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Chapter VIII At Thaba Ncho: A Secretarial Fiasco Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. Burns. The beginning of September, 1913, found us in the Lady Brand district. Besides numerous other sufferers of the land plague, the writer was here informed of one case that was particularly distressing, of a native couple evicted from a farm in the adjoining district. After making a fruitless search for a new place of abode, they took out a travelling pass to go to Basutoland with their stock. But they never, so the story went, reached their destination. We were told that they were ambushed by some Dutchmen, who shot them down and appropriated their stock. To a stranger the news would have been incredible, but, being a Free Stater born, it sounded to us uncommonly like the occurrences that our parents said they used to witness in the early days of that precious dependency. We were further told that one of the Dutch murderers had been arrested and was awaiting his trial at the next criminal sessions. As both the native man and woman were shot, it seemed difficult to conceive how the prosecution could find the necessary evidence to sustain a charge of murder. The trial duly came off at Bloemfontein a month or two later, and the evidence in court seemed more direct and less circumstantial than we had expected. For, not only were the stolen cattle found in the possession of the prisoner, but the bullet picked up near the bodies of the dead refugees (according to the evidence given in court) fitted the prisoner's pistol. General Hertzog personally attended the court at Bloemfontein and conducted the defence; and, presumably more by his eloquence than anything else, he convinced a white jury of the guiltlessness of the accused, who was acquitted and acclaimed outside the court by his friends as a hero. In justice to the police it must be added that they re-arrested this man and charged him with the theft, or with being in possession of the deceased Natives' cattle. On this charge the prisoner was convicted before the Circuit Court a few months later, and in sentencing him to three years, with hard labour, the presiding judge is said to have made some references to the previous trial and the manner in which the prisoner had escaped the capital sentence. From Lady Brand we travelled south towards Wepener, not far from the Basuto frontier. Evictions around here were numerous, but beyond the inevitable hardships of families suddenly driven from home, they had not suffered any great amount of damage. Being near to the Basuto border, a Native in these parts, when ejected, can quickly take his stock across the boundary, and leaving them in friendly pastures, under sympathetic laws, go away to look for a new place. But it became abundantly clear that the influx of outsiders into Basutoland could not continue at the rate it was then proceeding without seriously complicating the land question in Basutoland, where chieftains are constantly quarrelling over small patches of arable land. A pitiable spectacle, however, was the sight of those who had been evicted from the centre of the Orange "Free" State. It was heartrending to hear them relate the circumstances of their expulsions, and how they had spent the winter months roaming from farm to farm with their famishing stock, applying in vain for a resting place. Some farmers were apparently sympathetic, but debarred from entertaining such applications by the sword of Damocles -- the 100 Pound fine in Section 5 of the Natives' Land Act -- they had perforce to refuse the applicants. The farms hereabout are owned by Boers and English settlers, but many are owned by Germans, Jews, Russians, and other Continentals. Some of the proprietors do not reside on the farms at all; they are either Hebrew merchants or lawyers, living in the towns and villages away from the farms. Many have no wish to part with the Natives, who seem invariably to have treated their landlords well, but they are forced to do so by the law. It seems a curious commentary on the irony of things that South Africa, which so tyrannically chases her own Natives from the country, receives at this very time with open arms Polish, Finnish, Russian and German Jews, who themselves are said to have fled from the tyranny of their own Governments in Europe. With a vengeance, it looks like "robbing Peter to pay Paul". Standing by the side of a kopje, very early on that September morning, it was a relief to see the majestic tops of the mountains of Basutoland, silhouetted against the rising sun, beyond the Caledon River, which separates the "Free" State from Basutoland. A number of fugitives were at that time driving little lots of stock across the broad and level flats which extend in the direction of the Basutoland Protectorate. How comforting to know that once they crossed the river, these exiles could rest their tired limbs and water