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Victorian Struggles


Boer versus Native - The Basutos - The Bechuana - Tucker in Uganda - Kaffir Wars - Kanaka Labour - Scandal of New Hebrides - Polynesian Kidnapping.
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There are few bright spots in the history of the treatment of native races in South Africa during the Victorian era. But amongst these are the restoration to the Kaffirs in 1840, through Lord Glenelg and thanks to Buxton's intervention, of the Adelaide Territory. Another bright spot is the wise administration of Basutoland since 1884. But taken as a whole, it is a record in which there is little cause for pride, and much for regret. The South African attitude to natives was admirably described by Lord Bryce in 1897 in his masterly 'Impressions of South Africa':

Unluckily South Africa was colonised in the iyth Century, when the importation of negro slaves was deemed the easiest means of securing cheap and abundant labour. From 1658 to 1834... it was to slaves that the hardest and humblest kinds of work were allotted. The white people lost the habit of performing manual toil and acquired the habit of despising it.... Thus, when at last slavery was abolished, the custom of leaving menial labour or toilsome work to people of colour continued as strong as ever. It is as strong as ever to-day.

Lord Olivier said the same thing in different words in 1927. (Lord Olivier, The Anatomy of African Misery) 'South Africa is, in short, in the singular situation, in the British Commonwealth of Nations, in the Community of Christendom, and practically in the whole of the civilized world, of being still a slave state.'

It is little wonder that the Dutch farmers resented deeply the Emancipation Act of 1834. Their share (about 3,000,000) of the sum of 20,000,000 paid in compensation to the owners throughout the British Colonies was felt by them to be quite inadequate. Their labour difficulties became acute, labour in many districts becoming so scarce that agriculture could hardly be carried on. They had already been hotly indignant at the Governmental Ordinance of 1828 which placed them on an equal footing with Hottentots and other free coloured people as regards civil rights, and they had bitterly resented the restoration of the A-delaide Territory, so recently conquered by themselves, to the Kaffirs. When slavery was abolished on grounds which they could neither understand nor approve, it was more than they could endure, and there followed the famous Great Trek of the Dutch Boers, which began in 1836, northwards to the unsettled districts later to be known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

Bryce remarks with fine insight that 'the emigrants seem all through to have treated the natives much as Israel treated the natives of Canaan and to have conceived themselves to have Old Testament authority for occupying the territories of the heathen and reducing them by the sternest methods to serfdom or submission.' This Biblical attitude was demonstrated by the Boer Commandant, quoted by Buxton, who found it inconceivable that Providence should permit 'the Heathen' to possess such magnificent herds of fine cattle, and acted on the assumption!

The British Parliament might decree the abolition of slavery, but the Boers continued to hold the native races in a condition of servitude, although - when the Transvaal and the Orange Free State emerged, as free Republics, from the Rand River Convention of 1852 and the Bloemfontein Convention of 1853 - the Boers undertook in both Conventions to permit neither slave-owning nor slave-trading. But the reports of missionaries and the records of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Societies continued for many years afterwards to contain evidence of the virtual enslavement and ill-treatment of the natives.

For a good while after they settled in the Transvaal the Boers had a system of apprenticing Kaffir children which was with difficulty distinguishable from predial serfdom; and though they have constantly denied that they sanctioned either the kidnapping of children or the treatment of the apprentices as slaves, there is good reason to think that in some parts of the country these abuses did exist. (Bryce, Impressions of South Africa.)

Not only did they continue a system scarcely distinguishable from slave-owning, but they also carried on what can only be described as slave-raiding.

The records of the Aborigines Protection Society contain frequent allusions to raids undertaken, sometimes in retaliation, sometimes out of mere aggression, by the Boers into native territories, from which the spoils were not only cattle, but women slaves and child slaves. Livingstone has told how, in 1852, he recognised on farms in the Transvaal Kaffir children held as slaves who had been carried off by the Boers under Pretorius from his Mission Settlement.

