”An Appeal to the Members of the Imperial Parliament and Public of Great Britain”. Petition from the South African Native National Congress, 1914

The signatories of this Appeal have been sent to this country by The South African Native National Congress, an organization for focusing native opinion, and consisting of paramount chiefs, headmen, councillors, educated native leaders, and representatives of the various native tribes and races within the Union of South Africa.

This Congress, gravely disturbed at the menace to native rights under the Natives' Land Act, passed a strong resolution against the Bill. Furthermore the following Religious Conferences of South Africa have passed resolutions against the passing of the Bill; ”” Anglican, Wesleyan, Congregational, Baptist and Presbyterians. But in spite of these resolutions the Bill was hurriedly passed through Parliament.

A deputation waited upon the Government asking that the Bill should be delayed until the natives could study its provisions. These efforts failed, and the Bill, who had been introduced only in May, became law on June 16th, (1913). The natives, already suspicious of the measure, were now greatly alarmed at the haste with which it was forced through Parliament. Accordingly, the Native Congress, July 19th, 1913, resolved to send a deputation to His Majesty the King, praying that the Act might be disallowed. The President of the Congress in July 1913 sent a deputation to the Hon. F. S. Malan, Acting Minister of Native Affairs, requesting that the Act, on account of the hardships it was inflicting upon the natives, although it was only six weeks old, might be suspended.

All these endeavours having failed, the Native Congress meeting at Kimberley, February 1914, re-affirmed its resolution to send a deputation to England. But, once more, it petitioned the Union Parliament and the King's representative. The petition, however, was not presented, as the Prime Minister, who also is now Minister of Native Affairs, discouraged its presentation.

Between the resolutions passed by the Native Congress and the deputation it sent to Government, to the Minister, and the Acting Minister for Native Affairs, its executive was also in frequent correspondence with the Prime Minister, first to secure the withdrawal of the Bill, then to effect a change in its most drastic clauses; but General Botha did not so much as promise the possibility of a change in the Bill. Instead of a promise he said to the deputation, in the interview with him in 1914, given on the eve of its departure for England: "If I went to Parliament with a proposal to modify the Act, Parliament would think I am mad. "Similarly the executive of the Native Congress applied at three different times to the Governor-General, Lord Gladstone, for an interview; in the first instance, in 1913, to stay his assent to the Bill; in the second instance, also 1913, to point out the mischief the Bill was doing to the natives. On each of these occasions the Governor-General declined to receive a deputation, for the alleged reason that it was not within his constitutional function to meet them. He vouchsafed an interview in May 1914, but beyond merely urging the deputation to abandon their mission to England, he held out no hope that his good offices would be used to modify the more obnoxious clauses of the Act.

After exhausting all these constitutional means in South Africa, for the redress of our grievances in connection with the Natives' Land Act of 1913, it was decided by the South African Native National Congress that we should proceed to England, as their delegates, to lay our cause before the Imperial Government and the people of Great Britain.

What was uppermost in the collective mind of the Native Congress was this-they wished to save the Union from the disintegration, which must inevitably follow the enforcement of the Natives' Land Act.

The Act

The Land Act, which the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa signed on June 16th, 1913, declares in its first clause: ””

"Except with the approval of the Governor-General:””

"(a) A Native shall not enter into any agreement or transaction for the purchase, hire, or other acquisition from a person other than a native, of any such land, or of any right thereto, interest therein, or servitude there-over, and

"(b) A person other than a native shall not enter into any agreement or transaction for the purchase, hire, or other acquisition from a native of any such land, or of any right thereto, interest therein, or servitude there over".

It may be said that according to this Sub-Section, Europeans are restricted as well as Natives. But this is a restriction on paper only, as the Natives have no land to sell; besides, no European would think of settling in the scheduled native areas, already crowded, except for trading purposes. Consequently, the provisions of the Act really operate only against the Natives.

The Effect

The effect of the enforcement of these provisions is that when a native leaves a farm on the expiry of his tenancy or otherwise, he is at once rendered homeless because the Act does not allow him to purchase, hire, or lease land anywhere for farming purposes. He can live on a farm only as a servant to the farmer.

