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Chapter Two— The Historical Background
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Chapter Two—
The Historical Background

Many people have remarked that the "race problem" of Africa is a White one, not a Black one. Indeed, racial prejudice and consciousness which greatly complicate and impede the present transition of African countries from subjection to independence are almost exclusively European imports. This is so much the case that there is a close relationship between the number of White settlers in any given territory, and the ease and speed of political transition. If the apologists of the "White man's burden" were correct, the reverse situation might have been expected: the more European colonists a country has, the "readier" it should be for self-government on a Western democratic model, and the sooner and the more easily it should achieve that avowed goal of most colonial powers. The events of the last twenty years, on the contrary, confirm the axiom that Africa has much more of a White immigrant problem than a "Native" one.

The "White problem" of South Africa begins in 1652 with the first permanent European settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. Previous sporadic intrusions by Portuguese sailors along the coast, starting in the late fifteenth century, have left no permanent trace. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company sent Van Riebeeck and a group of Company employees to the Cape in order to establish what De Kiewiet aptly called "a cabbage patch on the


way to India,"[1] i.e., a refreshment station for Dutch vessels travelling between Holland and the East Indies. Five years later some colonists were emancipated from Company service and allowed to settle as free burghers. This event became the starting point of two important facts in South African history: first, of slavery, and, second, of "trekking."

Yielding to an increasing demand for cheap servile labour on the part of the Dutch settlers who quickly came to consider manual work below their dignity, the Company imported the first shipload of slaves in 1658. Through subsequent shipments, the number of slaves began to outnumber that of Whites by the first half of the eighteenth century, and the Western Cape became a firmly entrenched slave society until 1834, when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. These slaves came mostly from Madagascar, Mozambique, and the East Indies. In addition, the Cape was a convenient dumping ground for political exiles and prisoners from the Indies.

This early slavery situation gave rise to the first type of race relations which I have called "paternalistic,"[2] and to an ideological current which has mistakenly been termed "Cape liberalism." According to existing evidence, race or colour did not immediately become a primary criterion of stratification, but rather Christianity conferred by baptism, and the status of slave or free man.[3] Early cases of legal marriage between Dutchmen and baptised women of colour support that fact.

Within a generation or so, however, colour had become the primary index of status. The Calvinist faith of the Dutch settlers probably helped this process of increasing race consciousness. Indeed, one can plausibly extend Max Weber's argument concerning predestination to South Africa.[4] Weber argues that a


belief in predestination leads to anxiety about one's salvation, and that one tries to resolve the uncertainty by seeking outward signs of God's grace. In the case of Calvin's Geneva that sign took the form of material prosperity, hence the link between Calvinism and capitalism. Accepting the urge to seek an outward sign of salvation, skin colour seemed the most obvious, indeed the almost inevitable choice in South Africa, all the more so that practically all dark-skinned people were in fact "heathens," and that darkness was traditionally associated with sin and evil in the Christian world view.[5] Hypothetical as this interpretation may seem, it is supported by the constant attempts on the part of fundamentalistic Afrikaners to seek Biblical justification for racial segregation and White superiority. Africans, so the argument runs, are the descendants of Ham, who was cursed by Noah, and are destined by God to be servants of servants, hewers of wood and drawers of water.

By the end of the seventeenth century, in any case, a rigid system of stratification based mostly on "race" was firmly established at the Cape. At this point, we must distinguish the settled districts of the Western Cape from the frontier districts of


the "Trekboers" to which we shall turn later. The former extended in the eighteenth century as far as Swellendam in the east and Tulbagh in the north, and included, besides Cape Town itself, Stellenbosch and Paarl as sizeable towns. Only in that limited area, settled mostly by fairly prosperous wine, fruit, and wheat farmers living sedentarily on large autonomous farms, did the slavery system take root. The Whites were at the apex of society, and comprised transient sailors, a military garrison, employees of the Dutch East India Company, and free burghers established as artisans, shopkeepers, professionals, and farmers. They lived together with their slaves and with nominally free Hottentots (though the latter were more numerous in the frontier districts) in a relatively stable symbiosis based on rigidly ascriptive ties of masters and servants.

