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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 12

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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 XII     The Passing of Cape Ideals

  Naboth was right to hold on to his home.  There were garnered memories
    that all the wealth of Ahab could not buy.
                                       Ward Beecher.

From the great meeting place -- Sheshegu -- we went through
the Alice district.  In this district we met several men
who would get no crops -- their annual income -- the next year,
as the law had placed an embargo on their ordinary avocation.
King Williamstown was also visited, and there at a meeting
held in the Baptist Church, which was kindly lent for the purpose
by the Rev. Mr. Pierce, it was unanimously resolved to appeal
to His Majesty the King against the Natives' Land Act.
Mr. W. Sebe presided over this meeting of representative Natives,
and Mr. Bassie translated the Act.

At Queenstown a similar resolution was passed by practically
the whole meeting.  Beyond answering questions at each of these meetings,
the writer said little else besides reading the Act, which told its own tale.
Many Natives who had never seen a copy of the Act before,
but who had heard its praises sung by interested parties and had believed
the false teachers, attended the meetings to oppose any undue interference
with "the law".  But these men were appalled when the law was read to them,
sentence by sentence, and translated by their own teachers
in their own tongue.  Then a discussion would follow, invariably ending
with the query:  "Can a Parliament capable of passing such a law
still be trusted by the community concerned?"

The Queenstown meeting, which was held in the Native Baptist School
kindly lent by Messrs. Damane and Koti, was more interesting than the others
because it is the only one of the many native meetings we attended
where there was any dissent.  There were four dissentients
at Queenstown, and we take this opportunity of congratulating
all genuine enemies of native welfare on the fact that they had
four staunch protagonists of colour, who showed more manliness
than Mr. Tengo-Jabavu because they attended the meeting.
Still, if the courage of these opponents was admirable,
we confess we did not like the gross callousness, and what seemed to us
an indecent disregard of native suffering that was manifest in their conduct:
when the story of the hardships of unfortunate victims of the Land Act
was narrated they laughed, and repeated the newspaper excuse
that the evictions were not directly due to the Act.

We agree with them that evictions have always taken place,
since the first human couple was sent out of the Garden of Eden, yet they
must admit that until the Union Parliament passed the Natives' Land Act
there never was a law saying to the native population of South Africa,
"You must not settle anywhere, under a penalty of 100 Pounds,
unless you are a servant."  These unsympathetic Natives made no effort
to defend the Act itself, but attempted to bluff the meeting
with the supposed danger of "reprisals by spiteful Boers, who, they said,
will be more vindictive if Natives dared to appeal to the King,
over the heads of the Boer Government."  But the meeting would not be bluffed.
One speaker especially remarked that the Act embodied
the very worst form of vindictiveness, and the sooner the whole world
understood the Union Parliament's attitude towards the blacks
the better it would be.  The meeting agreed that no slavery could be worse
than to be outlawed in your own homes, and the motion was carried
against the said four dissentients.

We interviewed a number of the Natives passing through Queenstown,
and the result showed that many and varied were the vicissitudes
of the Natives in the eastern districts of the Cape Province.

From Queenstown we touched some of the north-eastern districts
of the Cape Province.  In one of these districts a fairly prosperous Native
was farming as a tenant on a farm.  By sheer industry
he had earned and enjoyed the respect of all who knew him.
His landlord, a white man, was particularly proud of him.
This Native went into town one morning and as he passed the Magistrate's Court
on his way to the stores, a messenger hailed him inside.
Having entered the office, the Assistant Magistrate served him with a notice
to leave his hired farm, on which he had been a tenant since his youth,
and which was as much a home to him as to the proprietor.
The landlord, on hearing of this, naturally resented this usurpation
on the part of the authorities, who, he said, had unduly interfered
with his private affairs.  Next day the Baas drove into the town to interview
the Magistrate, and to remonstrate with him on what he thought to be
the unauthorized interference of the Assistant Magistrate.

He and the Magistrate read and re-read the Natives' Land Act,
and both came to the conclusion that it was a law that was as complicated
as it was unnecessary; but the Magistrate, being a representative of the law,
decided that, rightly or wrongly, it must be obeyed.

This visit of the Baas to the Magistrate had made our native friend hopeful
that it would result in averting the calamity that threatened
him and his family, but, to his utter dismay, the landlord on returning soon
undeceived him and gave his own opinion of "the most peculiar and wicked law"
that he had ever heard of.  Although Dutchmen had known and had heard of
some strange laws, yet this Dutchman was so full of indignation
at the strangeness of this law that his description of it
was made up of largely untranslatable Dutch adjectives.  These adjectives,
however, could not relieve the suffering of his native tenant
from the wound inflicted by the law in his sudden expulsion from his home.
It seems clear that no South African Native, on leaving a Dutch farm,
had ever received a more respectable send-off than our friend did
on leaving his farm in compliance with the Natives' Land Act.
The white landlord accompanied him right up to the boundary of the farm
which for seventeen years had been his home, and which he was so cruelly
forced to leave.  For the first time in his life, as the Dutchman said,
he shook hands with a Kafir.  And, as he did so, he called down
the direst curses upon the persons responsible for the impasse --
curses, by the way, which seem to be liberally answered.

