Life in camp at Beira was almost a repetition of Langwarrin, being principally occupied in attending to and exercising the horses. On my arrival in camp I was instructed by Captain Dallimore to act as squadron-quartermaster-sergeant; my duties were to see that rations and forage were drawn daily and all camp equipment kept in order. Occasionally I went out on the veldt when exercising the horses; there appeared to be plenty of game about, and whenever a small buck rose up close to us there would be a hue-and-cry after it. Sometimes we would succeed in running it down in the long grass. It was rather dangerous sport galloping through the long grass, as one was very likely to come a nasty cropper over a hidden ant-heap. We were not allowed to take rifles out with us, but a revolver would always be forthcoming; this was used instead, but never with very great success.
On one of these outings I got my first glimpse of the Kaffirs at home. The kraals are neat little round grass huts, much resembling the old-fashioned straw bee-hives, with one small opening as a door, but so small that one would require to go on all-fours to get inside. Gaunt-looking natives, clad in only a "moucha," or loin cloth, sat lazily about, while little picaninnies, naked as when born, played around. The women, who appeared to be doing all the work, would dart inside like rabbits into a burrow when anyone approached. When we came up a group had been busily engaged round a large pot of Kaffir corn, black-looking stuff resembling linseed meal when cooked.
My opinion of the Kaffir, which was formed after later experiences, is not a good one. In his raw state, in his skins and cats' tails, he is physically and morally not a bad fellow; he will work intermittently, and much like a child, as if it were play. But as soon as he has been brought into contact with the civilising influence of the mission stations, and has discarded his cats' tails for European dress, and begins to ape the white man, he becomes a bore, and combines all the white man's vices with his own innate cunning and deceit, and his ruin is accomplished. He will not work in the hot sun, and when it is cold or raining is the most miserable of creatures, and almost incapable of work. The Dutchmen could only manage them by instilling energy into them from the end of a "sjambok."
As a fighting man the Kaffir is worse than useless. I would rather have one white man than a whole regiment of Kaffirs.
Most men who have had any lengthened experience among so-called Christianised natives, and have studied the work of the missionaries among them, are inclined to term mission stations "bosh," and the stations are rarely supported by anyone who has studied them from behind the scenes.
In return for his labour the native receives a smattering of education, and it is not unusual to meet a young native in the vicinity of a mission station with his face buried in a preparatory primer, ejaculating from memory, "I see a dog," "This is my dog," "God is my father," "God is in heaven."
As the coloured population in South Africa runs into many millions, the native question will always remain a big item in South African politics. Until polygamy and other privileges he now enjoys under tribal rights and customs are abolished the Kaffir will never become a good worker. At present he is allowed to have as many wives as he wishes; it is not "as many as he can afford to keep," for they are practically his slaves, and do the work to keep him, while he idles about the kraal smoking and drinking "joualla" or Kaffir beer. With proper legislation, management, and treatment coloured labour would never need to be imported to South Africa. The evils of the importation are seen to-day in Natal, where the Hindu holds the monopoly in many trades.