In spite of sporadic revolts of small groups of fugitive slaves repressed with great vigor, most contemporary and modern accounts agree that slavery at the Cape was a mild institution allowing for close affective bonds between masters and slaves.[6] The White farmer living on his autonomous estate constituted with his family and his retinue of slaves a large patriarchical unit in daily and intimate contact. Lichtenstein describes that paternalistic relationship existing in the first years of the nineteenth century in the following terms:

He [i.e. an old slave] spoke with great warmth and gratitude of his master, Mr. Milde, who, he said, took such excellent care of him though he was not able to work any longer: praises which were echoed unanimously by all the slaves. Indeed, whoever had an opportunity of contemplating . . . the deportment of this excellent man toward his children, his household and dependents . . . must almost have fancied that he saw the days of the patriarchs revived. Nor are such instances rare. The truth is that instead of the odious representations which have been made by some persons of the behaviour of masters in this country towards their dependents


being descriptive of their general conduct, these have rather been taken from particular instances which ought to have been cited as exceptions.[7]

Many other documents of the period show the close affective and physical bonds that united masters and slaves. John Campbell, for example, writes in 1815:

In general, the slaves are treated with tenderness in Cape Town. In the house where I lodged they are treated as if they were their own children, and most of them would be very unwilling to leave the family. Their children are put to school, and play about the room, where the family sit at their meals, with as much freedom, and receive as much attention as if they were their own children.[8]

A generation earlier, Sparrman related the following family scene:

During the whole evening I had seen the slaves in such good humour, and so kindly and familiarly treated, that (with regard to their temporal matters at least) they really seemed to be better off than many servants in Europe.[9]

Slaves then, in particular domestic servants, closely shared the life of their masters. White and Black children played together and went in many cases to the same schools. The entire household often prayed together in the evening, although slaves were excluded from church worship; personal servants shared in every respect the intimacy of their masters' households, and lived in many cases under the same roof, as can be seen in the old town houses and farms of the Cape. A concomitant of this close emotional and special relationship was miscegenation which, throughout this period, was not only common but condoned in the form of concubinage between White men and women of colour. In 1787 Mentzel writes:


Female slaves are always ready to offer their bodies for a trifle, and toward evening one can see a string of soldiers and sailors entering the slave lodge where they misspend their time until the clock strikes 9. . . . The Company does nothing to prevent this promiscuous intercourse, since, for one thing it tends to multiply the slave population, and does away with the necessity of importing fresh slaves. Three or four generations of this admixture . . . have produced a half-caste population—a mestizzo class—but a slight shade darker than some Europeans. . . .

Boys who . . . have to remain at home during their impressionable years between 16 and 21 more often than not commit some folly, and get entangled with a handsome slave-girl belonging to the household. These affairs are not regarded as very serious. . . . The offence is venial in the public estimation. It does not hurt the boy's prospects, his escapade is a source of amusement, and he is dubbed a young fellow who has shown the stuff he is made of. . . .

Female slaves sometimes live with Europeans as husband and wife with the permission of their masters. . . . Her children are the property of her master since children of female slaves are themselves slaves.[10]

Percival describes the sexual hospitality of a Dutch family at the Cape in 1804:

All children born of a slave woman, though got by a white man, even by themselves, became slaves. It thus often happens, that the master has his own child a slave. . . . The Dutch ladies have no reluctance to their slave girls having connection with their guests, in hopes of profiting by it, by their being got with child. I myself know instances where they have been ordered to wait on such a gentleman to his bedroom.[11]

Sparrman mentions that his host, a Hanoverian farmer at the Cape:

also gave me a list . . . of the constant order of precedence in love, which ought to be observed among the fair sex in Africa:


this was as follows. First the Madagascar women, who are the blackest and handsomest, next to these the Malabars , then the Bugunese or Malays , after these the Hottentots, and last and worst of all, the white Dutch women.[12]

The result of extensive miscegenation coupled with close symbiosis was the formation of the culturally homogeneous group of Afrikaans-speaking, Christian, Cape Coloureds.[13] Except for the Malays who retained their Muslim faith, this genetic and cultural melting pot of many different groups, from Hottentots and Indonesians to Malagasy, Africans, and Europeans, gave rise to a mixed population differing from the White settlers only through its skin colour and its depressed economic and social status. As we shall see later, the presence of the Coloureds, who are nearly half as numerous as the Whites, continues up to the present to exert a crucial influence on the entire social and political structure of the country.

