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Chapter IX The Fateful 13 He hath disgraced me and laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what is his reason? I am a Kafir. Hath not a Kafir eyes? hath not a Kafir hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Is he not fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as a white Afrikander? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. Merchant of Venice. The Natives of South Africa, generally speaking, are intensely superstitious. The fact that they are more impressionable than tractable causes them, it seems, to take naturally to religion, and seems a flat contradiction of Junius's assertion that "there are proselytes from atheism, but none from superstition." With some South African tribes it is unlucky to include goats amongst the animals paid by a young man's parents as the dowry for his bride; it was equally bad to pay dowry in odd numbers of cattle. The payment must be made in an even number of oxen, sheep, or other animals or articles, such as two, four, six, eight, ten, and so on. The man who could not afford more than one sheep to seal the marriage contract would have to exchange his goat for a sheep to make up a presentable pair. If he were too poor to do that, a needle or any other article was admissible to make up the dowry to an even number, and so avoid giving one or three, or more odd numbers of articles. Conscious as they were of the existence of some Supreme Being, but worshipping no God, true or false, the white man's religion which makes such a worship obligatory through a mediator found easy access among so susceptible a people; and with equal ease they likewise adopted the civilization of the white man. But the Natives received not only the white man's civilization and his religion, but have even gullibly imbibed his superstitions. Thus is their dread of the figure 13 accounted for. The Native witch-doctors in the early days took advantage of their credulity, whilst civilized people traded on their susceptibilities, and the semi-civilized Natives also traded upon the fears of their more impressionable brethren. To give a concrete case or two, we might say that when the main reservoir of the Kimberley waterworks was built, one of the labourers one week-end lost the whole of his weekly pay. He inquired, and searched everywhere he could think of, but nobody had seen his missing purse. But on Monday morning he conceived a plan for the recovery of his lost purse. In pursuance of this plan, on the Monday he asked for and obtained a day off; then he declared to the gang of labourers that he was going to the nearest location to consult a bone-thrower. Instead of going to the location, however, he went to the open country, gathered some plants, returned to the dormitories while the others were at work, boiled the herbs in a pot of water and put it aside to cool. When the workmen returned for their midday meal he announced an imaginary consultation he had had with the bone-thrower, and that that functionary had divined the whereabouts of the purse; it was to the effect that the purse had been stolen and was in the possession of a fellow-worker. "The doctor," he said, "gave me some herbs. I have cooked them, and by his direction each of you is invited to immerse his hands in the decoction which is now cool. If you are not the thief, nothing would happen to you, but to the one who has stolen my money," he added with emphasis, "the doctor said that the medicine will snap the thief's fingers clean off and leave him only with the palm." One by one the men dipped their hands in the "medicine", and as they took turns at the pot, one young fellow at length became visibly disturbed, and believing that the concoction was true, he confessed to the theft and undertook to refund the money, rather than lose his fingers. Another case was this. "A Transkeian missionary once heard of the serious indisposition of a Native. It was not a natural sickness, it was believed, but was the effect of sorcery, and news in that sense was noised abroad. Such cases primitive Natives believe to be beyond the skill of a medical man. White doctors, they would say, know next to nothing at all about such things. They do not believe in witchcraft and how could they be expected to be able to smell it out of a patient. Only a witch-doctor -- if he is more skilful -- can smell out and subdue the charm directed by another witch-doctor into the body of the bewitched. Having heard this piece of native philosophy on witchcraft, the missionary startled the Natives by telling them in their own tongue that he could cure the disease. And he did cure it. He captured a baby lizard from the rocks which abound in the craggy undulations of most parts of the Transkei. He hid it in the inside pocket of his coat and proceeded to the sick-bed with some real medicines in his hand. "When a man who is not sick imagines himself sick," says Dr. Kellogg, "he must be sick indeed," and truly, in accordance with this saying, the Native was dangerously ill. A bone-thrower, who had in the presence and hearing of the sick man divined his malady, pronounced that he was not only bewitched by a snake, but also that the reptile was within him and was eating him to death. In these circumstances the missionary administered an emetic to the reluctant patient, in the presence of some incredulous spectators, who had never known a white man to extract a reptile from the person of a bewitched Native. Further, by some agility of the hand, the missionary produced from his pocket unobserved, just as the emetic was acting, the baby lizard he had taken from the rocks. So smartly was this done that everybody, including the patient, believed the reptile to have been extracted from his body by the