In the midst of the manifold utterances and discussions on the burning question of to-day, - the War in South Africa, - there is one side of the subject which, it seems to me, has not as yet been considered with the seriousness which it deserves, - and that is the question of Slavery, and of the treatment of the native races of South Africa. Though this question has not yet in England or on the Continent been cited as one of the direct causes of the war, I am convinced, - as are many others, - that it lies very near to the heart of the present trouble.

The object of this paper is simply to bring witnesses together who will testify to the past and present condition of the native races under British, Dutch, and Transvaal rule. These witnesses shall not be all of one nation; they shall come from different countries, and among them there shall be representatives of the native peoples themselves. I shall add little of my own to the testimony of these witnesses. But I will say, in advance, that what I desire to make plain for some sincere persons who are perplexed, is this, - that where a Government has established by Law the principle of the complete and final abolition of Slavery, and made its practice illegal for all time, - as our British Government has done, - there is hope for the native races; - there is always hope that, by an appeal to the law and to British authority, any and every wrong done to the natives, which approaches to or threatens the reintroduction of slavery, shall be redressed. The Abolition of Slavery, enacted by our Government in 1834, was the proclamation of a great principle, strong and clear, a straight line by which every enactment dealing with the question, and every act of individuals, or groups of individuals, bearing on the liberty of the natives can be measured, and any deviation from that straight line of principle can be exactly estimated and judged.

When we speak of injustice done to the natives by the South African Republics, we are apt to be met with the reproach that the English have also been guilty of cruelty to native races. This is unhappily true, and shall not be disguised in the following pages; - but mark this, - that it is true of certain individuals bearing the English name, true of groups of individuals, of certain adventurers and speculators. But this fact does not touch the far more important and enduring fact that wherever British rule is established, slavery is abolished, and illegal.

This fact is the ground of the hope for the future of the Missionaries of our own country, and of other European countries, as well as of the poor natives themselves, so far as they have come to understand the matter; and in several instances they have shown that they do understand it, and appreciate it keenly.

Those English persons, or groups of persons, who have denied to the native labourers their hire (which is the essence of slavery), have acted on their own responsibility, and illegally. This should be made to be clearly understood in future conditions of peace, and rendered impossible henceforward.

That future peace which we all desire, on the cessation of the present grievous war, must be a peace founded on justice, for there is no other peace worthy of the name; and it must be not only justice as between white men, but as between white men and men of every shade of complexion.

A speaker at a public meeting lately expressed a sentiment which is more or less carelessly repeated by many. I quote it, as helping me to define the principle to which I have referred, which marks the difference between an offence or crime committed by an individual against the law, and an offence or crime sanctioned, permitted, or enacted by a State or Government itself, or by public authority in any way.

This speaker, after confessing, apparently with reluctance, that "the South African Republic had not been stainless in its relations towards the blacks," added, "but for these deeds - every one of them - we could find a parallel among our own people." I think a careful study of the history of the South African races would convince this speaker that he has exaggerated the case as against "our own people" in the matter of deliberate cruelty and violence towards the natives. However that may be, it does not alter the fact of the wide difference between the evil deeds of men acting on their own responsibility and the evil deeds of Governments, and of Communities in which the Governmental Authorities do not forbid, but sanction, such actions.

