From the book: The Role of the Missionaries in conquest by Nosipho Majeke

Herrenvolk history books present two pictures of Dr. John Philip, Superintendent of the London Missionary Society (L.M.S.), who was sent to the Cape in 1819 to put the affairs of the Society in order. Cory and others present him as a political mischief-maker who created trouble between the two natural allies, the Dutch and the British, chiefly because of his liberal attitude towards the Non-Whites. They aver that he stood for "equality between White and Black" and abominate him accordingly. On the other hand there are those liberal apologists, like Macmillan, author of "Bantu. Boer and Briton," who hail him as the "Defender of the Hottentots," humanitarian and emancipationist, who, with Wilberforce and Buxton, strove to abolish slavery. "The Wilberforce of Africa, "he has been called, and the phrase is less laudatory than its inventor supposed. Between those who damn him and those who praise, what is the truth?

There is no doubt that this Superintendent of the London Missionary Society played an important political role. He came to the Cape Colony armed those ideas of "liberty and equality,” liberty of speech, "free” labour, etc., with which the middle-classes in England had liberated themselves from feudal autocracy. He had the support of Wilberforce, Buxton and other representatives in the British Parliament of Industrial and merchant class, and with them he kept directly in contact, as well as with the Mission headquarters in London. At a later stage in his career he was able to write confidently (and confidentially) to Buxton: "At present the Colonial Government does nothing as to relations with the independent native tribes without consulting me." The Missionary Movement was fortunate in sending out such a man at such a time.

He had his agents all over the country so that he continually kept his finger on the pulse of things: he received official and semi-official reports from mission stations as far a field as Bechuanaland; he corresponded not only with missionaries but with merchants and military men as well as with chiefs (through their attendant missionaries). While the trek oxen were pulling the Boer wagon further and further North, the indefatigable Dr. Philip was making his frequent tours of the mission stations, assuring the chiefs of his "friendship" and promising them the "protection" of the British Crown.

Philip did not always see eye to eye with governors, who at this stage were always military men; but, while there were certain contradictions between the various elements of the population at the Cape, there was a fundamental unanimity between them””as there is to this day””to conquer and subdue the inhabitants. Lord Somerset, Governor at the time of Philip's arrival, was a conservative and, in fact, a representative of the most backward element of British rule, the feudal aristocracy, who constituted his supporters in the British Parliament. Somerset was a petty despot; those freedom claimed by the middle-class, representative government, freedom of the press, etc., made him reach for his gun. It was part of his creed that Church and State work hand in hand, but it must be the orthodox Church; he had no time for the upstart non-conformist, who smacks of middle-class independence. Dr. Philip, on the hand, was a liberal and a non-conformist and, above all, he had the support of the industrialists in the British parliament, i.e. the most progressive section. It was inevitable that they should clash.

It began simply over a question of the independence of the L.M.S. mission stations; Lord Somerset wasn't satisfied with the behaviour of the L.M.S. missionaries because they weren't carrying out to his satisfaction the job of being recruiting agents. On one occasion the Rev. Anderson, who had been sent to establish control over the too independent Griqua on the Orange River, failed to procure a quota of men to fight against the Xhosa. At first Philip adopted an amicable tone and assured his lordship that "the Colonial Government may rest assured that every portion of our influence, and additional means to those already employed, will be used to remove prejudice and make the Griquas serviceable to the colony." Likewise he declared his intention of making Bethelsdorp missionary reserve more efficient by clearing out all the "vagrants" who wouldn't go out to work for the neighbouring farmers. There didn't seem to be much cause for difference between them. Lord Somerset, whom was vested autocratic rule at the Cape, was always ready to play the despot; it displeased Philip when he appointed the Rev. Brownlee as his own government missionary and representative with Chief Ngqika. He was still more resentful of the fact that the Governor had refused permission to the L.M.S missionaries to proceed into Namaqualand. The reason seems to have been that his Lordship, himself a feudalist, adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the Dutch in these regions””he was certainly always generous in doling out farms to them from the confiscated lands of the maXhosa””and on this occasion it pleased him to respect their hearty dislike of missionary interference with their serfs or slaves. Philip was incensed. There was more involved than the question of allowing freedom of action to the missionary superintendent.

