A Canadian Looks at South Africa
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Jan 1956, p. 179-188
Description
Speaker
Gilmour, Dr. George P., Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
Reserving judgment on another nation's problems until we better understand them. A description of South Africa. History of the Afrikaner. The English-speaking settlement. The diverse groups who make up the population of South Africa. Parallels between Canadians and South Africans.: bilingualism and biculturalism; the treatment on the part of the whites of the aborigines and Africans and Canada's of the aboriginal peoples; a third parallel of some interest between the western migration on this continent and the north-eastern migration from the Cape to the Transvaal; parallels in missionary work in the North American evangelizing of the Negro and the less successful evangelizing of the Red Indian; Our rather haphazard political life in this country and the political situation in South Africa. A brief discussion of each parallel. South Africa's cry for a republic, possibly outside the Commonwealth is seen by the speaker as yet another parallel with a difference. The fact that it is easier to condemn than to see why something exists. The distaste with which outsiders view South Africa. The possibility that economic forces will bring a solution that doctrinaire policies cannot because the industrialization of the country has made the policy of apartheid completely impossible and impracticable so far as separation territorially is concerned. The impossibility of prophesizing.
Date of Original
26 Jan 1956
Subject(s)
Language of Item
English
Copyright Statement
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Full Text
"A CANADIAN LOOKS AT SOUTH AFRICA"
An Address by DR. GEORGE P. GILMOUR President of McMaster University, Hamilton
Thursday, January 26th, 1956
CHAIRMAN: The President, Dr. C. C. Goldring.

DR. C. C. GOLDRING: The first article in "The Atlantic" last month was entitled, "Tropical Africa," and its first paragraph read as follows:

"Africa is in ferment. From the north, where the fires of Arab irredentism are raging, to the far south, where arrogant but uneasy `white' supremacy holds sway; from the tropical west coast, where new `black' nations, independent within the British Commonwealth, are emerging, across to the east to Kenya, where barbarism and civilization have been locked in bloody conflict, the whole continent is astir."

Today, we have as our guest Dr. George Gilmour, who spent some time in Africa recently. He, as a fellowCanadian, will tell us some of his impressions and experiences in South Africa. Dr. Gilmour is well known as President of McMaster University, Hamilton. He has been identified with McMaster since 1929. In addition, he is recognized as one of Canada's outstanding public speakers. He is a national leader of the Baptist Church and served as a Baptist minister for some years.

In addition to travelling throughout Canada, the United States, and the British Isles, Dr. Gilmour had an extensive trip in India a few years ago. With his wide experience and a record of leadership in several fields of human endeavour, he is particularly well qualified to talk to a Canadian audience on subject "A Canadian looks at South Africa."

It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Gilmour to this meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and I am sure that both those present and those who hear him over the air will follow his address with keen interest.

DR. GILMOUR: No traveller to a foreign country, particularly if it is a troubled one, has the right to make easy pronouncements on its problems, especially if he has spent only a few weeks in it. But he can, by means of diligent reading and by talking with people who have a right to an opinion, gather some impressions and can at least attempt to analyze and interpret problems that are too big to be handled by any single observer or solved by any single reformer. In our turn, we would resent the words of any visitor to Canada who, on the basis of a few weeks in Canada, presumed to suggest solutions for the problems of French-speaking and English-speaking Canadian relations, immigration policies, Canadian-born babies and other things. Also, it is important that a Canadian, seeing a serious color problem abroad, recalls that we have almost no such problem here and that we do not always behave well in the face of the small problem that exists. Ontario does not want to be judged by Dresden and people in South Africa do not want to be judged by Johannesburg. Let us understand and reserve judgment.

South Africa, is about one-sixth the size of the United States, Cape Province being slightly larger than Texas. One-sixth of the United States would be about one-seventh of Canada. Since so much of Canada is not arable land, such comparisons are of little value, but South Africa is even less well endowed than we are. Eighty-five percent of South African territory is not arable. But when you have a land with the growing population of South Africa and the fifteen percent of arable land is relatively poor and easily eroded, it is plain that there is a fundamental physical problem quite apart from the explosive human problem that goes with it. Africa, throughout the whole continent, is the most explosive part of the earth's surface today. It is engaged in a race between chaos and communism on the one hand and settled order on the other. Anyone touching the continent from top to bottom at Suez, Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika and the Union of South Africa, as I have recently done, is conscious that every part of the continent presents problems, the solution for which is hard to see. But no part of the continent arouses more world interest than does the Union of South Africa, where many people feel that the race between chaos and order may give rise to rebellion and civil disturbance.