their animals without breaking any law. Really until we saw those emaciated animals, it had never so forcibly occurred to us that it is as bad to be a black man's animal as it is to be a black man in South Africa. To think that this "Free" State land from which these people are now expelled was at one time, and should still be, part and parcel of Basutoland; and to remember that the fathers of these Natives, who are now fleeing from the "Free" State laws, were allies of the Boers, whom they assisted to drive the Basutos from this habitable and arable part of their land; that with their own rations, their own horses, their own rifles, and often their own ammunition, they helped the Boers to force the Basutos back into their present mountain recesses, and compelled them to build fresh homes in all but uninhabitable mountain fastnesses, in many instances inaccessible to vehicles of any kind, in order (as was said at the time) to give themselves "more elbow-room"; to see them to-day fleeing from the laws of their perfidious Dutch allies, expelled from the country for which they bled and for which their fathers died; and to find that, at the risk of intensifying their own domestic problems in their now diminutive and overcrowded Mountain State, the Basutos are nobly offering an asylum to those who had helped to deprive them of their country; and to remember that this mean breach of faith, on the part of ex-Republicans towards their native allies, is facilitated by the protection of the Union Jack, sheds, in regard to the Basutos, a glorious ray of light upon black human nature. Look at these exiles swarming towards the Basuto border, some of them with their belongings on their heads, driving their emaciated flocks attenuated by starvation and the cold. The faces of some of the children, too, are livid from the cold. It looks as if these people were so many fugitives escaping from a war, with the enemy pressing hard at their heels. It was a distressing sight. We had never seen the likes of it since the outbreak of the Boer War, near the Transvaal border, immediately before the siege of Mafeking. Even that flight of 1899 had a buoyancy of its own, for the Boer War, unlike the present stealthy war of extermination (the law which caused this flight), was preceded by an ultimatum. But the sight of a people who had loyally paid taxation put to flight in these halcyon times, by a Parliament the huge salaries of whose members these very exiles, although unrepresented in its body, have meekly helped to pay, turned one's weeping eyes to Heaven, for, as Jean Paul says, "There above is everything he can wish for here below." But if the Native of other days has been sold by the perfidy of his Dutch allies of the day, the British soldiers and British taxpayer of the present day have been deceived by "we don't know who". They fought and died and paid to unfurl the banner of freedom in this part of the globe, and the spectacle before us is the result. This must be what A. H. Keene referred to when he said, "The British public were also dumb, and with that infinite capacity for being gulled which is so remarkable in a people proud of their common sense, acquiesced in everything." Visiting the farms, we found some native tenants under notice to leave. We informed them that Mr. Edward Dower, the Secretary for Native Affairs, would be in Thaba Ncho the following week, and advised them to proceed to the town and lay their difficulties before this high representative of the Union Government, with a request for the use of his good offices to procure for them the Governor-General's permission to live on farms, a course provided in Section 1 of the Natives' Land Act. We made no promises, as previous requests for such permission had been invariably ignored. But we hoped that the Government Secretary's meeting with the sufferers and speaking with them face to face would soften the implacable red-tape and official circumlocution, and perhaps even open the way towards a modification of the administration of this legislative atrocity; but we were mistaken. The meeting duly took place on Friday, September 12, 1913. A thousand Natives gathered at the racecourse on the wide level country between the railway station and Thaba Ncho town. A few historical facts relative to Thaba Ncho might not be out of place. Thaba Ncho (Mount Black) takes its name from the hill below which the town is situated. Formerly this part of Africa was peopled by Bushmen and subsequently by Basutos. The Barolong, a section of the Bechuana, came here from Motlhanapitse, a place in the Western "Free" State, to which place they had been driven by Mzilikasi's hordes from over the Vaal in the early 'twenties. The Barolongs settled in Thaba Ncho during the early 'thirties under an agreement with Chief Mosheshe. The Seleka branch of the Barolong nation, under Chief Moroka, after settling here, befriended the immigrant Boers who were on their way to the