CONDITIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA
AN ADDRESS BY HON. DR. P.R. VILJOEN, M.C.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, February 7 1946
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen--as you know, the motto of this club is "Canada and a United Empire". In an effort to promote Empire Unity, we continue to invite to our platform the senior representatives of the other units that make up our great Commonwealth. These gentlemen, through their speeches, interpret their Nations to Canada, thus creating greater understanding and good, will so necessary, not only for the Empire alone but for the world as a whole.
Two weeks ago, this club was favoured with an excellent address along these lines from the India Government Representative, Mr. M. R. Ahuja, who has kindly graced our head table again today. Another great unit of Empire, of which, like India, I feel we in Canada know all too little, is South Africa and, we are to have the good fortune of hearing today from a leading official of that country.
Our guest of honour was born in South Africa, received his early education there, finishing his schooling in England and Switzerland. He was first employed as a Bacteriologist, later becoming a Professor at the University of Pretoria, following which he held a number of government posts, including that of Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, for the Union of South Africa, which post lie occupied for 12 years.
He has a war record of considerable distinction, having served in the South African War 1901-1902, with the Boer Commandos and with the British in the 1914-1918 World War, when he won the Military Cross. During the full period of the war just ended, he was Chairman of the National Marketing Council for the Union of South Africa.
In July last, his country paid him the great honour of selecting him as their first High Commissioner, to any Dominion of the British Commonwealth.
It is indeed with great pleasure, that I now introduce to you, the Honourable Dr. P. R. Viljoen, M.C., High Commissioner in Canada for the Union of South Africa, who has chosen as the title of his address-"Conditions In South Africa".
HON. DR. P. I. VILJOEN: I have been in your great country for only a few months and as yet have seen very little of it and have had even less opportunity of meeting many of its people. I say this, because in my view it is essential for a representative of a foreign or commonwealth country to take the earliest opportunity of acquainting himself with the people and the country in which he has his temporary residence. I would have done so ere now, but under present conditions it takes a little, time to get settled down and to become acclimatized. Excepting for some years in Europe as a student, I have lived all my life in the temperate climate of South Africa where, as far as weather conditions are concerned, one can move about easily and comfortably at all times of the year, where one can play golf and tennis all the year round! For such a one, your climate is a temporary handicap which I feel sure will be removed in a short time by acclimatization. Please do not think that I am criticizing your climate-I feel sure that its advantages are far greater than its disadvantages--I mentioned this merely as an excuse for my short-comings in not having travelled further and wider and thus acclimatizing myself at an earlier stage. I very nearly did take up temporary residence in Canada many years ago! I was born in the Transvaal Republic and as a youngster fought on the Republican side during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902. To this I will come back later.
When, after only 4 years Great Britain adopted the extremely wise and statesmanlike policy of granting Responsible Govt. to the old Transvaal Republic in 1906, it gained the confidence of many ex-Republicans under the leadership of such great statesmen as Gen. Louis Botha and Field Marshall Jan Smuts! That that confidence had not been misplaced has been amply proved by subsequent events-first during the, Great War and then again in World War No. 2 when, on both occasions, the Transvaal and the rest of the Union stood firmly by Great Britain and her allies.
I have slightly wandered away from my point, but .you will see in a minutes that this was necessary. In 1908 (only 6 years after the end of the Boer war) General Botha adopted another wise policy, namely, to select a number of young South Africans (and he continued this for several years) for study overseas. He sent them to English-speaking countries, to enable them to get to know the people and to come back to their own country and pass on to their own people the knowledge gained overseas. I was among the first batch of overseas students and left home with the intention of coming to Canada. Gen. Botha, however, had other plans! Because I had fought against the British 6 years previously, he thought it wise that I should proceed to England and learn to know the English people! It didn't take me long to find out that the British people were not as black as they had been painted! And another 6 years later I took up arms with the British in World War No. 1? And what a wonderful show they put up in World War No. 2 under that great leader, Winston Churchill!
Mr. President, you may think that these remarks are of too personal a kind, but nothing can illustrate so well the remarkable historical background of my young country and people. And you will agree with me that it will be of little use my trying to tell you something about South Africa unless I work in some of the historical aspects.
South Africa is a country of wide open spaces, and we who have lived there all our lives and have travelled fairly extensively in Europe have gained the impression that by comparison it is a very large country! However, my eyes were opened as soon as I arrived in Canada and discovered that it was quite a long distance to travel from Halifax to Ottawa! and that this was a mere flea bite when one had to undertake a journey from Ottawa to Vancouver.
