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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 15

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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 XV      The Kimberley Congress / The Kimberley Conference

  Sorrow like this draws parted lives in one, and knits anew the rents
    which time has made.
                                       Lewis Morris.

When everything was ready another special Congress was called
to meet at Johannesburg in February, to carry out the deputation's scheme
and appoint the delegates to proceed to England.  In view of
the dissatisfaction of the Government after the July Congress,
the author considered it his duty to inform the Government
that a meeting was about to take place.  This information
called forth a peremptory intimation from the Government
that because of the recent strike of white men (from which the Natives
had publicly disassociated themselves) the Native Congress could not be held.
But at the time that this telegraphic prohibition reached us
General Smuts, Minister of Defence, was announcing in Parliament that
the embargo on public meetings, in areas where, owing to the recent strike
(of January, 1914), martial law was proclaimed, had been removed.
Logically then General Botha's decision made the previous day
in regard to the Congress meeting fell to the ground; and so we telegraphed
to Senator Schreiner and Dr. Watkins, members of Parliament,
to ascertain if this was so.  Both these gentlemen answered
that in spite of the removal of the prohibition of public meetings of whites,
the Prime Minister directs that the one in regard to the "Native Congress"
must stand.  Thereupon the writer, after consulting a few native residents
in Kimberley, intimated to the executive of the Congress that:

Kimberley, my home, is not yet a Republic in its sentiments.
There we have not reached the stage where some one's permission
must be asked before a meeting can be held.  So we invite the Congress
to hospitable and British Kimberley, where public meetings close
with singing the British National Anthem and not with singing
the "Volkslied" or the "Red Flag", as is the case in meetings
at some other South African centres.

After the notices were out the Government sent an intimation to the effect
that the Congress was not actually prohibited.  That it was only deemed
undesirable to allow it to be held at Johannesburg, where a strike
had taken place; and that even there the Government no longer objected,
provided it be held indoors.  But this belated reconsideration was unnecessary
as the Kimberley preparations were far advanced and some of the delegates
were already on their way to Kimberley.

The Congress was opened in St. John's Hall at 10 a.m. on
Friday morning, February 27, 1914, by the Rt. Rev. W. Gore-Browne,
Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman.  His lordship was accompanied
by Archdeacon de Rougemont and Rev. I. I. Hlangwana of St. Paul's Mission,
who gave out the native hymns.  In the absence of the president,
who reached Kimberley in the afternoon of that day, the Bishop
was received by Mr. Makgatho, vice-president of the Congress.
After the religious exercise had ended, the Bishop counselled the Congress
not to ask for a repeal of the whole Act, but only for relief
from the oppressive clauses, and then to wait for the Commission's report
in regard to the remainder of the Act.  "There may be something good in it,"
added the Bishop, "as the glittering diamonds of Kimberley are found
in blue clay."

Mr. Makgatho, in thanking the Bishop for opening the Congress, thanked him
for the allegory, but added, however, that he had never heard of a father
who said to his child, "You are hungry, my son, and I am going
to prepare some dinner for you, but meanwhile you had better wait outside
in the rain."  After the Bishop gave the Congress his benediction,
Prince Malunge-Ka-Mban-deni of Swaziland was introduced to him,
as were the Chiefs Molotlegi and Mamogale of Transvaal,
Moiloa of the Bahurutshe, and Messrs. Elka M. Cele of Natal,
Meshach Pelem from the Cape, J. M. Nyokong, S. Litheko of the O.F.S.,
and other native leaders.

In the evening a large public reception was held in the City Hall
in honour of the delegates.  Kimberley joined wholeheartedly in the function.
De Beers Company, which had hitherto shown the greatest hospitality
only to European assemblies and not to native conferences and organizations,
acted otherwise in the case of this Congress and its requirements.
Presumably Mr. Pickering, the secretary of De Beers, had had information
that even the mining labourers in the enclosed mining compounds were
heart and soul with their countrymen outside; and so the Company's hospitality
was extended to the native delegates.

Bioscope films were projected by Mr. I. Joshua, the chairman of the A.P.O.,
Messrs. Lakey and September, other A.P.O. committee men, acting as
masters of ceremonies.  The coloured people attended in their hundreds,
and cheered the musicians of their native brethren who entertained the people
who thronged the City Hall till many were refused admission.
The Coloured People's Organization sent a speaker, Mr. H. Van Rooyen,
to welcome the delegates on behalf of the African Political Organization.
The president of their Ladies' Guild, Mrs. Van der Riet,
a school teacher and musician of long standing, attended and played
the accompaniment for the Greenport Choir on the pianoforte;
Miss M. Ntsiko, who had borne the brunt of the evening's accompaniment,
was thus relieved.

