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Native Lands and British Policy


The Rival 'Heresies' - The Native Conception - Land Distribution - Lord Selborne's Dilemma - A Filibustering Agreement - The Struggle for Rhodesian Lands - The Judgment - South African Policy - The Kenya Expropriation - Kenya Distribution - Native Uneasiness - West African Policy.
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The last fifty years have witnessed a relentless conflict between what have been called two land heresies. In British South and East African territories the white settler communities have denounced British West African land policy as a heresy, whilst in West Africa the policy adopted by the East and South of the Continent has been dubbed heretical with equal vigour. So far as a single sentence is capable of denning these opposing policies - whilst West African policy regards land as vested primarily in the ownership of the indigenous African, East and South Africa have asserted that priority in ownership should be vested in the immigrant races. The ethical forces associated with the names of Wilberforce and Buxton have never lost an opportunity for asserting that equity, common sense, economic and political stability are all inherent in the West African system, whereas the policy adopted in East and South Africa was bound to lead to most disastrous consequences.

To the African the supreme issue of life is his land; franchise, cattle, industry, labour and polygamy each involve their respective difficulties, but land overtops each and all of them. Take from the African his political or personal freedom, take his cattle, or even his wife and children, and he will tolerate the injustice, but touch his land and he will stake all in battle, no matter what the forces arrayed against him. Take the land, back the robbery with rifles, machine guns and 'heavies,' and the African will still face the 'bloody music' with primitive spear, bow and arrow. The terrible odds make the struggle hopeless, but as the African has said so many times in history, ' Take my land and you take my life'; therefore, he argues, as well lose life by bullet or cannon shell as by being robbed of land.

The European conception of the commercial ownership of land is totally alien to primitive native thought; a century ago almost any of the tribes in Africa would have looked upon the sale of tribal lands as an act of the most revolting kind. Land to the primitive African is one of the three component parts of his life. Sun, water, land, these represent to the native mind not three elements, but a single element, the supreme object of which is the provision of human sustenance. This machinery is so interdependent that the primitive African would be as horrified at the alienation and sale of land as at the sale of water or sun. It thus follows that the ownership of land is nowhere vested in the individual but in the whole race inhabiting a particular area, whilst every member of the tribe possesses as much right to the usage of adequate land as he does to the usage of an adequate share of the warmth of the sun or a draught of water from the local spring.

It might be assumed that such tribal ownership precludes immigrant settlers - it does nothing of the kind. It precludes monopoly, it shuts out self-interest it is true, but there are adequate means by which any man, no matter of what race, creed or colour, may obtain secure title to occupancy right of adequate land. The immigrant entering tribal areas would be confronted not with a question as to what land he requires and at what price, but with the initial question of whether or not he is a fit and proper person to become part of the tribal order. If it is decided that the immigrant is a suitable person to enter the community, the allotment of land follows as naturally as the gift of a wife, for the African believes it to be the first duty of man to multiply and replenish the earth.

The native systems and the principles of native land law are almost identical in the Central and Southern territories of the Continent, but in South Africa these have been subject to three centuries of dislocation under the pressure of the varying European systems of Dutch and British tenure, so that little remains but the hopeless confusion which to-day confronts the Union Government of South Africa.

Over the greater part of Africa this primitive conception has been shattered by the influx of the white races. Exploitation and the concessionaire have done their fell work of goading the native to rebellion and then confiscating his land rights. In some parts a hybrid system, partly European and partly African, has taken the place of the old one, but in a few areas efforts have been made by Great Britain to preserve all or nearly all of the best features of the original native land laws. In a very few territories primitive land laws still obtain untouched by inroads of European exploitation.

The following table demonstrates what is so often overlooked in connection with African problems, namely, the sparseness of the population:

1Transkei (Cape Colony Native Reserve)59 per square mile.
2Nigeria53 per square mile.
3Gold Coast (Colony)50 per square mile.
4Basutoland42.5 per square mile.
5Uganda33 per square mile.
6Nyasaland31 per square mile.
7Tanganyika Territory11 per square mile.
8Kenya11 per square mile.
9Northern Rhodesia3 per square mile.

