RACIAL RELATIONS IN THE UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA
AN ADDRESS BY MR. D. deWAAL MEYER
Chairman: The President, Dr. F. A. Gaby
February 29, 1940
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of the Empire Club: It is with much pleasure that we welcome our guest-speaker of today, Mr. deWaal Meyer, of the Union of South Africa, who has the distinction of being the first Accredited Representative of one of our British Dominions in Canada. Mr. Meyer is well qualified to deal with the subject he has chosen today. Born in Capetown, he was educated in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, and is an M.A. of Grey University. Subsequently he took a post graduate course in the University of Rotterdam. He is thoroughly familiar with the industry of South Africa and was Private Secretary to the Minister of Mines and Industries in 1924, and two years later he was placed in charge of the External Trade Division of the same Department.
In 1932 he was made a Member of the Economic Advisory and Tariff Board of the Government, and in 1934 was given the post of Trade Commissioner at Montreal. He received his present appointment in 1938.
I have much pleasure in introducing Mr. deWaal Meyer, whose subject will be "Racial Relations in the Union of South Africa." (Applause)
MR. D. DEWAAL MEYER: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I regard it as a great privilege to address such a representative gathering as you have here today. It shows how interested you are to hear me tell you something about racial relations in our country. The last time I spoke in this room was a few years ago when I addressed the Kiwanis Club. At that time I spoke more about the commercial relations, but as an Empire Club I think you would be more interested in knowing what is going on in our country today, and that is why I chose this subject.
Somebody asked me, what do you mean by racial relations? An American was present and he said, "Racial relations would be relations between whites and blacks, because of course, the Europeans are all of one race."
Now, I don't want to make fine distinctions about race, but in our country they do refer to the relationship between the two sections of the European population as a racial question, and I propose today to speak to you, not only of the actual racial relations between the black race and the white race, but also of the relations between the two sections of the white population.
Before doing so I would like to make a very few remarks about our country, because my experience has been that people in Canada, as well as in other parts of the world where I have been, know very, very little about South Africa. The fact that the word "Africa" appears in the name leads people to believe that South Africa is a black country, an uncivilized country, where we have wild animals to contend with and savage conditions like you find in Central Africa. Now, the Continent of Africa is fully fifty per cent larger than the North American Continent-from the Panama up to Alaska. It is much larger than most people realize, and the Union of South Africa, the country about which I am going to talk to you today, is only about one-twentieth of that enormous continent.
The country is not tropical; it is sub-tropical; and only in certain parts of the country do we get conditions that approach the tropical. In Johannesburg, the largest city in the country, we get temperatures as low as 16 degrees of frost.
The people are very friendly. They are a very hospitable people, and on the whole they live together in a very friendly fashion. The dominant problems of our country have to do with racial questions. There is the problem of the native, as we call him. That means the black man only and not the white. Of course, here, you would call me a native of South Africa. In South Africa, if you call a man a native you mean he is a black man. In our country the racial question is entirely a question of white and black.
Then there is the racial relations between the Boers and the British. I will use the term "Boer" throughout, because that is the term usually used in Canada. In South Africa, the word "Boer" means "farmer", and is not used to designate any section of the population. In Canadian terminology, I would be a Boer, in South African terminology, I wouldn't be anything of the kind, unless I were a farmer.
In addition to that there is another relationship, that is between the Germans and the South Africans. Southwest Africa was formerly a German Colony, which was man dated to the Union of South Africa, the mandate amounting to almost complete government. Our Union Government appoints a so-called Administrator to govern the country. That Governor is assisted by an elected body, a small Advisory Council, and the Civil Servants who work in the country are appointed by the Union Government. So the country is governed, or practically governed, by the Union, but subject to the approval, for whatever that approval may be worth, of the League of Nations.
Now, due to the fact that Southwest Africa is so closely related at the present time to the Union Government, we have the question also of Southwest Africa versus the Union.