Mr. Joseph Kokozela, on behalf of the Kimberley and Beaconsfield
branches of the Congress, welcomed the Congress to Kimberley,
and presented Mr. Dube, the president, with an address,
which was beautifully illuminated by the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent,
of Mafeking.  Mr. H. Van Rooyen associated his people with the Natives
in their present struggle for existence, and Dr. J. E. Mackenzie,
who spoke on behalf of the Europeans, made a fine speech.
He said that nobility was not confined to any particular race or colour;
that men with black skins have been known to be just as noble
as men with white skins.  Amongst other questions he asked,
"What could be more noble than the Bedford boy leader who subsequently became
the St. Augustine of Central Africa, or what could be more noble
than the action of the two servants of Dr. Livingstone, who carried his body,
for hundreds of miles, through difficult forests, to the coast,
and thus ensured his burial in Westminster Abbey?"

Dr. Mackenzie's speech was afterwards referred to by several native delegates
to the Congress.  They said that before they came to Kimberley
they felt certain that English ideas were utterly obliterated
in the Union of South Africa, and that English sentiments
were things of the past; but that Dr. Mackenzie's speech had given them
fresh hope, as it was like cold water to a traveller in the desert.
It was, they said further, like a dream to hear a white man talk like that
in a mixed audience.

The Congress received sympathetic telegrams from such
old residents of Kimberley as Sir David Harris and Dr. Watkins.
Both these gentlemen telegraphed their felicitations from Parliament.

Mr. H. A. Oliver, member for Kimberley, a great Wesleyan
and Sunday School leader, who was at Capetown for the Parliamentary session,
instructed his manager at Kimberley to book seats on his account
for the senior classes of the Newton Wesleyan Sunday School
to attend the Congress entertainment.

The Resident Magistrate of Kimberley telephoned to us on this same day
that he had received the following telegram from the Secretary
for Native Affairs: --


It had never previously happened that a representative of the Government
attended a coloured political assembly, and it was felt
that wiser councils had prevailed with the Government,
and that as a result it had decided to meet the Natives, at least half-way.
If gambling was one of the indulgences of the Natives,
some at least of the delegates would have wagered that Mr. Dower
was conveying a concession to the Native Congress, by which
it would be unnecessary for the latter to send a deputation to England.
So thoroughly was the idea of a concession associated
in the mind of the Congress with the approaching visit of Mr. Dower
that it postponed the election of delegates for the mission to England.
This anticipation was a reasonable one as the Union's recent legislation
was in the melting-pot.

The law against British Indians, passed at the same time
as the Natives' Land Act, was just then recommended for modification,
under pressure brought to bear upon the Imperial Government
by the Government of India and other agencies.  Again, the Labour members
were creating difficulties both at Capetown and Westminster
over General Smuts's Deportation Bill, which compelled the Government
to amend its conditional banishment clause -- a hardship that was not
as vital or as absolute as the banishment clauses against black tenants
in the Natives' Land Act.  Consequently, the native delegates to Congress,
representing as they did an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants
of South Africa -- a section that had received nothing but violent legislation
from the South African Parliament since the inauguration of Union --
had every reason to expect that, for the first time,
a Government emissary was carrying an olive branch to the Natives;
but, alas! unlike the industrial strikers, the Natives had no votes
to create a constitutional difficulty; unlike the British Indians, they have
no Indian Government at their back; therefore, their vital interests,
being negligible, could comfortably be relegated to the regions of oblivion,
and this hope, like all its predecessors, was falsified.

Mr. Dower attended the Congress on Saturday, February 28,
and again on Monday, March 2, and made speeches.

He was profuse in expressions of the gratitude of the Government
to the Natives, their leaders and their chiefs, for the loyal co-operation
they have always rendered the authorities, and he came to ask them,
he said, to perpetuate that loyal co-operation and to refrain
from appealing to Great Britain on the Natives' Land Act.
To appeal would be to put back the clock of the Native Affairs Department
for many years.  Of course, it did not matter about
the putting back of the Natives' own clock, since its only use
is that of an index for the registration of Government taxes,
municipal pass fees at one shilling or more per month per Native,
and similar phases of the black man's burden.  Thus, in answer to questions
put by the members of the Congress, Mr. Dower was not able to say
that one iota of the provisions of that Draconian law would be modified
before the Commission made its report, nor could he give a pledge
in the name of the Government that if the Commission reported
favourably to the Natives, Parliament would carry into effect
the Commission's report, even though the pledge sought
took no account of the possibility of the Commission's report being hostile
to the interests of the Natives.  This then was the character of the visit
which the Government Secretary paid to the Native Congress.
It was entirely barren of results, and as such it left the Congress
as it found it, in bewilderment and gloom.

