Sorrow like this draws parted lives in one, and knits anew the rents
which time has made.
When everything was ready another special Congress was called to meet at Johannesburg in February, to carry out the deputation's scheme and appoint the delegates to proceed to England. In view of the dissatisfaction of the Government after the July Congress, the author considered it his duty to inform the Government that a meeting was about to take place. This information called forth a peremptory intimation from the Government that because of the recent strike of white men (from which the Natives had publicly disassociated themselves) the Native Congress could not be held. But at the time that this telegraphic prohibition reached us General Smuts, Minister of Defence, was announcing in Parliament that the embargo on public meetings, in areas where, owing to the recent strike (of January, 1914), martial law was proclaimed, had been removed. Logically then General Botha's decision made the previous day in regard to the Congress meeting fell to the ground; and so we telegraphed to Senator Schreiner and Dr. Watkins, members of Parliament, to ascertain if this was so. Both these gentlemen answered that in spite of the removal of the prohibition of public meetings of whites, the Prime Minister directs that the one in regard to the "Native Congress" must stand. Thereupon the writer, after consulting a few native residents in Kimberley, intimated to the executive of the Congress that:
Kimberley, my home, is not yet a Republic in its sentiments. There we have not reached the stage where some one's permission must be asked before a meeting can be held. So we invite the Congress to hospitable and British Kimberley, where public meetings close with singing the British National Anthem and not with singing the "Volkslied" or the "Red Flag", as is the case in meetings at some other South African centres.
After the notices were out the Government sent an intimation to the effect that the Congress was not actually prohibited. That it was only deemed undesirable to allow it to be held at Johannesburg, where a strike had taken place; and that even there the Government no longer objected, provided it be held indoors. But this belated reconsideration was unnecessary as the Kimberley preparations were far advanced and some of the delegates were already on their way to Kimberley.
The Congress was opened in St. John's Hall at 10 a.m. on Friday morning, February 27, 1914, by the Rt. Rev. W. Gore-Browne, Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman. His lordship was accompanied by Archdeacon de Rougemont and Rev. I. I. Hlangwana of St. Paul's Mission, who gave out the native hymns. In the absence of the president, who reached Kimberley in the afternoon of that day, the Bishop was received by Mr. Makgatho, vice-president of the Congress. After the religious exercise had ended, the Bishop counselled the Congress not to ask for a repeal of the whole Act, but only for relief from the oppressive clauses, and then to wait for the Commission's report in regard to the remainder of the Act. "There may be something good in it," added the Bishop, "as the glittering diamonds of Kimberley are found in blue clay."
Mr. Makgatho, in thanking the Bishop for opening the Congress, thanked him for the allegory, but added, however, that he had never heard of a father who said to his child, "You are hungry, my son, and I am going to prepare some dinner for you, but meanwhile you had better wait outside in the rain." After the Bishop gave the Congress his benediction, Prince Malunge-Ka-Mban-deni of Swaziland was introduced to him, as were the Chiefs Molotlegi and Mamogale of Transvaal, Moiloa of the Bahurutshe, and Messrs. Elka M. Cele of Natal, Meshach Pelem from the Cape, J. M. Nyokong, S. Litheko of the O.F.S., and other native leaders.
In the evening a large public reception was held in the City Hall in honour of the delegates. Kimberley joined wholeheartedly in the function. De Beers Company, which had hitherto shown the greatest hospitality only to European assemblies and not to native conferences and organizations, acted otherwise in the case of this Congress and its requirements. Presumably Mr. Pickering, the secretary of De Beers, had had information that even the mining labourers in the enclosed mining compounds were heart and soul with their countrymen outside; and so the Company's hospitality was extended to the native delegates.
Bioscope films were projected by Mr. I. Joshua, the chairman of the A.P.O., Messrs. Lakey and September, other A.P.O. committee men, acting as masters of ceremonies. The coloured people attended in their hundreds, and cheered the musicians of their native brethren who entertained the people who thronged the City Hall till many were refused admission. The Coloured People's Organization sent a speaker, Mr. H. Van Rooyen, to welcome the delegates on behalf of the African Political Organization. The president of their Ladies' Guild, Mrs. Van der Riet, a school teacher and musician of long standing, attended and played the accompaniment for the Greenport Choir on the pianoforte; Miss M. Ntsiko, who had borne the brunt of the evening's accompaniment, was thus relieved.