In order to fully appreciate the conditions existing today in the Union, I am afraid I will have to take you back a little into our history. Our country was colonized by a Dutch commercial concern, the Dutch East India Company in 1652. The object originally was to have a station half way between Holland and Java, to have a station where fresh food and vegetables, and fresh meat could be produced and supplied to the ships in order to alleviate that dread scourge of scurvy to which sailors in those days were subjected on long voyages. However, it soon appeared that the country was very fertile and a permanent settlement of Dutch began there. The only people found there by the Dutch were the Hottentots. The Hottentots were a very small tribe and they did not cause very much trouble. Sometimes they stole the cattle of the Dutch settlers, but on the whole the Hottentots were soon subdued and lived in comparative peace with the white man.
In 1688, thirty-six years after the country was first settled, a large number of French were sent out by the Dutch East India Company, a number of French Huguenots. However, because the Dutch settlement was quite small, measures were taken to prevent the French from forming a colony, and soon the French language died out, and today, although you find the names of Marchand, Dupre, Duplessis, Hebert, and similar names throughout our country, the French language has practically died out and the French is not a racial factor in our country today--using race again to distinguish between nations as well as actual ethnological races.
Shortly after the French came out there, the Dutch Government took over the colony and appointed the Governors to rule it. These Governors, naturally, had to commence with a little more law and order, according to the ordinary system prevailing in Holland and the people in South Africa, many of them, didn't like it very much. They had been used to living in a fairly easy way, in their own way, and they moved out toward the east, Capetown being in the southwest corner of the Continent. So they moved out for about 400 miles, and found no tribes of any kind at all. The country was just vacant, and they started farming and went further eastward until they came in contact with the Kaffirs, who came down from the north. The Kaffirs are closely related to the negroes. They are more or less of the same race ace being used in the ethnological sense.
The Kaffirs naturally did not like the white man to come in there. The Kaffirs were strong, there was a large number of tribes and they started pillaging the whites. The white people retaliated by organizing expeditions and very frequently killed off quite a number of Kaffirs and took perhaps more cattle back than had been stolen, and for a long time a state of endemic warfare existed on that border. Just about this time, South Africa, or the Cape Colony of that time, passed into the hands of England. That was in 1806. It was as a result of the adjustment that took place during the Napoleonic wars that the Cape ultimately passed into the hands of Great Britain. Some missionaries from the London Missionary Society went out there, imbued with wonderful ideas about the equality of all human beings, and not making allowance for differences in education and mentality, they made reports to England which, unfortunately, were taken so seriously that for some time a native policy was adopted in South Africa, which caused very, very great dissatisfaction.
It was this native policy, as much as anything else, that led to the great trek northward. Just at the time that this dissatisfaction with the native policy in South Africa reached its height, the slaves were being liberated, and the way in which the slaves were liberated caused the dissatisfaction to increase, with the result that a large number of these Hollanders (they were still Dutch at that time) said, "We are having nothing but trouble from the English Government. We want to get away from them and get north." And those were the two factors, the prime causes, of the great trek northward, the trek which resulted in the establishment of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republics.
Now, for quite a long time these Republics progressed in their own way until ultimately gold was discovered in the Transvaal. Do I need to go into the trouble which followed the discovery of gold? The discovery of gold led to continued friction between the English in the Cape Colony and the Transvaal. The Cape Colony had a Prime Minister who worked in close conjunction with Great Britain, but there was continual friction between the Transvaal and the English until ultimately the Boer War resulted, with everything that war means. War at any time, and however it is waged, is always a very nasty business, and one cannot wage war with gloves on, when you come down to bare facts, and naturally, the conquered, the defeated, will always feel bitter about the methods employed, just the same as the conqueror will try and forget the methods that were deemed necessary in warfare. In warfare the object is to beat the other man, irrespective of what the methods may be. You may start off and try to use good methods. If good methods don't avail you employ necessary methods, ultimately, and that causes trouble, of course. That is responsible to a large extent for the bitterness that you still may find coming up in the country here and there.
Now, before I come to the present situation between the Europeans, I want to speak about the situation as regards the blacks and the whites, the native problem. The native problem is our greatest economic problem. The Union of South Africa has two million whites and as such is the outpost of white civilization on the Continent of Africa. Although our country occupies only one-twentieth of the whole of Africa, our country has only two million whites, as opposed to over six and a half million blacks. We are therefore outnumbered by over three to one.