Looking at the situation as a whole, we see a conflict developing on three planes. First and foremost the conflict between Black and White, in which both the British, who represent capitalism, and the Dutch, who represent a feudal economy, combine to overthrow tribalism. At the same time there is a conflict between the British, and the Dutch (Boers), i.e.. between a backward feudal economy and a progressive capitalism, a conflict that in time resolved itself by the more progressive force incorporating the more retaining only (hose elements (hat were useful to it in the exploitation of the conquered peoples. Then there is subsidiary conflict between two British sections within the colony. In this outpost of empire, the British colonists were struggling to procure those elementary rights of the British middle-class that had sent them there””freedom of the press and assembly, representative government and the control of their domestic affairs in the colony. As is to be expected, this conflict against an autocratic governor was carried on under the well-known liberal slogans of liberty and equality, the slogans of democracy. Ail this makes up a complicated political pattern within which it is our business to follow the main thread of our argument””the role of the missionaries in the primary conflict, i.e., between Black and White.

Now the fight between Philip and Lord Somerset over interference with the L.M.S. missionaries took on larger proportions and became 'part of the struggle of the liberals against local absolutism (in the person of his Lordship) and towards procuring Representative Government. It is not part of this survey to follow the intricacies of the conflict, culminating much later (1854) in the granting of Representative Government to the Cape Colony. It is sufficient to say that Dr. Philip, together with his son-in-law, John Fairbairn, and the pro-emancipationist, Thomas Pringle, who had come out with the 1820 Settlers, became the spearhead during Somerset’s time.

Philip brought up the big guns of liberalism to expose the mal-administration of this military Governor, Lord Somerset. The Governor, on the other hand, tried to discredit the L.M.S missionaries before the Home government, and this in spite of the fact that he was aware of the usefulness of missionaries-provided they were under his strict control. The missionary Superintendent was to prove a formidable opponent, for he was shrewd enough to enlist a very formidable ally- British Public Opinion. He suddenly discovered the necessity to defend the rights of the oppressed Khoikhoin and used this as the big stick to beat Lord Somerset. Having unearthed a mass of evidence proving the charges of the Rev. Read on the ill-treatment of Khoikhoin by Dutch farmers and giving instances of unpaid forced labour, he prepared a voluminous memorandum to be laid on the table of the British Parliament through his supporter, Buxton. His main attack was on the slave economy of the Boers, and the undesirability of a military government entrusted with civil administration.

Subsequently he elaborated his case in his "Researches in South Africa" (1828), which the British Philanthropists, headed by Wilberforce and Buxton, regarded as their trump card. Writing to Philip, Buxton said approvingly: "Your 'Researches' have done the work." It gave a clear exposition of the value and function of missionary institutions in the interests of British imperialism, and at the same time the very basis of its argument was the superiority of the capitalist economy, with its "free" labourer, over the backward feudal economy of the Dutch. It must be said that at the beginning of the dispute between himself and Lord Somerset, Dr. Philip had not been concerned with the Khoikhoin. Describing what took place at this stage. Professor Macmillan remarks that Philip was "apparently unconscious of any special problem of Hottentot rights." What he did want was to gather enough evidence of maladministration to hang his aristocratic opponent. In this he almost succeeded, for lie engineered (through Wilberforce and Buxton) a Commission of Enquiry and Lord Somerset found it convenient to resign. It need not surprise us that by some peculiar oversight the Commissioners' Report devoted a brief space indeed to the Khoikhoin and its only contribution towards solving their problems was a proposal for increased grants of land for missionary settlements””a mere sop to humanitarian sentiments. As the conflict between Philip and the Governor had proceeded, however, it had compelled the missionary to clarify and formulate his ideas. Hence the excellent exposition of the function of missionaries in his "Researches," Hence his discovery of the need to "defend the Hottentots." "My struggle has merged into a general question respecting the aborigines. It did not begin there,” he wrote.

While Lord Somerset in his despatches to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, and his supporter in Parliament, clamoured for the dismissal of the upstart "journeyman weaver of Kirkaldy who calls himself 'reverend'," Dr. Philip was unearthing documents exposing the activities of a Dutch official at Bethelsdorp. "The result triumphant, he wrote: "I saw that I had in my hands not only the means of vindicating the calumniated missionaries, but also the means of liberating the Hottentots from their cruel bondage."