Our population is about the same as yours--in numbers but not in composition-namely, 10Y2 million. Of this number, only about 2% million are whites or of pure European descent, while the rest is made up of about 7% million Bantus or Blacks, Y4 million coloured or mixed blood and Y4 million Asiatics. Most of the Bantus are still very backward and uneducated when compared with European and Canadian standards; they still adhere largely to their tribal customs. Special Reserves of land have been set aside for them and there they are governed by their own Chiefs in terms of native law and customs. Normally, the men proceed to work during a portion of the year on the mines, industries, etc., and the wages so earned are used to supplement their meagre income from their small scale farming operations.
The coloured people belong to the skilled and semiskilled class of workers and about half their number are employed in the towns while the other half work on f arms.
The Asiatics or Indians were originally brought to the Union to work on sugar cane f arms, and are still largely restricted to the one Province (Natal), but not as workers on sugar cane estates; many have entered commerce as shopkeepers, others make good waiters in hotels, etc. while large numbers engage in small scale farming operations such as the production of vegetables and subtropical fruits.
Our Bantu and coloured races, therefore, fall in the poorer undeveloped class, enjoy a low standard of living and have their own food and living habits. They are therefore not big consumers of industrial products and of the kind of foodstuffs that are being produced on a large scale to supply European consumers and for export to world markets.
From all this, it can be inferred that the initiative and capital investment required for the development of the country must be looked for very largely in the relatively small European population. They are also the governing class, as by Act of Union only Europeans can be elected to Parliament and the Senate, and the franchise is largely restricted to Europeans.
Our white population is of mixed European descent, about 4010 being of British extraction and 60% of Dutch, French and Scandinavian, the Dutch predominating. Intermarriage has taken place to a considerable extent with the result that one often meets people with English names who can hardly speak any English, and vise versa. We fortunately also have a fair number of Scots who, like in so many other countries, have become leaders in commerce banking, the church, etc. Our country would certainly have been poorer without them! And I expect this is true of Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth.
From these few remarks on our population you will gather that we have to face a very difficult problem--I don't mean with our Scots friends! nor with racial differences among the European; these differences will solve themselves! I refer to the very large number of Bantus and the smaller number of coloureds and Asiatics.
It is true that for many years there has been no serious trouble between the governing European class and the native or Bantu people; this can largely be attributed to wise policy and sound administration. The natives remain very loyal and peaceful, but during recent years a problem of great social and economic importance has presented itself; it is namely this, that large numbers of uneducated natives have been moving to the towns, with their women following them in many cases. The problem is that they have moved out of peaceful rural areas away from their own tribal control into urban areas where the conditions are entirely different; where they have to fend for themselves, and where they are exposed to bad influences which they are very often not able to resist. Housing difficulties are seriously aggravated and those natives who do not find employment immediately are likely to commit criminal offences.
These natives have always been free to work where and when they like; consequently, it is not easy for the State to interfere with their movements at this stage.
This migration of natives to the cities, applies not only to residents of the Union, but also to those living in adjoining territories; obviously they are attracted to these cities by high wages and better working conditions in factories, etc.
The Union Govt. is doing all it can to meet the position and I have no 'doubt that a solution will be found; our Govt. has always taken the view that it was there to act as Trustee for the native races; in finding a solution of this problem it can therefore be relied upon to act in the best interests of the natives themselves. I mention this one problem as an illustration of the difficulties that have to be faced in a country like the Union with its mixed population. Canada and many other countries have no problem of this type.
This brings me to the Union of the 4 Provinces which took place exactly 8 years after the end of the Anglo-Boer war; Union of 2 ex-Republics with 2 British Colonies, one of which (Natal) was almost entirely English-speaking. This Union was brought about as a result of remarkable statesmanship, in spite of racial differences and bitter feeling created by the Anglo-Boer war only 8 years earlier! Ever since then there has been steady and progressive development of the resources of the 4 Provinces. We have had, and still have, our racial and other difficulties, but I doubt whether many of our citizens would be found seriously to express the desire to revert back to pre-Union days! Even those who favour a Republican form of Govt.--and there are such in the Union--do not ask for the old Republics to be re-established but for the whole Union to change its Constitution. All this only goes to show that Union of our Provinces has been a great success!
At the moment there is talk of incorporating South West Africa into the Union as a 5th Province. As this matter is now before U. N. O. Conference, I do not wish to enlarge upon it. All I need say is that ever since the Mandate over this Territory had been given to the Union, it has enjoyed all the benefits that it could from its association with the Union; it has been administered for all practical purposes as part of the Union. Moreover, a large number of its inhabitants are Union citizens.