When I speak about the blacks I don't speak about a few bushmen. There were a few bushmen in the colony when the Dutch arrived there but the bushmen were so primitive they couldn't assimilate the civilization that was coming in and they just died out. Today you will find hardly a bushman in the country. The Hottentots were absorbed. That brings me to the case of the half castes. In our country you will find a half caste community only around Capetown. That half caste community is a cross between the Hottentots who settled there, a small tribe that gradually mixed with the whites-mostly soldiers and sailors.
Books have been written recently, books that have received wide circulation, in which it has been stated that the racial barrier between the white and black has been broken down. I have no hesitation in saying that is based on untruth and a twisting of facts. The opposition between whites and blacks in our country is so great that you will not find association between the whites and the blacks in that respect and the half caste community which is settled at the Cape is the result, primarily, of a mixture of Hottentots with sailors and soldiers stationed at Capetown. When we come into the interior there are very few half castes, crossed between Kaffirs and the whites. You will find a few isolated cases but you could not speak of any half caste community outside of the Cape. These Hottentots were absorbed as mentioned above, but the blacks, as I said, were continually fighting with the whites, and the result was there has been a very definite feeling of opposition between the two peoples, as far as social and martial and similar relations are concerned.
The country today, in spite of the fact that we are outnumbered three to one by the blacks is run entirely as the white man's country. The black man does not do anything but unskilled work. We have even gone so far that we have introduced legislation to prevent the black men from doing semi-skilled or skilled work. The reason for that is that the lower grades of white man would have to compete with the black man if we didn't do it, and that would aggravate the unemployment of the white man and the so-called "poor white" problem.
Now this restriction of employment by legislation is carried out only in the European territory. In our country large territories have been reserved for the black man. In those territories they are still governed by their Chiefs, according to the way they have always been governed. They are, however, subject to the supervision of white magistrates or native commissioners, as we call them. In those territories they live as they have lived for thousands of years. The black man is still the master of the household. He still buys as many wives as he can with his cattle and the more wives he has the richer he is because he sits and basks in the sun while his wives do the work. If they don't do the work he teaches them how to do it in his own primitive way!
Many people have said it is unethical of us to restrict the black man like that, to keep the black man down. Now I believe that the reason for it is that we feel down in the bottom of our hearts (I have never heard it said in South Africa. I don't suppose anyone would say it and I don't believe it would be politic to say it in our country) that if we don't prevent the black man from gradually coming up higher and higher in the economic scale, he will ultimately swamp us. We therefore have to fight for our existence. I feel, therefore, that the methods we are adopting to maintain our supremacy are just methods which are actuated by the urge for self-preservation which is the most primitive urge in any man and also in any nation.
The black man, however, is much better off than before the white man came there. So, from that point of view, too, I don't think it is unethical. Before the white man came into the country, the Kaffirs were fighting among each other. There was a very strong Zulu tribe that laid waste large areas of the country, killed the men and carried the women away to work for them. In times of drought--and we can have terrific drought in our country-you would find the Kaffirs dying off and nothing was done to keep them alive. It was the state of affairs that you have in any primitive country. Now that the white man has come in there the natives are living in peace, not only with the white man but also with each other.
They still have racial antipathies but they never reach the stage where war or fighting eventuates. In times' of famine the white man comes along with food. We ship sometimes, thousands of tons of Kaffir corn into native areas to keep them alive in times of drought and famine. So the black man is really very much-better off in spite of the restrictions that we lay upon him.
Furthermore, we are also catering to the mental development of the native. We realize, although we would not like them to develop too rapidly and eventually swamp us, that we cannot restrict mental development and there are a number of subsidized schools in the country where the natives can learn to read and write and study as far as they wish. However, the ordinary native is just a child in his mentality. He doesn't care about reading and writing. If he has enough to eat he is happy. The majority of the natives, perhaps, will go to school a few years and some of them will get to the stage where they can write a letter that it would make you smile to read and that is all they think of education. You do find, however, a number of natives who go further. There are a few lawyers, a few doctors and a few Professors of Literature in our country, but they are not of any real importance.