As an old Abolitionist, who has been engaged for thirty years in a war against slavery in another form, may I be allowed to cite a parallel? That Anti-slavery War was undertaken against a Law introduced into England, which endorsed, permitted, and in fact, legalized, a moral and social slavery already existing - a slavery to the vice of prostitution. The pioneers of the opposition to this law saw the tremendous import, and the necessary consequences of such a law. They had previously laboured to lessen the social evil by moral and spiritual means, but now they turned their whole attention to obtaining the abolition of the disastrous enactment which took that evil under its protection. They felt that the action of Government in passing that law brought the whole nation (which is responsible for its Government) under a sentence of guilt - a sentence of moral death. It lifted off from the shoulders of individuals, in a measure, the moral responsibility which God had laid upon them, and took that responsibility on its own shoulders, as representing the whole nation; it foreshadowed a national blight. My readers know that we destroyed that legislation after a struggle of eighteen years. In the course of that long struggle, we were constantly met by an assertion similar in spirit to that made by the speaker to whom I have referred; and to this day we are met by it in certain European countries. They say to us, "But for every scandal proceeding from this social vice, which you cite as committed under the system of Governmental Regulation and sanction, we can find a parallel in the streets of London, where no Governmental sanction exists." We are constantly taunted with this, and possibly we may have to admit its truth in a measure. But our accusers do not see the immense difference between Governmental and individual responsibility in this vital matter, neither do they see how additionally hard, how hopeless, becomes the position of the slave who, under the Government sanction, has no appeal to the law of the land; an appeal to the Government which is itself an upholder of slavery, is impossible. The speaker above cited concluded by saying: "The best precaution against the abuse of power on the part of whites living amidst a coloured population is to make the punishment of misdeeds come home to the persons who are guilty of those misdeeds; and if he could but get his countrymen to act up to that view he believed we should really have a better prospect for the future of South Africa than we had had in the past."

With this sentiment I am entirely in accord. It is our hope that the present national awakening on the whole subject of our position and responsibilities in South Africa will - in case of the re-establishment of peace under the principles of British rule - result in a change in the condition of the native races, both in the Transvaal, and at the hands of our countrymen and others who may be acting in their own interests, or in the interests of Commercial Societies.

I do not intend to sketch anything approaching to a history of South African affairs during the last seventy or eighty years; that has been ably done by others, writing from both the British and the Boer side. I shall only attempt to trace the condition of certain native tribes in connection with some of the most salient events in South Africa of the century which is past.

In 1877, as my readers know, the Transvaal was annexed by Sir Theophilus Shepstone. There are very various opinions as to the justice of that annexation. I will only here remark that it was at the earnest solicitation of the Transvaal leaders of that date that an interference on the part of the British Commissioner was undertaken. The Republic was in a state of apparently hopeless anarchy, owing to constant conflicts with warlike native tribes around and in the heart of the country. The exchequer was exhausted. By the confession of the President (Burgers) the country was on the verge of bankruptcy.[1] The acceptance of the annexation was not unanimous, but it was accepted formally in a somewhat sullen and desponding spirit, as a means of averting further impending calamity and restoring a measure of order and peace. Whether this justified or not the act of annexation I do not pretend to judge. The results, however, for the Republic were for the time, financial relief and prosperity, and better treatment of the natives. The financial condition of the country, as I have said, at the time of the annexation, was one of utter bankruptcy. "After three years of British rule, however, the total revenue receipts for the first quarter of 1879 and 1880 amounted to L22,773 and L47,982 respectively. That is to say, that, during the last year of British rule, the revenue of the country more than doubled itself, and amounted to about L160,000 a year, taking the quarterly returns at the low average of L40,000."[2] Trade, also, which in April, 1877, was completely paralysed, had increased enormously. In the middle of 1879, the committee of the Transvaal Chamber of Commerce pointed out that the trade of the country had in two years risen to the sum of two millions sterling per annum. They also pointed out that more than half the land-tax was paid by Englishmen and other Europeans.

In 1881, the Transvaal (under Mr. Gladstone's administration) was liberated from British control. It was given back to its own leaders, under certain conditions, agreed to and solemnly signed by the President. These are the much-discussed conditions of the Convention of 1881, one of these conditions being that Slavery should be abolished. This condition was indeed, insisted on in every agreement or convention made between the British Government and the Boers; the first being that of 1852, called the Sand River Convention; the second, a convention entered into two years later called the Bloemfontein Convention (which created the Orange Free State); a third agreement as to the cessation of Slavery was entered into at the period of the Annexation, 1877; a fourth was the Convention of 1881; a fifth the Convention of 1884. I do not here speak of the other terms of these Conventions, I only remark that in each a just treatment of the native races was demanded and agreed to.

