Conditions in South Africa
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Oct 1909, p. 22-29
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Fitzpatrick, Sir J. Percy, Speaker
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Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
Acknowledgement and gratitude for the help given to South Africa in the War and in the subsequent period of the reconstruction. The history of South Africa with a steady conflict between two ideals. Putting the case before us without prejudice. One side with the aim at having a Dutch republic in South Africa in which there would be racial dominance; the other side aimed at the Empire, the flag, equality. A struggle which is 100 years old, but on the part of the Dutch settlers even older than that. A review of events leading up to the war. The signing of peace on the 31st of May, seven years ago. An account of the Union in South Africa. The British party policy to try to act as trustees of British institutions. Difficulties involved in acting fairly and seeing straight. Facing the settlement with the Dutch. The issue of language. The sort of magnetic current that runs through the Empire that tells the outlying parts that the existence of the whole structure is at stake. The importance of British policy in South Africa for the rest of the Empire. The complete self-government which the Dutch know they have got.
Date of Original
22 Oct 1909
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English
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Full Text
CONDITIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA.
An Address by SIR J. PERCY FITZPATRICK, M.L.A., Of Pretoria, Transvaal, before the Empire Club of Canada, on October 22, 1909--Dr. Elias Clouse, President, in the Chair, and His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario (Colonel J. M. Gibson), Sir John Hanbury-Williams, A.D.C. to the GovernorGeneral, and Sir J. P. Whitney, Premier of Ontario, also present.

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

Please accept my sincere thanks for the very kind reception you have given to me. It is quite impossible for a South African to rise before a Canadian audience without first speaking for South Africa in acknowledgment and gratitude for the help that you gave us, not only in the War when you sent of your kith and kin, but in the subsequent period of the reconstruction. Many of your men died there, but they are not lost to you or to us. You can believe me that they are more eloquent preachers of a great doctrine than any of us who live can be. In the reconstruction we had the benefit and help from your men of a high example and, coming from South Africa, I would like to tell you that there is no part of the whole world whose reputation stands higher than that of Canada, as made by Canadians in South Africa.

Now I am compelled to a large extent to act upon the assumption that you do not know very much about the history of South Africa. I know how little our people know about Canada. Very probably your keen and immediate interests, your greater personal interests, date from the War. I would like to say a word or two about that. This trouble which began, as far as you know, ten years ago on the eleventh of this month, is one hundred years old and more. The real history of South Africa is that there has been a steady conflict between two ideals. I am a partisan, of course. I represent the British party. I have always done so; I shall always do so; but I hope it will be possible for me to put the case before you without prejudice; with justice to the other side; and in doing so I would like to say that from the start to the finish, their ideal and aim has been a perfectly legitimate and honourable one. It was in conflict with ours. It was our duty to resist it to the last, but it is not fair for us to say that their's was not an honourable aim. They aimed at having a Dutch republic in South Africa in which there would be racial dominance. We aimed at the Empire; the flag; equality.

Now, the struggle is one hundred years old, but on the part of the Dutch settlers it is even older than that, because they had trouble with their own East India Company. They wanted self-government; wanted to be left alone to work out their own salvation. They faced the most tremendous hardships and you cannot but feel sympathy with those pioneer people; but the conditions of the country, the conditions of the age, altering as they went along, made it impossible that their ideals should become practicable. The responsibility was England's. The policy of England was a broad-minded, fair one. The British Government very often were mistaken in details; very often they vacillated, and misled the people. I do not blame the successive Governments for that, because you have to know the conditions to realize the difficulties with which they had to contend. But there had to be but one flag, one government; for all my lifetime and the lifetime of many others we have known, though we may not have spoken about it, that the shadow of the sword was over us and that this question had to be settled some day; and as we went on, it became more and more clear that the only way to settle it was by war. They knew it as well as we knew it. Attempts were made to avoid that solution, but they failed. I could take you back through history and show the many attempts that have been made by men like Sir George Grey and by Cecil Rhodes who tried it, until, as he said to me himself, "I came up against a stone wall."

When you touched racial dominance, when you wanted equality all through South Africa according to principles of British policy; there you came up against the national ideal--the other ideal which was irreconcilable with ours. When a leader rose among the Dutch who commanded their respect and their confidence, and who knew his own mind, and had the dour courage to stick to his policy through thick and thin--President Kruger--things took on a very active and menacing form. The retrocession of the Transvaal after the first War was the first triumphant result for them. And so it marched on. You have heard about the Jameson Raid. I was one of those who "did time" for their convictions. So I suppose I may be allowed to speak about that now. That was not the cause of the War. It was only a symptom and a product of existing conditions. It was not the only raid. President Kruger himself was a raider. He raided the Free State, and ought to have been sentenced to death according to the law, but they fined him seventeen pound, ten, and then remitted the fine. They were always raiding each other, so good nature was not only a good thing, but a wise policy.