Africa as a whole has never known permanent European settlement until relatively recent times. Nor has it ever had a high civilization of its own nor a democratic tradition in society. Yet in the Union of South Africa all three of those things are being attempted. Men are determined to make it white man's country, the permanent home of people whose homelands were in Europe. They are attempting to introduce a high civilization, to bring Western industrial methods in mining, in agriculture and in manufacturing. They are hopeful of bringing a democratic tradition to bear in a territory where history does not encourage that experiment and where many "Europeans" do not think of democracy in our sense of responsible government. If we feel that South Africans are not doing as well as we think we are doing, we must remember that their continent has the three fold disadvantage I have mentioned.

The population tells a story that is interesting and a little frightening. Out of a population that recent figures put at about thirteen millions, there are two and three quarter million people called Europeans. Anyone with a white skin is a "European." Of these two and three quarter million Europeans about sixty per cent are Afrikaners, people whose vernacular is Afrikaans and who descended from the original and later settlements of Dutch people, French Huguenots, Germans and other groups. The remaining forty per cent are of British descent. Because of fairly widespread intermarriage such statistics cannot be exact.

The Afrikaner traces his possession of parts of the country through three centuries, back to 1652 when the Dutch East India Company set up a "tavern of the seas," a refreshment and re-victualling point, at what is now Cape Town. For three centuries people with that blood in their veins have felt that this is their homeland and they feel it so deeply that they suspect other people of not regarding South Africa as home. They feel that some of the English-speaking people could always escape and go back to what they call "home," whereas the Afrikaner has no other home to go to.

The English-speaking settlement dates chiefly from about 1820, when through Port Elizabeth there came the "1820 settlers," a term still current in South Africa. These people came in after the Napoleonic wars, when Great Britain permanently took possession of South African territory. They have had a century and a quarter of immigration and settlement, but they came just in time to inherit a host of problems. These would have arisen anyway, but the coincidence of English settlement and these problems has been a grave handicap. Every one of those problems has been handled somewhat disastrously and the English-speaking minority has been largely saddled with the blame, the jealousy and the hatred that have grown up. They have not been blameless, but they certainly should not be made into scapegoats.

Surrounding and interpenetrating the land occupied by these two and three quarter million Europeans are eight and three quarter million "natives," who are_ Bantu (not Negroes but Bantu) and aboriginals. Such figures are meaningless to us until we put them into terms of our own situation. If in Canada our fifteen million white population was surrounded by sixty million North American Indians who were encroaching on this campus, squatting at the back of your farm or cottage, creeping in here and there because they had no place else to go, we would know what the problem is. If in the United States there were six hundred million Negroes, people of African descent, in proportion to one hundred and fifty million white people, we would feel the problem keenly. These eight and three quarter million natives are mostly of Bantu blood and language. I shall not have time to speak about their settlement and their reserves, but in all fairness it should be known that these tribes were not there when white settlement began. The Bantu is almost as much a recent immigrant as is the European.

In addition there are about one million called "colored," a curious phrase not so used on this continent. These are people of mixed blood, including a large community of Malayans (who are Moslem in religion and do not mix with the others) and many other people with mingled Bantu and white blood, Hottentot and Bushman blood, with probably a dash of Chinese here and there. Concentrated mostly in Cape Province, they have until the last few years enjoyed relatively good political status even though their economic status has been precarious. Many of them have had the franchise which the present government plans to take away or displace with a less dignified privilege.

In addition to the Europeans, the eight and three quarter million natives (in South Africa you even speak of "foreign natives" to describe the blacks who come into South Africa to work from Mozambique, Basutoland and other places) and the one million coloured, there are three hundred and eighty-five thousand Asiatics, almost all of whom are from India. Nearly all of these are settled in the Province of Natal, near the city of Durban. They were brought in after the 1860's as laborers on the sugar plantations because the Zulu, according to his cherished philosophy of life, preferred to sit in the sun rather than work hard producing sugar. The urge of the white man to get things done, or to induce others to do them, has led to the suggestion that the native in South Africa feels that baboons could talk if they wanted to, but do not because, if they let the white man know, he would set them to work. These Indians, brought in as indentured labor, were permitted to stay and settle. Most of them have remained, their community has grown, their numbers are multiplying and they are today one of the fever spots of the South African scene. If you recall the riots in Durban in 1949, you will know how explosive that condition can be, with mutual jealousy between natives and Indians and between natives, Indians and whites, and charges of exploitation and suppression.