Fresh fears took hold of the Congress.  When the commissioners' names
were gazetted, they were not received with any great amount of enthusiasm
by the native population, for the best that could be thought
of the Natives' Land Commissioners was that they were not associated
with any political party.  With such a view, it can be understood
what were the feelings of the Congress when it thereafter learnt
that four of the five commissioners were present, as delegates,
at the conference of the Ministerial party held at Capetown two months before
(the conference at which Generals Hertzog and De Wet definitely severed
their connexion with General Botha), nor was there anything to show
that the fifth commissioner was not there also.  Therefore, the situation
amounted to this, that this Land Commission, which should be
composed of impartial members, or, if made up of party politicians,
it should at any rate represent the three political parties
as well as the Natives, was in reality but a branch of the Ministerial party
which foisted this very Land Act upon the country.

It was finally resolved to appoint a deputation of five
to accompany the president, Mr. Dube, to England if further efforts failed.
The Congress nominated nine names, and the election of five delegates
from these was entrusted to a committee of fourteen members of the Congress,
who balloted for five and reported the result to the full Congress
as follows: --

    S. T. Plaatje        13
    S. M. Makgatho        9
    Saul Msane            6
    W. Z. Fenyang         3
    T. M. Mapikela        3
    Dr. W. B. Rubusana    2
    A. K. Soga            2
    M. Pellem             2
    Chief Mamogale        1

The first-named five were therefore declared elected.  Mr. Fenyang
subsequently stood down in favour of Dr. Rubusana; Mr. Makgatho was not able
to reach Capetown in time for the steamer's departure, so the deputation
that eventually accompanied the president to England were: --

    1.  Dr. Rubusana.
    2.  S. T. Plaatje.
    3.  Saul Msane.
    4.  T. M. Mapikela.

Their instructions were first to approach the Prime Minister and ask him
to undertake on behalf of his parliamentary majority to repeal
the Natives' Land Act, failing that, to endeavour at least
to get the clause rescinded which prevents evicted native tenants
from finding settlements anywhere except as servants, and that
if the Prime Minister should refuse to grant this request, they were forthwith
to appeal to the Imperial Parliament and the British public.

It may be added that the Congress, before it rose, received telegraphic
advices from Mr. Gibson of the Cape Church Council, and also from
the Hon. W. P. Schreiner, not to appeal to England.  These communications
encouraged the delegates to believe that intermediate relief was being
arranged for, to ameliorate the condition of the wandering evicted Natives,
in which case there would, of course, be no occasion to appeal to England.
But it subsequently transpired that the Natives were advised against
making an appeal to England without the offer of any relief.

Before Congress rose votes of thanks were passed in favour of
the Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman, the De Beers Company,
the `Diamond Fields Advertiser' for its liberal reports of the proceedings,
Mr. Dower for entertaining the delegates to a dinner on Monday,
and also to the residents of Kimberley.

The special thanks of the Congress were voiced by Mr. Makgatho
to the various committees, whose strenuous efforts for
the comfort of the delegates left nothing to be desired.  These were: --

                         COMMITTEES OF LOCAL BRANCHES

KIMBERLEY. --  Messrs. Thos. Leeuw (chairman), S. Marogo (treasurer),
Bill Tshabalala, H. Ndlovu, Z. Jumane, A. R. Mashoko, T. Diniso (secretary).

BEACONSFIELD. --  Messrs. J. Smith (chairman), W. January,
S. Pehla (treasurer), Jas. Ngcezula, Ntshenge, B. Mradu,
J. S. Kokozela (secretary).

S. Sidziya, M. Mahuma, S. Kawa, Mildred Kokozela and L. Skota;
Messrs. J. Chologi, J. Matsebe, S. Pehla, Soga, J. Ngcezula and A. Ntshoko.

CITY HALL RECEPTION COMMITTEE:  Mesdames J. J. van der Riet and M. Ntsiko;
Messrs. Isaac P. Joshua, Sidney Motlhabi, P. W. Mama, T. Diniso,
Tony Msengana and J. G. Motlhabi.

An honorarium of 10 Pounds was voted in favour of the honorary secretary,
Mr. S. T. Plaatje.

After the deputation reached Capetown on May 13, 1914, we wrote Lord Gladstone
informing him that we were bearers of a petition from the native population
to His Majesty the King, which we would ask His Excellency
to graciously convey.  Of course we expected a short note from His Excellency
to the effect that "it was not within his constitutional functions"
to meet us, but to our surprise this time His Excellency wrote
appointing a meeting with us at noon on May 15 at Government House.
But, in the interview, the reason why that particular appointment
came within the pale of His Excellency's constitutional functions
became apparent:  for the Governor-General only made it the opportunity
to urge the deputation not to go to England.

The deputation replied that, even in native politics there was always
an appeal from the action of an induna to the native chief
and from the latter to the ruler; that it was straining the loyalty
of the black millions of South Africa to tell them that there was no appeal
to His Majesty the King against the oppressive laws of a Parliament
in which they had no representatives.