The retrocession of the Transvaal in 1881 has been much lauded as an act of magnanimity and justice. There is no doubt that the motive which prompted it was a noble and generous one; yet neither is there any doubt, that in certain respects, the results of that act were unhappy, and were no doubt unanticipated. It was on the natives, whose interests appeared to have had no place in the generous impulses of Mr. Gladstone, that the action of the British Government fell most heavily, most mournfully. In this matter, it must be confessed that the English Government broke faith with the unhappy natives, to whom it had promised protection, and who so much needed it. In this, as in many other matters, our country, under successive Governments, has greatly erred; at times neglecting responsibilities to her loyal Colonial subjects, and at other times interfering unwisely.

In one matter, England has, however, been consistent, namely, in the repeated proclamations that Slavery should never be permitted under her rule and authority.

The formal document of agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Boer leaders, known as the Convention of 1881, was signed by both parties at Pretoria on the afternoon of the 3rd August, in the same room in which, nearly four years before, the Annexation Proclamation was signed by Sir T. Shepstone.

This formality was followed by a more unpleasant duty for the Commissioners appointed to settle this business, namely, the necessity of conveying their message to the natives, and informing them that they had been handed back by Great Britain, "poor Canaanites," to the tender mercies of their masters, the "Chosen people," in spite of the despairing appeals which many of them had made to her.

Some three hundred of the principal native chiefs were called together in the Square at Pretoria, and there the English Commissioner read to them the proclamation of Queen Victoria. Sir Hercules Robinson, the Chief Commissioner, having "introduced the native chiefs to Messrs. Kruger, Pretorius, and Joubert," having given them good advice as to indulging in manual labour when asked to do so by the Boers, and having reminded them that it would be necessary to retain the law relating to Passes, which is, in the hands of a people like the Boers, almost as unjust a regulation as a dominant race can invent for the oppression of a subject people, concluded by assuring them that their "interests would never be forgotten or neglected by Her Majesty's Government." Having read this document, the Commission hastily withdrew, and after their withdrawal the Chiefs were "allowed" to state their opinions to the Secretary for Native Affairs.

In availing themselves of this permission, it is noticeable that no allusion was made by the Chiefs to the advantages they were to reap under the Convention. All their attention was given to the great fact that the country had been ceded to the Boers, and that they were no longer the Queen's subjects. I beg attention to the following appeals from the hearts of these oppressed people. They got very excited, and asked whether it was thought that they had no feelings or hearts, that they were thus treated as a stick or piece of tobacco, which could be passed from hand to hand without question.

Umgombarie, a Zoutpansberg Chief, said: "I am Umgombarie. I have fought with the Boers, and have many wounds, and they know that what I say is true. I will never consent to place myself under their rule. I belong to the English Government. I am not a man who eats with both sides of his jaw at once; I only use one side. I am English. I have said."

Silamba said: "I belong to the English. I will never return under the Boers. You see me, a man of my rank and position; is it right that such as I should be seized and laid on the ground and flogged, as has been done to me and other Chiefs?"

Sinkanhla said: "We hear and yet do not hear, we cannot understand. We are troubling you, Chief, by talking in this way; we hear the Chiefs say that the Queen took the country because the people of the country wished it, and again, that the majority of the owners of the country did not wish her rule, and that therefore the country was given back. We should like to have the man pointed out from among us black people who objects to the rule of the Queen. We are the real owners of the country; we were here when the Boers came, and without asking leave, settled down and treated us in every way badly. The English Government then came and took the country; we have now had four years of rest, and peaceful and just rule. We have been called here to-day, and are told that the country, our country, has been given to the Boers by the Queen. This is a thing which surprises, us. Did the country, then, belong to the Boers? Did it not belong to our fathers and forefathers before us, long before the Boers came here? We have heard that the Boers' country is at the Cape. If the Queen wishes to give them their land, why does she not give them back the Cape?"

Umyethile said: "We have no heart for talking. I have returned to the country from Sechelis, where I had to fly from Boer oppression. Our hearts are black and heavy with grief to-day at the news told us. We are in agony; our intestines are twisting and writhing inside of us, just as you see a snake do when it is struck on the head. We do not know what has become of us, but we feel dead. It may be that the Lord may change the nature of the Boers, and that we will not be treated like dogs and beasts of burden as formerly; but we have no hope of such a change, and we leave you with heavy hearts and great apprehension as to the future."[3] In his Report, Mr. Shepstone (Secretary for Native Affairs) says, "One chief, Jan Sibilo, who had been personally threatened with death by the Boers after the English should leave, could not restrain his feelings, but cried like a child."