Combined with these close physical ties between masters and slaves was a rigidly ascribed principle of inequality which made the White group dominant and all non-Whites, whether slaves or free men, subordinate. A complex etiquette of race relations continuously symbolized and reinforced this inequality. Numerous terms of address varying with status, age, and sex corresponded to the social roles of masters and servants. Sumptuary regulations, forbidding slaves, for example, to wear shoes or to smoke a pipe in the street, maintained social distance. Furthermore, the status of slave was difficult to escape. Out of a slave population increasing from over 2000 to nearly 15,000, only 893 slaves were emancipated between 1715 and 1792.[14] Under these circumstances, spacial segregation was unnecessary to the maintenance of White superiority. The racial hierarchy was unthreatened and maintained by other means. What little segregation existed was


not a deliberate mechanism for keeping the non-Whites in subjection as became the case later.[15]

Such a paternalistic system of race relations with close personal bonds between masters and slaves living in constant contact on little autonomous land estates led to a fairly stable racial situation.[16] It also implied on the part of many slaves an acceptance of their subordinate status as inescapable, and even an internalization of a sense of their own inferiority. Similar situations have existed elsewhere, notably in the slave societies of the Americas such as in the southern United States and in northern Brazil.[17] To say that such systems were structurally stable and integrated implies by no means a value judgment as to their desirability. I do not intend to romanticize slavery, or to minimize its cruelty and debasement of the human personality. The cornerstone of such a system is the strict, permanent, unchallenged subordination of one group in relation to another, irrespective of individual merit. I fully concur, for example, with Bastide, who rightly points out that the existence of miscegenation in the form of concubinage, far from indicating an absence of racial prejudice, debases, on the contrary, the women of the subordinate group to the status of pleasure instruments for the males of the ruling group.[18] My contention is that there existed in the settled districts of the Western Cape in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a stable, integrated society with a system of race relations quite different from that existing in South Africa today.

This old Western Cape society was, however, to leave legacies


in subsequent history, hence its importance for an understanding of modern conditions. Paternalism still lingers on as an ideal model of White-Black relationships for most White South Africans. Its milder form, which has been fallaciously termed "Cape liberalism," is in fact "Cape paternalism" with an injection of British nineteenth-century humanitarianism. In its extreme form, the official ideology of apartheid is also a brand of stern, rugged paternalism influenced by the frontier situation to which we shall turn shortly. The subsequent distinction between North and South that pervades the history of White politics in South Africa, and that is generally interpreted as a distinction between racialism and liberalism, could better be described as a relatively minor difference of opinion between two brands of paternalists. We shall return to that point later. The other legacy of the old Cape is, as we have mentioned above, the Cape Coloured group. This large, fully Westernized, brown appendage to the White group is one of major complicating factors in the structure of modern South Africa, and has no sizeable equivalent in the areas of the country invaded by the Whites in the nineteenth century.

Let us now turn to "trekking,"[19] the second major phenomenon in the social history of South Africa. Its origin, like that of slavery, can be found in the 1657 decision of the Dutch East India Company to free some of the settlers from its service. Indeed, only free burghers could travel at will. Naturally, this fact alone is completely inadequate to explain the slow dispersion and penetration of seminomadic Boers into the interior of the continent. The 1657 decision was merely a necessary condition thereto. It is, of course, impossible to assign an exact date to the beginning of trekking, but the nomadic move was certainly well under way by the first decades of the eighteenth century. The


trekking Boers were pastoralists, an occupation rendered profitable by the meat market of Cape Town. The relatively poor pastures were quickly exhausted and forced the Boers to move further inland with their cattle and sheep, every one to four years depending on local conditions. In addition to herding, cattle trading, with the Hottentots first, and later with the Bantu-speaking nations, was also attractive. Even more profitable was cattle raiding, through organized predatory commandos of mounted Boers against the aborigines. Neumark argues that cattle trading and raiding account for migration to an even greater extent than the need for new pastures.[20]

With an abundance of land which could be conquered relatively easily by the force of arms, and a scarcity of labour, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Boers would become pastoralists, dependent on cattle and sheep both for subsistence and for trade. Livestock being self-transporting, other means of transport being virtually nonexisting, and Cape Town being the only sizeable trade centre, it followed that domestic animals were practically the only source of cash income at any distance from the Cape. Hence, cattle and sheep played a paramount economic role until the second half of the nineteenth century. Cattle raiding on the part of Boers, Hottentots, and Bantu Africans dominated the whole history of the South African frontier, because all three groups were pastoralists fighting over the control of the two main resources: livestock and land on which to feed it.

