I hold this to be the root question in South Africa; and as is our wisdom in dealing with it, so will be our future.No exact census exists of the population of South Africa, but it is roughly calculated that there are about nine millions of inhabitants, eight million of dark men and one million of white.
The white race consists mainly of two varieties, of rather mixed European descent, but both largely Teutonic, and though partly divided at the present moment by traditions and the use of two forms of speech, the Taal and the English, they are so essentially one in blood and character that within two generations they will be inextricably blended by inter-marriage and common interests, as would, indeed, long ago have been the case had it not been for external interference. They constitute, therefore, no great problem for the future, though at the present moment their differences loom large. Our vast, dark native population consists largely of Bantus, who were already in South Africa when we came here; of a few expiring yellow varieties of African races, and a small but important number of half-castes, largely the descendants of imported slaves whose blood was mingled with that of their masters, as is always the case where slavery exists, and a very small body of Asiatics. It is out of this great heterogeneous mass of humans that the South African nation of the future will be built. For the dark man is with us to stay. Not only does the Bantu increase and flourish greatly, as is natural in his native continent, and under the climatic conditions which are best suited to him; not only does he refuse to die out in contact with our civilisation, as the yellow races have largely done, and rather tries to grasp and make it his own; not only can we not exterminate him--but, we cannot even transport him, because we want him! We desire him as thirsty oxen in an arid plain desire water, or miners hunger for the sheen of gold. We want more and always more of him--to labour in our mines, to build our railways, to work in our fields, to perform our domestic labours, and to buy our goods. We desire to import more of him when we can. It has more than once happened in a House of Legislature that bitter complaints have been brought against the Government of the day for employing too many natives on public works, and so robbing the landowner of what he most desires native labour.
They are the makers of our wealth, the great basic rock on which our State is founded our vast labouring class.
Every great nation of the past or present has contributed something to the sum total of things beautiful, good, or useful, possessed by humanity: therein largely lies its greatness. We in South Africa can never hope exactly to repeat the records of the past. We can never hope, like Greece, to give to the world its noblest plastic art; we can never hope, like Rome, to shape the legal institutions of half the world; the chief glory of England, that wherever she goes, whether she will or not, and even against her will, she spreads broadcast among the nations the seeds of self-governing institutions may never be ours. But the great national parts are not exhausted; and there lies before us in South Africa a part as great and inspiring as any which any nation has ever been called upon to play if we are strong enough to grasp it.
The problem of the twentieth century will not be a repetition of those of the nineteenth or those which went before it. The walls dividing continents are breaking down; everywhere European, Asiatic and African will interlard. The world on which the twenty-first century will open its eyes will be one widely different from that which the twentieth sees at its awaking. And the problem which this century will have to solve is the accomplishment of this interaction of distinct human varieties on the largest and most beneficent lines, making for the development of humanity as a whole, and carried out in a manner consonant with modern ideals and modern social wants. It will not always be the European who forms the upper layer; but in its essentials the problem will be everywhere the same.
We in South Africa are one of the first peoples in the modern world, and under the new moral and material conditions of civilisation, to be brought face to face with this problem in its acutest form. On our power to solve it regally and heroically depends our greatness. If it be possible for us out of our great complex body of humanity (its parts possibly remaining racially distinct for centuries) to raise up a free, intelligent, harmonious nation, each part acting with and for the benefit of the others, then we shall have played a part as great as that of any nation in the world's record. And as we to-day turn our eyes towards Greece or Rome or England for models in those things wherein they have excelled, nations in the future, whatever their dominant class may be, will be compelled to turn their eyes towards us and follow our lead, saying, "Hers was the first and true solution of the problem."
I have said we to-day have to face the problem in its acutest form; but we have also exceptional advantages for solving it.
