THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > History
02. History
The geographical divisions briefly noticed in the first chapter are not at all ancient. It has not been possible definitely to ascertain who were the inhabitants of South Africa in remote times. When the Europeans settled in South Africa, they found the Negroes there. These Negroes are supposed to have been the descendants of some of the slaves in America who managed to escape from their cruel bondage and migrated to Africa. They are divided into various tribes such as the Zulus, the Swazis, the Basutos, the Bechuanas, etc. They have a number of different languages. These Negroes must be regarded as the original inhabitants of South Africa. But South Africa is such a vast country that it can easily support twenty or thirty times its present population of Negroes. The distance between Cape Town and Durban is about eighteen hundred miles by rail; the distance by sea also is not less than one thousand miles. The combined area of these four colonies is 473,000 square miles. In 1914 the Negro population in thisat vast region was about five millions, while the Europeans numbered about a million and a quarter.
Among the Negroes, the tallest and the most handsome are the Zulus. I have deliberately used the epithet ‘handsome’ in connection with Negroes. A fair complexion and a pointed nose represent our ideal of beauty. If we discard this superstition for a moment, we feel that the Creator did not spare Himself in fashioning the Zulu to perfection. Men and women are both tall and broad – chested broad-chested in proportion to their height. Their muscles are strong and well-set. The calves of the legs and the arms are muscular and always well rounded. You will rarely find a man or woman walking with a stoop or with a hump back. The lips are certainly large and thick, but as they are in perfect symmetry with the entire physique, I for one would not say that they are unshapely. The eyes are round and bright. The nose is flat and large, such as becomes a large face, and the curled hair on the head sets off to advantage the Zulu’s skin which is black and shinning like ebony. If we ask a Zulu to which of the various races inhabiting South Africa he will award the palm for beauty, he will unhesitatingly decide in favour of his own people, and in this I would not see any want of judgment on his part. The physique of the Zulu is powerfully built and finely shaped by nature without any such effort as is made by Sandow and others in Europe in order to develop the muscles. It is a law of nature that the skin of races living near the equator should be black. And if we believe that there must be beauty in everything fashioned by nature, we would not only steer clear of all narrow and one – sided one-sided conceptions of beauty, but we in India would be free from the improper sense of shame and dislike which we feel for our own complexion if it is anything but fair.
The Negroes live in round huts built of wattle and daub. The huts have a single round wall and are thatched with hay. A pillar inside supports the roof. A low entrance through which one can pass only by bending oneself is the only aperture for the passage of air. The entrance is rarely provided with a door. Like ourselves, the Negroes plaster the walls and the floor with earth and animal dung. It is said the Negroes cannot make anything square in shape. They have trained their eyes to see and make only round things. We never find nature drawing straight lines or rectilinealrectilinear figures, and these innocent children of nature derive all their knowledge from their experience of her.
The furniture in the hut is in keeping with the simplicity of the place. There would be no room for tables, chairs, boxes and such other things, and even now these things are rarely seen in a hut.
Before the advent of European civilization, the Negroes used to wear animal skins, which also served them a carpets, bed sheets and quilts. Now – a – days Now-a-days they use blankets. Before British rule men as well as women moved about almost in a state of nudity. Even now many do the same in the country. They cover the private parts with a piece of skin. Some dispense even with this. But let not anyone infer from this that these people cannot control their senses. Where a large society follows a particular customs, it is quite possible that the custom is harmless even if it seems highly improper to the members of another society. These Negroes have tno time to be starting at one another. When Shukadeva passed by the side of women bathing in a state of nudity, so the author of the Bhagavata tells us, his own mind was quite unruffled; nor were the women at all agitated or affected by a sense of shame. I do not think there is anything supernatural in this account. If in India today, there should be none who would be equally pure on a similar occasion, that does not set a limit to our striving after purity, but only argues our own degradation. It is only vanity which makes us look upon the Negroes as savages. They are not the barbarians we imagine them to be.
