THE main problems confronting the Union of South Africa in respect of its colored races and peoples, and of their relations with the European population, are peculiarly complex. They call with increasing insistence for the reconsideration and readjustment of our political and industrial policies.

Our non-European peoples fall into three main groups. First and most important, both in regard to existing numbers and future potentialities, comes the native population. Then there are the people known in South Africa as "colored," who include colored people of mixed race and also a small community of Malays settled for the most part in and near Capetown. The Malays were introduced by the Dutch East India Company before the British occupation of the Cape, and have long since lost all connection with their country of origin, but retain their Mohammedan religion; their numbers are insignificant for the purposes with which we are concerned, but they are grouped for administrative and other purposes with the "colored" population. (This term, it must always be remembered, has a peculiar connotation in South Africa, in that it is used to distinguish the South African colored man of mixed race--including the small Malay community just mentioned--from the native.) The third racial element is the Asiatic, consisting for the most part of British Indians, some of whom are traders or the descendants of traders who have come here from India, but the great majority of whom are persons or the descendants of persons who were brought over from India to work as laborers in the tea and sugar plantations of Natal.

The native population at the last census (1921) numbered 4,699,433; the mixed and other colored races numbered 545,548; and the Asiatic 163,896. The total of the European population at the same census was 1,519,488. If we add to these figures the population of the territories adjacent to the Union and now administered directly by the British Government, but which may one day be included in the Union, the effect would be to add approximately 5,500 to the European population and 750,000 (all but a few of whom are natives) to the non-European. We at once see South Africa's peculiar position. She stands somewhere between the two principal types of countries where the white and colored races of the world are clashing.

In one type of country, of which British India is the best example, white men are there as the governing power, but do not claim that their stock will permanently take root and occupy the land. They are governors, soldiers, officials, business and professional men, but they are a small caste amidst a native population overwhelmingly larger in numbers, a population whose gradual rise in education, in the material equipment of civilization, and in political and administrative capacity will inevitably, whether sooner or later, entitle them to emerge from a state of tutelage. Such a country the white man can never claim as a "white man's land." Where he rules he does so admittedly as a trustee. Where he is living as official, trader, or professional man, he has either cut himself off from his own race, or he is there as a bird of passage with his eyes turned homeward. He does not think of the land of his residence as one with whose fortunes the future of his children is irrevocably bound up.

The other type is exemplified by the United States of America. There a population of about 12,000,000 negroes gives rise at many points to social and industrial and political friction. But, grave as are the questions which spring from these causes, they do not interfere with the sense of security with which the white citizen regards the future of his country. They do not arise from, and are not aggravated by, any feeling of doubt or fear as to whether his children or the children of his stock are in danger of seeing their place and the outlet for their energies in the country gradually encroached upon by the rising tide of a colored race. For as far ahead as he can see the effective occupation of his country will be by the white races, and the control of its destinies in their hands.

South Africa, as has been said, is in a position somewhere between these two types. Since the European first made effective settlement on its shores, about 270 years ago, he has gradually extended his hold upon the land. He has introduced his civilization, broken the power of the savage tribes who disputed his occupation, reclaimed the land to agricultural and pastoral uses, established mining and manufacturing industries. He has made the land his home. Its civilization came with him, and could not even now continue without him. And yet he sees this very civilization being turned against him by the descendants of those barbarous tribes among whom he had to win his way through many years of warfare. He has abolished the famines and inter-tribal wars which formerly kept a check on the growth of the native peoples, and these peoples are strong enough to withstand the physical degeneration which contact with civilization so often spreads among savages. They do not die out. On the contrary, they increase and multiply. They take their part in the white man's industries and learn in the schools and educational institutions which he provides for them. It is no more than natural, therefore, that he should watch their gradual rise in civilization, slow though it may be, with some measure of apprehension for the future of his own race. As they turn to habits of industry, monopolize (as they almost do) the unskilled labor of the country, begin to push their way into skilled trades and even professions, the white man not unnaturally has fears that they may in time so encroach upon the field which his race has hitherto regarded as its own, as to prevent its normal expansion, reduce its numbers, and in the end threaten its political supremacy.

