Articles

The Land of Black and White

ALAN PATON September 1 1949
Articles

The Land of Black and White

ALAN PATON September 1 1949

The Land of Black and White

ALAN PATON

ANERLEY, Natal I can understand that many Canadians are puzzled and disturbed by what they hear about South Africa. It is my aim here to explain ourselves, to tell sufficient of our past history to explain our present, and to take a peep into the future.

I first make clear that by South Africa I mean the Union of the Cape Province, the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and Natal. To the west of us is South West Africa, once German, recently incorporated into the union. To the east of us is Portuguese East Africa. To the north of us is Southern Rhodesia, a British colony with responsible government, which looks askance at us.

And Britain still rules three native territories intimately connected with us; one of these, Basutoland, is actually a pocket in the heart of the union, while the other two, Bechuanaland and Swaziland, are on our borders.

I must not forget to mention that we have just acquired overseas possessions by annexing two islands in the deep south with a climate far more suited to Canadians than South Africans.

Let me tell you now about the Afrikaner. Three hundred years ago the Dutch East India Company established at the Cape of Good Hope a halfway house to the East. Its job was to grow vegetables and to keep a postoffice and hospital; there was no intention of founding a colony. But the majestic mountains and the fertile valleys of the Cape attracted the servants of the company. They got themselves grants of land and, impatient of official control, gradually extended their settlements farther and farther away from Cape Town anti the shadow of Table Mountain.

The aboriginal inhabitants of the country, the not very agressive Hottentots, and the much more aggressive but animal-like Bushmen, could not hinder their advance. The Hottentots were subjugated, while the Bushmen fled into the mountains and caves, gradually to be exterminated for their depredations and irreconcilability.

Beckoned by new mountains ahead, the Dutchman became the trekker, the boer (farmer), the patriarch, with his flocks and herds. He was hardy of nature and impatient of rule.

In isolation his language changed and simplified;

it was first called the Taal but today is known as Afrikaans. If is a young and vigorous language, capable of any literary expression.

In isolation the Dutchman changed too; nothing could have been less like Holland than this wild and savage country, and one by one his links with Europe were severed. This he recognized in ultimately choosing for himself the name of Afrikaner.

He clung tenaciously to his religion and, because of his life and ways, had a special love for the stories of the patriarchs.

Although it was in this isolation that the modern Afrikaner was born, the two great molding influences of the race were yet to be encountered.

One he encountered now, for as he moved north, the Bantu tribes moved south; and between them there was persistent frontier warfare. For the white man it was vigilance or extinction: the black man swooped down upon him in the dark, sometimes wiping him out, committing acts of ferocity and cruelty. As the white man moved forward into a continent full of menace, the black man truly became part of his mind; he is truly part of his mind today.

When the modern Afrikaner accuses the European or American visitor of not understanding South Africa, what he means is that the European or American thinks of the black man in torms of liberty, justice and development, while the Afrikaner thinks of him in terms of history, war, and the struggle for survival.

So grew up in the mind of the Afrikaner a massive, unequivocal and deeply motivated attitude toward the black man. His forebears had been as guilty as any race of loose living and careless begetting, but the Afrikaner himself hardened; it became the guarantee of survival and the iron law that no white man had any commerce with a black man, except as servant or slave. Above all, no white man had any commerce with a black woman.

This small white race moved into the heart of a black country, preserving its purity and integrity. It was something deeper than morality. It was more powerful than hate, though hate played its part in it. It was the will to survive.

The Voortrekkers Went North

IT WAS into this world that there came the second great molding force of the Afrikaner race—the Empire-building Englishman. He arrived at the Cape as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, at the beginning of the 19th century.

He did not understand the hatred of authority of the Afrikaner Boers, nor their deep and massive attitude toward the blacks; his farmers and settlers understood it better, but their sense of insecurity was never so great, nor did they feel the struggle for survival so deeply and urgently. His missionaries understood it least of all, and they preached a doctrine of love and brotherhood and equality that roused the anger of the trekkers.

So came the Great Trek of 1836—superficially, because of the abolition of slavery; profoundly, because of the trekkers’ hatred of this new, alien, and incompatible culture.