It would, perhaps, be interesting to add what has happened since.
Our native friend took his family to the town, because the Act
is not enforceable in municipal areas.  Leaving his family there,
he started roaming about the districts, looking for a place
where he could graze his cattle.  In the course of the wandering
his stock thinned down, owing to death from starvation and other causes.
At home his old master found he could not get on without him,
so learning of the whereabouts of the Native and also of his sad plight,
the master sent out to him and advised him to return home,
graze his stock there, and "hang the legal consequences."
May they never be found out.

It has now amounted to this that white men who wish to deal humanely
with their native friends must resort to clandestine methods, to enable
a Native and his stock to drink the fresh water and breathe the pure air
in the wide tracts of South Africa, for by law Natives have now less rights
than the snakes and scorpions abounding in that country.
Can a law be justified which forces the people to live
only by means of chicanery; and which, in order to progress, compels one
to cheat the law officers of the Crown?  This case is but one of many
that came under our own observation, and there may be many more
of which we know nothing.

The `Cape Times', the leading Bothaite daily newspaper of the Cape,
has defended every action of the Union, including the dismissal
of English Civil servants.  It justifies this last act
by alleging that the dismissed officials did not know Dutch.
Consequently it could not be expected that this journal
could have any qualms about a law enacted specifically to repress black men.
It supported every harsh clause of the Natives' Land Bill,
including Clause 1.  However, when the native deputation to England
gave proofs of the ravages of the "plague law" in Cape Colony,
the `Cape Times', instead of defending its pet law, said:
"The complaint to which they give precedence is particularly instructive,"
and so, quoting from the deputation's appeal which says:  "In the Cape Colony,
where we are repeatedly told that the Act is not in force,
the Magistrates of East London, King Williamstown and Alice
prohibited native tenants from reploughing their old hired lands last October,
and also ordered them to remove their stock from grazing farms,"
this ministerial daily adds:  "It is unnecessary to consider
the justice or otherwise of this complaint for it is perfectly clear
that if a Magistrate oversteps the bounds of the law, it is a matter
to be dealt with by the Union Government."

It will be observed that this is an insinuation that the Magistrates
who administer the Land Act at the Cape are exceeding their authority
and should be "dealt with by the Union Government".  Now, what are the facts?
It is well known that all Magistrates, including those at the Cape, are paid
to administer every legislative instrument, whether sensible or absurd,
passed by the partly literate Parliament of the Union of South Africa.
Hence, these Magistrates, in ordering Natives off their farms,
and turning native cattle off the grazing areas, are only carrying out
Section 1 of the Natives' Land Act.  One Cape Magistrate who ruled
that to plough on a farm was no breach of the law, WAS "dealt with
by the Union Government", for a peremptory order came from Pretoria
declaring such a decision to be illegal.

Therefore, so far from the Cape Magistrate "overstepping
the bounds of the law" in expelling Natives from the farms and native cattle
from their pastures, these Magistrates could legally have done worse,
inasmuch as they could, under Section 5, have sent these Natives to prison
for contravening Section 1.  In justification, then,
of its own and of its party's share in this legislative achievement,
the `Cape Times' should have sought a more worthy excuse than thus attempting
to make scapegoats of a band of fair-minded men who presumably,
prior to the Union, never thought it would be part of their duty
to administer from the Cape bench an Act which inflicted such gross cruelty.