Another contributary factor to trekking was inheritance of land. Although Roman-Dutch law was not based on primogeniture, the incentive not to subdivide farms was great, and younger sons were often given their share of inheritance in cattle, sheep, and wagons to start life as pastoralists.

From the beginning, the established authorities at the Cape tried in vain to prevent trekking. First, the Company wanted to maintain a monopoly on cattle trade with the Hottentots. Second,


the migratory Boers escaped the jurisdiction and control of the Company in the remote frontier districts. Third, the expanding frontier created a situation of perpetual chaos. The cattle raids and territorial encroachments of the Boers led to an endless series of frontier wars and counterraids by the aborigines. These are known in South African history as the "Hottentot Wars" of 1659 and 1673, the "Kaffir Wars" of 1779, 1789, 1799, 1812, 1818, 1835, 1846, and 1850, and the "Basuto Wars" of 1851, 1858, 1865, and 1880, not to mention almost countless smaller skirmishes, cattle raids, reprisals, and "punitive expeditions" which, in the case of the Boer commandos against the Bushmen, took the character of genocide. The Company and later the British government were reluctant to get involved in a situation which they were unable to control, and have always wanted to contain the Boer migration. The Company had no territorial ambitions at the Cape. It considered South Africa worthless, except as a steppingstone to the East.

Conditions on the frontier were obviously quite different from those in the settled districts of the Cape. The pastoralist Boers lived under much more rudimentary conditions than the sedentary farmers, and were on the average much poorer. Few could afford slaves, who were quite expensive, and most relied on Hottentot and, later, Bantu serfs, who cost nothing but a little food, and whose destitution forced them into the service of the Boers after the latter had deprived them of their land. Vaillant describes the living conditions of the frontier Boers in the 1780's as follows:

Les derniers, misérables et paresseux errent sur les frontières, promenant de pâturage en pâturage quelques bestiaux qui se nourissent comme ils peuvent. Quand leurs troupeaux les font séjourner quelque part, ils se construisent à la hâte quelque hutte grossière qu'ils couvrent de nattes, à la manière de ces Hottentots dont ils ne diffèrent que par les traits du visage et la couleur.[21]


A few years later, Barrow writes:

The boer, notwithstanding, has his enjoyments, he is absolute master of a domain of several miles in extent; and he lords it over a few miserable slaves or Hottentots without control.[22]

What little evidence exists on the type of race relations on the frontier indicates that the Hottentots were not as well treated, on the whole, as the slaves in the settled districts. Though the charges of cruelty made against the Boers in the Black Circuit of 1812 were shown to be exaggerated, the rugged and dangerous living conditions left little room for gentleness and humaneness.[23] Towards their own serfs, the Boers seem to have, in general, exhibited a stern paternalism which did not, in most cases, exclude a liberal dose of corporal punishment. At the same time, the common evening prayer in which the Hottentots and slaves participated is a cherished memory of the Afrikaner folklore. Towards men of colour outside the boundaries of White settlement, the attitude of the Boers was entirely hostile and predatory. Bushmen, who considered Boer cattle as fair game, were viewed as vermin, and shot at sight by organized Boer commandos. In 1774, for example, a Boer commando killed 503 Bushmen and captured 239. Between 1786 and 1795, 2503 Bushmen were killed and 669 taken as prisoners by the Boers. In the same period, the Bushmen killed 276 Whites and stole 19,161 heads of cattle and 84,094 sheep from the colonists.[24] Hottentots and Bantu likewise engaged in continuous warfare and cattle raiding with the Boers who either killed them, pushed them back, and annexed their territory, or stole their cattle and reduced the remnants of the aboriginal groups to a form of disguished slavery. The important point to note here is that the frontier model of White-Black relations within the Boer household was basically the same paternalism as in the settled districts, only much sterner


and much less humane. Africans or Hottentots who were not reduced to the status of slaves or serfs, the only status for a Black person which was acceptable to the Boers, were automatically treated as enemies. We shall later see how this outlook has been carried into the present.