power of the medicine administered by the missionary. The sick man at once stood up and walked, and the missionary was known, by all who witnessed the marvel, as the greatest witch-doctor of the neighbourhood. In like manner, when some civilized Christians made remarks on New Year's Day about the figure 13, there was much gossiping among the more superstitious Natives as to the form of trouble which the year 1913 had in store for the Natives, although none knew that a revolutionary law of Draconian severity would be launched in their midst during this eventful year. The powerful African potentate, Menelik of Abyssinia (whose death had been falsely circulated no fewer than seven times during the past dozen years), really died in 1913. Letsie II, paramount chief of the semi-independent Basuto nation, departed this life during this same year. Dinizulu (son of the great Cetewayo, whose impis slew the Prince Imperial in 1879), who was born to inherit the throne of his fathers, and who lived to be one of the most disappointed men of his day, spent many years in prison and in exile, and was known in his lifetime as the Black Napoleon; was released from prison by the Union Government, and given back his pension of 500 Pounds per annum. Sharing the hopes of his people that in accordance with the Government's erstwhile good intentions now tottering before a growing Republicanism, Zululand would be restored to the Zulus, and he established as their ruler under the Crown. He, too, died in the year 1913. An unusually large number of good and noble men of greater or lesser renown were gathered to their fathers during this year. It is perhaps not generally known that few British statesmen did so much for the South African Natives, in so short a term of service at the Colonial Office, as the Hon. A. Lyttleton. And he, too, left us rather suddenly during this troublous year of 1913. In this year, too, South Africa was visited by a drought which for severity was pronounced to be unprecedented in the knowledge of all the old inhabitants. Remarks -- some pithy, some ugly -- were made upon the drought by Dutchmen. They all remembered how the God of their fathers used to send them nice soaking rains regularly each spring-time, and that it usually continued to nourish the plants and other of the country's vegetation throughout the summer, and they concluded that there must be some reason why He does not do it now. The majority of Dutchmen whom the writer thus overheard attributed the visitation to the sins of the foreigners, who are fast buying up the country, and cursing it by settling godless people upon it. One or two saw in it the vengeance of the Supreme Being for the unnecessary persecution of His black creatures, but they were afraid to say this aloud. "See," said one, "is the drought not worse in the `Free' State where Kafirs seem to be very hard hit by this new law?" This was true. Dutchmen's cattle were dying of poverty in the "Free" State, and the land was so parched in some parts that it seemed difficult to believe that grass could ever grow in these places again, supposing the long-looked-for rain came at last. On our birthday, October 9, 1913, they hanged four murderers who had been condemned to death at the preceding criminal sessions. The selection of the morning of our birthday for the execution of four prisoners at our home was curious as executions in Kimberley take place only about once or twice in ten years. The event, of course, was purely accidental; but middle-aged Natives seemed to have an aptitude for remembering catastrophes which, in the lives of their fathers and their fathers' fathers, followed such coincidences. Whilst the executions were taking place, on the morning of our birthday, an ugly ocean tragedy was taking place away out on the Atlantic. The `Vulturno' was ablaze with a number of passengers on board. Innocent white men and women were being roasted alive, because the sea was too rough to permit their transfer from the burning ship to the rescuing liners; and so they perished, literally, "between the devil and the deep sea" -- within full view of relief. Dutchmen as a rule are like Natives in that they live as long as they can, and die only when they must; but in the Transvaal a Dutch farmer all but exterminated his family on this day with a revolver, which he had previously secured for the purpose. On this day also the mind of an English miner at Randfontein having suddenly become unhinged, he shot his wife, his baby, and his aunt, then coolly pocketing the pistol, he cycled down to the school, called out his two children, shot them down in cold blood, and retired to a quiet place where he put an end to his own life. During that fateful week in which disaster followed disaster in rapid succession, there occurred the following, namely, the colliery disaster at Cardiff, which left a thousand dependents without breadwinners, to say nothing of the damage to property, which is estimated at over 100,000 Pounds. There were also railway accidents and aviation disasters, causing damage to life and property. There were commercial troubles due to the Johannesburg strike in July, and this effect of the strike indicates the influence exercised by the "golden city" over South African commerce. In that sad upheaval in the labour world many innocent people lost their lives and property, and unfortunately, as is always the case, besides adding largely to the taxpayers' burdens, seriously affected people who had nothing to do with the strike. Yet when some of our friends expressed thankfulness that the year did not have thirteen months, we were obstinate enough to refuse to waste valuable time in considering the subject. Individuals, like communities, suffered heavily from one cause or another in the year 