In our small, to-day dominant, European element we have the descendants of some of the most virile of the northern races, races which, at least for themselves, have always loved freedom and justice; in our vast Bantu element we possess one of the finest breeds of the African stock. A grave and an almost fatal error is sometimes made when persons compare our native question with the negro question in the Southern States of America. Not only is the South African Bantu (a race probably with a large admixture of Arab blood!) as distinct from the West Coast negro, who was the ancestor of the American slave, as the Norwegian is from the Spaniard, but he has never been subjected to the dissolving and desocialising ordeal of slavery. We find him in the land of his growth with all the instincts of the free man intact; with all the instincts of loyalty to his race and its chiefs still warm in his heart; with his social instincts almost abnormally developed and fully active; we have only with wisdom and patient justice slowly to transfer them to our own larger society - they are there! Every man and woman who has studied the Bantu in his native state before we have indoctrinated him with those vices which dog everywhere the feet of our civilisation, and have compelled his women to graduate in our brothels and his men in our canteens or have dragged him into our city slums, where even our own races rot knows that the proudest of us may envy many of the social virtues which the Bantu displays. We have a great material here, wisely handled.
In our small, permanent, and largely South African born, Asiatic population we have a section of people sober, industrious, and intelligent, rich with those deep staying-powers which have made many Asiatic peoples so persistent, and often dominant, in the past and present. Even in the most disorganised element of our population, often without definite race or social traditions, I believe that careful study will show it to compare favourably, and often most favourably, with analogous classes in Europe (and I speak from a wide personal knowledge of those European classes).
This is the material from which our nation must be shaped; and we, the small and for the moment absolutely dominant white aristocracy on whom the main weight of duty of social reconstruction rests, have reason to be thankful it is what it is.
If by entering on a long and difficult course of strictly just and humane treatment, as between man and man, we can bind our dark races to us through their sense of justice and gratitude; if we, as a dominant class, realise that the true wealth of a nation is the health, happiness, intelligence, and content of every man and woman born within its borders; if we do not fail to realise that the true crown of honour on the head of a dominant class is that it leads and teaches, not uses and crushes; if, as the years pass, we can point with pride to our native peoples as the most enlightened and the most free, the most devoted to the welfare of its native land of all African races; if our labouring class can in the end be made to compare favourably with that of all other countries; and if for the men of genius or capacity who are born among them there be left open a free path, to take their share in the higher duties of life and citizenship, their talents expended for the welfare of the community and not suppressed to become its subterraneous and disruptive forces; if we can make our State as dear to them, as the matrix in which they find shelter for healthy life and development, as it is to us; then I think the future of South Africa promises greatness and strength.
But if we fail in this? If, blinded by the aga in of the moment, we see nothing in our dark man but a vast engine of labour; if to us he is not man, but only a tool; if dispossessed entirely of the land for which he now shows that large aptitude for peasant proprietorship for the lack of which among their masses many great nations are decaying; if we force him permanently in his millions into the locations and compounds and slums of our cities, obtaining his labour cheaper, but to lose what the wealth of five Rands could not return to us; if, uninstructed in the highest forms of labour, without the rights of citizenship, his own social organisation broken up, without our having aided him to participate in our own; if, unbound to us by gratitude and sympathy, and alien to us in blood and colour, we reduce this vast mass to the condition of a great seething, ignorant proletariat then I would rather draw a veil over the future of this land.
For a time such a policy may pay us admirably both as to labour and lands; we may work gold mines where the natives' corn now stands, and the dream of a labourer at two-pence a day which has haunted the waking visions of some men may be realised - but can it pay ultimately?
Even in the commercial sense, will it pay us in the direction of manufacture and trade, if, when the labouring classes of other countries are steadily increasing in skill and intelligence, ours remain in the mass mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, without initiative or knowledge? Will it even pay us to have him robbed of his muscular strength and virility by a sudden change to unhealthy conditions of life? Considered as a mere engine of labour, is not his muscle one of our commercial assets? If we doctor him with our canteens and cheap wines, and immerse him in city-slum life, will he even as a machine of labour remain what he is?
Are we to spend all our national existence with a large, dark shadow looming always in the background a shadow-which-we-fear?