The law requires Negro women to cover themselves from the chest to the knees when they go to a town. They are thus obliged to wrap a piece of cloth round their body. Consequently pieces of that size command a large sale in South Africa, and thousands of such blankets or sheets are imported from Europe every year. The men are similarly required to cover themselves from the waist to the knees. Many, therefore, have taken to the practice of wearing second-hand clothing from Europe. Others wear a sort of knickers with a fastening tape. All these clothes are imported from Europe.
The staple food of the Negroes is maize, and meat when available. Fortunately, they know nothing about spices or condiments. If they find spices in their food, or even if it is coloured by turmeric, they turn up their noses at it, and those among them who are looked upon as quite uncivilized will not so much as touch it. It is not uncommon thing for a Zulu to take at a time one pound of boiled maize with a little salt. He is quite content to live upon porridge made from crushed mealies boiled in water. Whenever he can get meat, he eats it, raw or cooked, boiled or roasted, with only salt. He does not mind taking the flesh of any animal.
The Negro languages are nameds after the various tribes. The art of writing was recently introduced by Europeans. There is nothing like a Negro alphabet. The Bible and other books have now been printed in the Negro languages in rRoman character. The Zulu language is very sweet. Most words end with the sound of broad ‘a,’ soo the language sounds soft and pleasing to the ear. I have heard and read that there is both meaning and poetry in the words. Judging from the few words which I happened to pick up, I think this statement is just. There are for most of the places sweet and poetical Negro names whose European equivalents I have mentioned. I am sorry I do not remember them and so cannot present them here to the reader.
According to the Christian missionaries, the Negroes previously had not, and have not now, any religion at all. But taking the word religion in a wide sense, we can say that the Negroes do believe in and worship a Supreme bBeing beyond human comprehension. They fear this Power too. They are dimly conscious of the fact that the dissolution of the body does not mean the utter annihilation of a person. If we acknowledge morality as the basis of religion, the Negroes being moral may be held even to be religious. They have a perfect grasp of the distinction between truth and falsehood. It is doubtful whether Europeans or ourselves practice truthfulness to the same extent as the Negroes in their primitive state do. They have no temples or anything else of that kind. There are many superstitions among them as among other races.
The reader will be surprised to learn, that this race, which is second to none in the world in point of physical strength, is so timid that a Negro is afraid at the sight even of a European child. If someone aims a revolver at him, he will either flee or will be too stupefied to have the power even to move. There is certainly reason for this. The notion is firmly impressed on the Negro mind, that it is only by some magic that a handful of Europeans have been able to subdue such a numerous and savage race as themselves. The Negro was well acquainted with the use of the spear, and bow and arrows. Of these he has been deprived. He had never seen, never fired, a gun. No match is needed, nothing more has to be done beyond moving a finger and yet a small tube all at once emits a sound, a flash is seen, and a bullet wounds and causes the death of a person in an instant. This is something the Negro cannot understand. So he stands in mortal terror of those who wield such a weapon. He and his forefathers before him have seen that such bullets have taken the lives of many helpless and innocent Negroes. Many do not know even now how this weapons.
‘Civilization’ is gradually making headway among the Negroes. Pious missionaries deliver to them the message of Christ as they have understood it, open schools for them, and teach them how to read and write. But many who, being illiterate and therefore strangers to civilization, were so far free from many vices, have now become corrupt. Hardly any Negro who has come in contact with civilization has escaped the evil of drink. And when his powerful physique is under the influence of liquor, he becomes perfectly insane and commits all manner of crimes. That civilization must lead to the multiplication of wants is as certain as that two and two make four. In order to increase the Negro’s wants or to teach him the value of labour, a poll-tax and a hut-tax have been imposed upon him. If these imposts were not levied, this race of agriculturists living on their farms would not enter mines hundreds of feet deep in order to extract gold or diamonds, and if their labour were not available for the mines, gold as well as diamonds, would remain in the bowels of the earth. Likewise, the Europeans would find it difficult to get any servants, if no such tax was imposed. The result has been that thousands of Negro miners suffer, along with other diseases, from a kind of phthisis called ‘miners’ phthisis’. This is a fatal disease. Hardly any of those who fall in its clutches recover. The reader can easily imagine what self-restraint thousands of men living in mines away from their families can possibly exercise. They consequently fall easy victim to venereal disease. Not that thoughtful European of South Africa are not alive to this serious question. Some of them definitely hold it can hardly be claimed that civilization has, all things considered, exercised a wholesome influence on this race. As for the evil effects, he who runs may read them.
