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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 17

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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 XVII    The London Press and the Natives' Land Act

  Slaves cannot breathe in England:  if their lungs
  Receive our air, that moment they are free;
  They touch our country, and their shackles fall.

The native deputation (thanks to Mr. H. Cornish, secretary of
the Institute of Journalists) can truthfully assure their people,
at the present critical state of their position, of the sympathy
of the London Press.  It is hardly necessary to mention
that religious papers, to which the object of the deputation was made known,
published some very encouraging articles on the same,
and bespoke the deputation a cordial reception and a sympathetic hearing
throughout the United Kingdom; but the mission might have been
somewhat monotonous had we friends only and no enemies in the London Press.
And a weekly paper with a yellow cover, called `South Africa',
did its best to fill the role of an enemy.

It abused the Brotherhood Movement and the Aborigines Protection Society for
taking up the cause of the deputation.  The General Press Cutting Association,
however, through whom we learnt of the attacks of `South Africa',
did not tell us whether this journal also abused our other friends
represented by the London Press.  Such has been our good fortune
in this respect that friends frequently congratulated us
on the unanimity of the Press in our favour.  In this we think
they were right, as a cause with only one enemy could very well be depended on
to take care of itself.

On one occasion some of our friends heard that the author
was going to interview the fine-fingered editor of the `Westminster Gazette'
by appointment, and they strongly advised us against doing so.
"Why not?" we asked.  "Oh," said our friends, "he edits the leading
Government organ, and he is going to pump you of all information
in order to use it against your cause and in favour of the Government."
But we went -- firstly, because we refused to believe
that the editor of that great organ of British thought
was capable of taking such a mean advantage of us; and secondly,
because we were confident of being able to take care of ourselves
against any kind of pump; and we can now say with satisfaction that,
on the part of the British public, there was such a demand
for back numbers of the two editions of the `Westminster Gazette'
which contained a report of our interview and a photograph of the deputation
that in a fortnight both issues were sold out of print.  Further,
it is safe to say that from the wide area from which inquirers wrote to us
mentioning the `Daily News', it would seem that either that journal
has a very big circulation or its readers are mainly interested
in South African Affairs.  And what, may be asked, are the qualifications
of the newspaper `South Africa' which attempted to run counter
to this overwhelming opinion in our favour?

Unlike some of its contemporaries, `South Africa' has not
a single native contributor to its columns.  Some London newspapers
are in regular receipt of exchange copies from native newspapers
published in South Africa, London papers which never claimed
a monopoly over South African thought; yet here is a paper,
South African in title and in pretensions, which cannot even boast
of a South African native paper on its exchange list!  What information, then,
can the editors of such an exclusive London paper possess
about an Act specifically enacted to operate against Natives?
Logically, they would know absolutely less than next to nothing
about such a law or its fell work.  That alone should dispose of
the qualifications of this enemy of the deputation, and his authority to speak
on the subject of its mission.

The `African World' is an Anglo-African weekly which has
native newspaper exchanges and several African correspondents
both white and black.  Its editor-in-chief was born in South Africa
and was a journalist there before he came to reside in England;
and it must be admitted that a paper with such connexions
is in a better position to discuss the subject from both points of view.
And so the `African World' says:


It must be admitted that the South African Native Deputation
now in this country have gone about their business with decorum.
They have not pressed themselves forward unduly, and, so far,
the publicity given to them has been moderate in its tone, and the expressions
by the members of the deputation have been equally moderate.
Of course, their best friends discountenanced this visit, as we have noted
from the South African Press, but it seems to be the general opinion
that even though no appeal lies under the Union Constitution
to the British Crown as regards native rights, an extraordinary anomaly
seems to exist in this:  That the Natives of South Africa within the Union
appear to have fewer rights than those outside the Union, especially so far
as an appeal to London on various matters affecting their interests
is concerned.  We are aware that Mr. Harcourt treated the deputation
with the utmost discretion when he received them.  We also know
that Mr. Harcourt and General Botha are on very friendly personal relations,
and under these circumstances, without wishing to dictate
any action in the matter to the powers that be on both sides of the water,
we would like to join our contemporary `The Globe'.