The sparseness of African population is in striking contrast with the teeming millions of the East, for taking the nine great British areas in the above table, the density over the whole is only slightly in excess of 32 per square mile, compared with 226 per square mile in the British Provinces of India.

It must be remembered that African economic and social life depend largely upon ownership of cattle - cattle being used not only for sustenance but as a form of money, e.g. for obtaining wives. They require so much land that they may almost be said to eat up the ground; moreover, the African system of agriculture exhausts the soil very quickly, and for this reason more land is required per head in order to sustain existence than under the more intensive agricultural methods of Europe and America. Sooner or later the question of improving the soil will have to be faced, and that boldly, by the responsible authorities.

To the everlasting honour of the Colonial Office every effort has been made to keep the ownership of land in West Africa in the hands of the tribes. It has not been easy to do so because again and again the worst sinners against the African race have been their own people; many a West Coast native has both unwittingly and wittingly betrayed his own people. But on the whole the British Colonial Office has been as successful in the West as it has been unsuccessful in South and East Africa and in certain areas in the South Seas.

Land belonging to native tribes has been systematically alienated by inveigling them into treaties and concessions, by inciting them to war, and by the application of administrative ordinances. The method of alienation by concession reached its most Gilbertian absurdity in Swaziland. When Lord Selborne (Governor of Transvaal and High Commissioner for South Africa, 1905-1910.) endeavoured to bring some order out of the chaos he discovered, in the first place, that every acre of land had been alienated to white men, and thus the native had nowhere to live. Next in confusion he found that concessions overlapped each other territorially; furthermore, that one white man had got the land, another had got the trees upon the land, while yet another had got everything under the land. In point of fact, these concessions went much further; to one white man certain taxes were conceded, to another telegraphs, to another road-making, and to yet another a trade monopoly. As Lord Selborne humorously remarked, 'The number of concessions given were only limited by the available number of boxes of champagne!'

But the situation did not even end there, for one white man who arrived in Swaziland with the purpose of securing a concession, discovered this situation and obtained from the Swazis a concession which granted to him anything and everything that had not been granted to anybody else. But chaos did not end even there. Confusion was worse confounded owing to South African rivalries, through which both Great Britain and President Kruger for the Transvaal Government had agreed to recognise the validity of all these concessions!

The difficult task of unravelling the threads of this confusion was entrusted by the British Government to Mr. George Grey, brother of Viscount Grey, who it will be remembered met with so tragic a fate whilst hunting lions. The recommendations of Mr. George Grey were issued in 1906, and under these most of the Swaziland concessions were cancelled.

The greatest land case ever fought on behalf of natives by their friends in Great Britain was the Rhodesian Land Case of 1914-18. The stress of the Great War precluded the publicity which this historic struggle would have received. This case illustrated more clearly than perhaps any other the method of goading, natives into war and then confiscating their land rights. The trivial incident of the alleged theft of a small piece of telegraph wire was the match that started the blaze of the Matabele War; the bait to the white settlers to go in and take the land is to be found in the secret agreement between Sir Starr Jameson and his troopers. Here it is:

(Copy certified.)

victoria, August 14, 1893.

Capt. Allan "Wilson, Victoria.

Sir,

The following are the conditions of service for the members of the Victoria Force for Matabeleland.