In 1881, the year of the retrocession of the Transvaal, a Royal Commission was appointed from England to enquire into the internal state of affairs in the South African Republic. On the 9th May of that year, an affidavit was sworn to before that Commission by the Rev. John Thorne, of St. John the Evangelist, Lydenburg, Transvaal. He stated: "I was appointed to the charge of a congregation in Potchefstroom when the Republic was under the Presidency of Mr. Pretorius. I noticed one morning, as I walked through the streets, a number of young natives whom I knew to be strangers. I enquired where they came from. I was told that they had just been brought from Zoutpansberg. This was the locality from which slaves were chiefly brought at that time, and were traded for under the name of 'Black Ivory.' One of these slaves belonged to Mr. Munich, the State Attorney." In the fourth paragraph of the same affidavit, Mr. Thorne says that "the Rev. Dr. Nachtigal, of the Berlin Missionary Society, was the interpreter for Shatane's people, in the private office of Mr. Roth, and, at the close of the interview, told me what had occurred. On my expressing surprise, he went on to relate that he had information on native matters which would surprise me more. He then produced the copy of a register, kept in the Landdrost's office, of men, women, and children, to the number of four hundred and eighty (480), who had been disposed of by one Boer to another for a consideration. In one case an ox was given in exchange, in another goats, in a third a blanket, and so forth. Many of these natives he (Mr. Nachtigal) knew personally. The copy was certified as true and correct by an official of the Republic."[4]

On the 16th May, 1881, a native, named Frederick Molepo, was examined by the Royal Commission. The following are extracts from his examination: -

"(Sir Evelyn Wood.) Are you a Christian? - Yes.

"(Sir H. de Villiers.) How long were you a slave? - Half-a-year.

"How do you know that you were a slave? Might you not have been an apprentice? - No, I was not apprenticed.

"How do you know? - They got me from my parents, and ill-treated me.

"(Sir Evelyn Wood.) How many times did you get the stick? - Every day.

"(Sir H. de Villiers.) What did the Boers do with you when they caught you? - They sold me.

"How much did they sell you for? - One cow and a big pot."

On the 28th May, 1881, amongst the other documents-handed in for the consideration of the Royal Commission, is the statement of a Headman, whose name also it was considered advisable to omit in the Blue book, lest the Boers should take vengeance on him. He says, "I say, that if the English Government dies I shall die too; I would rather die than be under the Boer Government. I am the man who helped to make bricks for the church you see now standing in the square here (Pretoria), as a slave without payment. As a representative of my people, I am still obedient to the English Government, and willing to obey all commands from them, even to die for their cause in this country, rather than submit to the Boers.

"I was under Shambok, my chief, who fought the Boers-formerly, but he left us, and we were put up to auction and sold among the Boers. I want to state this myself to the Royal Commission. I was bought by Fritz Botha and sold by Frederick Botha, who was then veldt cornet (justice of the peace) of the Boers."

Many more of such extracts might be quoted, but it is not my motive to multiply horrors. These are given exactly as they stand in the original, which may all be found in Blue Books-presented to Parliament.

It has frequently been denied on behalf of the Transvaal, and is denied at this day, in the face of innumerable witnesses to the contrary, that slavery exists in the Transvaal. Now, this may be considered to be verbally true. Slavery, they say, did not exist; but apprenticeship did, and does exist. It is only another name. It is not denied that some Boers have been kind to their slaves, as humane slave-owners frequently were in the Southern States of America. But kindness, even the most indulgent, to slaves, has never been held by abolitionists to excuse the existence of slavery.

Mr. Rider Haggard, who spent a great part of his life in the Transvaal and other parts of South Africa, wrote in 1899: "The assertion that Slavery did not exist in the Transvaal is made to hoodwink the British public. I have known men who have owned slaves, and who have seen whole waggon-loads of Black Ivory, as they were called, sold for about L15 a piece. I have at this moment a tenant, Carolus by name, on some land I own in Natal, now a well-to-do man, who was for twenty years a Boer slave. He told me that during those years he worked from morning till night, and the only reward he received was two calves. He finally escaped to Natal."

