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10— A Nation Divided? The Swazi in Swaziland and the Transvaal, 1865–1986
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Whites and Blacks Press for 'Retribalization'

Meanwhile the Native Administration Act of 1927 provided for the establishment of a separate legal system for the African population, for their government by proclamation of the Governor General, which meant the Native Affairs Department, and for the strengthening of the powers of chiefs in reserves over their people. The measure was opposed by the intelligentsia, who lost the possibility of exemption from customary law, and by the chiefs, who saw both that they were being reduced to the status of salaried government officials and that the creation of the Governor General as 'Supreme Chief' was 'a violation of [the] Bantu system of government'.[48] The act was widely seen as marking a shift in policy towards segregation and 'retribalization', even though it was welcomed by some radicals as a final blow against the legitimacy of chiefs and the 'tribal system', which Herbst, the Secretary of the Native Affairs Department, saw as 'the most efficient machinery of government in definitely native areas'.[49]

The case of Chief Mhola, of Mjindini, one of the three most important Swazi chiefs in the Transvaal, however, vividly demonstrated that the policy of 'retribalization' applied only to malleable chiefs in reserves, and not to independently minded chiefs who were squatters on white farms. It also demonstrated the reawakening of ethnic consciousness as a defensive strategy against proletarianization on the part of a rural elite and the strong official hostility towards such manifestations. Chief Mhola, who was a contemporary of Sobhuza and had been educated with him at the Swazi National School at Zombodze, was installed as chief in 1923. In the following year he was evicted, together with 37 other Swazi homesteads, from a farm which lay within the 'town lands' of Barberton. He sought the assistance of Sobhuza and his council who in 1925 asked the Swaziland administration to intercede through the High Commissioner on his behalf. They asked if he could be given space in a 'location' or on Crown Land.[50] The High Commissioner, Lord Athlone, who believed that the South African government had its eyes on the High Commission Territories as dumping grounds for 'surplus' population, took up the case. He felt that South Africa should make proper provision for its population within its own borders and may have feared that the eviction of prominent Swazi would lead to a flood of immigrants into Swaziland where congestion in Swazi Nation areas was already a problem.[51]

The response of Herbst clearly justified such fears. He indicated his preference that Mhola should remove himself to Swaziland as he had clearly shown in the past that


he considers he is resident in the Transvaal as a representative of the Paramount Chief of the Swazis rather than as a subject of the Government. His influence with the Swazis in the Barberton district has been such as to hamper smooth and efficient administration and his continued residence in this area is considered undesirable.[52]

Sobhuza and his council were equally insistent that Mhola and his people should not come into Swaziland. Sobhuza stated: 'He is in charge of all the Swazis there and if he does not look after them, they will become vagabonds.'[53] At a slightly later date Mhola's councillors repudiated with equal vehemence the suggestion that they could 'return' to Swaziland. They acknowledged that they were Swazi but stated that 'we do not regard Swaziland as our home, our home is here where we originated'.[54]

Herbst did hold out some prospect that reserves might be created in the district if Hertzog's draft Native Bills were passed, but he complained that Mhola had 'no special status' and that 'his affinity with the Swazi Chief confers no claim to consideration upon him . . . .' He pointed out that in terms of the Convention of 1894, 'the interests of the Swazi Chief were to be confined to the territory of Swaziland'.[55]

No reserves were in fact scheduled in the Barberton district for many years and Chief Mhola and his followers survived as labour tenants on farm land for at least thirty-five years. In remarkably lucid evidence to the Native Economic Commission in 1930 several of his councillors protested vigorously against the terms which they had to accept as labour tenants. Acknowledging that there were differences in wealth within the 'tribe', they demanded the creation of a reserve into which the most 'hard-pressed' could move. They made it clear that these would include the chief and the larger cattle owners who always found it difficult to maintain their herds as labour tenants.[56]

Living as close as they did to the town of Barberton, Mhola's councillors also displayed an acute awareness of the economic possibilities of the local urban area. They protested that they were treated in the urban area in the same way as 'other natives'.[57] This was presumably a reference to the influx of 'Shangaans', 'Nyasas' and others who less than twenty years later were said to acknowledge Mhola as chief and pay tax as his followers. They protested at their inability to buy plots or stands, or to engage in business within the urban area, as well as at indiscriminate arrests of people found drinking beer there.[58] They clearly believed that their historic claim to the area entitled them to privileged access to whatever commercial opportunities existed. There was a remarkable similarity between their urban demands and those of Swaziland's intelligentsia, which were articulated, as will be shown below, in the same year.