And what did `The Globe' say?

                               THE NATIVE APPEAL

The complaint of the South African Natives who have laid their grievances
before certain members of Parliament amounts in effect to a complaint
that Parliament is not Imperial.  Their grievances are real and pressing,
as anybody can discover who troubles to look up the recent proceedings
of the Union Parliament, but they have no constitutional means
of ventilating them.  No native franchise exists in South Africa,
and although certain members of the Union Senate are presumed
to keep an eye on native questions their influence has proved ineffective.
No appeal exists under the Union Constitution to the Crown
as regards Native rights, for although this omission was pointed out
at the time the Act of Union was debated in the Imperial Parliament
and was adversely commented on, no steps were taken by the Colonial Office
to rectify the constitution in this respect.  We are, therefore,
brought up against the extraordinary anomaly that Natives of South Africa
within the Union have fewer rights than those outside -- for the Basutos,
who remain under direct Imperial control, have successfully appealed to London
on various matters affecting their interests -- or even than
the Natives of Crown Colonies elsewhere, as the appeal of native landowners
on the Gold Coast against recent legislation in that territory attests.
In the latter case the appeal to the Colonial Office
was successful in modifying the offending enactments;
in the far more serious grievances of the South African Natives
the Colonial Office has no constitutional title whatever.
Nevertheless the relations between Mr. Harcourt and General Botha
in other respects are notoriously so close and confidential that we may hope
the Colonial Secretary will take the present occasion by the hand
and urge upon the head of the South African Government
the wisdom of dealing with native discontents in his own proper sphere
before he prosecutes his claim for the inclusion of the Basutos and Rhodesia
in the Union -- a claim which both the black Natives and the white colonists
have repudiated with all the emphasis at their command.
General Botha could scarcely fail to give heed to private advice
from the Colonial Office.  In the case of the Natal Indians, whose grievances
he recently redressed, he proved himself a man capable of taking
a broad and generous view of a difficult question.  There is no reason
to anticipate until the contrary is proved, that he will fall below
his own level in the present not less difficult or dangerous case.

                           VIEWS OF THE `DAILY NEWS'

"The South African National Congress, after resorting to
every constitutional means of pressing their case against the Land Act
on the Union Government, have sent five of their number to London
in the firm conviction that the King of England, to whom they look
as their natural defender and vindicator, will turn no deaf ear
to their pleas.  Two of the five -- the Rev. J. L. Dube and Mr. Saul Msane --
are Zulus; Dr. Rubusana is a Xosa; Mr. Mapikela, a Fingo;
and Mr. Plaatje, the secretary of the National Congress, a Bechuana.
All of them are men of obvious culture and with a striking command
of the English language."

"Having failed to make any impression on the Union Government
(`If we had votes,' Dr. Rubusana observed, `we could fight our own battles')
the deputation has come to England in the hope of influencing
the Imperial Government through the Colonial Secretary.

"What they ask for is:

"First, a suspension of the operation of the Act pending the report
of the Delimitation Commission:

"Second, an inquiry into native grievances under the Act; and,

"Thirdly, an assurance that the Home Government will express its concurrence
with certain promises made recently on behalf of General Botha,
but obviously depending for their value on the continuance of
his personal political supremacy.

                           Four Blacks to One White

"In carving out estates for themselves in Africa the white races have shown
little regard for the claims of the black man," says the `Daily News'.
"They have appropriated his land, and in appropriating his land
have taken away his economic freedom, and have left him in a worse case
than they found him.  How the Native has been dispossessed may be illustrated
by the facts in regard to the Union of South Africa.  Here the blacks,
as compared with the whites, are in the proportion of four to one;
but they are in legal occupation of only one-fifteenth of the soil.