And again:

I have no doubt that the papers I have sent home (to the British government) will lead to the recall of the first authorities of the Colony and to a total change in its administration ... I know that the Governor and Colonel Bird (his secretary) are dreadfully alarmed. ... If they had listened in time they might have kept their places and the old system in a modified form. Now it is before the British Parliament."

The gist of all this means that the so-called "Defence of the Hottentots" became a pawn in the fight of the liberals against the feudal aristocrat. Lord Somerset. Their "defence'' turned into an attack both against local absolutism (the governor had dared to interfere with the freedom of the press) and the whole Dutch economy i.e., feudalism. Of course the liberals had to win, for history was on their side and the days of feudalism were already numbered. The world-wide expansion of capitalism dictated the Abolition of Slavery (1833). A few years earlier (1828) Ordinance 50 was promulgated "for improving the condition of the Hottentots and other free persons of colour at the Cape of Good Hope, and for consolidating and amending the laws affecting these persons." With this Ordinance the Khoikhoin, while treated as a separate section of the population, were granted legal equality and, formally, the right to buy land. This meant lifting those feudal restrictions which prevented the free movement of labour. That was the one face of the Ordinance.

But it had another face. It was a segregatory law, with special application only to "Hottentots and other free persons of colour it consolidated those sections of the existing labour laws, based on old Dutch slave laws, which were essential to a Masters and Servants relationship; that is, any breach of contract on the part of the servant was to be punished as a criminal offence. Thus Ordinance 50 at one and the same time looked forward to capitalism and wards to serfdom.

Acting on representations made to the British Parliament through the supporters of Dr. Philip, the new Governor, Major-General Bourke, employed Andries Stockenstrom, landdrost of Graaff Reinet, to draw up a memorandum as a basis for the Ordinance. It was fitting that the English Governor should enlist a Dutchman to do the job. Dr. Philip once reported "the landdrost (Stockenstrom) and I agree remarkably well on the subject of the aborigines." Later we shall look further into the nature of this understanding between the missionary superintendent and the Dutchman, when they had a larger field for their joint activity, namely, the subjugation of the maXhosa. This early prototype of General Smuts, this ruthless leader of commandos against the Khoikhoin and the maXhosa, embraced the English as his "adopted countrymen" (to use his own phrase) and out-liberalled the liberals.

"I confess," he once said, "I should be glad to see the whole of Africa one immense British colony with our laws in full vigour through every nook of it."

The British-Boer, Stockenstrom, was well suited to handle the two-faced Ordinance with the two-fold purpose of "liberating" and controlling a landless people. Thus early we have a foretaste of the subsequent amalgamation of the methods of British imperialism and Dutch feudalism for the more complete exploitation of the Non-European.

For his part in agitating for the "liberation of the Khoikhoin - to which the 50th Ordinance gave formal expression ”” Dr Philip contrived to be hailed as their “Defender and Liberator.” Now he himself makes perfectly clear the purpose behind this so-called liberation. This he did in his “Researches in South Africa, a book which well deserved the approval of Wilberforce and his fellow industrialists in the British parliament. The virtue of the Superintendent of the London Missionary Society was the clarity with which he saw the issues involved in conquest, the particular tasks of the missionary and the methods to be employed. In the comprehensiveness of the general statements in his Preface it is obvious that he is not confining himself to the question of the Khoikhoin only, but of a wider conquest in Africa. It was during the conquest of the Bantu that the missionaries were to find full scope for their activities. It is of particular interest to us, therefore, to follow his analysis of the tasks.

The Preface to Dr. Philip's "Researches in South Africa," ' contains what may be called his credo, from which the rest logically follows. We quote the passage again:

"While our missionaries . . . are everywhere scattering the seeds of civilization . . . they are extending British interests, British influence and the British Empire.... Wherever the missionary places his standard among a savage tribe, their prejudices against the colonial government give way, their dependence upon the colony is increased by the creation of artificial wants.... Industry, trade and agriculture spring up...