Up to the Great Fish River, the Boers encountered little opposition to their migration. During the first half of the eighteenth century they gradually invaded a vast territory previously inhabited by Hottentots and Bushmen. The main flow of the migration followed the eastern coast of the continent where rainfall was the greatest. Smaller numbers of colonists, in particular "Bastards," i.e., people of mixed Boer and Hottentot descent, also went full north into the semi-desertic interior of the future Cape Colony and reached the Orange River.[25] This whole territory was inhabited only by small, thinly settled, nomadic bands of Hottentots and Bushmen who, not possessing any cohesive political organization, were no obstacle to the Boers with their guns, horses, and wagons. While it is incorrect to say that this part of Africa was empty, as does current government propaganda, the aboriginal population was certainly scarce and the area was a power vacuum.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, however, Boer and Bantu met on the Great Fish River. The large African nations were, like the Boers, pastoralists on the move, pushing one another southward in a great turmoil of wars and migrations. This time, the Boers encountered not a few isolated roving bands, unconnected with one another, but large cohesive nations numbering up to several hundred thousand members, and with a complex political and military organization. The firearms and horses of the Boers compensated for their numerical inferiority, but, nevertheless, the two migrant groups stopped one another around 1775, and the White frontier expanded only slowly until


the 1830's. An uneasy deadlock resulted, punctuated by "Kaffir Wars," cattle raids, and vain attempts by the Cape authorities to "pacify" and to seal off the border. Whereas the Hottentots and Bushmen were either exterminated or absorbed into the Cape Coloured population through miscegenation and acculturation, the Africans were too numerous and too well integrated to share that fate. For the first time, on the Great Fish River, the two main antagonists in South Africa, Whites and Africans, were in presence. This equilibrium of forces was finally broken with the Great Trek of 1836, but, before turning to that important event, we must turn back to the first years of the nineteenth century.

After first capturing the Cape in 1795, and ceding it briefly again to the Batavian Republic in 1803, the British finally established themselves in 1806. With British rule, a new complicating factor appeared on the South African scene, namely Boer-Briton antagonism, with its complex repercussions on what White South Africans call the "Native problem." Until the last two or three decades, the struggle for supremacy between Boer and Briton even overshadowed the White-Black opposition. Most Afrikaner and African nationalists today are in basic agreement on at least one point, namely the interpretation of British policy in South Africa. That policy consisted broadly in consolidating the British position at the detriment of both Boers and Africans, and, if necessary, in using the latter against the former.

The new British government at the Cape strengthened its position before the Great Trek in three important ways: through English immigration, through its support of the activities of the London Missionary Society, and through a series of liberalizing measures ending with the abolition of slavery in 1834. By encouraging English immigration the government counterbalanced the influence of the Dutch colonists. In 1820, in particular, some 5000 English immigrants were settled in the frontier districts of the Eastern Cape to give Britain a better control of that crucial border area, and to interpose themselves between the Boers


moving eastward and the Africans spreading southwestward. The Protestant clergymen of the London Missionary Society likewise enjoyed the support of the authorities. Here, too, Afrikaners and Africans agree in making them the first agents of British imperialism in the interior of South Africa.

While it would be a distortion of facts to consider the English missionaries simply as spies in disguise, it is clear that they were looked upon with favour by the British government, and that their humanitarian efforts to eradicate slavery and improve the abject condition of the Hottentots infuriated the Dutch colonists and coincided with government policy. Indeed, some of the missionaries were themselves aware of their political role. Thus John Philip stated in 1828:

While the missionaries have been employed in locating the savages among whom they labour, teaching them industrious habits, creating a demand for British manufactures, and increasing their dependence on the colony, there is not a single instance of a tribe thus enjoying the labour of a missionary making war against the colonists, either to injure their persons, or to deprive them of their property. Missionary stations are the most efficient agents which can be employed to promote the internal strength of our colonies, and the cheapest and best military posts a government can employ.[26]

The Black Circuit of 1812 (in which judges investigated alleged atrocities committed by Boers against the natives), the 50th Ordinance of 1828 (abolishing the vagrancy laws that served as a pretext to reduce the Hottentots to serfdom), and the series of laws reforming and finally putting an end to slavery in 1834 are the product of British government policy influenced by the London Missionary Society. While these measures were also dictated by humanitarian considerations, they certainly had the effect of weakening the position of the Boers. In 1853 the granting of a qualified franchise to all regardless of colour in the Cape Colony was probably motivated in part by an attempt to attract


the non-White elite into the British camp in order to offset the strength of the Dutch, as Cecil Rhodes later recognized.[27] Such has, in fact, been the effect of the limited non-White franchise at the Cape until its recent abolishment by the Afrikaner Nationalists. We shall return to that point later.