I would not willingly appeal to the lowest motives of self-interest, yet it may be permitted to say this: As long as the population of South Africa is united, and the conditions of warfare remain what they are, we need fear no foe. With our inaccessible coast, and few harbours, our mighty mountain ranges and desolate plains, into which the largest armies might be led and left to starve, we are as unassailable as Northern Russia behind her steppes and icefields; it would take more than a Napoleon to walk over us; we are, indeed, an impregnable fortress in these Southern seas if the entire population is united.
But what if we are not united? What if, when the day comes, as it must, when hostile fleets--perhaps not European--gather round our shores, and the vast bulk of our inhabitants should cast eyes of indifference, perhaps of hope, towards them? Having no share in the life of our State, being bound to us by no ties of sympathy, having nothing to lose, might not the stranger even appear in the guise of a deliverer, and every bush hide a possible guide, and the bulk of the men and women in our land whisper, "It is no business of ours; let them fight it out"?
As long as nine-tenths of our community have no permanent stake in the land, and no right or share in our government, can we ever feel safe? Can we ever know peace?
One dissatisfied man or woman who feel themselves wronged is a point of weakness in a community; but when this condition animates the vast majority of the inhabitants of a State, there is a crack down the entire height of the social structure. In times of peace it may be covered over by whitewash and plaster, and one may profess that all is well; but when the time of conflict and storm comes, that is where the social structure will give way.
But a far more subtle and inevitable form of evil must ultimately overtake us. It is ordained by the laws of human life that a Nemesis should follow the subjection and use, purely for purposes of their own, of any race by another which lives among them. Spain fell before it in America; Rome felt it; it has dogged the feet of all conquering races. In the end the subjected people write their features on the face of the conquerors.
We cannot hope ultimately to equal the men of our own race living in more wholly enlightened and humanised communities, if our existence is passed among millions of non-free subjected peoples. The physical labour we despise and refuse because they do it for us; the continual association with human creatures who are not free, will ultimately take from us our strength and our own freedom; and men will see in our faces the reflection of that on which we are always treading and looking down. If we raise the dark man we shall rise with him; if we kick him under our feet, he will hold us fast by them.
It was recently reported in one of our Houses of Legislature, in a speech by one of our leading men, that once when discussing the question of the light and dark races with a Bantu, the latter had said: "When you do well to us, you do well to yourselves."
This seems to me to sum up the philosophy of the whole matter. The dark man is the child the gods have given us in South Africa for our curse or our blessing; we shall rise with him, and we shall also sink with him.
To-day we in South Africa stand at the parting of the ways; and there is no man and no woman, however small and without influence their voice may be, and though themselves devoid of citizen rights, who, believing that the future of South Africa depends on our taking in this matter the higher and more difficult path, can absolve them to themselves, if they do not speak the word which weighs on them.
Lastly, if I were asked what in South Africa is our great need at the present moment, I should answer, "Great men to lead us."
In an ordinary household, where a woman brings up the children she herself has borne, who share her blood and to whom her instincts bind her, she needs no exceptionally great or rare qualities to rear her children and govern her house in harmony. But if a woman, having children born of her own body, should marry a man already having children by another wife, and they two should again have children of their own, and even receive into their family one or two children by adoption, then, to make her work a success, that woman would require altogether wider and more exceptional gifts. The animal instinct which binds us to what is ours by blood would not suffice; and unless carefully watched and controlled might totally unfit her for the work she had to do. She would need not merely those high intellectual powers which enable us to understand types of mind widely distinct from our own, but those still rarer graces of the spirit allied to intellectual gifts but distinct from them, which make the love of justice inherent in an individual and which would enable her to stretch maternal sympathies out, far beyond the limits of mere instinct. If she possessed these qualities in balanced proportions, the domestic world she ruled over might become a centre of unity and desirable human relations; if she possessed none of them, it would become a hell.