"Under the Natives' Land Act, which has brought the matter to a crisis,
even the poor fragment of rights in the soil that remains seems doomed.
For under the Act the Native is denied the right -- except with
the quite illusory `approval of the Governor-General' to purchase, hire,
or acquire any rights in land from a person other than a Native.
Under this provision, the Native whose tenancy expires, or who is evicted
from a farm, is legally denied any career except that of a labourer.
He cannot own, he cannot hire, he cannot live a free man.

                                 A Legal Serf

"In the language of Mr. Dower, the Secretary for Native Affairs,
he must `sell his stock and go into service.'  He must accept any conditions
the white farmer chooses or the mine-owner gives, and an ingenious clause
encourages the white farmer to exact unpaid service from the native tenants.
In a word, the Native is a legal serf in his own land.

"As British subjects, the deputation of Natives now in England
have appealed to the Imperial Government for protection.
They asked for its help to secure the suspension of the Act
until the Land Commission report is before Parliament,
and for machinery to inquire into and redress their grievances.
They have got no satisfaction on these points.

"It is time that Parliament gave some attention to its obligations
in regard to the South African Native.  He has no vote and no friends --
only his labour, which the white man wants on the cheapest terms.
And the white man has got this by taking his land and imposing on him
taxes that he cannot pay.  In fact, the black man is `rounded up'
on every side, and if, as the deputation suggest may be the case,
he is forced to acts of violence, it will not be possible to say
that he has not had abundant provocation.

                              Rights to the Soil

"There is only one principle that can be applied for his protection.
It is the principle that he has rights in his native soil.
Perhaps segregation is the only remedy now, but if so
the reservations allocated to him in the Union area ought to have
some relation to his needs.  We cannot do much for him there,
but we should do what we can."

Mr. Advocate F. A. Silva wrote to the `Daily News': --

                             AN APPEAL FOR JUSTICE

Sir, --  Will you please allow me space, while appreciating
your editorial of this date, to bring to the kind notice of your readers
the distinction between "British justice as supposed to be"
and "British justice as it is" with regard to the subject races,
especially the black men?

If even the "hair" of a "white" British subject were to be touched in China
or Japan or Turkey or Russia, the whole of the political parties of England,
with their usual patriotism, will rise to the occasion, and with one accord
demand the use of physical force against that country.

But here in South Africa, on the day the "Act" came into law, all agreements
with regard to land were terminated, and thousands of the Natives
found themselves ruined and homeless.  From tenants they have become serfs.

If the Imperial Parliament looks with complacency on these
tyrannical proceedings of a local Parliament, then the British public
should not be surprised if the intelligent and thoughtful
among the subject races of "Britain" consider "British justice"
and "Russian tyranny" to be synonymous terms.

Let us draw attention to one more letter, by an Anglo-African
to the `Daily News', which was typical of the rest: --

                            THE BLACK MAN'S BURDEN

Sir, --  Those of your readers who, like myself, have some
first-hand knowledge of the Natives of South Africa, know that this grievance
voiced by the native deputation is a very real one.  That such a deputation
should have to come to England to urge such a plea is humiliating enough
to them and to us.  That their plea should be urged in vain
would be disastrous to the last degree.

If the Natives' Land Act is the best thing the Union Government can do
in the discharge of its responsibilities to the native tribes
placed under its care by the King, then many of us would have to revise
our faith in self-government as a fit instrument of national evolution;
and would, moreover, strenuously resist the ultimate incorporation
of the northern territories within the Union as being infinitely worse
for the black man than even government under Chartered Company control.

One hopes that it is not yet too late for both Boer and Briton in South Africa
to see that this debasement of the whole idea of self-government
is to affront and discourage all in Great Britain who saw
in the grant of its own political freedom to that great country
a healing for its many woes.  In the meantime Liberalism
must back the native deputation at all costs, and it is well
that `The Daily News and Leader' should lead the way.


