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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 21

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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 XXI     Coloured People's Help Rejected / The Offer of Assistance
                  by the South African Coloured Races Rejected

  The Africans and their descendants in America have proven to the world
    that they do not lack courage and military ardour.  This the French
    have recognized by enlisting them in their present struggle.
    We hope for the sake of the Africans that they will give
    a good account of themselves, but the coloured race is like the Irish
    who are invincible in fighting for other nations, but not for themselves.
                                       An American on the Great War.

The African Political Organization was early in the field.
Dr. Abdurahman, its president, during the first week of the war,
had a force of 3,000 coloured men at Capetown ready to take the field
against the Germans.  These men included those who had fought
for the British flag, side by side with the British troops
in the Matabele wars and other South African campaigns in various capacities.
In a few days the number of this force rose to 5,000 able-bodied men
ready to go to the front.  A definite offer of the service of this force
was communicated to the Union Government, who replied that the offer
was under consideration.

Mr. William Hosken, the famous Johannesburg politician,
member of the Transvaal Parliament before the unification of South Africa
-- a gentleman whose legislative talents are now unfortunately in abeyance,
because his liberal views on colour are too advanced
for the palates of the lily-white voters of his State --
offered to pay the cost of recruiting such a coloured force.
Application forms were scattered throughout the country, asking volunteers
to send in their names and addresses to the A.P.O. headquarters
signifying their intention to serve as units of the Hosken Division.
Our old friend Mr. N. R. Veldsman, a coloured political organizer
of considerable ability, who had been in retirement for the past year or two,
came forward, took his place among the coloured leaders,
and addressed patriotic meetings at Saron and other Cape districts
on behalf of the recruiting movement.

                            PATRIOTIC DEMONSTRATION

The City Hall, Capetown, was packed on Monday night, August 31, 1914,
with coloured citizens of Capetown, who had assembled to express
their loyalty to King George and their determination to support the Government
during the present crisis.

Sir Frederick Smith, who presided, thought the coloured people
had taken a wise course in calling that meeting to tender
their assistance to the Government while Britain was engaged in war.
He was confident that that demonstration would receive
the grateful appreciation of the Prime Minister, his Cabinet,
and also of H.M. King George.

Dr. Abdurahman said that the coloured people had met in public meeting
on many occasions, but never in the history of South Africa
had they been called together on a more solemn occasion,
nor at a more critical juncture, and never when the issues were fraught
with greater consequences.

The coloured people had many grievances, but all that must be forgotten
while danger was threatening the very existence of the Empire.
If the Empire fell, South Africa would fall, Capetown would fall,
and Capetown might even be laid in ruins.

Although England was engaged in a life and death struggle,
South Africans felt secure and could sleep in peace.  That security was due
to the supremacy of the British Navy.  They had met that night to decide
how they could assist the Empire.  He moved the following resolution:

"That the coloured citizens of Capetown, in mass meeting assembled,
under the auspices of the A.P.O., hereby express their loyalty
to H.M. King George V, and take this opportunity of placing on record
their recognition of the fact that the security that they at present enjoy
is due primarily to the supremacy of the British Navy; and further,
they pray that Britain's efforts during the war will be crowned with success.
That a copy of this resolution be forwarded to H.E. the Governor-General
for transmission to H.M. the King."  (Applause.)

Mr. J. C. Carelse, in seconding the resolution, remarked that that
was not the time to consider their own troubles, but to show the enemy
that they stood together as a united Empire against any foe who dared
to lower the Union Jack.  The resolution was adopted with enthusiasm.

Mr. N. R. Veldsman appealed to the coloured people to assist those
who as a result of the war might suffer.  The coloured people
should spend less on bioscopes and trivialities, and contribute to a fund
which it was proposed to raise.  He moved the following resolution:

"That, in order to alleviate the suffering which inevitably accompanied war,
an appeal is hereby made to the coloured citizens of the Union
to contribute to a fund to be administered by the following committee:
The Rt. Rev. Bishop J. A. Johnson, Mrs. Wooding, Mrs. Abdurahman, Mrs. Gow,
Dr. Gool, Dr. Abdurahman, the Rev. F. Gow, Messrs. C. J. Carelse, S. Reagon,
N. R. Veldsman, S. F. Geyer, P. Grever, H. Hartog, B. Baron, H. Cressy,
A. Arendze, H. J. Gordon, R. Hoedemaker, W. A. Roberts, M. J. Fredericks,
Fred Hendricks, H. A. Gamildien, Pfieffer, and George Fife."