  1. That each Member shall have protection on all claims in Mashonaland until six months after the date of cessation of hostilities.
  2. That each Member will be entitled to mark out a farm of three thousand morgen (6,000 acres) in any part of Matabeleland. No occupation is required, but a quitrent will be charged on each farm of ten shillings per annum.
  3. That no marking out of farms and claims will be allowed or held valid until such time as the Administrator and the Commanders of the different columns consider the country sufficiently peaceful, and a week's clear notification will be given to that effect.
  4. That Members be allowed four clear months wherein to mark out and register their farms, and that no such marking out or registration will be valid after that time with the exception of the rights belonging to Members of the Force killed, invalided, or dying on service.
  5. The Government retain the right at any time to purchase farms from the Members at the rate of 3 (three pounds) per morgen and compensation for all improvements. This does not include the purchase of claims already pegged out on farms.
  6. That any Member of the Victoria Force is entitled to 15 claims on reef and 5 alluvial claims. The Protections works to be: thirty feet shaft within six months, or sixty feet shaft within twelve months on reef claims. Alluvial claims are to be subject to existing laws in Mashonaland.
  7. The 'loot' shall be divided one-half to the B.S.A. Company and the remainder to officers and men in equal shares.
  8. Each man to be mounted and equipped, and rationed when practicable.
  9. For the protection of Members of the Pioneer Force, no marking out of claims will be allowed on the part of fresh arrivals until four months have elapsed from the time specified in Clause 4.
  10. From that date on which the Force crosses the Border, the rights of any Members of the Force dying, invalided or killed on service shall be protected and secured to his estate.
    I have the honour to be, etc.
    L. S. Jameson, for the B.S.A. Company.
    Further Conditions.

  11. That in the event of payable gold being discovered upon any farm, no mining or milling for a profit or notation can take place until the farmers' rights are satisfied according to Clause 5, viz., of the rate of three pounds per morgen.
    (Signed) L, S. Jameson,
    for the B.S.A. Company.

That document, assuredly unique and indeed disgraceful in British history, was secured in Rhodesia and brought back to this country by the author for the purposes of the case before the Privy Council.

In plain language, what did this document (the existence of which was long denied) involve?

It clearly provided for the invasion of Matabeleland, It offered the tempting bait of 6,000 acres of land to each invader, and it will be observed that under Clause 5 the bait was gilded with a pledge of 9,000 or 3 per morgen, which, with a promised 'equal share' of the loot (which could have hardly been worth less than 1,000), made a total potential gift of 10,000 to each of the 672 troopers taking part in the invasion. Or, otherwise stated, a total of 6,720,000. Indeed, if reference is made to the evidence of witnesses before Lord Cave's Commission in Rhodesia, this was stated to be the value attached by each invader to this agreement. It is no wonder that every effort was made both in South Africa and in London to keep secret the existence of this disgraceful document signed by Jameson on behalf of the British South Africa Company.

When the Attorney-General, Sir F. E. Smith, later Lord Birkenhead, opened the case for the British Crown before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council he prefaced his speech by emphasising that the issues raised in this case were of the 'gravest conceivable importance' to the British Empire.

The Chartered Company, or, to give it its full title, the British South Africa Company, claimed that the entire lands of Southern Rhodesia not leased or sold to white men were the property of its shareholders. This claim meant that not a single native throughout the -territory owned a foot of the land of his ancestors, and that by some means yet to be laid before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council the 750,000 natives had forfeited all ownership rights to their lands. The British Crown and the white settlers were affected from the constitutional standpoint, whilst the native inhabitants of Rhodesia and other races within the British Commonwealth were vitally concerned in two other respects:

  1. If the Chartered Company succeeded, the natives of Southern Rhodesia would be so completely divested of ownership that they could only remain in their country as mere occupants upon the lands of alien landlords.
  2. The confirmation by the Judicial Committee of the Company's claim would thus involve the setting aside of that pillar of the British Constitution which provides for the recognition of native customary law, particularly with reference to property rights.

This claim by the Chartered Company was of such an extraordinary nature that the Crown decided to oppose it. The white settlers of Rhodesia also entered a plea against a claim which threatened the future Government of Rhodesia, whilst it was arranged that Mr. Leslie Scott should appear and ask for permission to be heard on behalf of the natives. The preliminary hearing of the Reference took place on August 4,1914, before the Lord Chancellor (Lord Haldane), Lord Dunedin, Lord Atkinson, Lord Moulton, Lord Sumner, and the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Reading).

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