Mr. Joseph Kokozela, on behalf of the Kimberley and Beaconsfield branches of the Congress, welcomed the Congress to Kimberley, and presented Mr. Dube, the president, with an address, which was beautifully illuminated by the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, of Mafeking. Mr. H. Van Rooyen associated his people with the Natives in their present struggle for existence, and Dr. J. E. Mackenzie, who spoke on behalf of the Europeans, made a fine speech. He said that nobility was not confined to any particular race or colour; that men with black skins have been known to be just as noble as men with white skins. Amongst other questions he asked, "What could be more noble than the Bedford boy leader who subsequently became the St. Augustine of Central Africa, or what could be more noble than the action of the two servants of Dr. Livingstone, who carried his body, for hundreds of miles, through difficult forests, to the coast, and thus ensured his burial in Westminster Abbey?"
Dr. Mackenzie's speech was afterwards referred to by several native delegates to the Congress. They said that before they came to Kimberley they felt certain that English ideas were utterly obliterated in the Union of South Africa, and that English sentiments were things of the past; but that Dr. Mackenzie's speech had given them fresh hope, as it was like cold water to a traveller in the desert. It was, they said further, like a dream to hear a white man talk like that in a mixed audience.
The Congress received sympathetic telegrams from such old residents of Kimberley as Sir David Harris and Dr. Watkins. Both these gentlemen telegraphed their felicitations from Parliament.
Mr. H. A. Oliver, member for Kimberley, a great Wesleyan and Sunday School leader, who was at Capetown for the Parliamentary session, instructed his manager at Kimberley to book seats on his account for the senior classes of the Newton Wesleyan Sunday School to attend the Congress entertainment.
The Resident Magistrate of Kimberley telephoned to us on this same day that he had received the following telegram from the Secretary for Native Affairs: —
"LEAVING TO-NIGHT FOR KIMBERLEY TO ATTEND THE NATIVE CONGRESS. INFORM PLAATJE."
It had never previously happened that a representative of the Government attended a coloured political assembly, and it was felt that wiser councils had prevailed with the Government, and that as a result it had decided to meet the Natives, at least half-way. If gambling was one of the indulgences of the Natives, some at least of the delegates would have wagered that Mr. Dower was conveying a concession to the Native Congress, by which it would be unnecessary for the latter to send a deputation to England. So thoroughly was the idea of a concession associated in the mind of the Congress with the approaching visit of Mr. Dower that it postponed the election of delegates for the mission to England. This anticipation was a reasonable one as the Union's recent legislation was in the melting-pot.
The law against British Indians, passed at the same time as the Natives' Land Act, was just then recommended for modification, under pressure brought to bear upon the Imperial Government by the Government of India and other agencies. Again, the Labour members were creating difficulties both at Capetown and Westminster over General Smuts's Deportation Bill, which compelled the Government to amend its conditional banishment clause — a hardship that was not as vital or as absolute as the banishment clauses against black tenants in the Natives' Land Act. Consequently, the native delegates to Congress, representing as they did an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of South Africa — a section that had received nothing but violent legislation from the South African Parliament since the inauguration of Union — had every reason to expect that, for the first time, a Government emissary was carrying an olive branch to the Natives; but, alas! unlike the industrial strikers, the Natives had no votes to create a constitutional difficulty; unlike the British Indians, they have no Indian Government at their back; therefore, their vital interests, being negligible, could comfortably be relegated to the regions of oblivion, and this hope, like all its predecessors, was falsified.
Mr. Dower attended the Congress on Saturday, February 28, and again on Monday, March 2, and made speeches.
He was profuse in expressions of the gratitude of the Government to the Natives, their leaders and their chiefs, for the loyal co-operation they have always rendered the authorities, and he came to ask them, he said, to perpetuate that loyal co-operation and to refrain from appealing to Great Britain on the Natives' Land Act. To appeal would be to put back the clock of the Native Affairs Department for many years. Of course, it did not matter about the putting back of the Natives' own clock, since its only use is that of an index for the registration of Government taxes, municipal pass fees at one shilling or more per month per Native, and similar phases of the black man's burden. Thus, in answer to questions put by the members of the Congress, Mr. Dower was not able to say that one iota of the provisions of that Draconian law would be modified before the Commission made its report, nor could he give a pledge in the name of the Government that if the Commission reported favourably to the Natives, Parliament would carry into effect the Commission's report, even though the pledge sought took no account of the possibility of the Commission's report being hostile to the interests of the Natives. This then was the character of the visit which the Government Secretary paid to the Native Congress. It was entirely barren of results, and as such it left the Congress as it found it, in bewilderment and gloom.