The Rev. Mr. Gow seconded the resolution, and said that
although the spirit of war was in the air, there was also
a spirit of helpfulness in the air.  They should at this period
forget race and creed and contribute to the fund.

Mrs. Wooding, who spoke in support of the resolution,
remarked that the coloured women would be found ready to do their duty
whenever the call went forth.  The best way to show loyalty to the Empire
was by rendering some service.  The resolution was unanimously adopted.

Dr. Gool said that another way of giving practical assistance to the Empire
was by raising volunteer corps for active service.  He moved:

"That the offer made through the A.P.O. to raise volunteers
for active service at home or abroad be approved, and that this meeting
tenders to the Union Government its loyal support during the present crisis."

Mr. S. Reagon, who seconded, said that they were excluded
from the Defence Force.  But as the Empire was endangered
he hoped an opportunity would be given the coloured people
to take a part in the fighting line.

The resolution was agreed to.  The sum of 37 Pounds was raised
during the evening.

Mr. H. Seymour rendered some patriotic selections on the organ.
The meeting concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

At Johannesburg, Mr. Koopman presided over a crowded meeting
of the Rand branches of the Coloured Organization, which unanimously
endorsed the proposal to raise the corps.  Similar meetings,
under the respective chairmanship of Mr. Keiler, Mr. Samuels,
and Mr. I. Joshua, were held by the Pretoria town and country branches
and at Kimberley.  At Pretoria, Revs. G. Weavind and Mr. Hanford,
both missionaries, also spoke offering to associate themselves
with the coloured people in any benevolent efforts undertaken
to alleviate the distress that might follow the outbreak of the war.
Port Elizabeth and other district branches also moved
in the same direction.  Capetown, the headquarters of the Organization,
was the centre of these activities, and a number of coloured women
wrote to the A.P.O. secretary offering their services as nurses
to accompany the coloured volunteer force to German South-West Africa,
so that the coloured people, as the A.P.O. newspaper puts it,
"have closed their book with its ugly record against the Botha Government,
and offered the Prime Minister their loyal support during the war."

But while these things were in progress, the Union Defence Force,
which had mobilized near the German frontier under Colonel Maritz,
rebelled against the Crown, and with their arms and ammunition
they joined the Germans.  This act of rebellion occasioned the greatest alarm
among the coloured population near the boundaries of German South-West Africa.
And they appealed to the Government for arms to protect
their homes and properties.  They remembered what happened
during the Boer War, when the Dutch inhabitants of those districts
joined their kinsmen from across the Vaal, and how that Natives who were armed
always remained free from molestation.  That their present fear
was not groundless the following declaration shows: --

I herewith declare that my brother and I were on a visit
to the farm Groen Doorn, Cape Province, on the morning of September 16, 1914.

When we got opposite the police camp, we were surprised to see the camp
invaded by Germans.  The Germans then beckoned us to come up,
and told us that we were prisoners, and that we must go with them
to the station of Ukamas.  My brother on hearing that
turned his horse and galloped back.  The Germans called on him
to halt at once, but he did not stop.  Then they fired at him,
and shot him dead.

My brother was left lying where he fell.  After he was shot
I asked if I could go to him, but the Germans would not allow me.
Afterwards I was taken to the German camp, where I found
all the coloured people of Groen Doorn that were captured by the Germans.
Two old women who were too weak to walk all the way were left half-way
without either food or water; one of the two was a cripple,
and the other an old woman between sixty and seventy years of age.

I stayed at the German camp at Nakob till the first German patrol
went back to Groen Doorn to guard.  Then that same evening I ran away
from the German camp, and fortunately got safe home to my house at Nudab.