1913. Thus the writer's little family also had its baptism of sorrow. On New Year's Day of that year 1913, his little boy, a robust child of three months, was prattling in the house. He first saw the light in the last quarter of 1912, on the very day we opened and christened our printing office, so we named him after the great inventor of printing type: he was christened Johann Gutenberg. Somehow or other he could never keep well after the New Year, for though he tried to look pleasant, it was visibly under serious difficulties. It had been our fortune, during a married life of fifteen years, to keep our children in remarkably good health; but the health of this little fellow showed unmistakable evidence that this immunity was reaching its end. Vehement attacks of whooping cough now overtook the little ones. The others got rid of it during the winter months, but with Gutenberg the disease developed into inflammation of this organ, and of that; and taking the whole year from January to December, it would not be too much to say that the little boy scarcely enjoyed three full months of good health. And by the end of the year it was clear that he was going the way of half a dozen cousins who were gathered into eternity all during one month -- December, 1913. Before the New Year was a week old, the doctor, who had then become a regular member of the family, gave us the final warning. For a month past loving aunts had tenderly relieved the child's inexperienced parents of the daily ministrations and of the more exacting night watches. After the doctor's warning there came "the calm before the storm". It only lasted for one day; the deceptive strength which had temporarily buoyed the little patient up was now passing away and the inevitable reaction was setting in. Oh, if he were only a year older so that he could have communicated to us by speech his feelings and his wants! His little body, which stood the long sickness with such fortitude, got frail. His bright eyes, high forehead and round cheeks remained, however, to defy the waste of the disease. The parson came and uttered words of encouragement. "Symptoms of death," he said, pointing to the sick-bed (and he was no novice in such matters) "were very far from there," but the surroundings of the sick-bed seemed to us to ring out the command with a force as strong as six peals of thunder, saying "Suffer little children to come unto Me," and such Divine orders, comprehensible only to those to whom they are issued, took precedence of any words of encouragement that may be uttered by a mortal minister of religion. That these good men of God know the ways of their Master is patent in that they always couple the encouragement to the sick, or to the friends of the sick, with the advice to surrender to the Divine injunction. The grandmother of the child was composed. "When the Lord's will is to be done," she said, "no mortal can stay it," but his aunts were restless. "Go, call the doctor at once," they demanded. He came, gave a solemn look and stood silent. After feeling the pulse he said: "The child has collapsed. I have done all I could and can do no more." Next came the anxious looks of the other attendants, the footfalls of inquiring neighbours, messages to nearer and further relatives about the pronounced "collapse". This was at noon, and each one expected that he could hold out for two hours at the most; but he breathed throughout the afternoon with a gallantry that was wonderful in its way. His large round eyes turned upward as though they had become blind to their immediate surroundings. It seemed that those eyes could no longer see the objects in the room and its anxious inmates; truly they could no longer see the sun or the moon and stars that night. Kimberley was no longer a home to the little chap whose short lease of life was clearly drawing to an end. A new outlook seemed to have dawned over his now brightening face. His eyes were riveted on the New Jerusalem, the City of God, and he seemed to be in full communion with the dear little cousins who preceded him thither during the previous month. Evidently they were beckoning him to leave this wicked South Africa and everything in it, and come to eternal glory. In this condition we left him early in the afternoon to answer the call of our daily and nightly drudgery -- it would be gross extravagance to call it "duty" -- an occupation which has no reverence for mournful occasions. At 9.15 p.m., just about the time of his birth sixteen months before, the little soul was relieved of its earthly bonds. There he lay robed in a simple white gown, his motionless form being an eloquent testimony of the indelible gap left in our domestic circle as a visitation of 1913. But the celestial expression of his face, his deep-brown colour, and his closed eyelids, seemed to say to us: "Be at ease, I have conquered." Still, it must be confessed that to us this wrench was a most painful experience, and that the doctrine of "Thy will be done" was found to be a great deal more than a mere profession of faith. The sympathies of relatives, friends, and other mourners, their deeds and words of condolence, followed by a solemn religious service, took the sting out of the affliction, although it must again be confessed that so deep was our sorrow for the dead child's mother that for some time we could not bear to look her in the face. Painful and unusual solemnities and formulae were gone through during the next day, and these again were lightened by the kind and sympathetic assistance of genuine friends, like Messrs. Joseph Twayi, H. S. Poho, and others, some of them delegates to a Temperance Conference then sitting in Kimberley. In the absence of the pastors of St. Paul's Mission, who were both attending the annual synod at Pniel, two Wesleyan