From the book: Say It out Loud by Mohamed Adhikari
Equal Rights: The treatment of Coloured People in the North, 1901 1
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen
It is by no means a pleasant duty that we are performing tonight. We are driven here to speak of and protest against the disabilities that have been placed upon our fellow kinsmen in the Transvaal and O.R.C.; to protest against the curtailment of their liberties as civilised subjects in the British Empire. What other sensations but those of pain and regret can such a condition of things produce? In this Colony we are not so badly off; we have long since received our political and municipal franchise, and the interpretation of the law is the same for whites as blacks. I believe that the white colonist in this Colony has long come to regard the policy laid down by Britain in the past as the true and right one to pursue. This policy, although not undeviatingly observed al all times, has nevertheless been the means of raising us in the social scale. Under that policy we have advanced intellectually, materially and socially.
Some of you are inclined to look upon one section of the whites as your true friends; others are disposed to regard the other section as our real benefactors. Well I am not here to dispute with you the claims of the respective parties, but I think that the general inference that one may safely draw is that the whites in this Colony are disposed to treat us with moderation, and that they are gradually recognising that our advancement is a benefit to the State. In other words, that there advancement and prosperity are inextricably bound up with ours.
Without any disturbing influences, one might reasonably expect that the phrase " Equal rights for civilised men South of the Zambezi " would soon be accepted as the only guiding principle throughout South Africa. But unfortunately a wide departure from British tradition has taken place in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony. Principles have been, discarded, precedents founded upon ignorance, narrow-mindedness, self-interest, and prejudice have been established. Everything has been done to make the phrase a hollow sound, without any meaning, and I fear sooner or later the phrase may be restricted to " equal rights South of the Orange River. " We may even expect that the evil effects and pernicious influences of the barbarism practised in the North may extend to this Colony, and undo much that we have gained in the past.
Let us then turn to the North and see how our brethren are treated or rather ill-treated and how we would be treated should any of us attempt to cross the border.
Undoubtedly many disabilities were placed upon us before the war. We often found our position unbearable, but the British Agent was always ready to listen to our grievances, to make representations to the late Transvaal Government, and so check any excesses. Even Mr. Chamberlain has on more than one occasion interposed on our behalf. I maintain, therefore, that we were right in anticipating that the restrictions for which the British Government interposed would be speedily removed on the conclusion of the war, and that we would be allowed to participate in all the advantages to be extended to others.
Those of us who lived in the Transvaal on the outbreak of war had to sacrifice much, some of us all that we possessed in the world. However, we silently and patiently suffered and resigned ourselves to the inevitable accompaniments of war. Our only solace was the firm conviction that our rights as British subjects would be established as in this Colony. But never did any of us dream that such disabilities would be placed upon us, or that the very laws that England had prevented Mr. Kruger from putting into operation were to be enforced with unheard-of severity, or that we were not to be regarded as British subjects, and treated as men without the rights and claims of British subjects.
Let me now state a few specific grievances. You may recollect that Lord Kitchener offered to the Boers what are now known as the terms of Middleburg as a suitable basis for concluding war. Those terms contained the following clause: " The legal position of the Coloured man should be the same as in the Cape Colony. " Now, we find that in the terms of Vereeniging as drawn up by Lord Kitchener and Milner on the one side and the Boer representatives on the other, and as amended by the British Government, the above clause has been deleted, and we also find that the status of the native has been clearly and distinctly defined.
Naturally this created a grave doubt in our minds, and with a view of clearing up our position, a deputation of Coloured men waited upon Mr. Chamberlain. He replied that according to the terms of peace, when we cross the border we do lose our status, and that he was powerless and that we must trust to the good feelings of the white colonists in the Transvaal. Some of you will recall with what heavy hearts you came away when you received that comfortless reply.
I hold that having received our political rights and having exercised them honestly, conscientiously and without abuse, as Mr. Theophilus Schreiner has said, and being amongst the most loyal of His Majesty's subjects, as Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Alfred Milnerhave said, we may justly question whether our rights have been fairly handled by the responsible parties.
Now let me touch on some of the restrictive measures that have been passed. You will recollect that in June 1903, the Legislative Council of the Transvaal introduced a Bill to grant Coloured men the municipal franchise provided they came up to the qualifying test, which reads as follows: " All who can read and write to the satisfaction of the officer either in English or Dutch, and possess certain property qualifications were entitled to be put on the voters' roll. " The Government, in introducing that Bill made a stout defence, and although it was carried by a majority, the Attorney-General withdrew it with the remark the Government did not care to go against the wishes of the non-official members, and that the question would be considered at some future date.