This fear lies at the root of what is called the "native problem" in South Africa. It is responsible for much of the narrowness of outlook and intensity of feeling with which in the past the problem has usually been envisaged in South African politics.

The other two racial groups -- the "colored" and the Asiatic -- give rise to problems of their own, serious in their way, but the issues between them and the white man are not so far-reaching as those involved in the white man's relations with the native. In the case of the "colored" man the tendency is to associate him more and more with the European, and to draw the line, not between white and colored, but between the European, including the mixed race, on the one side, and the native on the other. Socially, it is true, the line of division is for the most part one of color. In hotels, in theatres, in trains, the color line is enforced -- in the northern provinces with absolute strictness, and in the Cape, at any rate in Capetown and its surrounding districts, with a little more latitude. In the Cape the trade unions admit the skilled colored worker to membership on equal terms. In the northern provinces he is excluded, and indeed he is not regarded by his white fellow workers as having any right to be a skilled worker at all. But there can be little doubt that the present trend of policy is to find a place for the "colored" man in the ranks of the European. This finds expression in the recent proposals laid before the country by the Prime Minister for a complete readjustment of the relations of the European and the native. The underlying principle of these proposals is segregation of the native from the European, and the "colored" population for this purpose is classed with the European, although outside the Cape Province it is likely to be some time before full political equality is conceded to them.

The third group -- the Asiatic -- consists, as has been said, almost entirely of Indians, and they are confined in great part to the Province of Natal. The census of 1921 showed that of a total Asiatic population in the Union of, in round figures, 164,000, approximately 142,000 were living in Natal. These are for the most part people who were brought in as laborers for the sugar and tea plantations, and their descendants. A certain number of them return to India, and the Government encourages this movement by allowing them a free passage and a cash payment on arrival in India. Of those now in Natal, however, nearly two-thirds have been born there, and in their case naturally the idea of returning to India becomes less and less attractive as their connection with it becomes more remote. Since 1911 no more Indians have been brought in as laborers, and since 1913 the immigration of Asiatics into the Union has been completely stopped by the Immigrants Regulation Act of 1913, which empowers the Government to prohibit the entry of any person or class of persons deemed by them on economic grounds, or on account of standard or habits of life, to be unsuited to the requirements of the Union or any particular province thereof. By the exercise of that power Asiatics as a class have been deemed to be prohibited immigrants.

Even inter-provincial migration is forbidden to the Asiatic, with the result that, while the trouble arising from the presence of the Indian population has been localized to the Province of Natal, it is all the more acute there, because the impact has to be borne by a comparatively small European community. In fact the Indian population in Natal was, at the last census, slightly in excess of the European. In the other provinces the competition of the Indian traders gives rise to a certain amount of agitation on the part of the Europeans in the smaller towns who consider that his low standard of living gives the Indian trader an unfair advantage against the European, and leads to a gradual transfer of the petty retail trade into the hands of the Indian. In Natal, however, the clash of the two races is more serious. The children of the Indians who came in as laborers get education, and aspire to rise in the social scale. They become semi-skilled or skilled workmen, clerks and professional men. In Natal, therefore, what is called the "Indian menace" is a burning political question, and drastic action is demanded from the Government as necessary for the preservation of the white man and his western civilization. The census results, on the other hand, do not afford any evidence of restricted expansion of the European population. On the contrary, the census figures for 1921 showed an increase of about 40 percent in the European population of Natal as compared with the previous census of 1911 -- a much higher rate of increase than in any of the other provinces. A census of the European population of the Union, which was taken this year, shows an increase of the European population over the figure of 1921 of 15.6 percent, which again is a considerably higher rate of increase than in any of the other provinces.