But cruelty to natives has not been confined to the Dutch Boers, for Bryce describes how 'a few years ago, in the eastern province, a white farmer - an Englishman and not a Boer - flogged his Kaffir servant so severely, that the latter died; and when the culprit was put on his trial, and acquitted by a white jury, his white neighbours escorted him home with a band of music.' An almost exact parallel to many similar incidents in the West Indies before emancipation and even during the four years of apprenticeship.

A common and long-continued practice, especially on the borders of civilisation, has been for many years to provoke native servants by ill-usage to run away before the day of payment arrives.

The saddest and most sinister fact - one of even greater import than isolated cruelties - in the whole history of South Africa, even to the present day, is the attitude of white towards black. Bryce remarks that 'The traveller in South Africa is astonished at the strong feeling of dislike and contempt - one might almost say, of hostility - which the bulk of the whites show to their black neighbours.' Bryce analyses it as springing partly from the old feeling of contempt for the slaves... from physical aversion... from incompatibility of character and temper.... The sense of his superior intelligence and energy of will produces in the European a sort of tyrannous spirit... the attitude of contempt is stronger among the Dutch than among the English. But the English also have done so many things to regret that it does not lie with them to cast stones at the Boers.... And the mildness of Colonial Law (i.e. Cape Colony as compared with Transvaal and Orange Free State) is largely due to the influence of the Home Government and to that recognition of the equal civil rights of all subjects which has long pervaded the common law of England.

The difference between Boer and British on the question of equal rights for black and white is fundamental. The Grondwet (fundamental law) of the Transvaal Republic declared, in 1858, and declares to-day, that 'the people will suffer no equality of whites and blacks, either in state or in church.'

It is possible to feel both admiration and sympathy for the sturdy spirit which impelled the Boer settlers to make the Great Trek, and yet to deplore their attitude towards native races and to see in it the seeds of even graver troubles in the future.

One of the brightest examples of British administration, not only in South Africa but throughout the Empire, is Basutoland, where Moshesh, the great native chief, prayed on his death-bed that his nation might ever rest under the security of the Union Jack.

Government policy towards the natives has always been far more enlightened in the Cape than in the Boer States, but it is to Basutoland that we must turn if we wish to find a part of South Africa in which the Kaffirs really have a 'look-in.' In the words of Lord Bryce, (Bryce, Impressions of South Africa.) 'Basutoland is the Switzerland of South Africa,' and very appropriately is the part of South Africa where the old inhabitants, defended by their hills, have retained the largest measure of freedom. This freedom they owe largely to the famous Moshesh, who built up his power from small beginnings in about 1824 and ruled them until he died in 1871. Many were the wars which he had to sustain with the native tribes who lived round him, as well as with the white settlers. In 1852 Sir George Cathcart, one of the less wise Governors of Cape Colony, led 5,000 British infantry and 500 cavalry, besides artillery, against the Basutos, and after considerable fighting found his force in great danger and set out to retire to the Caledon River.

But Moshesh knew the real strength of the British, though he had been driven into the war by the over-confidence of his people and their unwillingness to pay the cattle fine which the Government had demanded, and after consulting one of the French missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Society, he begged Sir George Cathcart for peace, declaring that he would do all he could to keep his tribesmen in order. Thereafter he 'enjoyed the fame of being the only native potentate who had come out of a struggle with Great Britain virtually if not formally the victor.' (Bryce, Impressions of South Africa.)

In 1865 Moshesh and his people were again engaged in war, this time with the Orange Free State, which had found the Basutos troublesome neighbours. The Free State Militia were skilled in native warfare, and Moshesh, finding himself likely to be overpowered, besought the Imperial Government to receive him and his people ' under the large folds of the flag of England/ His request was granted; the High Commissioner declared the Basutos to be thenceforth British subjects, and in 1871 they came under the administrative control of Cape Colony. Moshesh died soon after, leaving a name which, in the words of Lord Bryce, 'has become famous in South Africa.' He was one of the remarkable instances, like Toussaint 1'Ouverture and the Hawaian King, Ramehameha the First, of a man, sprung from a savage race, who effected great things by a display of wholly exceptional gifts. His sayings have become proverbs in native mouths. One of them is worth noting as a piece of grim humour, a quality rare among the Kaffirs. Some of his chief men had been urging him, after he had become powerful, to take vengeance upon certain cannibals who were believed to have killed and eaten his grandparents. Moshesh said: 'I must consider well before I disturb the sepulchres of my ancestors.'

