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This etext was prepared by Alan R. Light (email@example.com, formerly firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.). To assure a high quality text, the original was typed in (manually) twice and electronically compared. Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion By Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje [South African (ethnic Tswana) Editor, Author, Statesman. 1876?-1932.] First Secretary-General of the South African Native National Congress (forerunner of the ANC), 1912-1917. Author of "Mhudi", generally considered the first novel written by a black South African. [The two portraits are not available for this ASCII text. They are titled "The Author." and "Mrs. S. T. Plaatje. Without whose loyal co-operation this book would never have been written."] [Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are CAPITALIZED. Some obvious errors have been corrected (see Notes).] Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion By Sol. T. Plaatje Editor of `Tsala ea Batho', Kimberley, S.A. Author of `Sechuana Proverbs and their European Equivalents' Fourth Edition Foreword (Native Life in South Africa electronic text): Sol Plaatje began work on `Native Life in South Africa' in 1914, while on his way to Britain to plead with the Imperial Government against the Natives' Land Act of 1913, as part of a deputation of the South African Native National Congress. The book was intended as a means of reaching the British public with the deputation's message. The method seemed sound enough -- it was quite similar in form to the successful deputation which had pleaded to keep Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) under direct Imperial control in 1895. But circumstances were different in 1914 -- South Africa had been granted self-government, and the First World War began shortly after the deputation's arrival in England and distracted all parties. This latter event also influenced the final form of the book, as Plaatje played to the patriotic sentiment so strong in Britain at the time. For all his appeals, Plaatje did not succeed: the Act went on to become one of the first steps toward the system of Apartheid. For all that, there is sometimes in defeat the seeds of victory -- these troubles united black South Africans like nothing before, and Plaatje's successors, in the form of the ANC, finally succeeded in the early 1990's. The Natives' Land Act of 1913, which forbade natives to buy or rent land, except in a few small reserves consisting largely of wasteland, was finally overturned in 1991. Thanks should be given to Neil Parsons, for his advice on this subject, and for being so kind as to research and write the introduction that follows. Alan R. Light July, 1998. Monroe, North Carolina (USA). Introduction, by Neil Parsons "Native Life in South Africa" is one of the most remarkable books on Africa, by one of the continent's most remarkable writers. It was written as a work of impassioned political propaganda, exposing the plight of black South Africans under the whites-only government of newly unified South Africa. It focuses on the effects of the 1913 Natives' Land Act which introduced a uniform system of land segregation between the races. It resulted, as Plaatje shows, in the immediate expulsion of blacks, as "squatters", from their ancestral lands in the Orange Free State now declared "white". But Native Life succeeds in being much more than a work of propaganda. It is a vital social document which captures the spirit of an age and shows the effects of rural segregation on the everyday life of people. Solomon Tshekeisho Plaatje was born in 1878 in the lands of the Tswana-speaking people, south of Mafeking. His origins were ordinary enough. What was remarkable was the aptitude he showed for education and learning after a few years schooling under the tuition of a remarkable liberal German Lutheran missionary, the Rev. Ludorf. At the age of sixteen Plaatje (using the Dutch nickname of his grandfather as a surname) joined the Post Office as a mail-carrier in Kimberley, the diamond city in the north of Cape Colony. He subsequently passed the highest clerical examination in the colony, beating every white candidate in both Dutch and typing. From Kimberley the young Plaatje went on to Mafeking, where he was one of the key players in the great siege of 1899-1900. As magistrate's interpreter he was the vital link between the British civil authorities and the African majority beleaguered inside the town's military perimeter. Plaatje's diaries from this period, published long after his death, are a remarkable record both of the siege and of his early prose experimentation -- mixing languages and idioms, and full of bright humour. After the war Plaatje became a journalist, editor first of one Tswana language newspaper at Mafeking and then of another at Kimberley. Like other educated Africans he came out of the war optimistic that the British would enfranchise all educated and propertied males in the defeated Boer colonies (Transvaal and Orange Free State) without regard to race. But in this he, and the others, were soon sorely disappointed. The British gave a whites-only franchise to the defeated Boers and thus conceded power to a Boer or white Afrikaner parliamentary majority in the 1910 Union of South Africa which brought together the two Boer colonies with Cape Colony and Natal. Clinging to the old but diminished "colour blind" franchise of the Cape, Plaatje remained one of the few Africans in South Africa with a parliamentary vote. Plaatje's aggravation with the British government can be seen in an unpublished manuscript of 1908-09 titled "Sekgoma -- the Black Dreyfus". In this booklet he castigated the British for denying legal rights (specifically habeas corpus) to their African subjects outside the Cape Colony. Plaatje became politically active in the "native congress" movement which represented the interests of educated and propertied Africans all over South Africa. He was the first secretary-general of the "South African Native National Congress", founded in 1912 (which renamed itself as the African National Congress or ANC ten years later). The first piece of major legislation presented to the whites-only parliament of South Africa was the Natives' Land Act, eventually passed in 1913, which was designed to entrench white power and property rights in the countryside -- as well as to solve the "native problem" of African peasant farmers working for themselves and denying their labour power to white employers. The main battle ground for the implementation of the new legislation was the Orange Free State. White farmers took the cue from the Land Act to begin expelling black peasants from their land as "squatters", while the police began to rigorously enforce the pass-laws which registered the employment of Africans and prescribed their residence and movement rights. The Free State became the cockpit of resistance by the newly formed SANNC. Its womens' league demonstrated against pass law enforcement in Free State towns. Its national executive sent a delegation to England, icluding Plaatje, who set sail in mid-1914. The British crown retained ultimate rights of sovereignty over the parliament and government of South Africa, with an as yet unexercised power of veto over South African legislation in the area of "native affairs". The delegation received short shrift from the government in London which was, after all, more than preoccupied with the coming of the Great War -- in which it feared for the loyalty of the recently defeated Afrikaners and wished in no way to offend them. But, rather than return empty-handed like the rest of the SANNC delegation, Plaatje decided to stay in England to carry on the fight. He was determined to recuit, through writing and lecturing, the liberal and humanitarian establishment to his side -- so that it in turn might pressure the British government. Thus it was that Plaatje resumed work on a manuscript he had begun on the ship to England. "Native Life in South Africa". The book was published in 1916 by P. S. King in London. It was dedicated to Harriette Colenso, doughty woman camnpaigner who had inherited from her father, Bishop Colenso, the mantle of advocate to the British establishment of the rights of the Zulu nation in South Africa. While in England Plaatje pursued his interests in language and linguistics by collaborating with Professor Daniel Jones of the University of London -- inventor of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and prototype for Professor Higgins in Shaw's "Pygmalion" and thus the musical "My Fair Lady". In the same year as Native Life was published, 1916, Plaatje published two other shorter books which brought together the European languages (English, Dutch and German) he loved with the Tswana language. "Sechuana Proverbs" was a listing of Tswana proverbs with their European equivalents. "A Sechuana Reader" was co-authored with Jones, using the IPA for Tswana orthography. Plaatje returned to South Africa but went once again to England after the war's end, to lead a second SANNC delegation keen to make its mark on the peace negotiations in 1919. This time Plaatje managed to get as far as the prime minister, Lloyd George, "the Welsh wizard". Lloyd George was duly impressed with Plaatje and undertook to present his case to General Jan Smuts in the South African government, a supposedly liberal fellow-traveller. But Smuts, whose notions of liberalism were patronizingly segregationist, fobbed off Lloyd George with an ingenuous reply. Disillusioned with the flabby friendship of British liberals, Plaatje was increasingly drawn to the pan-Africanism of W. E. B. Du Bois, president of the NAACP in the United States. In 1921 Plaatje sailed for the United States on a lecture tour that took him through half the country. He paid his own way by publishing and selling 18,000 copies of a booklet titled "The Mote and the Beam: an Epic on Sex-Relationship 'twixt Black and White in British South Africa" at 25 cents each. In the following year, after Plaatje had left, this new