The agitation against the Indians, however, is not likely to fade out in the cold light of census figures. In its extreme form the demand is for nothing less than the complete repatriation or expulsion of the Indians; but, as this is generally admitted to be an impossible solution, the demand has for its immediate object that Indians be prohibited from acquiring land, and that they be restricted from trading except in areas specially set apart for them. A conference is planned between the Union Government and the Government of India with a view to arriving at an agreed policy, which will reassure the European as to the maintenance of his western standards of civilization without imposing intolerable and humiliating restrictions upon the Indians. A conference such as this is quite a new feature in the long history of repressive legislation against Indians in South Africa, which goes back to the days of the Boer Republics before the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Formerly the British Government, as the superior power, endeavored to see justice done to the Indian, but its intervention usually had the effect of aggravating the Europeans without securing substantial relief for the Indians. Now the Indian Government and the Government of South Africa deal directly with each other, and Indian statesmen have for the first time an opportunity of meeting the South African Government on common ground.

It will be seen, therefore, that the questions which arise out of the relations of the white man with the two last-mentioned groups are side issues as compared with those arising between the European and the native. There is the real race clash.

There are certain fundamental differences between the position of the native here and that of the negro in the United States in relation to the population of European stock. In America the negro population is an alien element, which was introduced by the white community itself for the purpose of servile or unskilled labor, and which has gradually raised itself in civilization and efficiency. In that respect its closest analogy in South Africa is to be found in the Asiatic population, already described. But the native here in Africa is in his home. The white man found him here when he came, though it is probable that the Bantu tribes, who form the largest and most virile section of the native population today, made their appearance in what is now the Union of South Africa not very long before the white man. They spread over the land in nomadic fashion, subduing or exterminating the people whom they found there. They imposed themselves upon the land by superior organization and fighting power, just as the white man, when they met, did upon them; but their conquest was the conquest of savagery, not of civilization.

The other main point of difference is that the native population here is to a great extent still living under its primitive tribal organization. Its chiefs, of course, have not the powers of life and death over their subjects as they used to have, nor can they indulge in tribal wars or cattle raids. In many other ways, too, the contacts of civilization are undermining their old authority, and the whole system is slowly but surely breaking down. Economic pressure has driven the able-bodied men in thousands out to seek work in the white man's industries. Many of these retain their connection with their tribal home and in the end return there to stay. But many others break away from it and settle permanently in the towns and industrial centres. It is estimated that about 500,000 natives have become permanently de-tribalized in this way. Others occupy land on the white man's farms as labor-tenants. Others, in certain districts of the Cape Province, possess small holdings as peasants in individual ownership. But of the rest the vast majority are living under the old tribal conditions, subsisting on the produce of the tribal lands on the old communal system, supplemented by the earnings of those who go out from time to time for longer or shorter periods to work for the European.

It is now time to turn to the European's side of the picture and see in what way the political and industrial conditions which he has made for himself are affected by the gradual rise of the non-European peoples in civilization and in industrial efficiency.

The Union of South Africa was brought into existence in 1910 by the coming together of the four British colonies (as they then were) of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. The two first were British Colonies of long standing -- the Cape for over a century, and Natal from its beginnings as an European settlement. The two others, formerly independent republics -- subject to an ill-defined claim of British suzerainty as regards their foreign relations -- became British colonies by annexation in the Anglo-Boer war. At the National Convention, at which the new Union Constitution was drawn up, the idea of uniting on federal lines was deliberately rejected in favor of the principle of unification. The Constitution was drawn on that principle, and the four colonies, which now became provinces of the Union, gave up to the new Union Government all powers of government except in regard to matters of local and subsidiary concern.