Going back some years, evidence may be found, equally well attested with that already quoted. On the 22nd August, 1876, Khama, the Christian King of the Bamangwato (Bechuanaland), one of the most worthy Chiefs which any country has had the good fortune to be ruled by, wrote to Sir Henry de Villiers the following message, to be sent to Queen Victoria: - "I write to you, Sir Henry, in order that your Queen may preserve for me my country, it being in her hands. The Boers are coming into it, and I do not like them. Their actions are cruel among us black people. We are like money; they sell us and our children. I ask Her Majesty to pity me, and to hear that which I write quickly. I wish to hear upon what conditions Her Majesty will receive me, and my country and my people, under her protection. I am weary with fighting. I do not like war, and I ask Her Majesty to give me peace. I am very much distressed that my people are being destroyed by war, and I wish them to obtain peace. I ask Her Majesty to defend me, as she defends all her people. There are three things which distress me very much - war, selling people, and drink. All these things I find in the Boers, and it is these things which destroy people, to make an end of them in the country. The custom of the Boers has always been to cause people to be sold, and to-day they are still selling people. Last year I saw them pass with two waggons full of people whom they had bought at the river at Tanane (Lake Ngate). - Khama."

The visit of King Khama to England, a few years ago, his interview with the Queen, and his pathetic appeals on behalf of his people against the intrusion of any aggressors (drink being one of them), are fresh in our memory.

Coming down to a recent date, I reproduce here a letter from a Zulu Chief, which appeared in the London Press in November, 1899. This letter is written to a gentleman, who accompanied it by the following remarks: - "After I had read this very remarkable letter, I found myself half unconsciously wondering what place in the scheme of South African life will be found for Zulus such as this nephew of the last of the Zulu Kings. One thing I am fully certain of, that there are few natives in the Cape Colony (where they are full-fledged voters) capable of inditing so sensible an epistle. This communication throws a most welcome light upon the attitude of his people with respect to the momentous events that are in progress, and also it reveals to what a high standard of intellectual culture a pure Zulu may attain."

"Duff's Road, Durban, November 3rd, 1899.

Sir, - I keenly appreciate your generous tribute to the loyalty of the Zulu nation during the fierce crisis of English rule in South Africa. It is the first real test of the loyalty of the Zulus, and as a Zulu who was once a Chief, I rejoice to see that the loyalty and gratitude of my people is appreciated by the white people of Natal.

It is, as you say, respected Sir, a tribute, and a magnificent one, to England's just policy to the Zulus. I dare to assert it is even a finer tribute to the natives' appreciation, not only of benefits already conferred, but of the spirit that actuated England in her dealings with him. I may disagree as to the lessons taught by Maxim guns, hollow squares, and the 'thin red line.' I think no one can have read Colonial history, chronicling as it does, the rise again and again of the native against Imperial forces, without feeling that he is influenced far less by England's prowess in war than by her justice in peace. My Zulu fellow-countrymen understand as clearly as anyone the weakness and the strength of the present time. If the Zulu wished to remember Kambula and Ulundi, this would be his supreme opportunity to rise and hurl himself across the Natal frontier. But I, having just returned from my native country, have been able to report to the Government at Pietermaritzburg that there is not the slightest symptom of disloyalty, not the idea of lifting a finger against the white subjects of the great and good Queen.