edition of "Native Life in South Africa" was published, by the NAACP newspaper "The Crisis" edited by Du Bois. Plaatje returned home to Kimberley to find the SANNC a spent force, despite its name change to ANC, overtaken by more radical forces. At a time when white power was pushing ahead with an ever more intense segregationist programme, based on anti-black legislation, Plaatje became a lone voice for old black liberalism. He turned from politics and devoted the rest of his life to literature. His passion for Shakespeare resulted in mellifluous Tswana translations of five plays from "Comedy of Errors" to "Merchant of Venice" and "Julius Caesar". His passion for the history of his people, and of his family in particular, resulted in a historical novel, "Mhudi (An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago)", dedicated to his daughter Olive who had died in the influenza epidemic while Plaatje was overseas -- described in the dedication as "one of the many victims of a settled system". "Mhudi" was published by the missionary press at Lovedale in 1930, in a somewhat bowdlerized version. It has since been republished in more pristine form and is today considered not just the first but one of the very best novels published by a black South African writer in English. Plaatje lived an extraordinary life but died a largely disappointed man. His feats of political journalism had been largely forgotten and his creative talents had hardly yet been recognised -- except in the confined world of Tswana language readership. But today Plaatje is regarded as a South African literary pioneer, as a not insignificant political actor in his time, and as a cogent commentator on his times. He was an explorer in a fascinating world of cultural and linguistic interaction, who was in retrospect truly a "renaissance man". Related Reading: Sol T. Plaatje (ed. John Comaroff with Brian Willan & Andrew Reed), "Mafeking Diary: a Black Man's View of a White Man's War", Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press & Cambridge Meridor Press, 1990. (1st edn. London: Macmillan, 1973, publ. as The Boer War Diary of Sol T. Plaatje). Sol. T. Plaatje (ed. Tim Couzens), "Mhudi", Cape Town: Francolin, 1996; definitive edition. Brian Willan, "Sol Plaatje: South African Nationalist, 1876-1932", London: Heinemann, 1984. Brian Willan (ed. & comp.), "Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings", Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1996. Neil Parsons is a Professor of History at the University of Botswana. He is author of "King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen", which details the journey of the Batswana delegation to England of 1895, and other books relating to the history of the region. To Miss Harriette E. Colenso, "Nkosazana Matotoba ka So-Bantu", Daughter of the late Rt. Rev. J. W. Colenso (In his life-time Bishop of Natal and "Father of the Zulus"). In recognition of her unswerving loyalty to the policy of her late distinguished father and unselfish interest in the welfare of the South African Natives, This Book is Dedicated. Contents (A) Who is the Author? (B) Prologue Chapter I A Retrospect Chapter II The Grim Struggle between Right and Wrong, and the Latter Carries the Day Chapter III The Natives' Land Act Chapter IV One Night with the Fugitives Chapter V Another Night with the Sufferers Chapter VI Our Indebtedness to White Women Chapter VII Persecution of Coloured Women in the Orange Free State Chapter VIII At Thaba Ncho: A Secretarial Fiasco Chapter IX The Fateful 13 Chapter X Dr. Abdurahman, President of the A.P.O. / Dr. A. Abdurahman, M.P.C. Chapter XI The Natives' Land Act in Cape Colony Chapter XII The Passing of Cape Ideals Chapter XIII Mr. Tengo-Jabavu, the Pioneer Native Pressman Chapter XIV The Native Congress and the Union Government Chapter XV The Kimberley Congress / The Kimberley Conference Chapter XVI The Appeal for Imperial Protection Chapter XVII The London Press and the Natives' Land Act Chapter XVIII The P.S.A. and Brotherhoods Chapter XIX Armed Natives in the South African War Chapter XX The South African Races and the European War Chapter XXI Coloured People's Help Rejected / The Offer of Assistance by the South African Coloured Races Rejected Chapter XXII The South African Boers and the European War Chapter XXIII The Boer Rebellion Chapter XXIV Piet Grobler Epilogue Report of the Lands Commission ----------------------------- Native Life in South Africa ----------------------------- (A) Who is the Author? After wondering for some time how best to answer this question, we decided to reply to it by using one of several personal references in our possession. The next puzzle was: "Which one?" We carefully examined each, but could not strike a happy decision until some one who entered the room happened to make use of the familiar phrase: "The long and the short of it". That phrase solved the difficulty for us, and we at once made up our mind to use two of these references, namely, the shortest and the longest. The first one is from His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, and