Thus Section 5 reads:””

"Any person who is a party to any attempted purchase, sale, hire or lease, or to any agreement or transaction which is in contravention of this Act or any regulation made there under shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding One Hundred Pounds or, in default of payment, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding six months; and if the act constituting the offence be a continuing one, the offender shall be liable to a further fine not exceeding five pounds for every day during which that act continues".

The operation of the Act has produced six classes of sufferers, viz:””

"(a) Persons under notice to quit.

"(b) Persons actually evicted from farms.

"(c) Migrants to territories outside the Union.

"(d) Homeless wanderers with families and stock in search of new homes.

"(e) Persons who had to leave their crops unreaped, or who had not ploughed this season; and;

"(f) Persons who yield unrequited labour".

The above classes of sufferers are the result of Parliament legislating natives off the farms without making provision for their settlement.

The first section of the Act provides that the permission of the Governor-General should be obtained before any purchase, hire or lease of land can be affected, but the authorities have almost invariably refused applications for the permission of the Governor-General.

Out of thousands of cases, which might be cited, we give a few, indicative of the severe hardships inflicted by the Act.

For example:”” In the Cape Colony, where we are repeatedly told that the Act is not in force, the Magistrates of East London, King Williams Town and Alice prohibited native tenants from re-ploughing their old hired lands last October, and also ordered them to remove their stock from grazing farms.

About 9 months ago, Mr. Wilcox, of the Weenen Division, in Natal, made application on behalf of 400 natives to purchase a farm between two native holdings. The Governor-General's permission was not granted, and the farm has now passed into the hands of a white man, who forthwith demanded annually from the old occupiers of the farm six months' unpaid labour.

At a meeting held at Thaba Nchu, on Sept. 12th, 1913, attended by some thousand natives amongst whom were several evicted tenants seeking such permission of the Governor-General, through Mr. Dower, Secretary for Native Affairs, who addressed them - Mr. Dower said, inter alia: "The Act does not allow for any special cases in the Free State being submitted to the Governor-General under the First Section of the Act, so my best advice to you is to sell your stock and go into service".

Only last mail (June 23rd) we received news of great unrest amongst the Natives in these Districts. In the Districts of Peters, Waschbank, Colworth and Weenen (Natal), 522 families are under notice to leave at the end of this month (June).

These are but typical of the evictions that have been taking place, almost weekly, in the four provinces of the Union, namely, Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and the Cape since the Act came into force last June.

We would like to point out that one of the reasons which led to the coming of the present deputation to England, was, if possible, to avert the danger of our people being forced to commit acts of violence.

Objections to the Act

The Native races most strenuously and earnestly object to the provisions of the Act, where they differentiate against them, because ””

(a) They exclude the Native from the free purchase of and dealing in land, a right never challenged hitherto.

(b) With regard to Natives on the farms of the White people, they interfere with rights the Natives have exercised for generations. In particular they interfere with the right the Natives have as British Subjects of bargaining with the owners of these farms. In effect this produces a condition of slavery. This is due to a provision, which encourages the farmer to exact unpaid service from the native tenants. In the event of eviction the tenant is unable to settle upon any other farm, except as a farm servant, and therefore is forced to accept almost any conditions the farmer likes to impose upon him. This we claim is slavery.

(c) In point of fact the avowed object of the new law is that of forcing the Native to labour, by making it the only condition of his living on a White man's farm.

(d) Under the new Law also no native may occupy or own any land in the Orange Free State.

The natives of South Africa are loyal subjects of His Majesty the King, but they have no voice in the Legislative Councils of the country in which they live (except to a limited degree in the Cape Province), and their appeal was first made through us to His Majesty's Representatives in South Africa. This having failed to secure redress we then approached the adviser of His Majesty the King in this Country on Colonial affairs (The Rt. Hon. Lewis Harcourt), but without avail. Among the natives of South Africa His Majesty is looked upon as their natural protector, and it is their faith in His Majesty's sense of justice that has impelled them to send us here.

We append herewith our memorandum to the Rt. Hon. Lewis Harcourt and a letter from the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society, and we are confident that these documents, together with the foregoing statement, establish the reasonableness of our appeal, and the urgent necessity of some public action on the part of the Parliament and people of the United Kingdom.