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Value of language—Slaves or servants—A bond of gratitude—Teaching him manners—Mr Froude on serfdom.
I will now honestly confess that during my residence on the Diamond Fields I had been led to believe that some at least of the Boers were slave-owners; and when I went into the Transvaal Republic, and felicitated myself on the opportunities for doing good to captives and the oppressed that must be thrown in my way, to my astonishment I found that in the Transvaal, Mr Froude's assertion, “that the white people were much more in the position of slaves to the Kafirs than the blacks were to them,” was literally and unreservedly true. I have never seen but one case of slavery during my whole residence in South Africa, and that one case was in British territory. It is quite true that natives could not become either voters or legislators in the Republic; but it is not so many years ago since the majority of the free and independent inhabitants of the British Isles were in a similar position in their own country, and under their own most liberal constitution. Under the Boers, and amongst their servants and black tenants, have I found the only real approach to conversion, if conversion means the changing of a life from bad to good, that can be seen in Africa. At the very outset of my journey I was forced to notice a singular and interesting fact. In Natal, and amongst Englishmen, the European learns the language of the native, and is valued in proportion to his proficiency in it. At Welford's, Knox's, Walsh's, and nearly every other store I had hitherto frequented, assistants were invariably kept who conversed with the customers in the native dialects. In Boerland it was far otherwise. The stores were in many places thronged with coloured customers, but they invariably spoke Dutch, and were vastly more civil and agreeable than the types I had hitherto met amongst the English. I have since learned, with very great pleasure, that this is also a marked feature in the Cape Colony. In the Dutch parts of that country the coloured people are tame, submissive, industrious, and well-behaved, speaking the language of their instructors and natural masters; whilst in the essentially English borders of British Kaffraria the colonist has to use the tongue of the inferior race. By inferior, I here mean nothing more than lower in the ranks of civilisation. As I proceeded further on my journey through the Transvaal, I saw in various directions gardens, fruitful orchards, and small square houses in the possession of blacks, who were living in a condition of ordinary propriety, having abandoned polygamy, and other horrid customs resulting from it. So great an improvement I had not noticed during any part of my previous residence in Natal. When I had time I inquired of the Landdrost of Lydenberg who were these people, and what was their condition? He explained to me that they were the so-called slaves of the Dutch, and that, as a rule, in earlier days they had come voluntarily amongst them, or had been placed in their care by their parents when suffering from war or famine,—that a few of them had been snatched from the danger of death and suffering during the various border feuds of the past,--but that all of them, in their own words, had been “made big” (groot gemaacht), or brought up from childhood amongst the families whom they now willingly served. I have seldom seen a farmer's house where there were not coloured female assistants of some kind or another. The husbands and fathers had bits of land and locations of their own on the farms, and put in their off. time as waggon-drivers, ploughmen, and herds. I have gone into the huts of hundreds of these “tame” people, and have rarely seen one where there was not a gun and ammunition ready to be used, willingly and faithfully, for the defence of the flocks and herds of the much-maligned Boer. These
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folk, or “maacht volk,” as they were usually called, were perfectly free to come and go; yet I have never known an instance in which an Englishman, with all his virtues, or an English lady, with all her goodness and kindness, could keep his or her house full of servants in the same way as the Boer could. I have myself repeatedly offered large wages to this class of people to live with me and others. They would never do so, the Boers “had brought them up and they would remain with the Boers.” Almost as forcible an instance of native attachment to their Transvaal masters as I have ever heard of, occurred within the last eighteen months. Mr George Roth succeeded as Landdrost to Mr Cooper. Roth had previously lived in the village of Lydenberg, but had been away for twelve long years. About six weeks after his return, a little mob of men, women, and children (Kafirs) came to see him, squatting deliberately around his kitchen. They told him that he had been a long time away, that when he was there before they had lived under him, had worked for him, and, when he went away, had sorrowed for his absence. They now came to work for him again, and would take no denial, “for he was a good man.” Mr Roth had to do, as many another Dutchman has done before him, and will do again. He bought a piece of land and installed the poor natives on it, assisted them with their ploughing, and acted as a father to them. Consequently in his house there are female servants; while English mothers must intrust their children to Kafir boys. Such is slavery in the Transvaal. The Boers are constantly spoken of as treating their servants with great harshness. This charge I cannot endorse. In the few pages which I have devoted to the condition of these domestics, I have shown them to be a contented class, faithful and attached to their masters. This certainly would not be the case if they suffered much ill-treatment at their hands. Nothing marks more distinctly how far behind the Dutch other Europeans are in their management of natives, than the superior respect shown even to the youngest child in a Dutch house by blacks who would be savagely insolent to Englishmen and others. The native, whether servant or visitor, who crosses the threshold of a Dutchman's dwelling, does so always with smiling civility and uncovered head. He salutes with different degrees of politeness every member of the family, from the grey-haired patriarch to the smallest infant; he inquires, not seemingly in a servile spirit, after the health and welfare of those with whom he is acquainted, and in turn is gratified by the exhibition of a kindly interest in his own hut and its little belongings. There are many little matters which form topics of discussion between him and his masters, both young and old; and when travelling with the waggon, hunting with them in the veld, or seated with them at some bivouac fire, they keep up a continual chatter about their journeys, the fate of this horse and the conduct of that bullock, the trouble nephew John had, and the good shot uncle Peter fired, forming subjects of never-failing interest. If his wife or his children want medicine, the good Boer woman supplies it; and it is rare indeed for a family of farmers to visit the townships without buying some little present or another to gladden the hearts of their “volk.” Far different, indeed, are the relations between an Englishman and his Kafir. As the native is seldom respectful, the master is often angry and vengeful. A missionary with whom I rode from Bushman's River, in Natal, to Mooi River —the next station—illustrated his attachment for Kafirs and theirs for him one morning in my presence in a manner which I hope is at all events exceptional. We were three together—Gert Pretorius, the parson, and myself—when a Zulu passed by in the open road and saluted the teacher as “Umlunga.” My companion was instantly off his horse, and being a powerful, active man, nearly six feet six inches high, made no difficulty in catching the nigger, whom he held easily with his left hand. He said a few words in Kafir, and then set vigorously to work thrashing his captive, who, grovelling on his knees, yelled out incessantly, “Inkosi ! Umfundisil 'Umfundisi ! Inkosi !” When the flogging was over, I asked my clerical friend what was the matter, and what was the meaning of the scene. He said, with much triumphant delight, evidently thinking he had done a most virtuous action, “The black villain saluted me as ‘Umlunga’ (white man), although he could plainly see
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by my dress I was an Inkosi and a teacher. I have, however, taught him to respect my robes.” You could hear him yelling “Umfundisi” (teacher) for miles along the road. A native will speak to a European, or even a European lady, with a pipe in his mouth, who would not dream of doing so in a Dutch house. This reverence for the Dutch seems to me to be rapidly becoming innate in the character of the South African blacks. Their misconduct under English training and English masters is the theme of saddening complaint everywhere. Mr Froude says on this subject: “It would be better to make the natives into serfs under an organised system, with security for life and property, than to give them the rights of freemen and leave them to be eaten up, as it is called, when public policy pretends that an example is wanted.” All real colonists must agree with him.