The great advantage of the native in the country, of course, is that he is a source of cheap labour. In the Transvaal and the gold mines where there are 350,000 natives employed today, they are paid sixty cents a day, with food and lodging. They are fed cheaply but very well. In order to work in our gold mines where sometimes they have to work as deep as 8,500 feet below ground they must be physically fit. For that reason they are fed under medical supervision, they get the right amount of vitamins, carbohydrates, and so forth. That sixty cents really means money from home, because they require very, very little for their own keep, outside of what they get in the mines. They usually go back to their homes, after having worked in the mines for a few years, and then can buy a few extra wives with the money they accumulate.
Now, the cheap labour develops our resources but we find we haven't enough Kaffirs and have to go outside of the Union to look for more Kaffirs to work in the gold mines. So we go to Portuguese East Africa to get more labour and in this way the native question gets into international relationships and has resulted in the opening up lately of a Legation of the Union of South Africa in Lisbon, in order to adjust little differences we may have with the Portuguese Government. I may mention that these differences have been very amicably settled and the relations between the Portuguese Government and the Union are of the friendliest.
Now these natives providing cheap labour as they do, limit the field of employment for the white man and you find the white man unable to d,) skilled work becomes a liability to the state. He becomes what we call a "poor white", and the poor white problem is a very, very grave problem. We have tried in various ways to deal with this problem but we have not yet gone over to giving them the so-called dole. In our country we have been able, up to the present, to refrain from paying any man for doing nothing. (Applause) If a white man cannot find employment, then the government gives him work, and we give him work of such a nature that as soon as he can find ready employment he will take it. The work they do is on the roads. Road making is normally Kaffir work, but we have certain roads on which we use just white men, and they get about six shillings a day, say $1.50 a day, and they will get out of that work as soon as they can find something better to do. Of course you find many people who are not able to do anything better, so the government has spent large sums of money on relief schemes. For instance, we have large irrigation projects and we are trying to put these poor whites back on the land under these irrigation projects. In that way we have spent perhaps as much money on helping the unemployed and the unemployable as you find in other countries being paid to these people. Unfortunately, up to the present we have found that there are very many whites who just cannot do anything. They can't get beyond the stage of doing unskilled work and these people we put on these economic schemes where we use white labour instead of black.
Now, I have been frequently asked, has the native any vote? Yes and no. In the Cape Colony, which is today called the Cape Province, the black man has had a vote continually up to 1938. In the other provinces he had no vote, but there are comparatively few blacks in the Cape who qualified for that vote, even though the qualifications are low, with the result the blacks have perhaps controlled only two or three seats in the Union House of Assembly, out of the total membership of 153. For quite some time our Government has been exercised over the problem of giving the blacks throughout the country some voice in their own government, at any rate. That is apart, of course, from the voice they have in their native reserves; and the native reserves, as I pointed out just now, are governed by their own Chiefs; but in the rest of the country we have ultimately given them a Council of their own, which acts as an Advisory Council to Parliament, and where they meet every now and then under the Department of Native Affairs to give the Government the natives' point of view. In addition to that the natives of each province appoints one white man to the Union House of Assembly. No black man may sit in the Assembly. So they appoint four white men to support their point of view in Parliament. These men have votes in matters relating to the natives, but not on other matters, although they can join in discussion of all questions that come up in the House. Since these measures have been introduced, the Union has restricted the vote in the Cape Province to those blacks who had the vote at that time. They will retain their vote, but with their death the vote of the black men in white constituencies will die out entirely, the idea being to develop the native vote in such a way that the native can have a say in his own government without having a say in the government of the white man.
Now, coming from the native question to the relationship between the Boer and the British. About sixty percent of the people in the Union of South Africa today speak Afrikaans, forty percent speak English. Afrikaans is a language which has been derived from the Dutch but has been influenced greatly by English. The grammar is even simpler than the English grammar today, while the original Dutch has quite a complicated grammar. In the Afrikaans language you will find many English words. An Afrikander can still understand Dutch if he reads it. If he goes to Holland without having heard it before he won't understand very much more than a Hollander would understand Afrikaans. The difference is not the same as between Canadian and Parisian French, where there is a question of accent and of words but where they have the same written language. In our country, the written language is grammatically very different, and even from a syntax point of view is different also.