I again declare that this story is an exact reproduction of what I have seen
with my own eyes.

                                        (X his mark)
                                   Jacobus Bezuidenhout.
Witness:  T. Kotzee.
  Signed at Keimoes this 6th day of October, 1914.

This statement was conveyed to the Union Government by Mr. M. J. Fredericks,
secretary of the African Political Organization.  With it there was a request
by a meeting of coloured people at Calvinia and adjacent districts
near the German frontier asking for arms.  General Smuts replied,
regretting the situation in which the coloured residents of
the districts of Calvinia, Kenhardt, Keimoes, and Upington found themselves;
and said that he hoped the Union forces would ere long remove the cause
of their anxiety.  He added that the question of arming coloured citizens
had been carefully considered by the Government, but that, for reasons
already published, their request for arms could not be complied with.

Finally General Smuts expressed regret at the shooting of the brother
of Jacobus Bezuidenhout.  "Apparently the deceased had been shot
because he attempted to escape, and in the circumstances," added the General,
"the Germans were clearly justified in shooting him."

If General Smuts is right in his concluding remarks, then the Germans are
quite justified in pillaging Belgium, as the reason they ravaged that country
was because the Belgians refused to comply with a plain request
to allow German troops to proceed through Belgium to France.  But whatever
the view of the South African Government might be on these subjects,
we would like to point out that it is against a coloured man's grain
to obey the orders of a man, no matter who, if he is at war
with the coloured man's chief.  It would be nothing unusual for a German
to order a coloured man about in times of peace, but once war was declared,
it became an outrage upon the traditions of the blacks to obey Germans
who were now the enemies of their country.

General Smuts will no doubt remember his own operations in 1901,
before he became a British subject.  How he then invaded Cape Colony,
and got a number of recruits from among the Dutch inhabitants
of certain Cape districts.  How eventually, when he came
to the district of Calvinia, his burghers, reinforced by rebels,
found a coloured blacksmith there, by the name of Abraham Ezau.
How the burghers demanded certain information from this man,
and he refused to supply enemies and rebels of the Crown with any information.
That the man was severely ill-treated and tortured, but that
he would not disclose anything.  And how that a gang of Boers
dragged this coloured man out of the town and shot him down;
that they also looted Abraham Ezau's shop and took away
the murdered man's tools, which his widow never recovered, and for which
the writer has been informed she never received any compensation.
The Cape Government, prior to the Union, erected a tombstone
over the grave of this man, who sacrificed his life for it rather than betray
his country.  And the sight of that memorial stone was no doubt
a grim reminder to the inhabitants of Calvinia of what would happen
if the rebels invaded Calvinia once more.

    Burra dur hai Tipperary
     Bahoot lumbah koouch wo
    Burra dur hai Tipperary
     Sakki pas pownchenay ko
    Ram ram Piccadilly
     Salaam Leicester Square
    Burra, burra dur hai Tipperary
     Lakin dil hoaye phus-gayah.
                             "Tipperary" in Hindustani.

The Natives and the Cape coloured Afrikanders were not alone in tendering
loyal offers of service to the Government.  The Indians of Natal
and other coloured residents likewise offered their services
to the Government, besides subscribing liberally according to their means
to the various war funds.  The St. Helenians of Capetown passed
the following resolutions, which Mr. S. Reagon, the secretary,
forwarded to the Government: --

(1)  That this meeting of St. Helenians expresses its unswerving and devoted
     loyalty to His Majesty King George and His Governments.

(2)  That it expresses its full confidence in the Union Government
     in the present crisis through which the Empire and Union are passing,
     and congratulates General Botha, and expresses its deep appreciation
     of his practical patriotism in having taken command of the Union Forces
     in the field.

(3)  That the services of the Association and its members be hereby offered
     to the Union Government in whatever manner they may be of assistance
     to ensure the triumph of the Empire and for the maintenance
     of law and order.