Fresh fears took hold of the Congress. When the commissioners' names were gazetted, they were not received with any great amount of enthusiasm by the native population, for the best that could be thought of the Natives' Land Commissioners was that they were not associated with any political party. With such a view, it can be understood what were the feelings of the Congress when it thereafter learnt that four of the five commissioners were present, as delegates, at the conference of the Ministerial party held at Capetown two months before (the conference at which Generals Hertzog and De Wet definitely severed their connexion with General Botha), nor was there anything to show that the fifth commissioner was not there also. Therefore, the situation amounted to this, that this Land Commission, which should be composed of impartial members, or, if made up of party politicians, it should at any rate represent the three political parties as well as the Natives, was in reality but a branch of the Ministerial party which foisted this very Land Act upon the country.
It was finally resolved to appoint a deputation of five to accompany the president, Mr. Dube, to England if further efforts failed. The Congress nominated nine names, and the election of five delegates from these was entrusted to a committee of fourteen members of the Congress, who balloted for five and reported the result to the full Congress as follows: —
S. T. Plaatje 13
S. M. Makgatho 9
Saul Msane 6
W. Z. Fenyang 3
T. M. Mapikela 3
Dr. W. B. Rubusana 2
A. K. Soga 2
M. Pellem 2
Chief Mamogale 1
The first-named five were therefore declared elected. Mr. Fenyang subsequently stood down in favour of Dr. Rubusana; Mr. Makgatho was not able to reach Capetown in time for the steamer's departure, so the deputation that eventually accompanied the president to England were: —
1. Dr. Rubusana. 2. S. T. Plaatje. 3. Saul Msane. 4. T. M. Mapikela.
Their instructions were first to approach the Prime Minister and ask him to undertake on behalf of his parliamentary majority to repeal the Natives' Land Act, failing that, to endeavour at least to get the clause rescinded which prevents evicted native tenants from finding settlements anywhere except as servants, and that if the Prime Minister should refuse to grant this request, they were forthwith to appeal to the Imperial Parliament and the British public.
It may be added that the Congress, before it rose, received telegraphic advices from Mr. Gibson of the Cape Church Council, and also from the Hon. W. P. Schreiner, not to appeal to England. These communications encouraged the delegates to believe that intermediate relief was being arranged for, to ameliorate the condition of the wandering evicted Natives, in which case there would, of course, be no occasion to appeal to England. But it subsequently transpired that the Natives were advised against making an appeal to England without the offer of any relief.
Before Congress rose votes of thanks were passed in favour of the Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman, the De Beers Company, the `Diamond Fields Advertiser' for its liberal reports of the proceedings, Mr. Dower for entertaining the delegates to a dinner on Monday, and also to the residents of Kimberley.
The special thanks of the Congress were voiced by Mr. Makgatho to the various committees, whose strenuous efforts for the comfort of the delegates left nothing to be desired. These were: —
COMMITTEES OF LOCAL BRANCHES
KIMBERLEY. — Messrs. Thos. Leeuw (chairman), S. Marogo (treasurer),
Bill Tshabalala, H. Ndlovu, Z. Jumane, A. R. Mashoko, T. Diniso (secretary).
BEACONSFIELD. — Messrs. J. Smith (chairman), W. January,
S. Pehla (treasurer), Jas. Ngcezula, Ntshenge, B. Mradu,
J. S. Kokozela (secretary).
LOCAL ACCOMMODATION AND REFRESHMENTS COMMITTEE: Mesdames J. Smith,
S. Sidziya, M. Mahuma, S. Kawa, Mildred Kokozela and L. Skota;
Messrs. J. Chologi, J. Matsebe, S. Pehla, Soga, J. Ngcezula and A. Ntshoko.
CITY HALL RECEPTION COMMITTEE: Mesdames J. J. van der Riet and M. Ntsiko;
Messrs. Isaac P. Joshua, Sidney Motlhabi, P. W. Mama, T. Diniso,
Tony Msengana and J. G. Motlhabi.
An honorarium of 10 Pounds was voted in favour of the honorary secretary,
Mr. S. T. Plaatje.
After the deputation reached Capetown on May 13, 1914, we wrote Lord Gladstone informing him that we were bearers of a petition from the native population to His Majesty the King, which we would ask His Excellency to graciously convey. Of course we expected a short note from His Excellency to the effect that "it was not within his constitutional functions" to meet us, but to our surprise this time His Excellency wrote appointing a meeting with us at noon on May 15 at Government House. But, in the interview, the reason why that particular appointment came within the pale of His Excellency's constitutional functions became apparent: for the Governor-General only made it the opportunity to urge the deputation not to go to England.