The Constitution, however, which brought about unity in government and administration, could not reconcile the divergent policies and outlooks which had prevailed in the different colonies in the matter of the native and colored races. It was again a case of a color line dividing north against south. In the south the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, ever since its Constitution Ordinance of 1853, had drawn no color or race distinction in the qualifications required for the exercise of the vote. Its franchise rolls were open to any man who was a citizen and could fulfill a comparatively low property and education test, whatever his race or color might be. But in the two northern colonies a hard and fast color line ran right through all relations of white and black. The old republican constitution of the Transvaal had laid down as one of its fundamental principles that there should be no equality in church or state between white and black, and this principle was, in both, rigorously observed in every department of life. When, after the British annexation, responsible government was granted to the two new colonies, the franchise law preserved the old color line, so that the people should have the opportunity of deciding for themselves on so vital a question, and the right to vote was, as it had been in the republics, based on white manhood suffrage. In Natal, which when it received responsible government was a handful of European colonists surrounded by a vast and uncivilized native population, the native was not, in express terms, excluded from the franchise, but the conditions permitting him to be enrolled were such that only a few have ever qualified. The framers of Union found it impossible to agree on any common policy on this question, and, in consequence, it was simply left alone in the hope that time would bring about some approach to a common outlook. The old franchise laws were left in force, with the provision that the Cape laws were not to be altered so as to exclude persons on grounds of race or color except by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the Legislature sitting together. That is where we stand today in the matter of the parliamentary vote. In the northern provinces the same color bar excludes any man of color from the right to vote for local and municipal councils.

The Union is now sixteen years old -- a very infant among the nations -- but, even in that short time, some progress is noticeable in the evolution of a common outlook on questions arising from the relations of European and non-European races. Where these questions affect the government of the country, they have to be dealt with, not as before in four separate and independent compartments, but as national questions by a parliament and government representing the whole people. The mere fact that the Legislature sits in Capetown has brought the members from the northern provinces face to face with a more liberal outlook. The advocates of the policy of equal rights for all civilized men have been led to understand more sympathetically the difficulties of its application in an environment quite different from their own. Moreover, the existence of the colored and native voter in the Cape Province has had a potent influence on national politics throughout the Union. Low as are the qualifications for the franchise in that province, the number of colored and native voters actually on the rolls is not very great. The last registration showed a total of 36,853 non-European voters as against 156,884 Europeans, whereas the estimated population of that province in 1924 was 2,209,671 natives, Asiatics and colored, as against 680,053 Europeans. But, though the number of non-European voters is small, they can in a considerable number of constituencies, if they vote solidly, exercise, if not a decisive influence as between rival political parties, at any rate an influence which no party with an election in view can afford to neglect or alienate. A government, therefore, is bound to take into account, in considering measures affecting natives in any province, what effect they may have on the sympathies of the voters in the Cape.

The contact of the white man with the native in the industrial field goes back to the beginnings of our industries. As soon as the superior force of the white man had established peace and security in the country, the native turned his attention from war to labor. The Europeans were few in number, and, both from habit and the exigencies of the climate, were averse to manual labor. In the native they found a man of strong physique, docile to authority, whose material wants were few. The two fell as if by nature into the rôles of master and servant. Before the discovery of the diamond mines of Kimberley and the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, the demand for labor was but small, and those natives who came to work on the white man's farms were not subjected to any serious break with their ancestral conditions. But with the opening up of the mines, South Africa passed by a rapid transition from a primitive pastoral state to one of highly developed industry. Thousands of natives were required for the rough manual work of the mines and the industries which sprang up around them, and the lure of money and the luxuries which it could buy was a powerful attraction. From the employer's point of view the native had many advantages as a laborer. He was easily trained, had an ingrained respect for the authority of the white man, and he worked under indenture, breach of which was punishable by law. Above all he was cheap. Coming to work as he first did, and still to a great extent does, only as an interlude in his tribal life, he could be housed in barracks or compounds, and his requirements as to food and clothing were of the simplest. His wage, therefore, was far below what a white man, living under civilized conditions, could possibly accept.

It is on this basis -- namely, that all the unskilled labor is performed by natives under the conditions described -- that the mining industry of the country has been built up; and today the gold mines of the Witwatersrand employ over 180,000 of them. Other industries have adopted the same principle as far as they could.

Three results have recently forced themselves on public attention. One is that the supply of native labor is inadequate for all industrial requirements. Another is that the growing class of natives who cut themselves adrift from their tribal homes and settle with their families in towns and industrial centers give rise to very serious problems in regard to housing, because their wage is inadequate to enable them to provide for housing themselves under civilized and sanitary conditions. The other is that there has grown up among the Europeans a class of "poor whites," as they are called -- men who are unfitted for any occupation but that of unskilled or manual labor, but who cannot get it in competition with the native at the wage which the native accepts. Outside the field of unskilled labor, also, the native is beginning to come into competition with the European, and here again his docility in the hands of the white employer, and the low wage which he is prepared to accept, give him advantages which tell heavily against the superior skill and intelligence of the European.

