
as a result of a suggestion from London; and then the Dutch extremists,
in consequence of their favourite's dismissal, gave vent to their anger
in the most disagreeable manner.  One could infer from their platform speeches
that, from their point of view, scarcely any one else had any rights
in South Africa, and least of all the man with a black skin.

In the face of this, the Government's timidity was almost unendurable.
They played up to the desires of the racial extremists, with the result that
a deadlock overtook the administration.  Violent laws like the Immigration Law
(against British Indians and alien Asiatics) and the Natives' Land
were indecently hurried through Parliament to allay
the susceptibilities of "Free" State Republicans.  No Minister found time
to undertake such useful legislation as the Coloured People's Occupation Bill,
the Native Disputes Bill, the Marriage Bill, the University Bill, etc., etc.
An apology was demanded from the High Commissioner in London
for delivering himself of sentiments which were felt to be too British
for the palates of his Dutch employers in South Africa, and the Prime Minister
had almost to apologize for having at times so far forgotten himself
as to act more like a Crown Minister than a simple Africander.
"Free" State demands became so persistent that Ministers seemed
to have forgotten the assurances they gave His Majesty's Government in London
regarding the safety of His Majesty's coloured subjects within the Union.
They trampled under foot their own election pledges, made during
the first Union General Election, guaranteeing justice and fair treatment
to the law-abiding Natives.

The campaign, to compass the elimination of the blacks
from the farms, was not at all popular with landowners,
who made huge profits out of the renting of their farms to Natives.
Platform speakers and newspaper writers coined an opprobrious phrase
which designated this letting of farms to Natives as "Kafir-farming",
and attempted to prove that it was almost as immoral as "baby-farming".
But landowners pocketed the annual rents, and showed no inclination
to substitute the less industrious "poor whites" for the more
industrious Natives.  Old Baas M----, a typical Dutch landowner
of the "Free" State, having collected his share of the crop of 1912,
addressing a few words of encouragement to his native tenants,
on the subject of expelling the blacks from the farms, said in the Taal:
"How dare any number of men, wearing tall hats and frock coats,
living in Capetown hotels at the expense of other men, order me
to evict my Natives?  This is my ground; it cost my money, not Parliament's,
and I will see them banged (barst) before I do it."

It then became evident that the authority of Parliament
would have to be sought to compel the obstinate landowners to
get rid of their Natives.  And the compliance of Parliament with this demand
was the greatest Ministerial surrender to the Republican malcontents,
resulting in the introduction and passage of the Natives' Land Act of 1913,
inasmuch as the Act decreed, in the name of His Majesty the King,
that pending the adoption of a report to be made by a commission,
somewhere in the dim and unknown future, it shall be unlawful
for Natives to buy or lease land, except in scheduled native areas.
And under severe pains and penalties they were to be deprived
of the bare human rights of living on the land, except as servants
in the employ of the whites -- rights which were never seriously challenged
under the Republican regime, no matter how politicians raved
against the Natives.

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