The deputation replied that, even in native politics there was always an appeal from the action of an induna to the native chief and from the latter to the ruler; that it was straining the loyalty of the black millions of South Africa to tell them that there was no appeal to His Majesty the King against the oppressive laws of a Parliament in which they had no representatives.
It must be added that although the Governor-General did not say so, yet the barbarous cruelties of this relentless law appeared to have produced a sympathy that was visible in his facial expression. Astonishment and pity were amongst the sensations which seemed to be depicted on Lord Gladstone's face. Still, he held out no hope that his good offices would be used to secure an amelioration of the conditions complained of. All His Excellency advised us to do was to abandon the appeal to England.
"But, your excellency, what about these cruelties that are now in progress?" we asked.
"Oh, well," said Lord Gladstone, "the Natives are not the only sufferers, even in England people have suffered hardships from time to time, till they were compelled to emigrate to America and other places."
"That is true, your lordship, but it is to avert such a contingency, if possible, that the Natives appointed a deputation to lay their case before His Majesty the King, as they have no means to emigrate to America, or any other country."
"Oh, no," he answered, "don't misunderstand me; I only use that as an instance, not that Natives must emigrate."
The Governor-General then repeated the advice not to appeal to the Crown, but he held out no hope of an amendment in the Act, and so the deputation sailed for England.
Previous to this interview, no less a personage than General Botha himself — Premier and Minister for Native Affairs — condescended to meet the deputation. Prior to this meeting, the deputation entertained strong hopes that the Premier would come to it with an offer of, say, at least allowing the hiring of land by Natives, pending the report of the Commission, even though the prohibition to buy land remained in force. But instead of such a minimum, the only hope that General Botha held out was that he had not evicted the Natives on his own farm, and that he had further told some farmers not to evict their Natives. These personal acts of the Premier on his own farm, and with regard to some other farmers, had not helped the entire native population of the Union since the Act was promulgated. Nor would they assist those native wanderers who are now without a home on earth, as General Botha himself could not allow any of them to settle on his farm without breaking the law. Again, it did not seem quite clear how General Botha's efforts in this direction could make any impression on private landowners when his own officials were carrying out wholesale evictions of native tenants, on the Government farms at Standerton and elsewhere, and sending them adrift about the country. The only remedy, and that a partial one, would be to legalize the settlement of tenants who have been evicted. But to this General Botha said, "If I went to Parliament now with a Bill to amend this law they will think I'm mad."
That statement confirmed the decision of the deputation to proceed to England, and accordingly they at once made arrangements for sailing.
One painful fact which these interviews revealed was the ignorance of the Government in matters relating to the Natives. The 5,000,000 blacks of the Union are taxed to maintain what is called the most expensive Civil Service in the world. The officials of the Native Affairs Department, in return for their huge salaries, paid out of the proceeds of taxes levied from relatively the most poorly paid manual labourers in the world, namely, the Native taxpayers, are called "the guardians of the Natives"; but General Botha, the Minister of Native Affairs, "Father of the Natives" and supreme head of the Civil Service, seemed (or pretended) to know absolutely nothing of the manner in which his official underlings play battledore and shuttlecock with the interests of the Native population. To mention but one instance: at one stage of the interview we attempted to enlist his sympathy on behalf of the "Free" State Natives in particular, who, in spite of prohibitive laws in the Boer statute books, had not to our knowledge been debarred by the Boer Government from buying or leasing land. General Botha not only denied that his was the first Boer administration which definitely enforced these prohibitions but he also asserted, with all the dignity of his office, that no living Native had ever bought a farm in the "Free" State from a white man — in short he accused us of telling lies. Fortunately Mr. E. Dower, who remembered that some Native landowners in both the Hoopstad and Thaba Ncho districts of the "Free" State had acquired their properties from white people under the Republican regime, was present at the interview and he then bore out our statement: thus on May 15, 1914, the Prime Minister and Minister of Native Affairs heard for the first time in his life that there were some Natives actually living in the "Free" State who pay him quit-rent on farms which they had bought from white people under Republican rule.
The assertion that "Free" State Natives lost nothing by the enforcement of the Natives' Land Act is but one phase of the maze of ignorance through which the Union Government is groping in a hopeless attempt to discharge their trust to the native taxpayers.
The co-operation of intelligent and responsible native taxpayers, which could sweep away these administrative cobwebs of ignorance, is always at the disposal of the Government if they deigned to avail themselves of it; but they prefer, at enormous cost to the taxpayers (including native taxpayers), to purchase from the non-native section of the community arm-chair views based largely on hearsay evidence, which is often tainted by colour prejudice. Hence the shroud of ignorance which surrounds the native policy of the Union of South Africa.