From the book: Say It out Loud by Mohamed Adhikari
The 1907 Presidential Address, Outdshoorn, Cape, 7 January, 19071
Dr Abdurahman delivered his Presidential Address, speaking in English. He said that some people wondered at the reason of the conference. A Cape Town paper had stated that to all intents and purposes the Coloured people were looked upon politically as white men. Well, if they were treated as such there would have been no necessity for their being there. He would proceed to touch upon a few points and then it would be for them to say whether the congress was necessary or not. He put Education in the forefront of his programme. It was a perennial question and would remain such as long as there were children. They were today still far down in the social scale and had many obstacles to contend with, the struggle for existence was daily growing acuter, and low down in the scale as they were the Coloured people must see that they needed education even more than the others. They required leaders, educated men, to guide them through the troublous times that were upon them. Unless they could get accomplished and taught men to lead them intellectually and morally they were bound to go backwards. They owed it as a duty to their children to give them the best education they could and send them into the world better equipped than they themselves had been. They could not sufficiently deplore the want of a sufficiently liberal education for their children. Something, it was true, had been done, but the people's wants had completely outgrown the antiquated system of the mission schools which no longer sufficed. Nor would they be satisfied with what was termed Industrial training, which might be suited to the needs of the majority of Coloured people, but there was a small minority who were capable of something higher, and these they wanted to see developed into leaders and teachers, morally and intellectually, for in that small minority lay the salvation of the Coloured people (cheers). Coloured people had been referred to as a national asset of this country, but those who spoke so were often the men who would use the Coloured people merely to minister to their own comfort and pleasure. He said the brains of the Coloured children must be developed for the brains of the people were a great national asset. But those brains must be developed not for the benefit of one particular section but for the benefit of the State. And it was undoubtedly the duty of the State to do this that was now recognised in every civilized country. But in this Colony unfortunately the State had only partially recognised its duty. The State had done little or nothing for the Coloured child and he was afraid so long as men took a financial view of education they could expect nothing more would be done for them. The present Education Act had what was wanted for the Coloured children as well, but they were told to look at the expense. So the European parents to-day were compelled to send their children to school and when they were too poor to pay, their children were educated free. He maintained that that should also be done with respect to the children of Coloured parents, then only would the State be carrying out its duty properly Compulsory free education for all. The present position was that the Coloured man helped to pay for the free education of the poor white children while the poor ones of his own race ran wild on the veld or loafed about the streets. He could not hold with penalizing one section of the community for the benefit of the other. Still, although he condemned the application of the Act there were some good things in it and he advised them to pick up such crumbs as might fall from the table. That would perhaps prevent total intellectual starvation, and some day they might get better. If they did their duty in this matter of the better education of their children they would have the satisfaction of knowing that they had produced, or assisted in producing, better citizens: men who would take a wider view of life, men whose aims would be purer and whose ideals would be nobler, men who would be more amenable to law and order, and thus they would confer a lasting benefit upon South Africa and do an enduring service to humanity cheers). And finally, no matter what their claims might now be to the right of the franchise, political or civil, the higher they were educated the stronger became their title to those rights. If their people were educated the stronger became their title to those rights. If their people were better educated to-day, the struggle would probably not have been half so hard. (cheers)
MISSION LAND SETTLEMENTS
He would now say a few words, and he said them with sorrow, about Mission land settlements. They must understand he was not referring to Mission schools in towns and villages he himself had gone to one of them but to such land settlements as Saron, Genadendal, Mamre and others, with which they were all acquainted. These stations had perhaps formerly served the purpose for which they were founded. They had done good work and had answered their requirements at the time, unenlightened and ignorant as they were. And to-day they could be a great factor in the civilisation of the Coloured people. But instead of that they were a bar and a drag in the path of progress. He believed that if half of the money that had been sent out of the country through some of these Mission settlements had been devoted to the purpose for which the Coloured people gave they it would today have been higher in the scale of civilization. Last year the Government introduced a Bill to deal with the iniquity, but it was unfortunately among the slain innocents, but he hoped the Government would introduce a similar Bill next session to sweep away this evil out of the life of South Africa.