the second takes the form of a leading article in the `Pretoria News'. == Central South African Railways, High Commissioner's Train. On February 1, 1906, Mr. Sol Plaatje acted as Interpreter when I visited the Barolong Native Stadt at Mafeking, and performed his duty to my entire satisfaction. (Signed) Arthur. Mafeking, February 1, 1906. == == We commence to-day an experiment which will prove a success if only we can persuade the more rabid negrophobes to adopt a moderate and sensible attitude. We publish the first of a series of letters from a native correspondent of considerable education and ability, his name is Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje. Mr. Plaatje was born in the district of Boshof, his parents being Barolongs, coming originally from Thaba Ncho, and trekking eventually to Mafeking. He attended the Lutheran Mission School at the Pniel Mission Station, near Barkly West, as a boy, under the Rev. G. E. Westphal; and at thirteen years he passed the fourth standard, which was as far as the school could take him. For the next three years he acted as pupil-teacher, receiving private lessons from the Rev. and Mrs. Westphal. At the age of sixteen he joined the Cape Government service as letter-carrier in the Kimberley Post Office. There he studied languages in his spare time, and passed the Cape Civil Service examination in typewriting, Dutch and native languages, heading the list of successful candidates in each subject. Shortly before the war he was transferred to Mafeking as interpreter, and during the siege was appointed Dutch interpreter to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, presided over by Lord Edward Cecil. The Magistrate's clerks having taken up arms, Mr. Plaatje became confidential clerk to Mr. C. G. H. Bell, who administered Native affairs during the siege. Mr. Plaatje drew up weekly reports on the Native situation, which were greatly valued by the military authorities, and in a letter written to a friend asserted with some sense of humour that "this arrangement was so satisfactory that Mr. Bell was created a C.M.G. at the end of the siege." Had it not been for the colour bar, Mr. Plaatje, in all probability, would have been holding an important position in the Department of Native Affairs; as it was, he entered the ranks of journalism as Editor, in the first place, of `Koranta ea Becoana', a weekly paper in English and Sechuana, which was financed by the Chief Silas Molema and existed for seven years very successfully. At the present moment Mr. Plaatje is Editor of the `Tsala ea Batho' (The People's Friend) at Kimberley, which is owned by a native syndicate, having its headquarters in the Free State. Mr. Plaatje has acted as interpreter for many distinguished visitors to South Africa, and holds autograph letters from the Duke of Connaught, Mr. Chamberlain, and other notabilities. He visited Mr. Abraham Fischer quite lately and obtained from him a promise to introduce a Bill into Parliament ameliorating the position of the Natives of the Orange River Colony, who are debarred by law from receiving titles to landed property. Mr. Plaatje's articles on native affairs have been marked by the robust common sense and moderation so characteristic of Mr. Booker Washington. He realizes the great debt which the Natives owe to the men who brought civilization to South Africa. He is no agitator or firebrand, no stirrer-up of bad feeling between black and white. He accepts the position which the Natives occupy to-day in the body politic as the natural result of their lack of education and civilization. He is devoted to his own people, and notes with ever-increasing regret the lack of understanding and knowledge of those people, which is so palpable in the vast majority of the letters and leading articles written on the native question. As an educated Native with liberal ideas he rather resents the power and authority of the uneducated native chiefs who govern by virtue of their birth alone, and he writes and speaks for an entirely new school of native thought. The opinion of such a man ought to carry weight when native affairs are being discussed. We have fallen into the habit of discussing and legislating for the Native without ever stopping for one moment to consider what the Native himself thinks. No one but a fool will deny the importance of knowing what the Native thinks before we legislate for him. It is in the hope of enlightening an otherwise barren controversy that we shall publish from time to time Mr. Plaatje's letters, commending them always to the more thoughtful and practical of our readers. -- `Pretoria News', September, 1910. == (The writer of this appreciation, the Editor of the Pretoria evening paper, was Reuter's war correspondent in the siege of Mafeking.) (B) Prologue We have often read books, written by well-known scholars, who disavow, on behalf of their works, any claim to literary perfection. How much more necessary, then, that a South African native workingman, who has never received any secondary training, should in