“Throughout all South Africa, among both British and Dutch, there is a feeling that Great Britain knows nothing of the native question.”
Continuing Union of South Africa Formed,
our selection from an article first published shortly after the event in American Political Science Review by Stephen Leacock. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Union of South Africa Formed.
Time: May 31, 1910
Place: South Africa
Under Lord Milner’s government the unification of the railways of the Transvaal and the Orange River colony with the Central South-African Railways amalgamated the interests of the inland colonies, but left them still opposed to those of the seaboard. The impossibility of harmonizing the situation under existing political conditions has been one of the most potent forces in creating a united government which alone could deal with the question.
An equally important factor has been the standing problem of the native races, which forms the background of South-African politics. In no civilized country is this question of such urgency. South Africa, with a white population of only 1,133,000 people, contains nearly 7,000,000 native and colored inhabitants, many of them, such as the Zulus and the Basutos, fierce, warlike tribes scarcely affected by European civilization, and wanting only arms and organization to offer a grave menace to the welfare of the white population. The Zulus, numbering a million, inhabiting a country of swamp and jungle impenetrable to European troops, have not forgotten the prowess of a Cetewayo and the victory of Isandhwana.
It may well be that some day they will try the fortune of one more general revolt before accepting the permanent over-lordship of their conquerors. Natal lives in apprehension of such a day. Throughout all South Africa, among both British and Dutch, there is a feeling that Great Britain knows nothing of the native question.
The British people see the native through the softly tinted spectacles of Exeter Hall. When they have given him a Bible and a breech-cloth they fondly fancy that he has become one of themselves, and urge that he shall enter upon his political rights. They do not know that to a savage, or a half-civilized black, a ballot-box and a voting-paper are about as comprehensible as a telescope or a pocket camera–it is just a part of the white man’s magic, containing some particular kind of devil of its own. The South-Africans think that they understand the native. And the first tenet of their gospel is that he must be kept in his place. They have seen the hideous tortures and mutilations inflicted in every native war. If the native revolts they mean to shoot him into marmalade with machine guns. Such is their simple creed. And in this matter they want nothing of what Mr. Merriman recently called the “damnable interference” of the mother country. But to handle the native question there had to be created a single South-African Government competent to deal with it.
The constitution creates for South Africa a union entirely different from that of the provinces of Canada or the States of the American Republic. The government is not federal, but unitary. The provinces become areas of local governments, with local elected councils to administer them, but the South-African Parliament reigns supreme. It is to know nothing of the nice division of jurisdiction set up by the American constitution and by the British North America Act. There are, of course, limits to its power. In the strict sense of legal theory, the omnipotence of the British Parliament, as in the case of Canada, remains unimpaired. Nor can it alter certain things,–for example, the native franchise of the Cape, and the equal status of the two languages,–without a special majority vote. But in all the ordinary conduct of trade, industry, and economic life, its power is unhampered by constitutional limitations.
The constitution sets up as the government of South Africa a legislature of two houses–a Senate and a House of Assembly–and with it an executive of ministers on the customary tenure of cabinet government. This government, strangely enough, is to inhabit two capitals: Pretoria as the seat of the Executive Government and Cape Town as the meeting-place of the Parliament. The experiment is a novel one. The case of Simla and Calcutta, in each of which the Indian Government does its business, and on the strength of which Lord Curzon has defended the South-African plan, offers no real parallel. The truth is that in South Africa, as in Australia, it proved impossible to decide between the claims of rival cities. Cape Town is the mother city of South Africa. Pretoria may boast the memories of the fallen republic, and its old-time position as the capital of an independent state. Bloemfontein has the advantage of a central position, and even garish Johannesburg might claim the privilege of the money power. The present arrangement stands as a temporary compromise to be altered later at the will of the parliament.
The making of the Senate demanded the gravest thought. It was desired to avoid if possible the drowsy nullity of the Canadian Upper House and the preponderating “bossiness” of the American. Nor did the example of Australia, where the Senate, elected on a “general ticket” over huge provincial areas, becomes thereby a sort of National Labor Convention, give any assistance in a positive direction. The plan adopted is to cause each present provincial parliament, and later each provincial council, to elect eight senators. The plan of election is by proportional representation, into the arithmetical juggle of which it is impossible here to enter. Eight more senators will be appointed by the Governor, making forty in all. Proportional representation was applied also in the first draft of the constitution to the election of the Assembly.
It was thought that such a plan would allow for the representation of minorities, so that both Dutch and British delegates would be returned from all parts of the country. Unhappily, the Afrikanderbond–the powerful political organization supporting Mr. Merriman, and holding the bulk of the Dutch vote at the Cape–took fright at the proposal. Even Merriman and his colleagues had to vote it down.
Without this they could not have saved the principle of “equal rights,” which means the more or less equal (proportionate) representation of town and country. The towns are British and the country Dutch, so the bearing of equal rights is obvious. Proportional representation and equal rights were in the end squared off against one another.
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