Coming now to economic development during the past few decades, I hardly have time to go into any detail. All I can do is to refer very briefly to the main industries
A. MINERAL DEVELOPMENT
(a) Gold Mining--has undoubtedly been our mainstay in the Union ever since gold was discovered on the Rand in 1886, and even now after some of the older have been practically worked out, the value of our gold production still amounts annually to a substantial figure. Fears had been expressed for some time that some of our gold mines might peter out within a few years, but our mining people are now much more optimistic; not only are the older mines continuing in production but also new gold fields are being opened in the Orange Free State. I am sure the gold mining industry will continue for many years yet to be an enormous asset to the Union.
B. AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT:
(b) Production of Diamonds--including those for industrial use, is still of major importance and likely to continue for many years.
(c) The Union has inexhaustible deposits of coal, and during the war years enormous quantities were mined and exported to assist in the war effort.
(d) Iron ore is plentiful and during recent years a very fine steel industry has been built up.
(e) The Union is very rich in other base minerals which have hardly been explored so far. Perhaps Canada would be interested particularly in such minerals as antimony, chrome, blue asbestos, corundum, manganese, mercy and vermiculite.
Settlement in South Africa was started as an agricultural proposition, and to this clay farm production is regarded as of the utmost importance for the welfare and future development of the Union. Although the Union is not richly endowed as an agricultural country, farming interests remain predominant. Nearly every Cabinet Minister has farming interests and many prominent business people have farms to which they can retire or proceed for short periods of relaxation
The main handicap is uncertain rainfall, with the occurrence at irregular intervals of very serious droughts. During the past six months or more the Union has experienced one of the worst droughts in living memory, resulting in enormous stock losses and hardship among large groups of people. The Union intended supplying huge quantities of food to Britain and the starving millions in Europe, but this drought has seriously interfered with that.
Like in so many younger countries, the Union has, by wrong farming methods and exploitation of its soil suffered serious losses from soil erosion, but the Govt. is taking drastic measures to remedy this state of affairs. In the interim between the two great wars, the Union concentrated on the production of certain products for the export market, but it is now realized that it would be far better to concentrate on the production of foodstuffs for its internal market, particularly those of protective value for its own people. Food habits which vary enormously among our population groups are difficult to change, but it is realised that a serious attempt must be made to improve the health of the people, particularly the native and coloured races. The Union will continue to produce for export such products as wool, hides and skins, fresh, dried and canned fruits, as well as sugar, wines and brandies. I feel sure that the Canadian market can absorb a great dual of these, but I do not wish to discuss that today.
C. INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT:
Up to World War I, South Africa had few manufacturing industries worth talking about. Since World War I, and especially during World War II, extensive development has taken place, and this is likely to continue. This development was of great value to the war effort, and at one stage the Union was spoken of as the Repair shop for the Middle East! It is realized that this development is of the utmost importance to the future welfare of the Union. At its recent Conference at Quebec, the F. A. O. of the United Nations strongly emphasized the fact that agricultural production and industrial development must go hand in hand; this policy has been endorsed and is being carried out by the Union Govt. Not only will industries assist to counteract unemployment, but they will create increased consumer demand for our agricultural products.
D. TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS:
No country can develop its resources unless adequate provision is made for communications and transportation of its people and the goods they produce or require to import for their own use. In the Union we are not blessed, like Canada, with its wonderful waterways. We have to rely on road or rail transportation, and as far as overseas communications are concerned, we have had to use the ships of overseas countries; but we have provided excellent port and harbour facilities at all our main ports; one of the world's largest graving docks has now been completed at Cape Town.
In our country all railroads and harbour facilities are state owned and controlled by our Department of Transport; in addition, large fleets of motor lorries are owned and used as feeder services by the Railway Administration.
An extensive Air Service is also operated by our Transport Dept.; weekly air-services (to be converted later into a daily service) already operate between the Union and England; in addition, all long distance air travel within the Union and other parts of Africa is controlled by the State. I was pleased to see that direct air travel to North America has been arranged with the United States authorities.
I hope that before very long travel facilities will be such that many Canadians will be able to visit the Union. Needless to say, they will receive a warm welcome.
UNION'S WAR EFFORT
In view of the magnificent part played by Canada in the war, I cannot avoid saying a few words about the Union's effort. The first achievement was on the part of our great leader, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, who at the outbreak of war opposed a motion of neutrality in our Parliament, and succeeded in gaining a majority to declare war against Germany.
The second achievement was to organize an armed force from practically nothing and to manufacture the necessary war materials by converting peacetime factories for this purpose.
Purely by voluntary recruiting the Union was able to despatch substantial armed forces to East and North Africa and finally to Italy. By voluntary recruitment about 10% of the European population joined the forces, and this achievement is probably as good as that of any other country.