attempting authorship disclaim, on behalf of his work, any title to literary merit. Mine is but a sincere narrative of a melancholy situation, in which, with all its shortcomings, I have endeavoured to describe the difficulties of the South African Natives under a very strange law, so as most readily to be understood by the sympathetic reader. The information contained in the following chapters is the result of personal observations made by the author in certain districts of the Transvaal, Orange "Free" State and the Province of the Cape of Good Hope. In pursuance of this private inquiry, I reached Lady Brand early in September, 1913, when, my financial resources being exhausted, I decided to drop the inquiry and return home. But my friend, Mr. W. Z. Fenyang, of the farm Rietfontein, in the "Free" State, offered to convey me to the South of Moroka district, where I saw much of the trouble, and further, he paid my railway fare from Thaba Ncho back to Kimberley. In the following November, it was felt that as Mr. Saul Msane, the organizer for the South African Native National Congress, was touring the eastern districts of the Transvaal, and Mr. Dube, the President, was touring the northern districts and Natal, and as the finances of the Congress did not permit an additional traveller, no information would be forthcoming in regard to the operation of the mischievous Act in the Cape Province. So Mr. J. M. Nyokong, of the farm Maseru, offered to bear part of the expenses if I would undertake a visit to the Cape. I must add that beyond spending six weeks on the tour to the Cape, the visit did not cost me much, for Mr. W. D. Soga, of King Williamstown, very generously supplemented Mr. Nyokong's offer and accompanied me on a part of the journey. Besides the information received and the hospitality enjoyed from these and other friends, the author is indebted, for further information, to Mr. Attorney Msimang, of Johannesburg. Mr. Msimang toured some of the Districts, compiled a list of some of the sufferers from the Natives' Land Act, and learnt the circumstances of their eviction. His list, however, is not full, its compilation having been undertaken in May, 1914, when the main exodus of the evicted tenants to the cities and Protectorates had already taken place, and when eyewitnesses of the evils of the Act had already fled the country. But it is useful in showing that the persecution is still continuing, for, according to this list, a good many families were evicted a year after the Act was enforced, and many more were at that time under notice to quit. Mr. Msimang, modestly states in an explanatory note, that his pamphlet contains "comparatively few instances of actual cases of hardship under the Natives' Land Act, 1913, to vindicate the leaders of the South African Native National Congress from the gross imputation, by the Native Affairs Department, that they make general allegations of hardships without producing any specific cases that can bear examination." Mr. Msimang, who took a number of sworn statements from the sufferers, adds that "in Natal, for example, all of these instances have been reported to the Magistrates and the Chief Native Commissioner. Every time they are told to find themselves other places, or remain where they are under labour conditions. At Peters and Colworth, seventy-nine and a hundred families respectively are being ejected by the Government itself without providing land for them." Some readers may perhaps think that I have taken the Colonial Parliament rather severely to task. But to any reader who holds with Bacon, that "the pencil hath laboured more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon," I would say: "Do, if we dare make the request, and place yourself in our shoes." If, after a proper declaration of war, you found your kinsmen driven from pillar to post in the manner that the South African Natives have been harried and scurried by Act No. 27 of 1913, you would, though aware that it is part of the fortunes of war, find it difficult to suppress your hatred of the enemy. Similarly, if you see your countrymen and countrywomen driven from home, their homes broken up, with no hopes of redress, on the mandate of a Government to which they had loyally paid taxation without representation -- driven from their homes, because they do not want to become servants; and when you know that half of these homeless ones have perforce submitted to the conditions and accepted service on terms that are unprofitable to themselves; if you remember that more would have submitted but for the fact that no master has any use for a servant with forty head of cattle, or a hundred or more sheep; and if you further bear in mind that many landowners are anxious to live at peace with, and to keep your people as tenants, but that they are debarred from doing so by your Government which threatens them with a fine of 100 Pounds or six months' imprisonment, you would, I think, likewise find it very difficult to maintain a level head or wield a temperate pen. For instance, let us say, the London County Council