Shortly after the outbreak of the present war, Dr. Abdurahman
offered the Government the services of the 5,000 coloured warriors
recruited through the A.P.O., and General Smuts replied that the offer
was under consideration.  Meanwhile the A.P.O. recruiting agency
had been continuing its work, and no fewer than 13,000 coloured men
had sent in their names and addresses and signified their intention to take
the field.  So Mr. Fredericks, the secretary of the A.P.O., wrote once more
to General Smuts, on October 23, offering the services of these men
in the name of the Coloured People's Organization.  This offer brought forth
the following definite reply, which is couched in identical terms
to the one sent on the same date to Dr. Rubusana, who wrote offering
the services of 5,000 Natives: --

                         Department of Defence,
                                   November 6, 1914.

Sir, --  With reference to your letter of the 23rd ult.,
I beg to inform you that the Union Government greatly appreciates
the offer of service of the Cape coloured people.

I am, however, to refer you to the provisions of Section 7
of the South African Defence Act, 1912, and to state that the Government
does not desire to avail itself of the services in a combatant capacity
of citizens not of European descent in the present hostilities.
Apart from other considerations, the present war is one which has its origin
among the white peoples of Europe, and the Government is anxious to avoid
the employment of coloured citizens in a warfare against whites.

No doubt the Government of British South Africa was actuated
by the loftiest motives in rejecting voluntary offers of service
from citizens of non-European descent; but it is clear that such a reply
at such a time ought not to please many people in Great Britain who had
to offer the cream of British manhood to defend their portion of the Empire,
and then to offer in addition more men to lay down their lives
for the safety of the Colonies, including South Africa,
a land with thousands of able-bodied and experienced warriors
who are willing to defend their own country.  For the same reason
this decision ought not to please our French Allies, who,
besides sacrificing men and money on the battlefields of Continental Europe,
must provide more men and money to guard their colonial possessions
in different parts of the globe.  This decision ought not also to cheer
any one in Belgium, where fathers and mothers and their children
are separated and starving, a nation living practically in exile,
or in bondage, its brave monarch sojourning in foreign territory.
On the other hand, if there is any one place where this decision
of the Government of British South Africa would be hailed
with the liveliest satisfaction, it is certainly Berlin,
and that particularly after the bitter experiences of German troops
in encounters with native African troops, both in Continental Europe
and in East and West Africa.

Similarly this decision of the South African Government ought not to please
the Boers themselves, inasmuch as, finding the request for volunteers
amongst the whites failed to secure sufficient men, the Union Government
had perforce to resort to coercion, in that some 300 Boers who refused
to enlist for service in the expedition to German South West Africa
were fined or imprisoned.  This course, which is practically conscription,
would have been unnecessary had the Union Government accepted
the offered service of the 18,000 and more volunteers whom it curtly rejected.

The coloured people, judging by the letters that many of them have sent
to the Press, felt humiliated to find that during the Empire's darkest hour
a Government to which they pay taxation is publishing decisions
that ought to wound the feelings of the Allies' sympathizers
and give satisfaction to the enemy.

It is just possible that the Government refused the offer
of the coloured people in deference to the wishes of a section
of the white people of the Union; but judging from the African Press,
that section, although somewhat noisy, was an infinitesimal one.
This section, as is shown from the extract below, also discussed
the voyage of the Indian troops to Europe.  The `East Rand Express', a paper
published in one of the most important suburbs of Johannesburg, said: --

                          COLOURED TROOPS AND THE WAR

The news that Great Britain intends to employ Indian native troops
against the Germans has come as a shock to many South Africans.
We can but hope the news is incorrect.  In our opinion it would be
a fatal mistake to use coloured troops against the whites, more especially
as plenty of whites are available.  From the English standpoint
there is probably nothing offensive in the suggestion.  Most Home people
do not seem to see anything repugnant in black boxers fighting whites,
but they have not had to live in the midst of a black population.
If the Indians are used against the Germans it means that
they will return to India disabused of the respect they should bear
for the white race.  The Empire must uphold the principle that a coloured man
must not raise his hand against a white man if there is to be any law or order
in either India, Africa, or any part of the Empire where
the white man rules over a large concourse of coloured people.
In South Africa it will mean that the Natives will secure pictures of whites
being chased by coloured men, and who knows what harm such pictures may do?
That France is employing coloured troops is no excuse.
Two blacks in any sense do not make a white.  The employment of native troops
against Germany will be a hard blow on the prestige of the white man.