One object of the South African War was to liberate the Native
in the Transvaal.  One result of it is that we have practically
less opportunity to interfere in his behalf than we had
under the Convention with the South African Republic.  Interference in
the internal affairs of a self-governing colony -- in this case a colony
in which a small number of white men govern a large number of black --
has ceased to be within the realm of practical politics.
But if this political interference is impossible, moral remonstrance
is all the more in point.  There is in all parts of the world
a better and more enlightened as well as a duller and more callous
public opinion, and the better opinion of a colony is powerfully reinforced
by judicious expression of feeling in the mother country.
There are occasions when that opinion should even be formally expressed
by the Colonial Office or by a resolution of the House of Commons.
Now, there is at present a deputation of South African Natives in this country
appealing against the ratification of the Natives' Land Act of 1913.
Mr. Harcourt has told them that he cannot interfere, nor can he
any more than if he were an ornamental registering clerk.
But he can if he chooses speak winged words to the South African Government,
which, having alienated the entire white working population,
is now exciting the same hostility among the blacks.
The Act itself probably has a deeper motive.  It prevents
the sale of white men's land to the Natives or native land to the white men.
This would have the effect of securing to the Native
that very small portion of his own country which he has still managed
to retain.  This probably commended the measure to those
who because they care for elementary justice are called negrophile,
the colour of justice in a white man's eyes being apparently black.
The other effect would be to prevent those Kafirs who are
becoming educated and rising in the social scale from acquiring land.
As in proportion to population the white man has by far the greater
amount of land, it is clear that he does not come badly out of the bargain.
However, it is not the Act itself of which the most serious complaint is made.
What makes matters worse is the interim arrangement that
pending the delimitation of native land by a Commission
no Native whose lease of land has expired shall be able to renew it
for a money rent or for any consideration whatever except labour service.
It is contended that farmers are taking advantage of this prohibition to exact
unpaid labour services from Natives, and are thus in effect reducing them
to serfdom.  It is clear that the position in which the Native is placed
renders this only too possible, and it is an extraordinary thing
that any such violent alteration of status should be made
before instead of after the report of a Commission.  For our part
we cannot believe that men like Generals Botha and Smuts deliberately desire
to reduce the Native to the condition of a semi-servile, landless labourer,
and we would venture on behalf of the many Liberals who fought steadily
for the right of South Africa to govern herself to appeal to them
to extend a similar consideration to the people of whose destinies
they have become responsible, and to suspend the operation of the Act
until the administrative preparations for carrying it out with equity
have been completed.  -- `Manchester Guardian'.

                              VIEWS OF THE "STAR"

We have always realized that one of the gravest problems of self-government
in South Africa is the native question.  On the one hand,
South African Colonial opinion -- by which is meant "white" opinion --
will bitterly resent any shadow of dictation from Downing Street;
on the other hand, the conscience of the British people cannot remain
indifferent to any flagrant oppression of or injustice to the native races
under the British flag.  A very difficult question of this kind
is raised by the deputation of South African Natives,
which is now in this country, seeking to move the Colonial Office
on the subject of the Natives' Land Act recently passed by General Botha.
The ultimate object of General Botha's plan is the greatest exodus
since the days of Moses; it is apparently to get rid of black landholders
in areas in which the majority of the landowners are white,
and to buy up tracts of land elsewhere from white landowners, in order
to settle Natives upon them.  In this way the black and the white races,
so far as landholding is concerned, will be segregated into separate areas,
with a reduction of possible cause of friction, and in some respects
this is an excellent policy.  But the trouble is that General Botha
has passed the first part of his policy and has left the second part
to the future.  The Land Act provides that hereafter,
"except with the approval of the Governor-General" -- which proviso
is mere leather and prunella -- a Native shall not buy or hire any land
from a person other than a Native.  The effect of this is that
at the termination of any existing tenancy a Native will have
to relinquish his farm, and will not be able to hire or buy another
from any white owner.  If the Government had provided farms
in the proposed native reserves for these men, their policy would be complete,
but nothing has been done, and the fulfilment of that promise depends upon
General Botha's continuance in office, and does not bind his successors.
It is not surprising the South African Natives regard this Act
as a means of driving them into the labour market either at the mines,
or for white farmers.  Mr. Dower, the Secretary for Native Affairs,
addressing a meeting of Natives at Thaba Nchu, in the Free State,
gave a strong hint of this when he said:  "My best advice to you
is to sell your stock and go into service."  Here at home we hear a great deal
about the "magic of property" and the importance of giving the worker
an interest in the soil he tills; but in South Africa they apparently agree
with the southerner in the `Biglow Papers' that
    Libbaty's a kind o' thing
    Thet don't agree with niggers.
It is clear that it is the duty of the Colonial Office to guarantee,
in conjunction with the South African Government, the carrying out
of the full policy as outlined by General Botha, and we hope
occasion will be taken to urge action on these lines.  -- `Star'.