About four hundred years ago the Dutch founded a settlement in this great country, then inhabited by such a simple and unsophisticated race. They kept slaves. Some Dutchmen from Java with their Malay slaves entered the country which we now know as Cape Colony. These Malays are Musalmans. They have Dutch blood in their veins and inherit some of the qualities of the Dutch. They are found scattered throughout South Africa, but Cape Town is their stronghold. Some of them today are in the service of Europeans, while others follow independent avocations. Malay women are very industrious and intelligent. They are generally cleanly in their ways of living. They are experts in laundry work and sewing. The men carry on some petty trade. Many drive hackney carriages. Some have received higher English education. One of them is the well-known doctor Abdul Rahman of Cape Town. He was a member of the old colonial legislature at Cape Town. Under the new constitution this right of entering the Parliament has been taken away.
While giving a description of the Dutch., I incidentally said something about the Malays. But let us now see how the Dutch progressed. The Dutch have been as skilful cultivators as they have been brave soldiers. They saw that the country around them was highly suited for agriculture. They also saw that the ‘natives’ easily maintained themselves by working for only a short time during the year. Why should they not force these people to labour for them? The Dutch had guns. They were clever strategists. They knew how to tame human beings like other animals and they believed that their religion did not object to otheir doing so. In this way they commenced agriculture with the labour of the South African ‘natives’ with not a single doubt as to the morality of their action.
As the Dutch were in search of good lands for their own expansion, so were the English who also gradually arrived on the scene. The English and the Dutch were of course cousins. Their characters and ambitions were similar. Pots from the same pottery are often likely to clash against each other. So these two nations, while gradually advancing their respective interests and subduing the Negroes, came into collision. There were disputes and then battles between them. The English suffered a defeat at Majuba Hills. Majuba left a soreness which assumed a serious from form and came to a head in the Boer War which lasted from 1899 to 1902.And when General Cronje surrendered, Lord Roberts was able to cable to Queen Victoria that Majuba had been avenged. But when this first collision occurred between the two nations previous to the Boer War, many of the Dutch were unwilling to remain under even the nominal authority of the British and ‘ trekked’ into the unknown interior of South Africa. This was the genesis of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
These Dutch came to be known in South Africa as Boers. They have preserved their language by clinging to it as a child clings to its mother. They have an intense realization of the close relation between their language and their liberty. In spite of many attacks, they have preserved their mother tongue intact. The language assumed a new form suited to their genius. As they could not maintain very close relations with Holland, they began to speak a patois derived from the Dutch as the Prakrits are derived from Sanskrit. And not wishing to impose an unnecessary burden upon their children, they have given a permanent shape to this patois. It is called Taal. Their books are written in Taal, their children are educated through it, and Boer members of the Union Parliament make it a point to deliver their speeches in it. Since the formation of the Union, Taal or Dutch and English have been officially treated on a footing of equality throughout South Africa, so much so that the Government Gazettes and records of Parliament must be in both languages.
The Boers are simple, frank and religious. They settle in the midst of extensive farms. We can have no idea of the extent of these farms. A farm with us means generally an acre or two, and sometimes even less. In South Africa a single farmer has hundreds or thousands of acres of land in his possession. He is not anxious to putll all this under cultivation at onces, and if anyone argues with him, he will say, ‘Let it lie fellow. Lands which now lie fallow will be cultivated by our children.’