These emotionalists urge the Imperialists against the use of black warriors
for the simple reason that it would give them (the emotionalists) "a shock".
So that the agony of British troops and the anxiety of British
wives and mothers is not to be lessened, nor the perils of non-combatants
greatly minimized, or the war hastened by a decisive concentration
of the Empire's forces on the battlefield, because of the "shock"
it would give the emotionalists for black to fight against white.
The common-sense view would show the advantage in permitting all subjects,
including the coloured races of South Africa, to take part in the struggle
and thus enable the authorities to place more men on the Continent,
instead of sending drafts of Imperial troops to take the places of men
at the outposts of the Empire, who are disqualified solely by their colour.

Last New Year the author received a letter from a well-known British mother
conveying her well-wishes besides the following moving particulars: --

We are almost beside ourselves with grief over this awful war.
My young nephew has been home on a nine days' holiday at Christmas
and he has now returned to the front.  He has been awarded the D.S.O. for
blowing up a bridge and so delaying the Germans in the march upon Paris.
My cousin, Mrs. ----, has lost her two only sons -- both killed
on the same day -- December 21.  Besides other English friends and relatives
fighting on the British side, I have also a young German cousin
fighting on the other side.  He has been so badly wounded in his throat
that the vocal chords have received such an injury as to lead
to the loss of his voice, and his career as a barrister is probably at an end.
His poor mother is a widow and has only one other son, who is very delicate.

The writer has during the past six months come across
instances of the loss of an only son, but all these agonies count as nothing
to your colourphobic emotionalists, who must, at any price,
be spared their "shock" regardless of the sufferings of others.
Now ask these men what they would offer the Empire as a substitute
for the coloured troops whose employment against the enemy
gives them "the shock", and you will find that they have nothing to offer
but their colour prejudice.

What, for instance, could the leader-writer of the `East Rand Express'
offer to the Empire in place of the generous help rendered to it
by the Maharajah of Mysore, a lad of only eighteen years of age,
who besides the services of his men gave the "trifle" of 330,000 Pounds,
or in place of the present of the Nizam of Hyderabad,
who contributed 396,000 Pounds towards the cost of the Hyderabad contingent;
or the Maharajah Scindia of Gwalior, who handed to King George,
as a Christmas present for the troops, a "tiny fleet"
of forty-one motor-ambulances, four motor-cars for officers,
five motor-lorries and repair wagons, and ten motor-cycles;
or to come nearer home, and to deal with a more modest gift,
the two hundred bullocks which Chief Molala Mankuroane, near Kimberley,
gave General Botha to feed the Union troops?

And when these liberal sacrifices are made by black men
for the safety of the Empire, INCLUDING BRITISH SOUTH AFRICA,
one is constrained to ask:  Where are those loud-mouthed pen-men who,
possessed of more pretension than foresight, wrote bombastic articles
in the Transvaal Press before the war, threatening that "South Africa
will cut the painter", and "paddle her own canoe", if men and women in Europe
made themselves a nuisance by advocating ideas of justice
in favour of the blacks?  General Botha confessed last September
that the South African Government tried to, but could not,
borrow more than 2,000,000 Pounds; that the Imperial Government
had come to the rescue and "helped the Union out of its embarrassment
with a loan of 7,000,000 Pounds" of British money.  When from his seat
in the Union House of Assembly the Prime Minister announced this failure,
why did not these secessionists come forward and display
their "paddling" capacity?  What has suddenly become of them?