The peoples of South Africa are divided racially in the proportions mentioned. But they are also divided socially, economically and politically. It is difficult to say whether certain steps taken to solve the problems are in the right direction or in the wrong direction. Outsiders have the sad feeling, which is shared by liberal minded people in South Africa, that every step recently taken has been a step away from rather than toward a desirable goal.

The first parallel between ourselves and South Africa is that, as Lord Durham said about us a century ago, "two races are at war in the bosom of a single state." But with us in Canada, the French-speaking Canadian and the English-speaking Canadian do not mingle at every turn because we are separated by geography and by a religious and cultural bar. This means that we can to a large extent mind our own business. We have difficulty enough in Canada, but it is not daily at our doors. In South Africa, the condition is that of two races constantly rubbing shoulders everywhere. Circumstances now lead to aggravation of the problem of bi-lingualism and racial difference.

In South Africa, bi-lingualism is much more common than in Canada for several reasons. One is that Afrikaans is an easier language for an English tongue to get around. Another is that there are bi-lingual schools and the attempt is being made to ease inter-racial tension by having instruction in certain schools in both languages. There are figures to show that in such schools the tension between the Afrikaner and the Englishman is less than in schools that are completely Afrikaans-speaking or completely English-speaking. Bi-lingualism is more highly advanced with them than with us.

The second parallel is that between the treatment on the part of the whites of the aborigines and Africans. I separate the term because in South Africa the aboringines who were there when the white man came to the Cape were not the Bantu who drifted down from the north and entered the Transvaal, the East Cape and Natal much later. The Cape aborigines were Bushmen and Hottentots. The Bushmen were slaughtered, only a few of them now surviving in reserves in the Kalahari Desert. The Hottentots have also practically disappeared, but because of intermarriage their blood continues in the coloreds. But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a new type of native tribe migrated slowly from the great lakes of Central Africa, so that Bantu, Xhosa, Zulu tribes and others met the white man as he trekked east and north from the Cape. This is why the European resents the suggestion that he displaced anybody in the Great Trek. He feels that he simply withstood a rival immigration that is still going on.

Let us remember, when from North America we look with disapproval on the treatment of natives in South Africa, that we in Canada solved our aboriginal problem largely by never having one. The Spaniards did the dirty work centuries ago and the story of the slaughter of Indians in the Americas is no less a grim one because it happened long ago. Anyone who reads John Collier's story of the Indians in America is heartily ashamed of what was done well into the nineteenth century. No wonder the South African dislikes us for pointing at him now. He may be seventeenth-century man trying to live in the twentieth century, but at least he is like we were then. As for the African population of this continent, it is only within the last few years that the United States has begun successfully to handle the problem of segregation and the matter of schools in the United States is still far from settled. If South Africa is half a century behind, who shall blame her? And who will say that we, in the same position, would, except for a minority of enlightened spirits' do much better.

A third parallel of some interest is that between the western migration on this continent and the north-eastern migration from the Cape to the Transvaal. But there is this great difference, that the western trek in the United States and Canada, which actually involved far more people than did the Great Trek in South Africa, has left here a heritage of mirth and romance whereas there the .heritage has been one of hatred and distrust. Here we have glossed over the difficulties and lawlessness of our western migration by idealizing the outlaw, whom no one in his senses really admires, and making him a two-dimensional figure of mirth and romance. We have forgotten that, when these people and the cowboys fought against the sod-busters, they were defying the law by trying to be cattlemen on land authorized for ploughing. Somehow, our Great Trek has left almost no bitter memories whereas in South Africa the Great Trek has left memories of ingrained distrust and hatred. The raising up of a tremendous monument to the trekkers in Pretoria a few years ago was the occasion not of bringing people together but of hardening the distrust of the Afrikaner for the Englishman. Perhaps the difference is that North American migrants expected government to catch up with them, while the African trekker intended that no government, least of all a foreign one, should ever extend its rule to his land.

We have had parallels in missionary work in the North American evangelizing of the Negro and the less successful evangelizing of the Red Indian. There are parallels in school problems and work problems. I cannot explore these, but I remind myself that on this continent the Indian and the African are still expected to take the lowest seat in the synagogue. In South Africa, work is a problem of the most savage intensity. Whereas on this continent the unskilled labourer is paid fifty to sixty percent of the wages of skilled labour, in South Africa his wages are less than twenty per cent of that of skilled labour. Even unskilled work has two wage scales. The native who is doing servile labour of the land and in the mines is being paid a pittance in comparison with what is paid to the "poor whites," those tragic misfits who constitute still another of South Africa's many problems.

