It must not be lost sight of that all land held by Europeans
in Africa has been acquired by conquest or diplomacy,
and that the aboriginal Natives have been ousted by the white man:
that being so, I cannot see any reason why the Native
should not be allowed to buy back what he has lost; in my opinion
he should be encouraged to do so. . . .
He is a better citizen than the thriftless European who lives
from hand to mouth and makes no effort to better his circumstances. . . .
Legislation should be carefully watched lest endeavours be made
to deprive deserving Natives of the privilege of acquiring title to land.
In the Transvaal strong efforts are being made to restrict
the acquisition of land by Natives; but I can see
neither justice nor reason in such a measure. If the Native
by his education, honesty, thrift and industry has got the means
to buy land, even in the Transvaal, why should he not be allowed
to do so? . . .
The Natives are already pretty tightly "squeezed" in the matter of land
in South Africa, and it is time this "squeezing" process came to an end.
They must have somewhere to live. What would we do in this country
Mr. J. Hemming, a Cape Magistrate.
During the month of October, 1913, the fell work of the iniquitous provisions of the Natives' Land Act was done so remorselessly that the British blood of certain editors of Natal dailies rose superior to their Colonial prejudices and they lashed out against such wicked and wholesale injustice on the part of the legislation against the peaceful native population. It has already been pointed out that when the Secretary for Native Affairs started to tour the districts, to teach Magistrates how to enforce the new Plague Act, some people thought that the tour was part of a scheme to alleviate the distress that followed the enforcement of the Natives' Land Act, but the Natives and those of their sympathizers who followed Mr. Dower's itinerary very soon discovered that the authorities were waging a war of extermination against the blacks; and that they were bent upon reducing the independent black peasantry to a state of thraldom. Commenting on Mr. Dower's visit to the "Free" State, the `Natal Advertiser' of October 4, 1913, said: —
The explanation of the Natives' Land Act, given to the Barolongs of Thaba Nchu by Mr. Dower, is so illuminative of the wretched unsatisfactoriness of the Act that the occasion certainly merits notice. It would be difficult to conceive a more thoroughgoing and drastic condemnation of the Act than this attempt at faint praise of it, delivered by the Secretary of the Native Affairs Department. All he can say to these unfortunate Natives is, that it would be better to engage as labourers or sell up than to trek from pillar to post, till all their cattle had died. As to saying that farmers always had power to evict, the interrupting Native hit the nail on the head by his ejaculation: "But we could go elsewhere."
On October 5, the daily papers published the following telegram from Johannesburg:
As the result of the passing of the Natives' Land Act, groups of Natives are to be seen in the different Provinces seeking for new land. They have crossed over from the Free State into Natal, from Natal into the Transvaal, and from the Transvaal into British Bechuanaland. . . .
Yesterday a native arrived in Johannesburg from the Umvoti district, Natal, and reported that a chief, together with his tribe, had been evicted from a farm in the Greytown district, Natal, and that feeling in the matter had become acute.
In the Western Transvaal hundreds of natives are crossing over into the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and in the Eastern Transvaal they are concentrating on three farms in the Wakkerstroom district that have been bought by a native land company.
At present the attention of those working for the repeal of the law is being concentrated on the collection of funds for the purpose of sending a deputation to England. They hope to arouse public opinion there by lectures and other means.
The `Natal Mercury' said:
We pointed out at the time that the Act was passed that it was being rushed through the House without any proper inquiry and without much regard for native opinion or native feeling in a matter that affected their most vital interests. It was replied that the administration of the Act would be carried out on sympathetic lines, and that Mr. Sauer would make himself personally responsible for the administration being carried out in a manner which would inflict the least possible hardships on the Natives affected. The industrial crisis was followed by the untimely end of Mr. Sauer which made his tour impossible, and the Act now seems to be put in force on the most approved red-tape lines, with the result that the Natives are in a state of great alarm and agitation. At the recent Missionary Conference at Maritzburg on July 8, the question was the subject of considerable discussion, and a series of resolutions were passed.
What is happening is that in many places the Natives are being driven off land where they have been from time immemorial, so to speak. They consider the Act as an attempt to drive them into slavery, and numbers of them are being placed in the position of having no place to which to go.