decrees that no man shall rent a room, or hire a house, in the City of London unless he be a servant in the employ of the landlord, adding that there shall be a fine of one hundred pounds on any one who attempts to sell a house to a non-householder; imagine such a thing and its effects, then you have some approach to an accurate picture of the operation of the South African Natives' Land Act of 1913. In conclusion, let me ask the reader's support in our campaign for the repeal of such a law, and in making this request I pray that none of my readers may live to find themselves in a position so intolerable. When the narrative of this book up to Chapter XVIII was completed, it was felt that an account of life in South Africa, without a reference to the war or the rebellion would be but a story half told, and so Chapters XIX-XXV were added. It will be observed that Chapters XX-XXIV, unlike the rest of the book, are not the result of the writer's own observations. The writer is indebted for much of the information in these five chapters to the Native Press and some Dutch newspapers which his devoted wife posted to him with every mail. These papers have been a source of useful information. Of the Dutch newspapers special thanks are due to `Het Westen' of Potchefstroom, which has since March 1915 changed its name to `Het Volksblad'. Most of the Dutch journals, especially in the northern Provinces, take up the views of English-speaking Dutch townsmen (solicitors and Bank clerks), and publish them as the opinion of the South African Dutch. `Het Westen' (now `Het Volksblad'), on the other hand, interprets the Dutch view, sound, bad or indifferent, exactly as we ourselves have heard it expressed by Dutchmen at their own farms. Translations of the Tipperary Chorus into some of the languages which are spoken by the white and black inhabitants of South Africa have been used here and there as mottoes; and as this book is a plea in the main for help against the "South African war of extermination", it is hoped that admirers of Tommy Atkins will sympathize with the coloured sufferers, who also sing Tommy Atkins' war songs. This appeal is not on behalf of the naked hordes of cannibals who are represented in fantastic pictures displayed in the shop-windows in Europe, most of them imaginary; but it is on behalf of five million loyal British subjects who shoulder "the black man's burden" every day, doing so without looking forward to any decoration or thanks. "The black man's burden" includes the faithful performance of all the unskilled and least paying labour in South Africa, the payment of direct taxation to the various Municipalities, at the rate of from 1s. to 5s. per mensum per capita (to develop and beautify the white quarters of the towns while the black quarters remain unattended) besides taxes to the Provincial and Central Government, varying from 12s. to 3 Pounds 12s. per annum, for the maintenance of Government Schools from which native children are excluded. In addition to these native duties and taxes, it is also part of "the black man's burden" to pay all duties levied from the favoured race. With the increasing difficulty of finding openings to earn the money for paying these multifarious taxes, the dumb pack-ox, being inarticulate in the Councils of State, has no means of making known to its "keeper" that the burden is straining its back to breaking point. When Sir John French appealed to the British people for more shells during Easter week, the Governor-General of South Africa addressing a fashionable crowd at the City Hall, Johannesburg, most of whom had never seen the mouth of a mine, congratulated them on the fact that "under the strain of war and rebellion the gold industry had been maintained at full pitch," and he added that "every ounce of gold was worth many shells to the Allies." But His Excellency had not a word of encouragement for the 200,000 subterranean heroes who by day and by night, for a mere pittance, lay down their limbs and their lives to the familiar "fall of rock" and who, at deep levels ranging from 1,000 feet to 1,000 yards in the bowels of the earth, sacrifice their lungs to the rock dust which develops miners' phthisis and pneumonia -- poor reward, but a sacrifice that enables the world's richest gold mines, in the Johannesburg area alone, to maintain the credit of the Empire with a weekly output of 750,000 Pounds worth of raw gold. Surely the appeal of chattels who render service of such great value deserves the attention of the British people. Finally, I would say as Professor Du Bois says in his book `The Souls of Black Folk', on the relations between the sons of master and man, "I have not glossed over matters for policy's sake, for I fear we have already gone too far in that sort of thing. On the other hand I have sincerely sought to let no unfair exaggerations creep in. I do not doubt that in some communities conditions are better than those I have indicated; while I am no less certain that in other communities they are far worse."
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