I hold that the Government by introducing the Bill was satisfied that it was a good and just measure, and that it would protect the interests of the whole community. And if so I think I am also right in saying that either the Government was not sincere or it hadn't the strength of will to stand by what it decided was its duty. Whether the Bill will receive fairer reception at some future date can easily be judged from the remark made by Mr. Loveday. He said it was simply one of colour. The Government yielded to such men, and yet Lord Milner said the policy of the Government was not against race or colour. But as Mr. Loveday did not scruple to tell the Government that it was purely and simply a question of colour, and as Lord Milner's Government yielded upon that point, one does not really know how to interpret some of the expressions of responsible men.
Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's objection to the Bill was that he desired to keep up the dominance of the British race. Now, gentlemen, that is a noble ambition, an ambition which we admit occupies the minds of all Britons at some time or other, and we need not look with fear upon the dominance of those Britons who befriended us in the past, but it is just those Britons perhaps that Sir Percy would object to. The magnates, we know, do not want Britons on the Rand, because they would not tolerate for 24 hours what we have suffered since the conclusion of war. Is it by asking the Transvaal Government to give the mines forced labour, as was done in 1897, that the dominance of the British race is to be maintained, or by introducing Chinese labour under conditions differing little from those of slavery that the dominance of the British race can be maintained? No, the strength of the British Empire is not based upon such barbarous methods, but upon free institutions, upon the spirit of justice and freedom, and principles of right.
One wonders how many Britons would care to leave their happiness in the hands of the magnates. This we do know, that there is a small section of men in the North, many of whom are not Britons, and of course do not understand what British institutions mean. That small section thinks that England conquered the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony for their exclusive benefit, and that they can trample upon British traditions.
Let me now turn to Lord Milner's excuse. He told a Coloured audience that he had to yield to public opinion. It must be admitted that the Bill did not receive a popular and spontaneous reception such as Lord Milner would like. But must our rights, or freedom, be subjected to the whims of popular opinion when that opinion is founded upon the prejudice against our colour? I ask you, is it right for any responsible officer, when once he has accepted a certain measure which in his opinion is founded upon the right principle, to yield to the sentiment of a small interested section? We do know that sentiment is an unreliable motive power, and anyone willing and consciously riding on such a treacherous tide must soon reap the fruits of such folly.
The action of Lord Milner's Government has had a two-fold and far-reaching effect. In the first place it denied to us that which we enjoyed in this Colony for many years, and secondly it has now shown that prejudice against our colour, which must in time extend its pernicious influences to this Colony. Again, although our kinsmen have not yet received the franchise, that privilege has now been granted to aliens, and yet Lord Milner said " the policy of the Government is not against race or colour. " And Sir Percy will tell you it is by excluding Coloured British subjects and by admitting aliens that the dominance of the British race is maintained.
Let me turn to another matter. You'll find there is what we call the London Convention. Article 14 of that Convention gives all persons other than natives the right to enter, travel and reside in the Transvaal, to hire and possess houses and shops and carry on trade. In 1885 the Volksraad passed restrictive measures against which England protested, and eventually the question was submitted for arbitration to the Chief Justice of the Orange Free State. Indeed an excellent court, when you recollect that in the Orange Free State we had no rights whatever. The decision was given in 1895 that the Transvaal must act according to the laws of 1885-6. Yet, in spite of that decision England was the means of staying Paul Kruger's hand, and the law was never enforced, and practically became a dead letter.
In April 1903, we read a notice that the laws of 1885 and 1886 were to be enforced, and when Coloured men complained against the undue severity of such laws, Mr. Chamberlain replied that he had not heard of any physical ill treatment. That there is almost no exemption from the above strictures, the following incident will demonstrate.
Fifteen years ago the Mohammedans in Pretoria purchased a piece of ground in Pretoria and erected a mosque thereon. The Transvaal Government refused to pass the transfer. Immediately before the outbreak of the war the British Agent assured the trustees that on the conclusion of the war there would be no difficulty to get transfer. This Lord Milner's Government has now refused, but obligingly wishes to hold the land in their name for the benefit of the Moslems.