ministers -- Rev. Jonathan Motshumi of Kimberley, and Rev. Shadrach Ramailane of Fauresmith -- took charge of the funeral service, and a row of carriages followed the hearse to the West End Cemetery. As the procession turned round Cooper's corner into Green Street, Kimberley, something caused us to look out of the carriage window; we then caught sight of one of the carriages that formed the procession in which some little girl friends and relatives of the deceased were driving, their plain white dresses relieved only by a scrap of black ribbon here and there. Their silent sympathy, expressed with girlish shyness, was evident, though their snow-white dresses were in striking contrast to the colour of their carriage and of the horses, and the sombre black of the rest of the funeral party. As we saw the solemn procession and heard the clank of the horses' hoofs, we were suddenly reminded of that journey in July, 1913, when we met that poor wandering young family of fugitives from the Natives' Land Act. A sharp pang went through us, and caused our heart to bleed as we recalled the scene of their night funeral, forced on them by the necessity of having to steal a grave on the moonless night, when detection would be less easy. Every man in this country, we thought, be he a Russian, Jew, Peruvian, or of any other nationality, has a claim to at least six feet of South African soil as a resting place after death, but those native outcasts, who in the country of their birth, as a penalty for the colour of their skin, are made by the Union Parliament to lead lives like that awarded to Cain for his crime of fratricide, they might, as in the case of that wandering family, be even denied a sepulchre for their little ones. The solemnity of the funeral procession, of which we formed the mainmast, almost entirely disappeared from our mind, to be succeeded by the spirit of revolt against this impious persecution as these things came before us. What have our people done to these colonists, we asked, that is so utterly unforgivable, that this law should be passed as an unavoidable reprisal? Have we not delved in their mines, and are not a quarter of a million of us still labouring for them in the depths of the earth in such circumstances for the most niggardly pittance? Are not thousands of us still offering up our lives and our limbs in order that South Africa should satisfy the white man's greed, delivering 50,000,000 Pounds worth of minerals every year? Have we not quarried the stones, mixed, moulded and carried the mortar which built the cities of South Africa? Have we not likewise prepared the material for building the railways? Have we not obsequiously and regularly paid taxation every year, and have we not supplied the Treasury with money to provide free education for Dutch children in the "Free" State and Transvaal, while we had to find additional money to pay the school fees of our own children? Are not many of us toiling in the grain fields and fruit farms, with their wives and their children, for the white man's benefit? Did not our people take care of the white women -- all the white women, including Boer fraus -- whose husbands, brothers and fathers were away at the front -- in many cases actively engaged in shattering our own liberty? But see their appreciation and gratitude! Oh, for something to -- Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world! Crack Nature's moulds, all germins spill at once! That make ungrateful man! When one is distressed in mind there is no greater comforter than an appropriate Scriptural quotation. Our bleeding heart was nowhere in the present procession, which apparently could take care of itself, for we had returned in thought to the July funeral of the veld and its horrid characteristics; and a pleasant reaction set in when we recalled a verse of Matthew which says: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." How very Christlike was that funeral of the veld. It resembled the Messiah's in that it had no carriages, no horses, no ordained ministers, nor a trained choir singing the remains into their final resting place. The veld funeral party, like the funeral party of the Son of Man, was in mortal fear of the representatives of the law; it, like that party, had not the light of the sun, nor the light of a candle, which charitable friends in our day would usually provide for the poorest of the poor under ordinary circumstances. Still, it was not cold at Golgotha, or should not be to-day as it was on the first Good Friday; but even the Madonna and the disciples must have had some house in which to gather to discuss the situation. One of the most astounding things in connexion with the unjust treatment of the Natives by the Whites of South Africa is the profound silence of the Dutch Reformed Church, which practically is now the State Church of South Africa. This Christian body does not only exclude coloured worshippers from participating in its services, but would arraign them before the law, or otherwise violently assault them should they visit its places of worship at other times. When it is remembered that the predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church in the old Republics dare not pronounce the benediction on a coloured congregation, we think it will not be considered unfair to say that the calculatingly outrageous treatment of the coloured races of South Africa by the Boer section of that community is mainly due from the sanction it receives from the Dutch Reformed Church. If the predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church would but tell their congregations that it was gross libel on the Christian faith, which they profess, to treat human beings as they treat those with loathsome disease -- except when it is desired to exploit