Is it not about time that the Empire recognized the unprofitableness,
and even the ruinous policy, of these gentlemen, and that it ceased
paying so much attention to those whose views are distorted
by colour prejudice, whose object is to inflict unnecessary harm
on the minds, bodies and spirits of loyal subjects of the Crown?
One cannot help saying that if their career in this respect is not checked,
their evil policy will land the Empire in a tangle of difficulties
from which its rescue will require the highest statesmanship,
much expenditure of treasure, if not also the shedding of blood.

We have already stated that coloured men ARE serving the Empire at the front,
but mainly in capacities that do not involve their recognition.
We have recently read of the trial of two coloured men at Willowmore,
in the Cape Province.  They were said to have expressed the view
that if coloured persons are not fit to fight for the Empire "in a war
originating entirely among Europeans", they could not be considered fit
to drive military wagons in the same war.  Recruiting of military drivers
was in progress at the time, so they were charged under martial law,
and sentenced to nine months, with hard labour, for obstructing
the recruiting work.  In this case our difficulty is that, not being a lawyer,
we are not able to draw the fine distinctions between legal phrases.
But to our untutored lay mind it seems that if to give expression
to such logic (whereby ten drivers may think twice before enlisting)
is a crime under martial law, then it should be over ten times more criminal,
under the same law, for a Government to refuse the offer of service,
in the same war, of 18,000 warriors and thereby barring
the enlistment of a possible 80,000.

One of the best replies to colour sentimentalists which we have ever read
on this subject is quoted from the `New York World' by the `Crisis'
(Professor Du Bois's paper) of the same city.  Says the `New York World': --

The German Ambassador has announced to the United States
that he is "unconditionally opposed" to the use of coloured troops.
This is a curious prejudice on the part of the diplomatic representative
of a Government that is seeking to bring Turkey into the conflict
and trying to persuade the Turk to instigate a "holy war" in Egypt and India
against all non-Mohammedans.

When Germany went to war with the British Empire she must have expected
to fight the British Empire, and not merely a selected part of the population,
the colour of whose skin happened to meet the approval of Berlin.

It is natural enough that Great Britain should bring up her Indian troops,
who, by the way, are as completely identified with the Aryan race
as the Prussians.  But no matter what their race may be, they are
part of the Empire and part of Great Britain's regular military power.

If Germany were at war with the United States her troops would have to meet
our Negro Cavalry, than whom there are no better soldiers in uniform.

German denunciation of the Indian troops is as futile as German denunciation
of the Japanese as "yellow-bellies".  It is too late to draw
the colour line in war.  That line was erased more than fifty years ago
by Abraham Lincoln in that noble letter to the Springfield Convention:
"And there will be some black men who can remember that,
with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye and well-poised bayonet,
they have helped mankind on to this great consummation."

One South African writer to the Press had humanitarian reasons
against the employment on the Continent of coloured troops from India.
He said that 70,000 of them will be like a morning meal
to the trained soldiers of Germany.  This sympathetic view
does not appear to be shared by German writers to the `Berliner Tageblatt',
who have a high regard for the ferocity of "these Eastern devils".
Apparently this is the only German view which is in harmony with
the dispatches of Generals French and Joffre.  His Majesty the King has since
been to the front, where, in the presence of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales,
Sir Pertabh Singh and other high Imperial officers, His Majesty personally
decorated Havildar Darwan Sing Negi (an Indian) of the 39th Garhwal Rifles,
with the Victoria Cross, and we need hardly add that V.C.'s are not awarded
for fun.

On the first Saturday in March, 1915, King George went to Aldershot and acted
as starter in the big military race in which over 500 soldiers competed.
Her Majesty the Queen was also present and graciously distributed the prizes.
The race was won by Private Stewart, a black trooper from Jamaica.
Even the Coldstream Guards have their coloured private in training
for the front; but South Africans inform you that the heavens will fall
if coloured troops are sent against the white Germans,
who, from the beginning, never scrupled to send black warriors
against the British.

In regard to the award of the V.C. to Indians, many writers sent letters
to the Press claiming that it was unprecedented for coloured warriors
to wear the V.C.  Whitaker and similar publications might have told them
that a Native African sergeant of the West Indian Regiment wears
the V.C. won on the Gambia River as long ago as 1892.

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