                          CAN BRITAIN PREVENT SLAVERY

A question of great importance and a question which may easily strain
the links that bind the various parts of the Empire and the Mother Country,
has arisen in South Africa owing to the operation of the Natives' Land Act
passed last year by the Union Parliament.  The Native question is by far
the greatest problem South Africa has to solve, and its difficulties
are so great that nobody has been able to advance any feasible scheme
for its settlement, though there have been many suggestions
as to the broad lines on which the matter may be settled.
The Land Act is an attempt to establish modified segregation --
i.e., confining the white man and the black to separate areas of the country.
It is by no means a well-thought-out nor a very practicable enactment,
and unfortunately has had the effect of greatly irritating the Natives
throughout the Union.  The Natives do not think they are being treated fairly,
and have used every legitimate means to obtain a hearing.
These means, however, are exceedingly meagre, practically non-existent,
since they have no one to represent them, and as they have no vote
they can bring no pressure on Parliament.  Having failed in South Africa,
they have sent a deputation to Great Britain, since, as they are
British subjects, they consider that Great Britain should look after them.
Arriving here, they find the Home Government cannot interfere
in the internal policy of a self-governing colony, and so are left
with no means of obtaining redress.  It is surely impossible to admit
that Great Britain can do nothing for the mass of the native population,
although at the moment it appears to them that though
they are subjects of the King he cannot even hear their appeal,
and will do nothing for them, and has abandoned them, a state of affairs
which is quite incomprehensible to them and leads them to depend
solely on themselves to obtain redress -- and that way rebellion lies.
Britain is in an awkward position as she still has obligations
to secure justice to the Natives.  If South Africa were to enact slavery,
would Britain still be able to do nothing to prevent it?

                              Ousting the Native

Surely Mr. Harcourt can suggest to the South African Government
the necessity of appointing a Commission to inquire into
the working of the Act, a Commission which would include Natives
as well as whites.  That the Natives have a material grievance is certain.
The Act says that there shall be certain areas in which no Native
can own or lease land, and similarly areas in which no white
can own or lease land.  That within a certain period the Natives owning land
in the white area must sell out, and when their leases run out
they shall not be renewed, similarly for the whites in the black area.
Now at present no black area has been delimited, and the Commission
performing this task will not report for a year or more;
meanwhile the blacks are being turned off the land and have nowhere to go.
The only course left to them is to hire themselves out as servants
to the white; and, in fact, that is the real object of the Act.
The farmers found that the Natives were acquiring land rapidly,
and working for themselves rather than for the white man.
There was a shortage of labour, and farmers wished to force the Natives
to work for them rather than for themselves.  This ejection
with no other alternative is obviously most unfair, especially as
there are indications that the native areas will not be delimited
for a considerable time.  The South Africans have always feared
a combined action of all the native tribes, but surely by this Act
they have chosen the simplest way of irritating every Native in South Africa.
This condition of affairs is exceedingly grave, and, though the results
are suppressed at present, there is no knowing what may happen
if the British Government, whom the Natives regard as their final
court of appeal, shows itself powerless.  We know that the native question
in South Africa is terribly difficult, but it is an obvious course
to be pursued in order to maintain good relations between the two races
that grievances should be fairly heard and dealt with justly.
-- `Review of Reviews'.

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