the benefits, such as their taxes and their labour which these outraged human beings confer upon the Dutch: we say that if the predikants would but instruct their congregations so, then this stain, which so greatly disfigures the Christian character of the Boers would be removed. The Dutch almost worship their religious teachers; and they will continue these cruelties upon the Natives as long as they believe that they have the approval of the Church. Let the predikants then tell their people that tyranny is tyrannical even though the victims are of a different race, and the South African Dutch will speedily abandon that course. Just two instances by way of illustration. Ten years ago we attended an election meeting at Burghersdorp, a typical Dutch constituency at the Cape. The present Minister of Railways and Harbours was wooing the constituency, and he appeared to be the favourite candidate among three others. Dutchmen from the surrounding farms flocked to attend the meeting. The speeches were all in the Taal. No hall in the town was large enough to hold the number that came, so the four candidates addressed the gathering in the Market Square. This was how Mr. Burton asked the Dutch electors for their votes: "Whenever you speak of making South Africa comfortable to Afrikanders, do not forget that the blacks are the original Afrikanders. We found them in this country, and no policy can possibly succeed which aims at the promotion of the interests of one section of the Afrikander race to the neglect of another section." There were a few native listeners in the throng, and we blacks at once thought that the speaker had held out the red-rag to the bull, and that every word of this candid statement would cost him at least fifty Dutch votes. But we were agreeably surprised, for the open air rang with the loud cheers and "Hoor, hoors"* from hundreds of leather-lunged Boers. One old farmer turned round to Tommy -- the blackest Native in the crowd -- held him by the shoulders, and shouted as brusquely as his tongue could bend to the vernacular: "Utloa, utloa, utloa!"** -- * "Hear, hear", in Dutch. ** "Hear, hear", in Sesuto. -- Mr. Burton was returned at the head of the poll. A more recent instance: In 1913, the South African Asiatic laws operated so harshly against British Indians that Westminster and Bombay demanded instant reform. In deference to this outside intervention the Union Government appointed the Solomon Commission to inquire into the matter. While the investigations were in progress, emphatic protests were constantly uttered against this "outside interference". Some of the South Africans went as far as to assert that "if Imperialism meant a `coolie'* domination in South Africa, then it was about time that South Africa severed her Imperial bonds." The clamourers who designated the inquiry as a concession to outsiders seemed almost to dictate to the Commission not to recommend anything that "savours of a surrender to the coolies".* -- * A contemptuous South African term for British Indians. -- But when General Smuts, in terms of the Commission's report and as a concession to Anglo-Indian feeling, tabled a Bill in 1914, to amend the hardships before they had been a year in operation, the clamour at once died down; and we have not heard that any one in South Africa was a penny the poorer as a result of this "outside interference", and its consequent "surrender to the coolies". Dutchmen only follow their leaders. Hence, let the leaders direct them into cruel ways as they are seemingly doing at the present time, then if Mr. Burton's assertions be right (and we think no one will deny that he is right when he says the one-sided policy can never succeed), these leaders, instead of producing a South Africa which is rich and contented, will only succeed in producing a South Africa which is poor and discontented. Those, too, who wish well for South Africa and are at the same time sympathizers of the present Government, let them also strive to induce the Ministry to cease its policy of dilly-dallying and of equivocation at the expense of the coloured tax-payers. So that the Dutch throughout South Africa, as did the Dutch of Cape Colony, under the able leadership of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, may pursue a fresh course -- the course of political righteousness. When the Labour Party discover that white votes alone will not give it the reins of Government, its leaders will most probably advocate a native franchise in the Northern Colonies similar to the native franchise of the Cape. And we can assure them that the first man who would successfully tackle such a problem will not only secure for his party the votes thus created, but that sheer gratitude will in future place at his disposal the coloured vote of the Cape as well. It is also our belief, in regard to the Dutch, that if a trusted leader from among them were to propose a native franchise for the Northern Provinces, the proposal would ultimately be accepted. The predikants of the Dutch Reformed Church, who largely influence the leadership of the South African Dutch, ought to know that the English colonist can be just as devilish as the Boers on questions of colour; and that some of them, with their superior means and education have almost out-Boered the Boer in this matter; but that even they have been held in check by the restraint imposed upon them by the English Churches in the country. Thus, knowing the Dutchman's obedience to the commands of his pastor, we are afraid that if ever there come a day of reckoning for the multifarious accumulation of wrongs done to the Natives, the Dutch Reformed Church, owing to its silent consent to all these wrongs, will have a lot to answer for.
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