Now the Boers and the British have come into conflict continually, as I mentioned just now. After the Boer War it was only natural that there should be quite a strong feeling of bitterness against the English. This is exemplified by something that happened very shortly after the end of the war. Naturally, as you know, during the war there was a lot of wanton destruction going on, and practically every sheep and animal on the farms of the Boers were shot and the houses burned down and so on. So after the war, Great Britain felt she wanted to make some form of restitution to smooth matters over, and certain men went around to assess the damage that had been done, and to see what could be done to restore things again. Among them were a number of people who had lived in the country before. One old Major there had lived on very friendly terms with the Boers before that time and he was speaking to a man who was quite a good friend before the war. He said, "You know, I can understand how you feel. War is a nasty business and the one at the wrong end of the stick always feels badly about it. But think of this and it may console you. Great Britain is not an ordinary country. The British are the greatest people in the world. Do you know the British are so powerful that the sun never sets on the British Empire?" The old man looked at him and said, "Yes, I know. It seems to me that even God doesn't trust an Englishman in the dark!"
The Treaty of Veruniging promised the Boer Generals who met there, among the most prominent of whom were General Smuts, General Hertzog, General Botha and General De Wet, that self-government would be restored to them as soon as was possible and also made several other promises, and the source of the co-operation which you find between the two nations in the country today dates from that time. Great Britain played ball with the Boers right from the start after the war. That is why you find today that a large section of our people are standing by the British the way they do. Immediately after the war the English saw that the Afrikander was settling down and didn't bear ill will. I may say that is characteristic of our people. They were, up to the last generation, very religious. They believed in not letting the sun set on their wrath--that good advice we get from the Bible--and also they were a very easy going people, a very friendly and hospitable people, and they don't bear malice. They may be cheated in a commercial deal, perhaps, today by some vagrant who bought a cow and paid too little, and two or three months later they are on quite friendly terms with him again. This easy-going characteristic of the Boer, together with his religious tenets also helped to improve the friendly relationship between the Afrikander and the English.
The British were so satisfied with the relationship between the two peoples that only four years after the conclusion of the war, in 1906, the British gave those two republics self-government again, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. Only four years later, in 1910, the Union of South Africa was consummated under a government in which both English and Afrikanders were represented. Shortly after the Union, however, we found a split among the Boers. We found a large section of the people were impressed with the treatment they had received from Great Britain, and also realized that it was in their material interests to be associated with the British Empire and worked in close co-operation with the English. On the other hand, you found a section of the people who could not forget the war and still thought of the trials and tribulations through which they had passed, they and their women folks, and they pulled in an opposite direction. They began the slogan, you might say, of "South Africa First"-a slogan later on taken up in various parts of the Empire. I think that at one time the slogan "Canada First" was heard also in Canada, and today it is realized, it is accepted. The protaganist of this party was General Hertzog. General Hertzog said we should strive for complete independence for our country. On the other hand, we found Generals Botha and Smuts saying they were perfectly satisfied to remain with the English.
Now, although the attitude of the party led by Hertzog frankly took on a strong anti-British bias, the basis of it was not anti-British. The basis was merely pro-Afrikaans. The party grew and grew until ultimately the party came into power as you know, and the Government of General Hertzog remained in South Africa for fifteen consecutive years, from 1924 until last year. When Hertzog became Prime Minister of the Union, he immediately said, "Let us co-operate with the British. We have no thought of cutting our tie with Britain. We wish to co-operate, but we want independence for South Africa." This went on until the Balfour Declaration in 1926, and when this was actually laid down in the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Hertzog said, "After all, we now have our independence and there is nothing more to strive for in that direction." The result was General Hertzog and General Smuts came together in 1933, and since then they have worked together to build a united South Africa. I left in 1934 and when I returned in 1938 I was very pleased to see the excellent feeling between the Afrikanders and the English. There was a section on one side that spoke of a republic, but that section was not very large.
This continued until war broke out and when war broke out, General Hertzog, again with his strong feeling of South Africanism, said, "While we do not wish to be disassociated from the British Empire, while we are willing to remain with the British Empire on the same footing as heretofore, we do not see why we should declare war now, why we should not maintain neutrality and the status quo, even though Great Britain go into war."