The writer has attempted to present a general view of the contacts, political and industrial, which have been and are being established in South Africa between the European and the native. Slowly but inevitably, under the pressure of the white man's civilization, the native is becoming conscious of himself as an element in the community. Tribal barriers are breaking down. He is learning to organize himself industrially and politically, to realize his importance and to lay claim to what he regards as his rights. We must now try to see on what lines the European's policy, both in politics and industry, is adapting itself to meet his claim. Again this can only be done in broad outline.

Underlying all the ideas of the European as to his relations with the native, is the fundamental proposition that South Africa is to be a "white man's country," if not in the sense that its inhabitants shall be in number predominantly white, at any rate that its destinies shall be guided by his race and along the lines of European civilization. For the practical politics of today this may be taken as an axiom universally accepted. There is not here, as there is in India, a rival civilization, rooted in the soil, with a vital spirit of its own. Here the European represents civilization as against barbarism. Based on this fundamental proposition there are three main lines of policy, each of which has its advocates, and all of which from time to time, alternately or together, have combined to influence public policy in South Africa.

Of these three lines of policy the first may generally be described as that of repression. This policy adopts as its guiding principle "no equality in church or state," or, "the native must be kept in his place." The native is an inferior being, to be treated with fairness and humanity, but never allowed to aspire beyond his inferior status. His labor is an "asset" to the country, but the laborer himself must not use it so as to establish for himself an independent status. It must be used by the white man in strict subordination to his own ends. Political rights are denied. Carried to its logical conclusion this policy refuses to recognize the native or the colored man as a full member of the community. It goes back for its idea to the institutions of slavery or serfdom. The man of the subject race is denied the principles of citizenship, restricted in regard to his place of residence and movements, and confined by law, as regards his labor, to a certain status inferior to, and designed to serve the purposes of, the dominant race. It is perhaps the view which, if one took a poll of the European community, would carry the largest number of votes. It is, tacitly or avowedly, the view of the ordinary run of men who do not think very deeply about public affairs. It was the avowed policy of the two northern provinces before they came into the Union, and still finds its chief support there.

Another line of policy may be described for want of a better term as the policy of assimilation. That policy bases itself on civilization, refuses to recognize any difference in status or privilege based on race or color, and proclaims equality in political rights and equal opportunity in industry for all civilized men. This policy, in theory at least, was the policy of the Cape Province before Union and it stands as the antithesis of the policy of repression.

The third line of policy, and one which has been much discussed since Union, is the policy of segregation. Applied absolutely this would mean a line of territorial separation between native and European, the division of the Union into two areas reserved for the European and the native respectively. In this extreme form, however, it has few adherents, and is generally admitted to be impossible. In a modified form it has been put forward recently by the Prime Minister of the Union as the line on which a national policy should be built. Certain areas would be definitely set apart as native areas, within which no European would be allowed to acquire land, and conversely natives would be prohibited from acquiring land outside these areas. Natives who came into European areas to work would be subject to restrictions as regards competing with the European in skilled or semi-skilled occupations. The natives would not be allowed to be registered on the ordinary voters' rolls, but by a sort of communal franchise they would be allowed to elect a limited number of European members to the elected House of the Legislature with specially restricted powers. Inside their areas they would choose councils who would exercise advisory powers in matters of local interest and might in time be entrusted with certain administrative functions.

None of these three seems to afford in itself a basis comprehensive enough for an adjustment which is likely to be permanent and adequate for the needs of both races.

The first breaks down in practice because it runs counter to some of the deepest and most enduring elements of human nature. The dominant race inevitably falls a victim to a fatal infection from the very inferiority to which it condemns its subjects, and in the long run loses even the physical and material force necessary to keep the lower race down.