Who, in the days of the Murrays, Mr. F. Y. St. Leger, and subsequently
of Mr. F. E. Garrett, could have thought that the `Cape Times'
would in this manner have destroyed its great traditions,
built up during the nineteenth century, by sanctioning a law
under which Cape Magistrates would be forced to render homeless
the Natives of the Cape in their own Cape of Good Hope?  The one Colony
whose administration, under its wise statesmen of the Victorian era,
created for it that tremendous prestige that was felt
throughout the dark continent, and that rested largely
upon the fact that among its citizens, before its incorporation
with the northern states, it knew no distinction of colour,
for all were free to qualify for the exercise of electoral rights.
The old Cape Colony of our boyhood days, whose administration,
despite occasional lapses, managed during a hundred years
to steer clear of the familiar massacres and bloodshed of punitive expeditions
against primitive tribes, massacres and bloodshed so common
in other parts of the same continent; the old Cape Colony whose
peaceful methods of civilization acted as an incentive to the Bechuana tribes
to draw the sword and resist every attempt at annexation by Europeans
other than the British:  a resistance so determined that it thwarted
the efforts to link German South West Africa with the Transvaal Republic,
and so kept open the trade route to Rhodesia for the British.
All this done without any effort on the part of the British themselves,
and done by the Natives out of regard for Cape Colony ideals.
But alas! these Natives are now debarred from tilling the soil of the Cape,
except as Republican serfs.  What would Sir George Grey, or Bishop Gray,
or Saul Solomon, say of this?  What would these Empire builders say if they
came back here and found that the hills and valleys of their old Cape Colony
have ceased to be a home to many of their million brawny blacks,
whose muscles helped the conqueror to secure his present hold of the country?
What would these champions of justice say if they saw how,
with her entrance into the Union, Cape Colony had bartered
her shining ideals for the sombre history of the northern states,
a history defiled with innocent blood, and a territory
soaked with native tears and scandalized by burying Natives alive;
and that with one stroke of the pen the so-called federation
has demolished the Rhodes's formula of "equal rights for all civilized men,
irrespective of colour"?  How are the mighty fallen!

But while we sing the funeral dirge of Cape ideals, the Republicans
sing songs of gladness.  Thus, when Mr. Sauer, a noted disciple
of the late Mr. Saul Solomon, died, the `Bloemfontein Friend',
the leading Ministerial daily of the "Free" State, said:

He stood uncompromisingly for Rhodes's ideal of complete equality,
and it was an open secret that Mr. Sauer, who piloted the Natives' Land Act
through Parliament last session, would, had circumstances been different,
have been its strongest opponent.  It was the irony of fate that made him
Minister of Native Affairs when a law had to be passed which appeared to be
in entire conflict with his cherished lifelong convictions.
The Act he passed embodied the hated northern principles which
he had consistently opposed during the whole of his political career, and,
as in the case of the Act of Union, it was only Mr. Sauer's influence that
allayed the feelings of the intransigent section of the native population.

Mr. Sauer was a convinced disciple of the teachings of Saul Solomon,
who founded and preached the gospel of the Cape native policy.
In our view that was a mistaken policy.  Its principal modern exponent has now
been taken away, and if God, and not man, shapes the destinies of nations,
we may be pardoned the belief that Mr. Sauer's death at this juncture
means something more than the mere passing from the finite into the infinite
of one human being.

If this is a brutal utterance, it is at any rate more frank,
and therefore more manly, than the vacillating policy of the `Cape Times',
the Ministerial organ of the Cape Colony.  It is said that "politics
make strange bed-fellows", but not even the shrewdest of our political seers
could have predicted that in 1913 the `Cape Times' would be found
in the same camp as its Republican contemporaries which sing glees
over the demolished structure of Cape traditions, and over
the passing away of Victorian statesmen and the principles they stood for --
Victorian principles, which the `Cape Times' of other days helped to build up
in another political camp!  How are the mighty fallen!

    Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
    Seats of my youth when every sport could please,
    How often have I loitered o'er thy green,
    Where humble happiness endeared each scene!

    How often have I paused on every charm:
    The shelter'd cot, the cultivated farm,
    The never failing brook, the busy mill,
    The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,

    The hawthorn bush with seats beneath the shade
    For talking age and whisp'ring lovers made!
    How often have I blest the coming day,
    When toil remitting lent its turn to play!

    And all the village train, from labour free,
    Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree;
    With bashful virgins' sidelong looks of love,
    The matron's glance that would these looks reprove.

    These were thy charms, sweet Province, sports like these,
    With sweet succession, taught e'en toil to please;
    These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,
    These were thy charms -- but all these charms are fled.

    Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,
    Thy sports are fled and all thy charms withdrawn;
    Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen
    And desolation saddens all thy green:

    And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler's hand,
    Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
    Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
    Where wealth accumulates and men decay.

The Cape Native can thoroughly endorse these sentiments of Oliver Goldsmith,
which, however, compared with his own present lot, are mild in the extreme;
for it could not have been amid scenes of this description,
and with an outlook half as bad as ours, that the same author further sings:

    A time there was e'er England's grief began,
    When every rood of ground maintain'd its man;
    But times are alter'd:  Trade's unfeeling train
    Usurp the land and dispossess the swain.

    Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
    Those calm desires that ask'd but little room,
    Those graceful sports that grac'd the peaceful scene,
    Liv'd in each look and brighten'd all the green,
    These far departing seek a kinder shore,
    And rural mirth and manners are no more.

    In all my wand'rings round this world of care,
    In all my griefs -- and God has giv'n my share --
    I still had hopes my latest hours to crown,
    Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down.

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