There is among the Chiefs and Indunas of my people an almost universal hope that the Imperial arms will be victorious, and that a Government which, by its inhumanity and relentless injustice, and apparent inability to see that the native has any rights a white man should respect, has forfeited its place among the civilised Governments of the earth, and should therefore be deprived of powers so scandalously abused - formerly by slavery, and in later years by disallowing the native to buy land, and utterly neglecting his intellectual and spiritual needs. There are wrongs to be redressed, and we Zulus believe that England will be more willing to redress them than any other Power. There is still much to be done in the way of educating and civilizing the mass of the Zulu nation. We Chiefs of that nation have observed that wherever England has gone there the Missionary and teacher follow, and that there exists sympathy between the authority of Her Majesty and the forces that labour for civilization and Christianity. We Zulus have not yet forgotten what we owe to the late Bishop Colenso's lifelong advocacy, or to Lady Florence Dixie's kindly interest. These are things that are more than fear of England's might, that keep our people quiet outside and loyal inside. This is not a passive loyalty with us. Speaking for almost all my fellow-countrymen in Zululand, I believe if a great emergency arises in the course of this history-making war, in which England might find it necessary to put their loyalty to the test, they would respond with readiness and enthusiasm equal to that when they fought under King Cetewayo against Lord Chelmsford's army. Again assuring you that the Zulu people are turning deaf ears to Boer promises, as well as threats, I remain, with the most earnest hope for the ultimate triumph of General Buller - who fought my King for half a year. Your humble and most obedient servant,


Son of Maguende, brother of Cetewayo."

There is unhappily a tendency among persons living for any length of time among heathen people, to think and speak with a certain contempt for those people, at whose moral elevation they may even be sincerely aiming. They see all that is bad in these "inferior races," and little that is good. This was not so in the case of the greatest and most successful Missionaries. They never lost faith in human nature, even at its lowest estate, and hence they were able to raise the standard of the least promising of the outcast races of the world. This faith in the possibility of the elevation of these races has been firmly held, however, by some who know them best, and have lived among them the longest.

Mr Rider Haggard writes thus on this subject: - "So far as my own experience of natives has gone, I have found that in all the essential qualities of mind and body they very much resemble white men. Of them might be aptly quoted the speech Shakespeare puts into Shylock's mouth: 'Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?' In the same way, I ask, has a native no feelings or affections? does he not suffer when his parents are shot, or his children stolen, or when he is driven a wanderer from his home? Does he not know fear, feel pain, affection, hate, and gratitude? Most certainly he does; and this being so, I cannot believe that the Almighty, who made both white and black, gave to the one race the right or mission of exterminating or of robbing or maltreating the other, and calling the process the advance of civilization. It seems to me, that on only one condition, if at all, have we the right to take the black men's land; and that is, that we provide them with an equal and a just Government, and allow no maltreatment of them, either as individuals or tribes, but, on the contrary, do our best to elevate them, and wean them from savage customs. Otherwise, the practice is surely undefensible.

"I am aware, however, that with the exception of a small class, these are sentiments which are not shared by the great majority of the public, either at home or abroad."

A French gentleman, who has been for many years connected with the Missions Evangeliques of France, related recently in my presence some incidents of the early experience of French Missionaries in South Africa. One of these had laboured for years without encouragement. The hearts of the native people around him remained unmoved. One day, however, he spoke among them especially of Calvary, of the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. A Chief who was present left the building in which the teacher was speaking. At the close, this Chief was found sitting on the ground outside, his back to the door, his head bent forward and buried in his arms. He was weeping. When spoken to, he raised his arm with a movement of deprecation, and, in a voice full of pity and indignation, said - "to think that there was no one even to give Him a drink of water!" That poor savage had known what thirst is. This one awakened chord of human sympathy with the human Christ was communicative. Other hearts were touched, and from that time the Missionary began to reap a rich harvest from his labours. In the midst of the elaborate services of our fashionable London churches is there often to be found so genuine a feeling as that which shook the soul of this Chief, and broke down the barrier of coldness and hardness in his fellow-countrymen which had before prevented the acceptance of the message of Salvation and of the practical obligations of Christianity among them? Men who are capable of rising to the knowledge and love of divine truth cannot be supposed to be impervious to the influence of civilization properly understood.


[Footnote 1: The financial resources of the country at that time amounted to 12s. 6d.]
[Footnote 2: Quoted from Parliamentary Blue Book.]
[Footnote 3: Report made on the spot by Mr. Shepstone (not Sir Theophilus Shepstone), Secretary for Native Affairs.]
[Footnote 4: The name of that official was held back from publication at the time, as if his act were known by the Boers, it was believed it might have cost the man his life.]