These Mission land settlements were today a disgrace to them. The most unscrupulous land speculator would not to-day try to enveigle men to enter into life as it obtained at some of these places. He was sorry to say that it was through the innate respect that the Coloured people had for the Missionaries that they had persuaded them to support Missionary work at such very great cost. These Mission lands had been in some instances purchased outright by Missionaries. In other cases the lands were given by the Government to Coloured people for services rendered and were held in trust for them, but even at these Mission stations they would find regulations in force which were shocking and demanded Government enquiry. He did not believe these lands were given to bring an easy flow of revenue to the missionaries, nor that they were to be exploited as a paying concern for the benefit of Missions outside South Africa. In some instances the Missionaries not only ran the lands but also were tax-gatherers and tax-gatherers of the meanest type, because they worked under the cloak of religion. And how often did they find the fruits, not in the uplifting of the Coloured man, but in the pockets of the Missionary. So long as they had these conditions so long must they expect to remain stationary? He hoped therefore they would petition the Government to do away with this evil in our free country (cheers). He next referred to indignities to which Coloured people were subjected, small in themselves but irksome and irritating in their accumulation. He could not see how it gave the Europeans pleasure to subject them to these mean little indignities. He was anxious to believe, and he had reason to believe, that in this Colony at any rate the Europeans were disposed to treat the Coloured people with more consideration, but a pernicious wave of prejudice and narrow-mindedness had crept into the Colony from the North and had gradually undermined the character of the Cape Colonists. They had however something to be proud of in the generosity and comprehensiveness of their constitution which made no distinction between man and man on account of the colour of his skin. Nor had British prestige ever suffered because of the liberty given to the Coloured people in this Colony, nor had the life portion of the European been rendered less secure.
Some of their people, born under this free constitution, had settled in the Transvaal as they had a perfect right to do under the 14th Article of the London Convention, and even as late as 1899 Great Britain maintained and the Transvaal Republic admitted, that Cape Coloured people had a right, in common with white British subjects, to enter the Transvaal and settle here they liked and to trade where they liked under the same restrictions as applied to any white British subject. He maintained then, in the light of the knowledge that the British people had always protested against the bad treatment of the Coloured people, that they had every reason to believe that when once the country became a British possession all their grievances would be redressed, and they expected that those laws which still disgraced the statute book of the Transvaal would long ago have been wiped off. According to Law 15 of 1898 no Coloured person may be a licensed claim holder on a diggings, and even at the present time they could interpret that, to mean that they could not own property. The law was still there and the Coloured man could be forced to work for the white man. Under section 149 of the same law the Coloured person found in possession of unwrought gold was punishable with 50 lashes and 5 years hard labour (shame). By Law 46 of 1903, called the Morality Ordinance, which was really an Immorality Ordinance, a white man could not marry a Coloured girl. That simply meant a license to the unscrupulous white men to ruin Coloured girls by giving them the pretence of the law. That law was a stain upon the name of Great Britain to-day and it was an insult to the Christian Church. Mr. Winston Churchill had likened the Orange River Colony to Model Republic ", he (Dr Abdurahman) said it was far from that as Hell from Heaven, he led it a British Prison (cheers). The best thing Mr. Churchill could do was to draw a veil over this black page of South African administration. He strongly denounced what was being read at the present time into the 8th clause of the Treaty of Vereenging. It was clearly the meaning that it should apply to naturellen, not the Coloured people, and Lord Milner had plainly given it as his explanation of the terms; yet now it was made the excuse for excluding them from franchise. They owed the crown loyalty, but the crown owed them British justice and fair play. Upon the successful issue of the war, they were taught, the adjustment of their grievances depended. Mr. Chamberlain promised the franchise clearly and plainly in the name of the Imperial Government. These were debts of honour. They knew the history of Esau of CaIvinia. That man promised loyalty. He was flogged and shot, but he maintained his promise. Compare the broken pledges of the Imperial Government with the loyalty and truth of Esau. British prestige had suffered heavily in the eyes of the Coloured people during the last four years. Clause 8 did not prohibit the franchise to the Coloured people, the Boers themselves heir translation put it "naturellen" not " gekleurde menschen " . But Boers and Britons were now much of a muchness in this matter in the Transvaal. They pandered to a narrow-minded clique. With regard to the new Transvaal Constitution he considered the " Reservation Clause " he greatest piece of hypocrisy he had ever met with, because the Coloured people were not ready bound hand and foot and the old restrictions were not removed. He would have liked to see a Constitution as free as ours but the Imperial Government seems afraid to trust Transvaal and so are we. The Europeans are themselves to blame for the suspicion thus engendered. Personally he did not believe that the " Uitlander " of today would treat them with more consideration than the Boer did before the war. They exploited our grievances for our own advantage and now cast us aside.
The Coloured people were suspicious of innovations and they looked with suspicion on oration, for they did not know how they would come out of the mill. Dr Jameson had somewhat dispelled their fears by the statement that there would be no tampering with their rights of franchise in this Colony. But they did not know how it stood with the men in the North or what influences would be brought to bear by them. He was afraid they would try to them down. Our Government will have to see to it that the Federal Parliament makes no change in our rights of franchise. Everything that belongs to this Colony belongs to us (cheers.) If the basis of representation in the Federal Parliament is to be the voters' lists we should have no objection, but if a population basis is taken then we should demand that colonies denying the franchise should be penalised to that extend. Dr Abdurahman concluded an eloquent peroration with the advice: " Educate yourselves and your children, be honest and be truthful, be united in our noble cause and you will reap the reward of doing your duty, "
Loud applause greeted the conclusion of the address, which took over an hour and a half in delivery.
A vote of thanks was proposed by Mr. Daniels, seconded by Mr. Daly, and carried by acclamation.
Delivered at Oudtshoorn on 7th January 1907.