The story of the Great Trek is one of courage and suffering and faith and today the Voortrekkers are the heroes and the giants of the Afrikaner people. Their holy day is December 16, Dingaan’s Day, when the Zulu power was broken at Blood River in 1838.

The trekkers everywhere defeated the native

tribes; they set aside areas for the vanquished. They conquered the Orange Free State, the Transvaal, and Natal. From this latter area they were expelled by the power of a seafaring nation. Thus were Natal and the Cape parts of the British Empire, while the Orange Free State and the Transvaal were Boer Republics, granting to the black man “no equality in church or state.”

British settlers began to come out to both the' Cape and Natal in 1849 and they added another problem: they brought out Indian labor for the canefields. Many of these laborers stayed, and they, and others who came with them, spread out into commerce and agriculture. Some of them became wealthy merchants. Under the influence of Downing Street their treatment was not illiberal; but under the influence of white South Africa and its will to survive, they, too, became the objects of hatred and fear.

But history was not done with us yet. Great mineral wealth was discovered, first diamonds, but more importantly gold in the Transvaal.

Cities grew which were destined to attract the native peoples in increasing numbers to the labor markets, corrupting them, damaging their tribal system beyond repair; this corruption of a people whose simple way of life we destroyed while fearing to give them another is for many of us the tragedy of South Africa, and indeed of the entire continent.

This Tragic, Unequal Struggle

IN THE meantime, attracted by gold, more white immigrants were streaming into the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. The newcomers wanted representation, but so numerous were they that the Boers did not dare to give it. Kruger became the representative of Boer courage and independence, Rhodes and Milner of imperialistic expansion.

The two forces came to grips in the Anglo-Boer War which began in 1899. Of this war many English-speaking people were ashamed; it intensified the Boer struggle for survival, and it filled many with profound hatred and distrust of all things British.

Britain won this tragic and unequal struggle in 1902. Peace was signed at Vereeniging; and in 1906 self-government was restored to the Transvaal, and in 1907 to the Free State.

In 1910 Botha, Smuts, Hertzog, Merriman and others achieved the Union of South Africa, based on a recognition of the equality of Afrikaner and Englishman.

By this many old hurts were healed, and many turned generously and forgivingly to new tasks ahead. But many did not; implacably they returned to their task of ensuring the separateness, the distinctness, the continuance of the Afrikaner people.

Distinguished South African writer Alan Paton (“Cry, the Beloved Country”) here tells the tragic story of his land

Afrikaner Nationalism received its first political chance in 1924 when, with the aid of Labor, it came to power, defeating Smuts and the South African Party. In 1933, under economic stress, Hertzog and Smuts, shedding their wings, formed the United Party. In 1939 they differed on the war issue, and Smuts carried the day with a majority of 13 in a House of 153.

I have so far written as though the problems of South Africa were the problems of the relationship of Afrikaner and Englishman, and as though we had no others of an intensity and complexity unknown to any other country. The truth is that, war or no war, these graver problems were always in men’s thoughts. History will say that it was Smuts’ lieutenant, J. H. Hofmeyr, who forced South Africa to make up some sort of mind about them.

The white South African has no easy problem. He regards it as his duty to preserve the Christian civilization that his white forefathers brought to the country, but this same Christian civilization is based on principles of love and justice which would forbid any bare-faced policy of repression. That in essence is the white South African’s dilemma; it is the dilemma of justice and survival.

Now, Hofmeyr, as I interpret him, began to declare that justice was as important as survival. He could have spoken about nothing more likely to bring about his downfall. And Smuts and he fell on May 26, 1948, to the astonishment of the world and the country.

Afrikaner Nationalism (with the aid of Havenga’s small Afrikaner Party) went to the electorate with a policy of racial separation, and was given a mandate which has been confirmed by subsequent elections. And Hofmeyr died, leaving Liberalism leaderless for the time at least, and South Africa bereaved of one of her most brilliant and courageous sons.

I have written this to show you the long history, the dogged persistence, the deep roots of Afrikaner Nationalism. Its enemies declare it to be antiEnglish, anti-Jew, antinative, antiIndian. It declares itself to be solely pro-Afrikaner. You should now be able to follow South African political news with greater understanding.

What kind of news will it be?