Of this problem of the poor white I have no time to speak, but we know that a similar problem was entangled in the roots of the American Civil War. Nor does space permit any discussion of fringe territories. There is a parallel, but not a similarity between our border problems and theirs. The Alaska panhandle could be a sore subject, but it would not have the soreness of the problem of South West Africa, Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland. North America has seen a strong people take over fringe territories for purposes of exploitation and self-protection. Then there is the parallel of the growth of loyalty to one's land rather than to that of one's ancestors. Canada's growing loyalty to itself has developed painlessly, but the Afrikaner's loyalty to his land makes him unable to feel that an Englishman can ever call Africa his real home. This is a bitter topic and affects the Afrikaner's hope for a republic. This, and the problem of federal-provincial rights, I shall not touch on further, but we know something of provincial jealousy of federal authority in Canada.

One other parallel, however, must be briefly noted because of the strong contrast it offers. It is that between our rather haphazard political life in this country and the political situation in South Africa. In both places there are party rivalries, but in Canada we are not naturally doctrinaire in our politics. The only really doctrinaire party in Canada has never come to power federally. But in South Africa the situation has developed, after forty years of balance and compromise and co-operation, that for the first time a single party has complete control of the federal power. That Nationalist Party is extremely doctrinaire. It is governed by ideology rather than by a pragmatic approach and it evidently intends to make it almost impossible for any other party to put it out of office. There is a real threat in this to the idea of parliamentary government. The result to date is that many acknowledge that this party has now completely reversed the military decision of 1901. As a matter of doctrine, it is opposed to equality in church and state and also to what it calls imperialism. Hence the cry for a republic, possibly outside the Commonwealth.

But even in this I see a parallel with a difference. We in Canada have a convenient republic to the south and hundreds of thousands of Canadians have not cared deeply enough for the Commonwealth connection to stay in Canada and pay the price of developing it. These people have passed painlessly and profitably across the American border to become republicans and many have said that they were justified in doing so. But the South African has nowhere to go. He has only Southern Rhodesia on his northern border and it scarcely compares with the United States as a place for economic betterment. If he wants to have a republic, he must make one, and there are many Canadian families who cannot afford to be too high-toned in their comment. However, there is reason to doubt that republicanism will be pressed as an issue in South Africa at present, now that the right to form a republic and even to leave the Commonwealth seems to be clear. It may not go farther than that because to take South Africa out of the Commonwealth now would create problems of capital investments and of national defence (especially naval) so great that any government, however doctrinaire, would hesitate to precipitate them.

There is, unfortunately, in the Nationalist Government not a little anti-semitism. There is also a tendency to override provincial rights and Cape Province, which is very jealous of the entrenched clauses put at its insistence into the Union agreement of 1910, finds itself today faced with the possibility of losing much of its provincial autonomy.

It is easier to condemn all this than to see why it exists. Until we see why it exists, our condemnation is too easy. But there can be no doubt that outsiders view the place with distaste; the investing world views it with some distrust; and many a forward-looking European within its borders views his homeland with sorrow and some fear. It may be that economic forces will bring a solution that doctrinaire policies cannot bring because the industrialization of the country has made the policy of apartheid completely impossible and impracticable so far as separation territorially is concerned. But of that no man can prophesy.

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A Canadian Looks at South Africa


Reserving judgment on another nation's problems until we better understand them. A description of South Africa. History of the Afrikaner. The English-speaking settlement. The diverse groups who make up the population of South Africa. Parallels between Canadians and South Africans.: bilingualism and biculturalism; the treatment on the part of the whites of the aborigines and Africans and Canada's of the aboriginal peoples; a third parallel of some interest between the western migration on this continent and the north-eastern migration from the Cape to the Transvaal; parallels in missionary work in the North American evangelizing of the Negro and the less successful evangelizing of the Red Indian; Our rather haphazard political life in this country and the political situation in South Africa. A brief discussion of each parallel. South Africa's cry for a republic, possibly outside the Commonwealth is seen by the speaker as yet another parallel with a difference. The fact that it is easier to condemn than to see why something exists. The distaste with which outsiders view South Africa. The possibility that economic forces will bring a solution that doctrinaire policies cannot because the industrialization of the country has made the policy of apartheid completely impossible and impracticable so far as separation territorially is concerned. The impossibility of prophesizing.