Every Boer is a good fighter. However much the Boers may quarrel among themselves, their liberty is so dear to them that when it is in danger, all get ready and fight as one man. They do not need elaborate drilling for fighting is s a characteristic, of the whole nation. General Smuts, General De Wet, and General Hertzog are all of them great lawyers, great farmers and equality great soldiers. General Botha had one farm of nine thousand acres. When he went to Europe in connection with negotiations for peace, it was said of him that there was hardly anyone in Europe who was as good a judge of sheep as he was. General Botha had succeeded the late President Kruger. His knowledge of English was excellent; yet when he met the King and ministers in England, he always preferred to talk in his own mother tongue. Who can say that this was not the proper thing to do? Why should he run the risk of committing a mistake in order to display his knowledge of English? Why should he allow his train of thought to be disturbed in the search for the right word? The British ministers might quite unintentionally employ some unfamiliar English idiom, he might not understand what they meant, be led into giving the wrong reply and get confused; and thus his cause would suffer. Why should he commit such a serious blunder?
Boer women are as brave and simple as the men. If the Boers shed their blood in the Boer War, they were able to offer this sacrifice owing to the courage of their womenfolk and the inspiration they received from them. The women were not afraid of widowhood and refused to waste a thought upon the future.
I have stated above that the Boers are religiously- minded Christians. But it cannot be said that they believe in the New Testament. As a matter of fact Europe does not believe in it,; in Europe, however, they do claim to respect It, although only a few know and observe Christ’s religion of peace. But as to the Boers it may be said that they know the New Testament only by name. They read the Old Testament with devotion and know by heart the descriptions of battles it contains. They fully accept Moses’ ‘ doctrine of an ‘ eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ And they act accordingly.
Boer women understood that their religion required them to suffer in order to preserve their independence, and therefore patiently and cheerfully endured all hardships. Lord Kitchener left no stone unturned in order to break their spirit. He confined them in separate concentration camps, where they underwent indescribable sufferings. They starved, they suffered biting cold and scorching heat. Sometimes a soldier intoxicated with liquor or maddened by passion might even assault these unprotected women. Still the brave Boer women did not flinch. And at last King Edward wrote to Lord Kitchener, saying that he could not tolerate it, and if it was the only means of reducing the Boers to submission, he would prefer any sort of peace to continuing the war in that fashion, and asking the General to bring the war to a speedy end.
When this cry of anguish reached England, the English people were deeply pained. They were full of admiration for the bravery of the Boers. The fact that such a small nationality should sustain a conflict with their world – wide world-wide empire was rankling in their minds. But when the cry of agony raised by the women in the concentration camps reached England not through themselves, not through their men, -? they were fighting valiantly on the battlefield, -? but through a few high-souled Englishmen and women who were then in South Africa, the English people began to relent. The Late Sir Henry Campbell – Bannerman Campbell-Bannerman read the mind of the English nation and raised his voice against the war. The Late Mr. Stead publicly prayed and invited others to pray, that God might decree the English a defeat in the war. This was a wonderful sight. Real suffering bravely borne melts even a heart of stone. Such is the potency of suffering or tapas. And there lies the key to Satyagraha.
The result was that the peace of Vereeniging was concluded, and eventually all the four colonies of South Africa were united under one Government. Although every Indian who reads newspapers knows about this peace, there are a few facts connected with it, which perhaps are not within the knowledge of many. The Union did not immediately follow the peace, but each colony had its own legislature. The ministry was not fully responsible to the legislature. The Transvaal and the Free State were governed on Crown Colony lines. Generals Botha and Smuts were not the men to be satisfied with such restricted freedom. They kept aloof from the Legislative council. They non – co – operatednon-co-operated. They flatly refused to have anything to do with the Government. Lord Milner made a pungent speech, in the course of which he said that General Botha need not have attached so much importance to himself. The country’s Government could well be carried on without him. Lord Milner thus decided to stage Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
I have written in unstinted praise of the bravery, the love of liberty and the self – sacrifice self-sacrifice of the Boers. But I did not intend to convey the impression that there were no differences of opinion among them during their days of trial, or that there were no weak – kneed weak-kneed persons among them. Lord Milner succeeded in setting up a party among the Boers who were easy to satisfy, and persuaded himself to believe that he could make a success of the Llegislature with their assistance. Even a stage play cannot be managed without the hero: and an administrator in this matter – of – fact matter-of-fact world who ignores the central figure in the situation he has to deal with and still expects to succeed can only be described as insane. Such indeed was the case of Lord Milner. It was said that though he indulged in bluff, he found it so difficult to govern the Transvaal and the Free State without the assistance of General Botha, that he was often seen in his garden in an anxious and excited state of mind. General Botha distinctly stated that by the treaty of Vereeniging, as he understood it, the Boers were immediately entitled to complete internal autonomy. He added that, had that not been the case, he would never have signed the treaty. Lord Kitchener declared in reply that he had given no such pledge to General Botha. The Boers, he said, would be gradually granted full self – government self-government as they proved their loyalty! Now who was to judge between these two? How could one expect General Botha to agree if arbitration was suggested? The decision arrived at in the matter by the Imperial Government of the time was very creditable to them. They conceded that the stronger party should accept the interpretation of the agreement put upon it by the other and weaker party. According to the principles of justice and truth, that is the correct canon of interpretation. I may have meant to say anything, but I must concede that my speech or writing was intended to convey the meaning ascribed to it by my hearer or reader in so far as he is concerned. We often break this golden rule in our lives. Hence arise many of our disputes, and half-truth, which is worse than untruth, is made to do duty for truth.