There can be no doubt that Afrikaner Nationalism has never been as strong as it is now. There can be no doubt that its struggle for separateness and distinctness has, through its cultural movements and its single-language schools, reached a new high point of success.

If this unity is to be permanent, then we are witnessing a new phase in our history. Our future political history will be the history of the interaction of racial groups, with the Eng lish-speaking people in a permanent minority. This minority has had its share of political power in the past, and it has, interestingly enough, always been led by Afrikaners, Botha, Smuts, Hertzog of the coalition, and then Smuts again. What is the next goal of Nationalism?

The Nationalist Party, like all parties, has its extremists and its moderates. The extremists have only one goal, repeatedly stated, namely a republic outside the Commonwealth. One has every reason to suppose that the ultimate goal is the complete Afrikanerization of the union, “one church, one people, one language,” and that it will carry out a policy of racial segregation.

The moderate Nationalists, while not averse to such a goal, would not be prepared to reach it unless it came about naturally, “through the broad will of the people.” This would probably split their party.

There are three possibilities: one, that Afrikaner unity will prevail, and that Nationalism will not split; two, the split and a coalition of the moderates and the English; three, that the Smuts party will be returned to power. The last is considered remote.

The Prime Minister, Dr. Malan, has just returned from the Commonwealth Conference, where he reiterated his determination not to force constitutional decisions not based on the “broad will of the people.” But a great state of uncertainty prevails in the country.

It will be seen, I think, that the white electorate is still much ruled by the dead hand of the past. But the great problems of the country, its other racial problems, still remain untouched. The constitutional and historical issues obscure the deeper issues.

Many liberal Afrikaners, that is those who are deeply concerned for the welfare of our nonwhite races, vote traditionally Nationalist because they are Afrikaners; many illiberal Englishspeaking South Africans vote traditionally Smuts because they are English.

There might come a point when the demands of white survival and racial separation would be felt by many Christian Nationalist Afrikaners to be intolerable. But as yet no policy has been presented, and no leader has arisen, which would induce them to desert their traditional allegiances.

Therefore, what is in truth a struggle between fear and conscience appears as a struggle between parties, even between races.

What is happening in truth is this: there is not a race group in South Africa that does not feel insecure and fearful; and the tendency is for like to stick to like, no matter what the issue may be.

There seems little chance that the profound problems of the country will receive proper attention. In all this the black man must play the part of observer; he has not the military strength, the labor organization, the education, the money, to fit him for a more active role. He is represented by three Europeans in the Lower House, and four in the Upper, but the Nationalists wish to abolish even this representation. The black man s resentment and frustration grow.

In the Union we have 2 ! ■> millions of white people, roughly three fifths

Afrikaans-speaking, two fifths Englishspeaking; 8 millions of native Africans;

1 million “colored” people, the descendants of mixed unions; and 250,000 Indians, mostly in Natal.

It is this last group that is most to be pitied. The Indians occupy in South Africa the position that the Jews occupied in Hitler’s Europe. They have hardly a champion in the entire country. Recently they were the victims of savage Zulu attacks in Durban, and today live in a state of fear and suspense.

In our pyramidal race society, the African occupies the lowest place; above him are the Indians and the “coloreds”; above them the whites.

Many of our acutest. observers think that these riots were the result of the frustration of the lowest stratum, which in its upheaval damaged the one nearest above it. White people were not harmed, but these observers (and I agree with them) consider that this was because white people have power.

Only a fool would dismiss the riots lightly, and suppose them to be nothing more than Zulu reaction to Indian exploitation.

What does the future hold? Englishspeaking South Africans and their traditional Afrikaner associates go forward with uncertainty and misgivings. Of extreme Nationalism they are all afraid, but even the most liberal among them would welcome a moderate coalition. They are less afraid than they used to be of a republic, but they want to stay in the British Commonwealth.

On the whole they support some policy of white-black racial separation: but they hope that such a policy will offer some hope for advance and some release from frustration to the eight millions of our indigenous peoples.

Will some Afrikaner elements cast longing eyes on the substantial Smuts minority? The South African B;dl is on. Will pretty Miss English South Africa sit disconsolately against the wall, or will some enterprising Afrikaner seek her for a partner?

On the answer to this question our immediate future depends.