There were other raids, north, south, east, and west, through the Transvaal. They were all the result of the conditions; they were all attempts to carry out that policy. Some of them were successful, some partly successful. The War, in my judgment, became inevitable when in addition to one leader on one side who knew his own mind, there arose another on the other side who also knew his mind, and was filled with determination. Rhodes made his trial and failed. After that, there came a man who made no mistakes; that was Lord Milner. I can tell you of my own personal knowledge that his first most earnest, most sustained effort, was to get a settlement by peaceful means. He said to me that anyone could settle it by war, but to settle it by peaceful means would be one of the greatest triumphs of the age; that, he tried for. In that he failed, as others had failed. There was only one solution--we had to have it out. They will tell you the same today as I am telling you. They told me the same before the War. There could not be two masters in South Africa.

Looking back, you find two stages, two ideals--and of these the first was the Dutch republic and racial dominance. It had its opportunities from 1890 to 1899. There were 19 years in which it had a practical working trial. You cannot say it was a success. There was everything for one race, nothing for anyone else. All the work was done by one; all the prosperity was the result of one--the British. All the powers, all the privileges, were in the other hands. The War came. Instead of exacting tribute; instead of pursuing the policy of the spoils of the conqueror, as others have done; the ideal or policy which has made the British Empire and made it great was given a practical working trial for the second time,because that policy had already been in operation in Natal and in Cape Colony; so generously in operation that in Cape Colony the Dutch had much greater privileges of representation, more power per head, than the British. But across the border in the Republics the British had none. The second practical working trial of the British ideal--equality--came after the war in the Transvaal when our representation was on a fixed basis--so many voters to return a member; no power in the Legislature to alter constituencies, to gerrymander, to favour one party, one race, one religion-nothing of that sort in the constitution--so many voters to return a member, wherever those voters should be--that was equality. We have had two years of that.

Now you, from your interest, from your sense of partnership in South Africa, which dates from the War, must have felt uneasy when you saw that country practically handed back to those who had failed to win it with the rifle. Well, it has not gone so badly. We have had a very hard struggle, but the mere fact that equal treatment was given to Dutch and British alike, and that that was insured in the Transvaal, sobered those who had the power. It also gave us the assurance that there was fair play. If we are in the minority we must take it as part of the game. It is no good grumbling. We asked for equal rights and fair treatment, and if we are left in the minority, we are satisfied with the principle, though perhaps not with the result.

When it came to Union, our opportunity, our problem, was this--whether we who had believed in the union of South Africa, when we were in power, should turn around and say that we did not believe in it when the Dutch came into power; because they were in power in three self-governing Colonies out of the four. We stood to our principles and we said: "What we do want is that the principle of equality under the British Flag, which we have contended for in the Transvaal shall be extended throughout the whole of South Africa"--and that was the point upon which we stood through thick and thin, and we have carried it. They were two to one against us. We could not have carried it by a voting strength. We carried it for many reasons, but to be fair, it is the real justice, the working results of that, the position, the status, the record, the history, the prestige--everything that makes up the British Empire--that spoke for us. Though in Britain's power to make any sort of settlement, an Alsace-Lorraine settlement, for instance, no distinction was actually made between friend and foe; picked up as soon as knocked down, started afresh, repatriation, Opposition help to the late enemies, everything that could be done--in one second, on the signing of peace on the 31st of May, seven years ago, those people were transformed from enemies into fellow-subjects, people to be helped, and they were helped. Of course it made an impression. You cannot expect them to turn around and advertise their gratitude. They don't. There had been many trying things said and done, but that policy has been justified by its results; that policy of helping them and of treating them fairly after their defeat has been justified by results. There can be no manner of doubt at all as to that.

I know that this subject is so big that I really have strayed quite off the lines that I ought to have followed in giving some account of the Union in South Africa, and already twenty minutes have gone. But the difficulty is to know what to leave out. When one has been for a year dealing with nothing else, there are all sorts of things that seem interesting and important. Our policy, if I may take it quite broadly, as a British party, was to try as well as we could to act as trustees of British institutions--and, mind you, we were suffering because we were in a minority. We had other grievances which I am not going to advertise to you today, which made it difficult for us to act fairly and see straight. We may have failed in some ways, but in the main, we have risen to the occasion, and history will justify us. And we did try honestly to look upon ourselves as trustees of the British cause rather than as individuals who had a grievance and felt hurt.