Let us turn now to that major turning point in South African history: the Great Trek. This event is important, not only for its objective consequences, but also because of its paramount place in Afrikaner mythology. Indeed, the Great Trek can be considered the starting point of Afrikaner nationalism, and its colourful epic has served more than any other single fact, except perhaps the Second Anglo-Boer War, to create Afrikanerdom.[28] The myth of the Great Trek goes as follows: Like the Chosen People who fled under Moses from Egyptian tyranny, our freedom-loving, God-fearing ancestors could no longer bear to live under British domination at the Cape. They courageously went into the wilderness, faced countless dangers, vanquished the Black heathens with the help of God, and settled into the Promised Land of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. There they attempted, against the combined forces of evil (i.e., the African nations and British imperialism), to lead peaceful and free lives until they succumbed after a heroic fight against British aggression. But the Almighty was once more on the side of His Chosen People, who regained control of the country in 1948.

The myth of the Great Trek has, of course, some basis in fact. The frontier Boers certainly detested the British government and


its reforms which put the "Kaffirs" and the "Hotnots" on the same foot as themselves. The Boers were "oppressed" by the British in that they were repeatedly frustrated in their continuing attempts to use the non-Whites as servile labour, and in that they were largely excluded from the Cape colonial administration. The emancipation of slaves little affected the Boers who went on the Trek since most of them did not own slaves, but the 50th Ordinance was undoubtedly a threat to the Boers' economic existence. The love of freedom emphasized in the mythology leaves, however, room for skepticism. First, the Boer concept of liberty never extended beyond the Herrenvolk . In their new republics, the trekkers promptly reintroduced a form of slavery disguised under the euphemism of the "apprenticeship system," and embodied in their constitution the principle that "the people will suffer no equality of Whites and Blacks either in state or in church."[29] Furthermore, one can plausibly argue that this love of liberty and this hatred of the British were more generally a love of anarchy and a hatred of all organized government. Indeed, as early as 1795, frontier Boers fought against the Dutch government at the Cape in what became known as the Graaff-Reinet Rebellion. In the Transvaal the several Boer republics which coexisted or succeeded one another were themselves only powerless and ephemeral shadows of government until the 1880's.


The myth most completely fails to check with reality where it makes no room for the economic causes of the Great Trek. For over half a century migrant Boers had exerted an increasing pressure on a nearly static frontier. The wasteful use of land on large farms of 6 to 10,000 acres must have created a dire need for new pastures. Cash agriculture was unprofitable for lack of near-by markets of any size. The only outlet was further migration into the interior. Since the road was closed by the African nations and the British military outposts along the eastern coast, the Boers circumvented that barrier by entering into the interior, turning around the mountains of Basutoland, and crossing the Drakensberg into Natal. In this vast outflanking movement they were ironically helped by the Zulu wars of extermination which had converted the southern part of Natal into a demographic, political, and economic near-vacuum a decade earlier.

Boers and Zulu met in a series of battles in Natal, culminating with the Zulu defeat at Blood River in 1838. This battle, which is still celebrated by the Afrikaners as a national holiday, temporarily broke Zulu power, and allowed the Boers to found their ephemeral Republic of Natal in 1838.[30] The Boers also fought against the British, who countered the Boer expansion by annexing Natal as a Crown colony in 1843. After failing to expel the British from Port Natal (Durban), most of the Trekkers recrossed the mountains into the high plateaux of the interior, and spread out into the vast territory that later became known as the Orange Free State and the South African (Transvaal) Republic.