north country from the south and from Natal during the 'thirties. A party of immigrant Boers had an encounter with Mzilikasi's forces of Matabele. Up in Bechuanaland the powerful Matabele had scattered the other Barolong tribes and forced them to move south and join their brethren under Moroka. Thus during the 'thirties circumstances had formed a bond of sympathy between the Boers and Barolongs in their mutual regard of the terrible Matabele as a common foe. But the story of the relations between the Boers and the Barolong needs no comment: it is consistent with the general policy of the Boers, which, as far as Natives are concerned, draws no distinction between friend and foe. It was thus that Hendrik Potgieter's Voortrekkers forsook the more equitable laws of Cape Colony, particularly that relating to the emancipation of the slaves, and journeyed north to establish a social condition in the interior under which they might enslave the Natives without British interference. The fact that Great Britain gave monetary compensation for the liberated slaves did not apparently assuage their strong feelings on the subject of slavery; hence they were anxious to get beyond the hateful reach of British sway. They were sweeping through the country with their wagons, their families, their cattle, and their other belongings, when in the course of their march, Potgieter met the Matabele far away in the Northern Free State near a place called Vecht-kop. The trekkers made use of their firearms, but this did not prevent them from being severely punished by the Matabeles, who marched off with their horses and live stock and left the Boers in a hopeless condition, with their families still exposed to further attacks. Potgieter sent back word to Chief Moroka asking for assistance, and it was immediately granted. Chief Moroka made a general collection of draught oxen from amongst his tribe, and these with a party of Barolong warriors were sent to the relief of the defeated Boers, and to bring them back to a place of safety behind Thaba Ncho Hill, a regular refugee camp, which the Boers named "Moroka's Hoek". But the wayfarers were now threatened with starvation; and as they were guests of honour amongst his people, the Chief Moroka made a second collection of cattle, and the Barolong responded with unheard-of liberality. Enough milch cows, and sheep, and goats were thus obtained for a liberal distribution among the Boer families, who, compared with the large numbers of their hospitable hosts, were relatively few. Hides and skins were also collected from the tribesmen, and their tanners were set to work to assist in making veldschoens (shoes), velbroeks (skin trousers), and karosses (sheepskin rugs) for the tattered and footsore Boers and their children. The oxen which they received at Vechtkop they were allowed to keep, and these came in very handy for ploughing and transport purposes. No doubt the Rev. Mr. Archbell, the Wesleyan Methodist missionary and apostle to the Barolong, played an active part on the Barolong Relief Committee, and, at that time, there were no more grateful people on earth than Hendrik Potgieter and his party of stricken voortrekkers. After a rest of many moons and communicating with friends at Cape Colony and Natal, the Dutch leader held a council of war with the Barolong chiefs. He asked them to reinforce his punitive expedition against the Matabele. Of course they were to use their own materials and munitions and, as a reward, they were to retain whatever stock they might capture from the Matabele; but the Barolongs did not quite like the terms. Tauana especially told Potgieter that he himself was a refugee in the land of his brother Moroka. His country was Bechuanaland, and he could only accompany the expedition on condition that the Matabele stronghold at Coenyane (now Western Transvaal) be smashed up, Mzilikasi driven from the neighbourhood and the Barolong returned to their homes in the land of the Bechuana, the Boers themselves retaining the country to the east and the south (now the "Free" State and the Transvaal). That this could be done Tauana had no doubt, for since they came to Thaba Ncho, the Barolong had acquired the use of firearms -- long-range weapons -- which were still unknown to the Matabele, who only used hand spears. This was agreed to, and a vow was made accordingly. To make assurance doubly sure, Tauana sent his son Motshegare to enlist the co-operation of a Griqua by the name of Pieter Dout, who also had a bone to pick with the Matabele. Pieter Dout consented, and joined the expedition with a number of mounted men, and for the time being the Boer-Barolong-Griqua combination proved a happy one. The expedition was successful beyond the most sanguine expectations of its promoters. The Matabele were routed, and King Mzilikasi was driven north, where he founded the kingdom of Matabeleland -- now Southern Rhodesia -- having left the allies to share his old