It must not be supposed, however, that all English colonial journalists regretted the operation of this atrocious law. The `Cape Times', for instance, vied with the Hertzog press in congratulating the minister on having successfully passed it, and in belittling the hardships of the victims of the Act. One English farmer wrote to the `Farmer's Weekly' that the evictions were effective, but at the same time he regretted that "as long as the Native kept to the public road he still had a resting place for the hollow of his foot." The Native had been successfully legislated off the land, and apparently this farmer wanted him to be legislated off the roads as well. Another English journalist wrote to the `Sunday Post' that the hardships are exaggerated, as he had himself seen only twelve families evicted in one day and on one farm. The question which this statement suggests is: How many families must be ejected from one farm in one day to constitute a hardship; and whether this journalist would view with the same coolness a law which forcibly turned twelve white families off a farm, against the wishes of themselves and the landowner?
Again, it cannot be said that South African politicians as a whole were indifferent to the suffering of the luckless victims of the Land Act, but they eased their consciences with the palliative thought that the sufferers were not so many. However this blissful though erroneous self-satisfaction was nailed to the counter by the Rev. A. Burnet of Transvaal, when he said: "I have yet to learn that a harsh law becomes less harsh, and an act of injustice less unjust, because only a few people are affected by it."
The section of the law debarring Natives from hiring land is particularly harsh. It has been explained that its major portion is intended to reduce the Natives to serfs; but it should also be noted that the portion of the Act that is against Natives acquiring any interest whatsoever in land aims directly at dispossessing the Natives of their live stock. Section 5 provides for a fine of 100 Pounds, or six months' imprisonment, to a farmer convicted of accommodating a Native on his farm. And if after the fine is paid, the Native leaves the stock on the farm, for a number of days, while he goes to search for another place, there will be a fine of 5 Pounds per diem for each day the cattle remain on the farm. The cattle should be consigned to the road immediately the order is given for the ejection, and they should remain without food till their owner sells them, or finds employment under a farmer as a wage-earner. Thus it would seem that the aim of Section 5 is not only to prohibit native occupation of land, but, in addition to it, makes it impossible for him to be a cattle owner.
When this harsh provision of the law was brought to the notice of Cape politicians, they shrugged their shoulders and remarked that they were happy that things in the Cape were not so bad. But this is no excuse at all, for in accordance with the wording of the Act, as substantiated by its results upon the Cape Natives, the condition of these Natives is worse in many instances than it is among the Natives of Natal, or of the Transvaal. In these two Provinces a European who has no intention of evicting his Natives may retain their services under certain restrictions (see Sub-sect. 6 (c)); but in the Cape and the Orange "Free" State, the Native, according to Section 1, may retain no interest whatever in land, including the "ploughing on shares".
Well-to-do Natives, from Grahamstown to the Transkeian boundaries, mainly derived their wealth from this form of occupation. It enabled them to lead respectable lives and to educate their children. The new prohibitions tended to drive these Natives back into overcrowded locations, with the logical result that sundry acute domestic problems, such as disordered sanitation caused by the smallness of the location, loss of numerous heads of cattle owing to the too limited pasturage in the locations, are likely to arise. These herds of cattle have been the Natives' only capital, or the Natives' "bank", as they truthfully call them, so that, deprived of this occupation, the down-grade of a people, under an unsympathetic quasi-Republican Government like the present Union Administration, must be very rapid.
The fact that the traditional liberal policy of Cape Colony has broken down through this law can no longer be disputed: indeed, the only comfort that had been held out to the Natives was that Mr. Sauer would make the Natives' Land Act a dead letter. This statesman having since died, we were anxious to see how the Cape Natives were faring under the Act, so we left Kimberley on November 1, 1913, on a tour of observation in the eastern districts of the Cape Province. Our programme included visits to two alleged defenders of the Act, in the persons of Rev. James Henderson of Lovedale, and Mr. Tengo Jabavu of King Williamstown, editor of the Xosa Ministerial newspaper. Our object in visiting these gentlemen was to acquaint ourselves with their point of view, and if possible to arrive at an agreement with them.
We reached Alice in the forenoon and walked through the town to the famous Native Institution. We made our first acquaintance with Lovedale, and we hardly remember having seen so many native boys housed in any one place before. But it pained us to think what must be the future lot of this great gathering of young fellows, who are now debarred by law from rights of ownership of the soil of South Africa, their own homeland.