A combination of factors made for at least three decades of near-anarchy in the score of successive Boer "Republics" that were governments only in name. A White population numbering at most 40,000 in the 1850's was scattered north of the Orange River over a territory of well over 100,000 square miles. Roads


and towns of any size were completely nonexistent. Furthermore, the Boers had to fight a succession of frontier wars against the African nations (mostly the Zulu, Ndebele, and Sotho) in order to conquer the land. These wars lasted until 1880, and the defeated Africans were either pushed back into the mountains of Basutoland and the arid regions of the Northern Transvaal, or reduced to serfdom on the Boer farms. In the case of the Sotho, the British intervened in their favour, or rather against the Boers, and saved the Sotho from total land expropriation by making Basutoland a British protectorate in 1868. This new British effort at containing the Trek gave rise, after Union in 1910, to a foreign enclave totally surrounded by and economically dependent on South Africa. Later, Swaziland and Bechuanaland joined Basutoland as British protectorates under the collective label of High Commission Territories. To this date, the three territories are a major bone of contention between South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Before returning to the Boer Republics and their defeat by the British, we must mention two important developments in Natal. In the late 1840's the British administrator Theophilus Shepstone established his famous system of Native Reserves that became the first large-scale scheme for the physical segregation of the races in South Africa, and the blueprint for subsequent "Native Administration" in the rural areas. Shepstone set aside dispersed land tracts for the exclusive occupation of Africans. This scattering served the dual purpose of making farm labour more easily accessible to White farmers, and of averting the threat of large concentrations of Africans. Subsequent legislation, such as the Native Land Act of 1913 and the Native Trust and Land Act of 1936, expanded and refined the Shepstone system. The arrival of East Indians constituted the second important event in Natal. In 1860 the first indentured Indian labourers were brought to Natal to furnish cheap and reliable workers for the expanding sugar-cane industry along the coast. The immigration


of Indians introduced the last complicating element into an already varied population and led to what White South Africans call the "Indian (or "coolie") problem."[31]

The discovery of diamonds around Kimberley in 1867 was to change the face of the Boer Republics, and to foreshadow the even more important opening of the gold fields of the Witwatersrand around Johannesburg in 1886. In the first case, Britain annexed the diamond fields, then located on Boer territory, to the Cape Colony. The Orange Free State was in no position to contest the annexation by force, and an armed conflict between Boer and Briton was averted. In 1877, however, the British occupied the Transvaal, ostensibly to re-establish its bankrupt finances, to prevent the collapse of the Boer government, and to ward off a Zulu invasion. The 1877–1881 occupation was but one of Lord Carnarvon's several unsuccessful attempts to establish a British-controlled federation in South Africa.

The territory was then devoid of economic importance, and after a short fight and defeat at Majuba (in the First Anglo-Boer War), Britain withdrew in 1881.

The real nemesis of the Boer Republics was the discovery of gold around the future city of Johannesburg in 1886. A gold rush ensued, and, with it, the isolation of the Transvaal came to an end. By 1896 Johannesburg was linked by rail with Cape Town, Durban, and Lorenço Marques, and was fast becoming the nerve centre of the South African economy. The Transvaal had become economically attractive. The White miners and other White non-Boers, known as Uitlanders (foreigners), who settled in the boisterous boom town of Johannesburg threatened the political supremacy of the Boer settlers, who started dis-


criminating against them by restricting the franchise. These Uitlanders soon became the pretext for British intervention. Under the instigation of Cecil Rhodes, motivated by his vision of a British Africa from the Cape to Cairo, a band of adventurers invaded the Transvaal from Bechuanaland in 1895—the Jameson Raid—and met with ignominious failure. But the British finally won the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902 after a long fight against Boer guerilla tactics. The British concentration camps, where Afrikaner women and children were interned and where some 27,000 of them died of disease, and the use of African troops (limited as it was) against the Boers have left a lasting legacy of anti-British hatred among many Afrikaners.

Although Britain won the war, it lost the peace and turned South Africa politically back to the Afrikaners, while English financial magnates retained control of the economy. After lengthy negotiations, the South Africa Act of 1909 made the country self-governing in 1910, within what later became known as the British Commonwealth. This settlement was extremely important for it determined the political structure of the country for half a century. Furthermore, it illustrates the practical implementation of British "liberalism" on the colour issue in South Africa. Although taking place when the Liberal Party was in power in Britain, the most salient feature of the postwar negotiations and settlement is that they were an all-White affair in which the majority of the country had no say.[32] Each of the four territories that were to constitute the Provinces of the Union of South Africa (Cape, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) was represented by an all-White delegation.

