“At present neither natives nor “colored men” (the South-African term for men of mixed blood) can vote in the Transvaal, the Orange River, and Natal.”
Today’s installment concludes 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.
Time: May 31, 1910
Place: South Africa
South Africa will retain duality of language, both Dutch and British being in official use. There was no other method open. The Dutch language is probably doomed to extinction within three or four generations. It is, in truth, not one linguistic form, but several: the Taal, or kitchen Dutch of daily speech, the “lingua franca” of South Africa; the School Taal, a modified form of it, and the High Dutch of the Scriptural translations brought with the Boers from Holland. Behind this there is no national literature, and the current Dutch of Holland and its books varies some from all of them. English is already the language of commerce and convenience. The only way to keep Dutch alive is to oppose its use. Already the bitterness of the war has had this effect, and language societies are doing their best to uphold and extend the use of the ancestral language. It is with a full knowledge of this that the leaders of the British parties acquiesced in the principle of duality.
The native franchise was another difficult question. At present neither natives nor “colored men” (the South-African term for men of mixed blood) can vote in the Transvaal, the Orange River, and Natal. Nor is there the faintest possibility of the suffrage being extended to them, both the Dutch and the British being convinced that such a policy is a mistake. In the Cape natives and colored men, if possessed of the necessary property and able to write their names, are allowed to vote. The name writing is said to be a farce, the native drawing a picture of his name under guidance of his political boss. Some 20,000 natives and colored people thus vote at the Cape, and neither the Progressives nor the Bond party dared to oppose the continuance of the franchise, lest the native vote should be thrown solid against them. As a result each province will retain its own suffrage, at least until the South-African Parliament by a special majority of two-thirds in a joint session shall decide otherwise.
The future conformation of parties under the union is difficult to forecast. At present the Dutch parties–they may be called so for lack of a better word–have large majorities everywhere except in Natal. In the Transvaal General Botha’s party–Het Volk, the Party of the People–is greatly in the ascendant. But it must be remembered that Het Volk numbers many British adherents. For instance, Mr. Hull, Botha’s treasurer in the outgoing Government, is an old Johannesburg “reformer,” of the Uitlander days, and fought against the Boers in the war. In the Orange Free State the party called the Unie (or United party) has a large majority, while at the Cape Dr. Jameson’s party of progressives can make no stand against Mr. Merriman, Mr. Malan, Mr. Sauer, and the powerful organization of the Afrikanderbond.
How the new Government will be formed it is impossible to say. Botha and Merriman will, of course, constitute its leading factors. But whether they will attempt a coalition by taking in with them such men as Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and Dr. Jameson, or will prefer a more united and less universal support is still a matter of conjecture. From the outsider’s point of view, a coalition of British and Dutch leaders, working together for the future welfare of a common country, would seem an auspicious opening for the new era. But it must be remembered that General Botha is under no necessity whatever to form such a coalition. If he so wishes he can easily rule the country without it as far as a parliamentary majority goes. Not long since an illustrious South-African, a visitor to Montreal, voiced the opinion that Botha’s party will rule South Africa for twenty years undisturbed. But it is impossible to do more than conjecture what will happen. Ex Africa semper quid novi.
Most important of all is the altered relation in which South Africa will now stand to the British Empire.
The Imperial Government may now be said to evacuate South Africa, and to leave it to the control of its own people. It is true that for the time being the Imperial Government will continue to control the native protectorates of Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland. But the Constitution provides for the future transfer of these to the administration of a commission appointed by the colonial Government. Provision is also made for the future inclusion of Rhodesia within the Union. South Africa will therefore find itself on practically the same footing as Canada or Australia within the British Empire. What its future fate there will be no man can yet foretell. In South Africa, as in the other Dominions, an intense feeling of local patriotism and “colonial nationalism” will be matched against the historic force and the practical advantages of the Imperial connection. Even in Canada, there is no use in denying it, there are powerful forces which, if unchecked, would carry us to an ultimate independence. Still more is this the case in South Africa.
It is a land of bitter memories. The little people that fought for their republics against a world in arms have not so soon forgotten. It is idle for us in the other parts of the Empire to suppose that the bitter memory of the conflict has yet passed, that the Dutch have forgotten the independence for which they fought, the Vier Klur flag that is hidden in their garrets still, and the twenty thousand women and children that lie buried in South Africa as the harvest of the conqueror. If South Africa is to stay in the Empire it will have to be because the Empire will be made such that neither South Africa nor any other of the dominions would wish to leave it. For this, much has already been done. The liberation of the Transvaal and Orange River from the thraldom of their Crown Colony Government, and the frank acceptance of the Union Constitution by the British Government are the first steps in this direction. Meantime that future of South Africa, as of all the Empire, lies behind a veil.
This ends our series of passages on Union of South Africa Formed by Stephen Leacock from an article first published shortly after the event in American Political Science Review. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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