An alliance between the intelligentsia and the chiefs, as will be recalled, was one of the basic premises upon which the South African Natives' National Congress had been established. This was an alliance which, by the later 1920s, had been seriously eroded by a number of factors. These included the failure of congress either to reverse or to have fully implemented the terms of the Natives Land Act of 1913, and the increased rate of permanent African urbanization which followed the growth of secondary industry during World War I. Attendance by chiefs at the annual conferences of the ANC declined, as did their financial contributions to it, and special conventions of chiefs had to be called in 1927 and 1928 to obtain authoritative chiefly responses to Hertzog's Native Bills and the Native Administration Act.

At the same time the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU) provided a mass-based alternative to the ANC and swept like a millenarian


movement through the eastern Transvaal and parts of Swaziland itself. Many Swazi chiefs, on both sides of the border, joined with thousands of their followers. Sobhuza's uncle, Norman Nxumalo, brother of Benjamin, was actively involved as an organizer in the Transvaal. This may have increased the acceptability of the union among Swazi chiefs who were drawn to it, as they had previously been drawn to the ANC, by the hope of regaining their land. The ICU could do nothing to satisfy the expectations which it had aroused, and by 1928 it was fading out of the eastern Transvaal as rapidly as it had appeared two years before.[59]

Following the collapse of the ICU, and in the face of the increasingly repressive policies of Hertzog and Oswald Pirow, who fought the 1929 election with the slogan of 'Swart Gevaar ' ('Black Peril'), there was a move within the ANC to restore the alliance with the chiefs. The proven ability of Swazi chiefs in the eastern Transvaal to deliver their followers to the ICU may have inspired Pixley Seme, Sobhuza's close associate and legal adviser, to advocate this strategy, though his motives were undoubtedly conservative. At the annual conference of the ANC, in April 1930, J.T. Gumede, who was sympathetic to the Soviet Union and who wished the ANC to adopt a more militant stand, was, after a dramatic call for the 'Native Republic', replaced by Seme. There is no evidence that Sobhuza actively canvassed on Seme's behalf, but he certainly was pleased with the result. A Swaziland branch of the ANC was established by Benjamin Nxumalo at Sobhuza's house in Sophiatown in the same year, and it is probably not fortuitous that Norman Nxumalo stands behind Seme in the 1930 ANC group photograph.[60]

A move in a similar direction was made by A.W.G. Champion, the leader of the ICU yase Natal, the foundation of which had been seen by Clements Kadalie as exploiting ethnic divisiveness. Champion, who had in 1929 scorned the government view that 'Natives' should be ruled through chiefs, and who had supported Gumede in the ANC election, was by August 1930 seeking to forge an alliance with Solomon kaDinizulu, the de facto Zulu paramount. The threat of such an alliance led to his banishment from Durban to Johannesburg where he made contact with, amongst others, Sobhuza.[61]

Seme, who had little in common with Champion, was also committed to the 'full restoration of the paramount chieftainship of the Royal House in order to revitalize all the Zulu native institutions [and so] re-establish the old esprit de corps of the Zulu nation'.[62] Seme presided over the ANC at a time when it was almost destroyed by internal dissension. He stated his own political philosophy clearly in 1932 when he answered those who accused him of 'culpable inertia'. He wished the ANC to return to its 'original constitution' by reviving the upper House of Chiefs where they could discuss 'the new problems which face them today, the problems of employment for their people, the problems of conserving national pride, customs and traditions'. He also called for the support of the younger intelligentsia while denouncing the 'common agitator who only wants to create strife and class hatred' as well as 'hatred between whites and blacks'. He deplored 'detribalization' and the fact that 'the Chiefs and their uneducated people are despised and forsaken by their educated tribesmen'. He called for a revival of 'Race Pride' and for a restoration in confidence between the educated and uneducated. He made it clear that he looked to ethnic mobilization as a counter to the disintegration caused by education, urbanization and proletarianization.[63]

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10— A Nation Divided? The Swazi in Swaziland and the Transvaal, 1865–1986
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