During our three hours' stay at Lovedale we had an interview with Mr. Henderson, the Principal, about things in general, and the Native College Scheme in particular, and lastly, but not least, about the Native Land Act. Unfortunately we could learn nothing from the eminent educator, for we found that his conclusions were based on second-hand information. He had never met any member of the Government, or their representatives, in fact it was news to the Principal that in going to Lovedale, that morning, we had met men on their way from the Magistrate's office in Alice, not far away, who had been definitely warned by the Magistrate against re-ploughing their old lands on the farms. Of course Mr. Henderson was moved with sympathy for a people so ruthlessly treated by a Government they had loyally served. And it would seem that the Principal of Lovedale had since made independent inquiries, for we have read in the Lovedale paper other evidence of the operation of this drastic law that had not come under our own observation. Thus in supporting the case of the Native Deputation in the Imperial Parliament on July 28, 1914, Sir Albert Spicer effectively read passages from the `Christian Express', the organ of Lovedale.
One of the instructors at Lovedale very kindly lent us a horse, and Mr. Moikangoa accompanied us to an all-night meeting at Sheshegu, a famous political "rendezvous" which has acquired this distinction because it is the centre of numerous little locations, within easy reach of four surrounding Magistracies. At the all-night meeting at Sheshegu there were chiefs, headmen, and other Natives from the Peddie, Fort Beaufort and Alice districts. There were a number of school teachers also from these districts, and two or three native storekeepers. The disclosures made by the several speakers concerning the operation of the Land Act among the Natives made one's heart bleed. The chieftain Kapok Mgijima, who entertained many of the visitors to the meeting, had his own peculiar experience under the Act. Not only had he been debarred from re-ploughing his own lands, but he had also been ordered to move his oxen from a farm owned by a European, where for fourteen years he had grazed his oxen. Another Native, who had been ploughing in the direction of King Williamstown, was warned by the authorities not to resume his ploughing in 1913. He could only do so as a servant in the employ of a white landowner. He was further warned that if he connived with the white man to cheat the law, by representing themselves as master and servant, they would, when found out to be still carrying on their old relation of landlord and tenant, be dealt with very severely.
The landlord was furious. "Why," he asked, "did you tell them of your intention? You should have done your business quietly; now that you have apprised them they will watch us, you fool."
"But," said the Native, "owing to the existence of East Coast fever in Transkei, no animals can be taken from one plantation to another without a magisterial permit disclosing the object of the removal. I had to tell what I wanted to come here for. I was asked at the Magistrate's office if I did not know the law. I said that I was aware of such a new law, which had created a lot of disturbance in the Northern Provinces, but I had never heard that it was applicable to the Cape. To this the Magistrate's clerk replied that it was not a Provincial law, it was a law of the Union, of which the Cape formed part. There were certain exemptions, the clerk added, but they did not exempt the Cape Natives from the prohibition of ploughing on white men's farms and grazing their cattle on those farms."
Other speakers narrated their experiences under the Act, and these experiences showed that the Plague Act was raging with particular fury in the old Cape Districts of Fort Beaufort, Grahamstown, King Williamstown, and East London. At this meeting it was resolved to support a movement to send an appeal to His Majesty the King, against this law.
Our visit to these places took place just after the glorious showers of the early summer. On the wider tracts of land owned by Europeans the grass looked invitingly green. The maiden soil, looking beautiful and soft after the soaking rains, cried silently for cultivation. The people who had hitherto depended on such cultivation for their subsistence were now prohibited by reason of their colour from earning their usual livelihood, as directed by Almighty God, "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread."
This prohibition seems particularly contemptible when it is remembered that the majority of the Natives of these locations are Fingoes, and that their fathers in the early days joined the British in fighting most of the Kafir wars, side by side with British troops. They shared in all the massacres and devastating raids committed upon the British settlers by unfriendly native tribes. As a mark of recognition of their loyalty to the Government, and of their co-operation with the British forces in the field of battle, this country was given, in the name of Her late Majesty Victoria, to their chiefs by a British Governor. But in spite of this treaty, the people have been gradually dispossessed of the land during the past three-quarters of a century. Hence the occupation, now crystallized into ownership, passed bit by bit into white hands. Hitherto the right to live on, and to cultivate, lands which thus formerly belonged to them was never challenged, but all that is now changed. Naturally the ingratitude meted out to these people by the authorities in return for services consistently rendered by three successive generations of them will be a blow, not only to the economic independence of a loyal and patriotic people, but to the belief in British sense of justice.