Here he states both an aim and a method. The method christianization, which involves something much more than the simple question of religion. The aim is the destruction of one culture, tribalism, and replacing it by capitalism. By "civilization" he means the Christian capitalist civilization. As we have said, it is an industrial civilization that is insatiable in its need for raw materials ”” grown in new lands that must be confiscated; raw materials that must be procured by the labour of the conquered. It is an industrial civilization that cannot exist without trade and is therefore in constant need of new markets, which are supplied by the conquered and christianized people of new lands.

Philip recognises that the transition from tribalism to capitally, does not take place automatically. The habits, customs and ideas of the old system have to be broken down and replaced by those of the new system. That is one of the functions of the missionary. Having accepted him as a man of peace, the Christian convert has a desire to dress like his teacher and eat like his teacher. The tastes of the new civilization””those "artificial wants" ””are thus insinuated into his habits. At the same time, as Philip explains, "Missionaries teach industrious habits, . . . The first step towards civilizing the savage is to overcome his natural indolence," Now the link between the mission station. Christianity and labour begins to be clear. Philip writes:

"Many who are acquiring a taste for civilized life by their connection with our mission stations, will prefer labour, with a state of freedom, in the colony."

From this, his advocacy of "liberation" for the Khoikhoin Dutch serfdom, falls into its proper perspective. He continues:" Make the Hottentots free. Give them a fair price for then labour, and their masters will have double the work and the value to the state will be trebled."

He is careful to add that there would be no danger involved for the White colonist by granting this "freedom" to the Khoikhoin, since there is "a hereditary reverence for authority in them." This would be kept well-nourished by the missionary, who would encourage the proper habits of industry and obedience. From first to last the interests of the new economic system were to demand labour and more labour. And the continuity of the policy of the Government towards the Non-White peoples comes out when we compare what Dr. Philip has to say in the early part of the century with a statement made by Rhodes when introducing the Glen Grey Bill in 1894, a Bill designed to tie the Africans securely to the wheel of the now rapidly expanding industrial system:

"It is the duty of the Government to remove these poor children from this life of sloth and laziness to give them some gentle stimulus to come forth and find out the dignity of labour.
. . . We will teach them the dignity of labour and make them contribute to the prosperity of the State.

We may add here that Dr. Philip found no difficulty in coupling "freedom" with segregation. The segregated mission reserve was the particular contribution of the mission reserve was the particular contribution of the missionary to the pattern of South African society. It was part of the liberal myth of “protection” It is trusteeship in its earliest form. In other words it is the beginning of the herrenvolk lie of the inferiority of the Non-European. Protection and inferiority” , the idea the Black man is ”different from White- these have become part of the machinery of oppression. In summing up the benefits of the policy he was advocating Dr. Philip made the following conclusive argument:

"By adopting a more liberal system of policy he was advocating interesting class of subjects, they will be more productive, there will be an increased consumption of British manufactures taxes will be paid and farmers will have no cause to complain of a lack of labour."

It can be said that with the "liberation" of the Khoikhoin a victory for British capitalism had been achieved, under the guise of liberalism. But let us repeat, the abolition of slavery in the colonies, together with the "liberation" of the Khoikhoin, was part of a historical movement in which the "philanthropists,” liberals and missionaries were the were the agents of an expanding capitalism.

Thereafter the Khoikhoin and the liberated slaves formed the nucleus of the Coloured population, the mass of farm labourers and the impoverished workers who lived in the towns. The missionaries found them a landless people and landless people they remained, in spite of the 50th Ordinance. The outcry raised by the farmers against "vagrancy" immediately after the passing of the Ordinance was an outcry for a controlled labour force. But by the middle thirties, as Prof. Macmillan writes: “The was a visible decline in the interest bestowed on the Hottentots, even as a potential labour supply..... The labour supply was now more adequate to colonial demands." At the same time we are told that the Missionary Superintendent "lost touch with Hottentot affairs. The truth is, the Khoikhoin could now be left to the mercy of liberty because a new stage had been reached in colonial conquest. The Government, together with the missionaries, became absorbed with events in the east and north-east of the colony. If the labour supply became more "adequate" it was by reason of the ferocity of the wars against the maXhosa, who lay next in the path of conquest.