Thus when truth – in the present case General Botha – fully triumphed, he set to work. All the Colonies were eventually united, and South Africa obtained full self-government. Its flag is the Union Jack, it is shown in red on maps, and yet it is no exaggeration to say that South Africa is completely independent. The British Empire cannot receive a single farthing from South Africa without the consent of its Government. Not only that, but British ministers have conceded that if South Africa wishes to remove the Union Jack and to be independent even in name, there is nothing to prevent it from doing so. And if the Boers have so far not taken this step, there are strong reasons for it. For one thing, the Boer leaders are shrewd and sagacious men. They see nothing improper in maintaining with the British Empire a partnership in which they have nothing to lose. But there is another practical reason. In Natal the English preponderate, in Cape Colony there is a large population of Englishmen though they do not outnumber the Boers; in Johannesburg the English element is predominant. This being the case, if the Boers seek to establish an independent republic in South Africa, the result would be internecine strife and possibly a civil war. South Africa, therefore, continues to rank as a dominion of the British Empire.
The way in which the constitution of the Union was frarmed is worthy of note. A National cConvention, composed of delegates representatives of all parties appointed by the Colonial legislatures, unanimously prepared a draft Constitution and the British Parliament had to approve it in its entirely. A member of the House of Commons drew the attention of the House to a grammatical mistake and suggested that it should be rectified. The late Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman, while rejecting the suggestion, observed that faultless grammar was not essential to carrying on a government, that the Constitution was framed as a result of negotiations between the British cCabinet and the ministers of South Africa and that they did not reserve even the right of connrrecting a grammatical error to the British Parliament. Consequently, the Constitution recast in the form of an Imperial bBill passed through both Houses of Parliament, just as it was, without the slightest alteration.
There is one more circumstance worthy of notice in this connection. There are some provisions in the Act of Union, which may appear meaningless to the lay reader. They have led to a great increase in expenditure. This had not escaped the notice of the framers of the Constitution; but their object was not to attain perfection, but by compromise to arrive at an understanding and to make the Constitution a success. That is why the uUnion has four capitals, no colony being prepared to part with its own capital. Similarly, although the old colonial legislatures were abolished, provincial councils with legislatures were abolished, provincial councils with subordinate and delegated functions were set up. And though Governorships were abolished, officers corresponding to the rank of Governor and styled Provincial aAdministrators were appointed. Everyone knows that four local legislatures, four capitals and four Governors are unnecessary and serve for mere show. But the shrewd statesmen of South Africa did not object. The arrangement is showy and entails additional expenditure, but union was desirable and therefore the statesmen did what they thought fit, regardless of outside criticism and got their policy approved by the British Parliament.
I have endeavored to sketch very briefly the history of South Africa, as without it, it appeared to me difficult to explain the inner meaning of the great Satyagraha struggle. It now remains to be seen how the Indians came to this country and struggled against their adversities before the inauguration of Satyagraha.