In pursuing that policy we had to face the settlement with the Dutch. We went to them in the Transvaal before we met formally in Convention and put it to them. I put it to General Botha myself--If we don't agree in the Transvaal, there will be no union. The Transvaal being the one prosperous colony and practically having the "yes" or "no" say; each party strong enough to block the other; each unable to carry against the other; we had to come to terms, and if we came to terms we would set such an example that the whole of South Africa would be inspired. We threshed it out for several weeks and we came to those terms, and I am glad to be able to say that eight Delegates from the Transvaal, throughout practically nine months of discussion, were never once broken in their agreement. We recognized the difficulties, the feelings, the reasonable claims, the susceptibilities of each other, and that was what led us to make a settlement which no doubt will interest you in Canada much more largely than some of the other points--that is, on the language. I make no pretence about this language business. I have always dealt with it in the same way, with Dutch and English audiences. If it were possible anywhere to have one language for one people, have it, of course--if it is possible. If you could have one language among the civilized people of the world, the risks of misunderstanding, the chances of war, would be reduced almost to a vanishing point. It stands to reason that two languages set up a barrier, but, (and this is the big but), where you have half the people speaking one language, and half the people speaking the other, you may have the power to rule out a language, to stamp it out, to legislate it out, but you will never have the power to move it out of the hearts and homes of the people, and you will never be able to remove the impression that you have humiliated them, and have put the brand of inferiority upon their nationality.

I speak strongly. I was the warmest advocate of the dual language in South Africa, notwithstanding holding the strongest convictions that one language was desirable. I have, I hope made it clear to you. If we had had the power to vote it down, what would the result be? When you touch a man's language, you touch his nationality, you put the badge of inferiority upon his race, whether you mean it or not. It is so construed amongst a people who are not educated. They can see nothing else but your branding of the race. They are not constituted as you in this room are constituted, able to distinguish, and able to see the great advantages, the superiority, of having one language as a commercial asset, or one instrument over another. They cannot see that. They say, "No it would be interpreted as a desire on the part of the British to stamp out the Dutch people," and we said, "No, that we cannot risk." And when they put to us the test question on which we were to break down--language--and said, "What are you going to do about that--equal rights?" our answer was, "We have claimed equal rights, and we have meant equal rights." You see, we have really tried, for the second time in the Transvaal, but for the first time throughout the whole of South Africa, to establish the working of the British ideal--equal rights.

You see what I mean. For a hundred years there had been direct conflict. One or the other had to win. Either it was to be a Dutch republic in which there would be preference for the Dutch over all comers, or it was to be a part of the British Empire.

There was an instinct which is most remarkable and most heartening, displayed at the time of the War. I do not know how you got to understand it, because our case was never properly stated before the War. We were most misrepresented; very little was known of the true conditions. You were busy building up your country; we were busy at ours; Australia busy at theirs. What sort of magnetic current runs through the Empire that tells the outlying parts that the existence of the whole structure is at stake, I cannot say. From every part of the Empire came the same feeling. Men rose up; they didn't say much, and we watched breathlessly to see what would happen. We knew that the existence of the Empire was at stake that day, when they had to choose whether they would break down before the ultimatum, or whether, at all costs, they would fight it out.

We knew, and so did the sister Colonies. They were watching silently the old Empire, and the old Empire played up all right, and I can tell you you have no conception of the trial that it was to us. We knew that if the British policy failed in South Africa the dismembership of the British Empire would begin from that minute. If the system broke down in that test, it would break down later on elsewhere. It has survived, and I do believe that it is vastly stronger today than it ever was. I tell you from my own knowledge of our late opponents, that many of them are firstclass fellows. You know from meeting them in the field what good fighters they are. Many of you have some knowledge of their history--what a hard time they have had there. They are really first-class people, first-class material. With education, it will be still more evident, but today, their leaders know, though they won't tell you, that it would have been a misfortune to have won, because they would still have had to face the world powers on the coast. They could do nothing in South Africa on the seas. The Cape is still the highway to India. They may cut canals where they like, but in war, the canals would not be worth anything. Had they succeeded in expelling the British power from South Africa, they would have had to deal with another power on the sea.

Today, the Dutch know from experience that they have got complete self-government; they have got clean government; they have got security, which they never had before; and for the first time in living memory, they have assured peace between the white races. The shadow of the sword, which has been over us all my lifetime, and that of others before me, is gone. The question is settled, and they can see, as we can see, that having accepted a basis of equal rights they have self-government, as generous, as complete, as can be given.

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Conditions in South Africa


Acknowledgement and gratitude for the help given to South Africa in the War and in the subsequent period of the reconstruction. The history of South Africa with a steady conflict between two ideals. Putting the case before us without prejudice. One side with the aim at having a Dutch republic in South Africa in which there would be racial dominance; the other side aimed at the Empire, the flag, equality. A struggle which is 100 years old, but on the part of the Dutch settlers even older than that. A review of events leading up to the war. The signing of peace on the 31st of May, seven years ago. An account of the Union in South Africa. The British party policy to try to act as trustees of British institutions. Difficulties involved in acting fairly and seeing straight. Facing the settlement with the Dutch. The issue of language. The sort of magnetic current that runs through the Empire that tells the outlying parts that the existence of the whole structure is at stake. The importance of British policy in South Africa for the rest of the Empire. The complete self-government which the Dutch know they have got.