Now, when he took up that attitude, of course there was a division in Parliament, and a majority of the members of Parliament voted against him. Then he fell out and General Smuts took over the government, with the result that today we have a government entirely behind the British at the present time in the war in every possible way. (Applause)
The difference between Generals Smuts and Hertzog is this. When Great Britain declared war on Germany last September, it was felt throughout South Africa that the Union's geographic and strategic position having regard particularly to the large native population, open to communistic propaganda, and the Germans in S.W.A., was such that it would be exceedingly difficult for South Africa to participate actively in the war. General Hertzog wished the Union to remain neutral until such time as the interests of the Union were definitely threatened. General Smuts, on the other hand, judged that the Union's interests were already threatened and the right thing was to declare war immediately, even though he could not encourage South Africans to enlist for service overseas. When the question was put to Parliament, General Hertzog was defeated, with the result that General Smuts is now the Prime Minister, with the support of the Union pledged to Britain in every way short of sending men outside of Africa.
You must understand that no Boers are pro-British by sentiment at all. Why should they be? They have no British blood in their veins and they were defeated by the British. But a large number of Afrikanders feel it is definitely in their interests to remain with the British Empire, to be associated with the British Empire in the way we are, and if we are to do that the right thing is to go into the war right now and do the best we can to prevent that really fine organization, the British Commonwealth of Nations, from suffering defeat or disintegration. That is the attitude of the majority of those Afrikanders who are standing together with the English. The forty per cent who are English are the sentimentalists, and the two together, the forty percent who are English, and the Afrikanders who regard this as a matter of material advantage more than anything else, form the largest section of the people.
Now, while perhaps many of the Afrikanders may be for neutrality, all those opposing the Government today are by no means anti-British. Only a small proportion of them are. You may have read the report of what happened in Parliament. You may have read of such terms as "The disciple of Hitler", "Pro-Nazi", and things like that. Don't take it seriously. You people know what happens when one gets up in political debate. All kinds of things are put in a much stronger way than if those taking part were actually conversing in an ordinary conversation. These statements that you hear are made in the heat of political discussion and must not be taken at their face value.
Colonel Denys Reitz, the Minister of our present Government who represented South Africa at the recent Conference in England, where Mr. Crerar represented Canada, stated that although thirty per cent of the people in South Africa may be anti-British, you will find they are a hundred per cent anti-Nazi, and that gives, perhaps, the situation as it is today. I just clarify these points because I feel that you should know there is no pro-Naziism in our country. As I have pointed out, whatever feeling of neutrality there is is based primarily on their feeling of love of freedom and love of independence.
Now all of you know that Naziism is acknowledgedly entirely opposed to any self-expression, any individualism, and any freedom. It is inconceivable that South Africa could stand for that policy. If the time may ever come, which God forbid, when the Germans should be able to get outside of Europe, the Union Government is today pledged to help the British in all the British colonies, to help them in Tanganyika and Southwest Africa, or anywhere else where they may constitute a threat to the British Empire. Although we are not participating in the Empire's air scheme here it is not because we don't want to. It is because we feel it is not expedient. There would be no object for South Africa to come from a geographical location away down there to train here. We are co-operating with Great Britain in a training scheme and in South Africa we are giving facilities to the Kenya, Tanganyika and other British possessions to train in South Africa, and we are today pledged to help you. We are in the war and we are going to make the best of it. If we do not send people abroad it is not because we don't want to but because we feel it is not in the interests of Great Britain, of South Africa, and of all those who are opposed to despotism and terrorism to do so. (Applause-prolonged.)
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, we are very much indebted to Mr. Meyer today for his excellent talk and his illuminating address on the racial relations in South Africa, and we are indeed fortunate in having one who is so familiar with the conditions existing in that country to give us such a talk today. He has demonstrated, I believe, fully, the generous and broad-minded policies of the British Government in permitting countries which have come under its control to have self-government in their national interest, and how that is working out in South Africa today. It must be very gratifying to the people of South Africa that they are permitted this self-government, and we trust that they will continue, as in the past, to maintain their position in the British Commonwealth as we have been assured by Mr. Meyer today. Canada was in a somewhat similar position many years ago, and Canada, with its longer history of Confederation is an example of the happy unity of racial differences and nationalities within its boundary, although it has not that great native problem that Mr. Meyer has spoken of today.
I am sure we are all indebted to Mr. Meyer and I extend to him on your behalf our sincere appreciation and thanks for the excellent address he has given us today. (Applause)