It must be added that although the Governor-General did not say so,
yet the barbarous cruelties of this relentless law appeared to have produced
a sympathy that was visible in his facial expression.  Astonishment and pity
were amongst the sensations which seemed to be depicted
on Lord Gladstone's face.  Still, he held out no hope that his good offices
would be used to secure an amelioration of the conditions complained of.
All His Excellency advised us to do was to abandon the appeal to England.

"But, your excellency, what about these cruelties that are now in progress?"
we asked.

"Oh, well," said Lord Gladstone, "the Natives are not the only sufferers,
even in England people have suffered hardships from time to time,
till they were compelled to emigrate to America and other places."

"That is true, your lordship, but it is to avert such a contingency,
if possible, that the Natives appointed a deputation to lay their case
before His Majesty the King, as they have no means to emigrate to America,
or any other country."

"Oh, no," he answered, "don't misunderstand me; I only use that
as an instance, not that Natives must emigrate."

The Governor-General then repeated the advice not to appeal to the Crown,
but he held out no hope of an amendment in the Act, and so the deputation
sailed for England.

Previous to this interview, no less a personage than General Botha himself
-- Premier and Minister for Native Affairs -- condescended to meet
the deputation.  Prior to this meeting, the deputation entertained
strong hopes that the Premier would come to it with an offer of, say, at least
allowing the hiring of land by Natives, pending the report of the Commission,
even though the prohibition to buy land remained in force.
But instead of such a minimum, the only hope that General Botha held out
was that he had not evicted the Natives on his own farm,
and that he had further told some farmers not to evict their Natives.
These personal acts of the Premier on his own farm, and with regard to
some other farmers, had not helped the entire native population of the Union
since the Act was promulgated.  Nor would they assist those native wanderers
who are now without a home on earth, as General Botha himself
could not allow any of them to settle on his farm without breaking the law.
Again, it did not seem quite clear how General Botha's efforts
in this direction could make any impression on private landowners when
his own officials were carrying out wholesale evictions of native tenants,
on the Government farms at Standerton and elsewhere, and sending them adrift
about the country.  The only remedy, and that a partial one,
would be to legalize the settlement of tenants who have been evicted.
But to this General Botha said, "If I went to Parliament now
with a Bill to amend this law they will think I'm mad."

That statement confirmed the decision of the deputation to proceed to England,
and accordingly they at once made arrangements for sailing.

One painful fact which these interviews revealed was
the ignorance of the Government in matters relating to the Natives.
The 5,000,000 blacks of the Union are taxed to maintain
what is called the most expensive Civil Service in the world.
The officials of the Native Affairs Department, in return for
their huge salaries, paid out of the proceeds of taxes levied from
relatively the most poorly paid manual labourers in the world,
namely, the Native taxpayers, are called "the guardians of the Natives";
but General Botha, the Minister of Native Affairs, "Father of the Natives"
and supreme head of the Civil Service, seemed (or pretended)
to know absolutely nothing of the manner in which his official underlings
play battledore and shuttlecock with the interests of the Native population.
To mention but one instance:  at one stage of the interview we attempted
to enlist his sympathy on behalf of the "Free" State Natives in particular,
who, in spite of prohibitive laws in the Boer statute books,
had not to our knowledge been debarred by the Boer Government
from buying or leasing land.  General Botha not only denied that his was
the first Boer administration which definitely enforced these prohibitions
but he also asserted, with all the dignity of his office,
that no living Native had ever bought a farm in the "Free" State
from a white man -- in short he accused us of telling lies.
Fortunately Mr. E. Dower, who remembered that some Native landowners
in both the Hoopstad and Thaba Ncho districts of the "Free" State
had acquired their properties from white people under the Republican regime,
was present at the interview and he then bore out our statement:
thus on May 15, 1914, the Prime Minister and Minister of Native Affairs
heard for the first time in his life that there were some Natives
actually living in the "Free" State who pay him quit-rent on farms
which they had bought from white people under Republican rule.

The assertion that "Free" State Natives lost nothing by the enforcement
of the Natives' Land Act is but one phase of the maze of ignorance
through which the Union Government is groping in a hopeless attempt
to discharge their trust to the native taxpayers.

The co-operation of intelligent and responsible native taxpayers,
which could sweep away these administrative cobwebs of ignorance,
is always at the disposal of the Government if they deigned
to avail themselves of it; but they prefer, at enormous cost
to the taxpayers (including native taxpayers), to purchase
from the non-native section of the community arm-chair views
based largely on hearsay evidence, which is often tainted by colour prejudice.
Hence the shroud of ignorance which surrounds the native policy
of the Union of South Africa.

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