When the Mediterranean was closed, South Africa became of the utmost importance to the Allied Forces, as thousands of ships on the way to the Middle East and Asia had to call at our ports for provisions, repairs, etc. One shudders to think what would have happened if this southern route had been closed! Besides becoming a repair shop for the Middle East, feeding of the troops passing through our ports and provisioning the ships both for the forward and return voyages, was a tremendous undertaking! It can now be revealed that, during the years 1940 to 1944, 1,182,000 troops had to be dealt with at our ports. Needless to say, it was a serious drain on the food supplies of the Union, and at times the civilian population had to go short. But all this had been worthwhile, and the Union is proud of its achievements
Coming now to post-war developments, I can be very brief
(a) Our first task was to look after our returned soldiers. For this purpose, a special Department of Demobilization was set up. As happened elsewhere, we had great difficulty, mostly connected with transportation, to get our soldiers back as early as possible. Delays and consequent dissatisfaction among veterans have unfortunately occurred, but everything is now going more smoothly. I cannot go into details of what we are doing for our veterans, excepting to state that our country owes them a great debt of gratitude and is doing everything possible to get them suitably settled in civilian occupations. Those who want further training are assisted to attend Universities, Agricultural and Technical Colleges; they receive preference in appointments to civil service posts; those who are suitably qualified and want to go farming are given plots of land under irrigation. In spite of housing shortages, demobilization is now proceeding fairly smoothly, and there can be no doubt that all veterans will be suitably placed within a very short time.
(b) This brings me to the serious housing problem which appears to be world wide. Owing to shortage of building materials, very little building (except for military purposes) took place during the war, with the result that the housing problem has become most acute. Special steps are being taken by the Union Govt. to expedite the construction of houses, and local authorities are being assisted financially and otherwise to carry out housing schemes.
Our Ministry of Health has been specially charged to look after this important matter, but shortage of skilled workers and building material is hampering operations.
(c) Our Health Services are to be greatly improved, and the Union Govt. are at the moment considering recommendations by a Royal Commission to provide free medical services and hospitalization to all citizens, including the Bantu races.
(d) Improved nutrition for the whole population, but, especially for the lower income groups and the black and coloured races is one of the important post-war targets. There exists a great deal of malnutrition among sections of the population, partly due to ignorance, incorrect food habits and mal-distribution of food supplies--all faults that must be corrected, but that will require time and patience to achieve.
In this connection, I may mention a novel form of National War Memorial now under consideration in the Union. Instead of having a "dead" memorial, the Union is contemplating a "living" monument in the form of a "Health Foundation", to the costs of which the whole nation will be asked to subscribe. Its purpose will be the establishment of a Nutritional Research Institute for the investigation of nutritional standards, especially among the groups previously referred to, for the education of all sections of the population in sound food habits, for the institution of scholarships for research in all fields relating to the promotion of health and prevention of disease, for the training of personnel for the national health service, and in support of any other projects having for their object the promotion of the health of the people. A truly wonderful National War Memorial-one that should bring untold benefits to the population of the Union!
(e) To improve the nutrition of the people, food of the right kind and in sufficient quantity has to be provided. In order to do this, our whole agricultural policy has to be changed; instead of producing for export, we will have to concentrate on the production of protective foods to meet the nutritional requirements of our own people in the first instance. Furthermore, our farming systems will have to be changed in such a way as to protect the fertility of our land and to counteract the evils of soil erosion. Measures for the conservation of our soil and water resources will cost millions of pounds, but it is a task the Union Govt. is determined to carry through.
(f) I have already referred to our manufacturing industries, and can only repeat that the Union Govt. is fully alive to their importance in stabilizing our national economy. Every assistance will be given to the expansion of existing industries and the establishment of new ones, provided always that they are run efficiently and fit into the general scheme of striking a proper balance between primary and secondary industries.
(g) Our Prime Minister has recently placed a great deal of emphasis on the urgent need of increasing our European population by immigration, and this will be actively followed up as soon as our war veterans have become properly established. Meanwhile, a scheme of assisting refugee orphans is under way.
There is no doubt that for the proper development of the resources of the Union an increased European population is of the utmost importance.
Mr. President, and Gentlemen, this brings me to the end of a rather long, disjointed story; I trust that I have not bored too many of you, and that my efforts in telling you something of the Union may prove to be of some interest and value to some of you. My remarks had necessarily to cover a wide field, and I hope you will forgive me if I made it too wide. I am extremely grateful to you and members of your Society for giving me this opportunity to tell you something about my own country, and above all, to meet such a representative gathering of Canadians. The people of the Union have the greatest respect and regard for the people of Canada. If I have succeeded in conveying this message of good-will and contributed in a small way to cement the friendship and goodwill existing between our two great countries, my visit to Toronto will have been more than worthwhile. I conclude, Mr. President, by thanking you most sincerely for your kindly reception of me, and by wishing you all the best of luck.