haunts in the south. This successful expedition was the immediate outcome of the friendly alliance between the Boers in the "Free" State and Moroka's Barolong at Thaba Ncho. But Boers make bad neighbours in Africa, and, on that account, the Government of the "Free" State thereafter proved a continual menace to the Basuto, their neighbours to the east. Pretexts were readily found and hostile inroads constantly engineered against the Basuto for purposes of aggression, and the friendliness of the Barolong was frequently exploited by the Boers in their raids, undertaken to drive the Basuto further back into the mountains. This, however, must be said to the honour of the mid-nineteenth century "Free" Staters, in contrast to the "Free" Staters of later date: that the earlier "Free" Staters rewarded the loyalty of their Barolong allies by recognizing and respecting Thaba Ncho as a friendly native State; but it must also be stated that the bargain was all in the favour of one side; thereby all the land captured from the Basuto was annexed to the "Free" State, while the dusky warriors of Moroka, who bore the brunt of the battles, got nothing for their pains. So much was this the case that Thaba Ncho, which formerly lay between the "Free" State and Basutoland, was subsequently entirely surrounded by "Free" State territory. Eventually Chief Moroka died, and a dispute ensued between his sons concerning the chieftainship. Some Boers took sides in this dispute and accentuated the differences. In 1884, Chief Tsipinare, Moroka's successor, was murdered after a night attack by followers of his brother Samuel, assisted by a party of "Free" State Boers. It is definitely stated that the unfortunate chief valiantly defended himself. He kept his assailants at bay for the best part of the day by shooting at them through the windows of his house, which they had surrounded; and it was only by setting fire to the house that they managed to get the chief out, and shoot him. As a matter of fact the house was set on fire by the advice of one of the Boers, and it is said that it was a bullet from the rifle of one of these Boers that killed Chief Tsipinare. President Brand, the faithful ally of the dead chieftain, called out the burghers who reached Thaba Ncho after the strife was over. He annexed Thaba Ncho to the "Free" State, and banished the rival chief from "Free" State territory, with all his followers. The Dutch members of the party which assassinated the chief were put upon a kind of trial, and discharged by a white jury at Bloemfontein. Of course, Boers could not be expected to participate in any adventure which did not immediately lead to land grabbing. But, fortunately for some Barolongs, the dead chief had in his lifetime surveyed some farms and granted freehold title to some of the tribesmen. In fact, his death took place while he was engaged in that democratic undertaking. The Boer Government, which annexed the territory, confiscated all the land not yet surveyed, and passed a law to the effect that those Barolongs who held individual title to land could only sell their farms to white people. It must, however, be added that successive Boer Presidents have always granted written exemptions from this drastic measure. So that any Native who wanted to buy a farm could always do so by applying for the President's permission, while, of course, no permission was necessary to sell to a white man; several Natives, to the author's knowledge, have thus bought farms from Natives, and also from white men, by permission of the State President, and the severity of the prohibition was never felt. But after the British occupation in 1900, the Natives keenly felt this measure, as the Governor, when appealed to by a Native for permission to buy a farm, always replied that he had no power to break the law. Thus, under the Union Jack, sales have gone on from black to white, but none from white to black, or even from black to black. In the crowd which met Mr. Dower that morning were two Barolong young men who had lately inherited a farm each under the will of their deceased uncle, and the law will not permit the Registrar of Deeds to give them title to their inheritance; their numerous representations to the Union authorities have only met with promises, while lawyers have taken advantage of the hitch to mulct them in more money than the land is worth. The best legal advice they have received is that they should sell their inheritances to white men. Now the Natives' Land Act, as applied to the whole Union of South Africa, is modelled on these highly unsatisfactory conditions relating to land in the "Free" State. The six months' imprisonment, the 100 Pounds fine, and other penalties for infringement of the Land Act, are borrowed from
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This work (Sol Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa) is out of copyright, but see the Project Gutenberg legal notice.