In most essentials, the 1909 agreement seemed to maintain the status quo ante bellum . Great Britain retained control of the High Commission Territories of Swaziland, Basutoland, and


Bechuanaland, but a clause provided for their eventual transfer to the Union at an unspecified date. Two provisions known as the "entrenched clauses" required a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the South African Parliament for amendment. They concerned the official languages and the franchise. English and Dutch were declared as the only official tongues on a footing of equality.[33] None of the Bantu languages ever received any recognition as a national tongue.[34] The franchise clause retained the pre-Union situation in each of the four provinces, and, because of the light it throws on the practical meaning of English "liberalism," merits closer examination.

The Transvaal and Orange Free State delegations were, of course, adamantly opposed to any extension of the franchise to non-Whites in their provinces, and any attempt on part of the British to impose such an extension would have jeopardized the whole policy of compromise and co-operation between Boer and English on which the British government wanted to base the postwar settlement. What Britain wanted above all in South Africa was a friendly White-settler dominion with a secure preponderance of English economic interests. At the Cape the Dutch numerical superiority over the English had been accompanied, as we saw, by a qualified non-racial franchise in which a non-White minority of voters often sided with the English.[35] In 1892, however, as the number of non-White voters was steadily


climbing, Rhodes raised the voting qualifications so as further to entrench political control in White hands, and conciliate White agitation against the "red-blanket Kaffirs."

Natal, a British Colony with few Afrikaners, was even less liberal than the Cape. It never had more than purely nominal and insignificant voting rights for non-Whites. This fact is easily understood when one considers that, in Natal, the English did not need any non-White vote to offset an already very weak White Afrikaner vote.[36] This interpretation is further confirmed by the fact that, on the franchise issue, the Natal delegation sided with the ex-Boer Republics, and not with the Cape as one might have expected. The end result was a retention of the existing franchise laws in each of the four provinces. The basic agreement on colour issues between most Afrikaners and English has been a constant fact of the South African political scene for over a century. With outstanding exceptions that no amount of cynicism can dismiss, the English, as a group, have only shown liberalism (carefully minimized at that) when it suited their interests as opposed to those of the Afrikaners.

The Union settlement was clearly intended by Britain to effect the reconciliation of the two White groups. The South Africa Act was rightly interpreted as a magnanimous gesture towards the defeated Boer Republics; but of this magnanimity, Britain reaped the rewards, and the non-White majority of South Africa bore the cost.[37]


The British hoped that the 1909 settlement would maintain a stable equilibrium between English and Afrikaners on the internal political scene. A large, mixed, "liberal" Cape and a small ultra-British Natal would, it was hoped, be counterbalanced by


a large, mixed, reactionary Transvaal and a small Afrikaner Orange Free State. In fact, however, the political dice were loaded on the reactionary Afrikaner side. Indeed, the limited non-White franchise in the Cape, sufficient to offset the extremist Afrikaner vote in that province, could not fulfill that role in the country as a whole. On the colour issue, the whole trend of South African politics since Union has been reactionary, with the major opposition party to the Nationalists gradually accepting backward change. On the issue of the relationship to Britain, a stable equilibrium was, however, maintained until 1948. Until then, enough "moderate" Afrikaners favoured close ties with Britain and joined forces with the South African English to counterbalance the extreme Afrikaner Nationalists. That equilibrium was only broken when Afrikanerdom rallied under the leadership of Malan in the "purified" Nationalist Party which was founded in the 1930's, gathered strength during the war years, and finally came to power in 1948.

In 1910, then, the major elements of the political structure of modern South Africa were already present and have remained fundamentally unchanged (except in a reactionary direction) up to this date. Economically, on the other hand, the country has expanded enormously, and secondary industry has taken an increasingly prominent place. With industrialization, the processes of urbanization and Westernization which had already begun in 1910 continued at a fast pace. Demographically the population has nearly tripled in the half century since Union. Rapid change in some parts of the social structure of the country, accompanied by political reaction, has led to an ever deepening state of disequilibrium and conflict which I shall analyse in this work. But before turning to that analysis, I must describe in the next two chapters the main intertwining, or, better, intercolliding, elements of the highly complex social structure of South Africa.


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