Now let us turn to the Orange River Colony. It is quite evident that the Colony has made a determined effort to outstrip the Transvaal in the odious restrictions it has placed upon us, and to degrade us still further in the eyes of the whites, and to rob us of the liberties which are our birthright as free-born men. Note how the vicious policy of denying us the municipal franchise has infected the Government of the Orange River Colony. In October 1903, in the " Government Gazette", you will find a draft Ordinance to amend the law relating to municipalities. There you may read that everyone who is a Coloured person according to article 8 of Law 8, of 1893, is disqualified from being a voter. By article 8 of Law 8 all are Coloured who are called so by custom or usage. Further, the Council is empowered to establish locations on such parts of municipal lands as they think fit, within which all Coloured persons are compelled to reside. But you cannot reside there for more than 48 hours unless some white person employs you or unless you have obtained permission to work on your own account in terms of Art. 3 of Law 8, or unless you have obtained exemption under the Coloured Persons Relief Ordinance.
Lest some of you might imagine that under Art. 3 of the C.P.R.O. your rights as civilised citizens have been safeguarded and be encouraged by false hopes, let me tell you that by Art. 3 you are allowed to sell your labour to whom you like provided you take out a certificate for which you must pay 5s. a month. And that the C.P.R.O. exempts you from carrying a pass, but you must carry an exemption certificate. But in the locations you must live, you may not trade, or own land, or reside where you like. I am not certain whether even a medical certificate will be able to obtain you release from the location.
Should any of you propose going to the town of Brandfort, you will find that the term native includes all civilised Coloured subjects of His Majesty or otherwise. That all Coloured persons must live in locations, and that they may only drive in cabs marked " natives " . That they must be in the locations after 10 p.m., after the tolling of the curfew bell.
Should you care to migrate to Petrusburg you will find that you must register yourself within 48 hours after your arrival. You will find a list is kept of all Coloured persons, as if they were a herd of liberated criminals. That list contains not only your name, but also your means of livelihood and the number of stock you possess, as if you had been convicted of stock thieving or under the Vagrancy Act. That you may not own stock without obtaining permission to do so. You must reside in locations, and take out a pass from the Town Clerk. You may not own a dog. Nor are you allowed to have schools or hold meetings in the location without permission. This will give you some idea of the powers granted to the Municipalities by the Government.
These are a few of the methods of persecution adopted in the north by men who will tell you they are striving to uphold British traditions and to maintain the dominance of Britons. However, I do not think that there are two dozen men in England who have the remotest idea of the cruel, harsh and un-British policy pursued by their representatives in the north. I do not believe that it is the wish of Englishmen that we should be deprived of our rights as civilised British subjects, for no other reason but to please a small section of the influential, but by no means disinterested men, whose contempt for us springs from the fact that it has pleased the Almighty to give us a dark skin.
Britons, we know, cherish and love their institutions, and the only way of pleasing them is to maintain their liberty. They have taught us what those institutions signify. And, as Lord Milner has said, there is no section of people more attached to British institutions than we are. If that is so, if we love liberty as dearly as anyone, is it right that the Government of which Lord Milner is the head should be allowed to deprive us of that liberty, deny to us that which we have long enjoyed in this Colony, I mean the municipal franchise, and grant it to aliens, many of whom have never enjoyed that privilege in their own country, men who might have wished for the downfall of the Empire? I ask you is it right that having been born free, as we were, that we should be confined in locations in the north, be compelled to be indoors after 9 p.m., and not even own a dog, or a sheep or an ox without permission, and allow every alien, no matter what his social status may be, whether loyal or disloyal, to reside where he likes, trade and own land simply because he is white?
No, it is not right, nor just, nor even beneficial to the British Empire. But, unfortunately, there are men in the north who do not know what British traditions are, or knowingly disregard them. They evidently think that British traditions are founded upon theory and not practice, or fundamental truths. England will sooner or later check these bararous methods of persecuting her subjects for being Coloured. Let us remind those gentlemen that Government is instituted for the happiness of the whole community, and not for raising one section at the expense of the other, but to maintain the liberties of all and to promote their happiness.
There is only one course for the authorities to pursue in the North, and that is to act according to British traditions and fundamental truths. If they disregard that they are courting disaster, and sooner or later they will hurl themselves to destruction.
I Beg leave to move the following resolution: -
" That in the opinion of this meeting the treatment meted out to Coloured British subjects in the Transvaal is worse than that they received under the Boer Government, and we respectfully ask the High Commissioner and his advisers to accord our fellow-subjects those rights and privileges every subject has a right to enjoy regardless of class, colour, race or creed, and thus conform to the spirit of the British Constitution under which we loyally live in the face of a wicked oppression purely from a national cause. "