For the other line of policy, which we have called that of assimilation, it is sometimes claimed that there is no halfway house between it and that of repression. It is advocated especially by missionaries, and those who seek to apply the principles of Christianity as the final test of the validity of public institutions and policies. Looked at from the point of view of practical statesmen, the policy cannot safely be adopted in South Africa if it involves a grave risk to the fundamental principle of European supremacy. The European population, as has been seen, is vastly outnumbered by the native, and behind the comparatively small number of civilized natives is the great mass which is now and will for long remain in or near its primitive state of barbarism. The white man in South Africa looks on the question as one of race against race. Assimilation in the full sense of the word, involving social intercourse and in particular race admixture, is abhorrent to his instincts. Whatever biologists may say about race admixture -- and they do not all say the same thing -- he will have none of it. The lapses of individuals in this respect only serve to throw into clearer relief the strength of the general sentiment. And behind this instinct is the fact, admitted even by the most thoroughgoing champions of equality, that for as far as we can see in the future the supremacy of the white man is essential to the maintenance of civilization itself. Assimilation, even in respect of political rights, would before very long gravely imperil that supremacy.

The policy of segregation even in its modified form does not seem to take adequate account of the actual facts of the case. The lands which are now allotted, or can possibly be allotted, for native reserves are not now adequate for the support of the native population, and we have yet to see what would happen if part of these lands through mineral discoveries or otherwise should offer strong attractions for development by the European. Large numbers of natives even now who still cling to their tribal homes can only subsist by coming out to work for the white man for longer or shorter periods. Many of them, as has been seen -- and their number is increasing -- have become permanently de-tribalized. We have made the native, for good or evil, part of our industrial organization. It was inevitable that it should be so. But it would be unjust to him, and fatal in the long run to ourselves, to decree that if he comes amongst us as a worker, as he must do both for his own needs and for ours, he shall be confined by law, no matter what his abilities or his civilization may be, to the status of an unskilled laborer.

The peculiar conditions of South Africa seem to call for a somewhat different policy, something between the second and third of those just mentioned. The native should be segregated to the extent of being encouraged to remain on his tribal lands, and he should be assisted by training in agriculture to make these lands sustain a larger population than they now do. But he cannot be segregated to the extent of being put away in a sort of watertight compartment. We are one country. There is room only for one civilization -- the European -- and no artificial barriers will keep the two elements permanently cut off from each other. The native who comes to work in our industries must not be under a legal ban which prohibits him from utilizing, to such advantage as he may, his capacity for work, skilled or unskilled. But the employer should be prevented by wage regulation from exploiting the low demands of the native to undercut the civilized wage rate. If the native is to compete with workers who have to live as civilized men in civilized surroundings, he must be paid a wage which will enable him to do the same. The true protection for the white worker is not the repression of the native but the raising of the native's standard of living to something like his own. In politics the native cannot be permanently excluded from a voice in the government of the country, but his participation in political rights, as he rises in education and civilization, must be so graduated as not to endanger the hegemony of the European civilization and direction. With this must go effective measures for reinforcing the European population by encouraging the immigration of people who will assimilate with its stock and make a permanent home here.

Whether under some such policy South Africa can work out a peaceful and permanent adjustment in the relations of her European and native peoples is a question for the far future. There is no "solution" or short cut in problems such as these. Today we do not know adequately many facts which have the most important bearing on the question. We do not know, for example, what the comparative rates of increase of the two populations are now, still less what they will be as the native comes more and more completely in contact with civilization and with industrial conditions. Yet on that fact alone depends the validity of any forecast of the future.

Such, in broad outline, is the problem which confronts South Africa in regard to the relations between her European and non-European peoples. It affects more or less directly almost every important question of her public life. It is a problem almost unique in difficulty -- that of holding together as organic constituents of a single state under the institutions of popular government a complex of races so diverse in conditions and so divergent in outlook. On her success depends her own existence as the national home of a European people, and with that are bound up issues of the gravest importance for the whole African continent and for the relations of the white and colored races throughout the world.

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  • PATRICK DUNCAN, former Minister of Interior, Health and Education for the Union of South Africa
  • More By Patrick Duncan