So the man fitted to be the national leader of a great heterogeneous people requires certain qualities not asked for in the leaders, even the great leaders, of a homogeneous race. Our call in South Africa to-day is not for a Cavour or a Talleyrand, nor even at the moment for a William Wallace or a Robert Bruce. The man who should help to guide us toward the path of true union and a beneficent organisation must be more than the great party leader, the keen diplomatist, far-seeing politician, or even the renowned soldier. He may be some of these, but he must be much more.
He must be a man able to understand, and understanding to sympathise with, all sections of our people; loving his own race and form of speech intensely, he will never forget it is only one among others, and deserving of no special favour because it is his; he will value the diverse virtues of our two great white classes which almost, as much as their faults, have brought them into collision, and seek to harmonise them; he will understand the really colossal difficulties which a white race has to face in dealing with a labouring class which is severed from it by colour (difficulties often not understood by those across the seas; who condemn conduct which they themselves would probably follow if brought face to face with the same difficulties); he will realise to the full the difficulties the dark man faces when, his old ideals and order of life suddenly uprooted, he is thrown face to face with a foreign civilisation which he must grasp and rise to, or under which he must sink; and he will seek by every means in his power to help him bridge the transition without losing his native virtues. At all costs to himself he will persist in holding up before us the ideal, by which he is himself dominated, of a great South Africa, in which each element of our population, while maintaining its own individuality, shall subserve the interests of others as well as its own; till from this sense of mutual service and from that passionate love for our physical Mother Earth, which is common to all South Africans, shall grow up the wide and deep South African feeling that alone can transform us into a "great nation." In spite of many mistakes and many failures, and the sorrow which walks beside all who strike out new paths for the feet of men, such a man would form the true centre of our national life, and, however fitfully and slowly, would lead our national conscience to shape itself in harmony with that ideal. For beneath the self-seeking and animal instinct which covers the surface of our lives lies that which in its saner moments does recognise singleness of purpose where it finds it, and knows only that a wide justice and humanity between men is righteousness the righteousness that exalteth a nation.
It is said that when centuries ago a great Hollander died the little children cried for him in the streets. When our national leader dies, the hearts of a complex people will put on mourning for him from the kraal in Kafirland to the solitary Karroo farmhouse, and the cities where men congregate. And when, with the passing of the years, the mists of present self-interest and racial antagonisms have faded from before our national eyes, men standing beside his grave will recognise him for what he was--the father of his people.
What South Africa calls for to-day is no hero or saint or impossible figment of the mind--simply for a man with a clear head and a large heart, organically incapable of self-seeking or racial prejudice. We have all known men of this type in private life; they are found in all races; the list of the Roman Emperors was not without them; they have appeared in the history of almost every people; they have even trodden our South African earth in the little history of our past, though they played smaller parts.
The name of one man will suggest itself to every one. Holding the somewhat invidious delegated power of an English Governor at a time of particular difficulty, he bound equally the heart of the Boer, the Bantu, and the Englishman to him.
Nearly twenty years ago, when I attended the opening of the railway in Bloemfontein, at a gathering where most present were Dutch, men remembered him, and though he had been so long gone from us a message of greeting was sent to this man over the seas; and, it is said, that when a South African of Dutch blood, who has since been branded as the most bitter of the opponents of British rule, was asked to stand for the Presidency of the Dutch Republic, of which he afterwards became President, that before accepting he wrote asking this Englishman, then a private citizen, to stand, as in that case he would himself withdraw. So do the hearts of great men unite peoples.
The States and territories of South Africa will ultimately combine in some form of union. It is inevitable; no man can stay it.
If among those things which fate still holds hidden from us in the hollow of her hand there be such a man, or such men, loving justice and freedom, not only for themselves or their own race, but for all their fellow-countrymen, and able to imbue us with their own larger conception of the national life, and lead us towards it, then see light where the future of South Africa rises; if not, we shall still attain to a political unification in some form or other, but it will be a poor, peddling thing when we have it perhaps bloody.
DE AAR, 1908.