Though he never became a Christian he supported Christianity. In 1833 he welcomed the missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Society and gave them land. He found their counsels of infinite value in the troublous times that followed and he never ceased to protect and encourage them. He listened, like many Kaffir chiefs, to sermons, and enjoyed the society of his French friends, who with his encouragement laid so well and surely the foundations of their religion that, as Bryce wrote in 1897, 'Nowhere has the Gospel made such progress among the Kaffirs as in Basutoland.' (This holds true to this day. - J. H.)

After the death of Moshesh, Basutoland remained quiet until 1879, when the Cape Government, urged, it seems, by Sir Bartle'Frere, then Governor of Cape Colony, conceived the unwise project of disarming the Basutos. The Cape Prime Minister, who met them in their great popular assembly, the Pitso, was warned by their chiefs that any attempt to enforce disarmament would meet with resistance. The Aborigines Protection Society in London, though a body of markedly pacifist tendencies, pressed the view that while no doubt it was a pity that so many Basutos possessed firearms, it would be far better to let them keep their weapons than to provoke war. Unfortunately rash counsels won the day, war followed, and the Basutos gave the Colonial troops so much trouble that the Cape Government contemplated abandoning the territory altogether.

General Gordon was invited by Mr. Scanlen, the Cape Premier, to advise his Government as to their future policy in regard to Basutoland. Gordon arrived in May, 1883, and soon came to the conclusion that the trouble could easily be settled if the Cape Ministry would give the Basutos a reasonable measure of self-government through their own chiefs. He was unfavourably impressed by the lack of tact, sympathy and capacity to deal with native races shown by a good many of the European magistrates who administered the territory. He told the Cape Government plainly that they ought to arrive at a settlement with the Basutos, and that he would not fight against a people whose cause he believed to be just. His advice was accepted, and Sir Hercules Robinson, the High Commissioner, in the Speech from the Throne to the Cape Legislature in 1883, stated that the Government did not propose in future to interfere with the internal affairs of Basutoland, though they would control its external relations.

In 1884 the Imperial Government took over from the Cape Government the oversight of the administration, and by their sympathetic supervision and advice have knit Basutoland to Britain. From that day there has been a resident British Commissioner who advises the Basuto chiefs (most of whom are descendants of the great Moshesh) who preside over the districts and wards into which the country is divided. Bryce wrote: 'The British authorities interfere as little as may be with native ways, trusting to time, peace, education, and the missionaries to civilise the people.'

Once a year the Commissioner meets the whole people in their National Assembly called the Pitso. The Paramount Chief presides, but all freemen, gentle and-simple, have a right to speak in it. The shorthand report of the great Pitso held in 1879, at which the question of disarmament was brought forward by the Cape Minister, is of great interest, as showing the freedom and intelligence with which the speakers ex-. pressed their views. One speaker commented with severity upon an unfortunate phrase lately used at Cape Town by a member of the Cape Government: ' Mr. U. said the Basutos were the natural enemies of the white men because we were black. Is that language which should be used by a high officer of the Government? Let sentiments like these pass away - we are being educated to believe that all people are equal and feel that sentiments like these are utterly wrong.'

Bryce describes the great progress made by education - 250 schools, all but two of which were, in his time, conducted by the missionaries - French-Protestant, Roman Catholic and English Episcopalian. By 1924 there were 522 native elementary schools besides normal and industrial schools, proving that the Basutos have kept up their zeal for education, Bryce comments significantly on the belief of the people in the goodwill of the Government, and adds that So far, the experiment of leaving a native race to advance in their own way, under their own Chiefs, but carefully supervised by imperial officers, has proved successful,... Whoever feels for the native and cares for his future must wish a fair chance for the experiment that is now being tried in Basutoland, of letting him develop in his own way, shielded from the rude pressure of the white man.

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