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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

The Native Problem in South Africa
and Elsewhere (S630: 1906)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Published in the November 1906 number of Independent Review. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S630.htm

    [[p. 174]] It has been well said that no man is good enough to have absolute power over another, and the same may be said with still greater certainty of nations. It almost invariably happens that when any such despotism is attempted both the rulers and the men or nations who are governed by them suffer in character even more than in material results. It is now universally admitted that actual slavery produces these evil consequences to the individuals concerned, while few will deny that they are almost equally clear in the case of nations, often leading to the downfall or deterioration of the ruling state. Assyria and Egypt, Greece and Rome, are examples from the ancient world, while in more recent times we have the disastrous results of her vast American conquests to Spain, of the Napoleonic empire to France, of Ireland, India, North America, and South Africa to England.

    In all these cases, just in proportion as despotic rule has been enforced, discontent, rebellion, and devastating wars have been the result; while on the other hand, whenever subject peoples, whether civilised, barbarian, or savage, have been permitted either wholly or partially to govern themselves, peace and contentment have followed to the equal benefit of both parties. As illustrative of such happy results we need only mention Penn and Lord Elgin in North America, Lord Lawrence in the Punjaub, and Sir James Brooke in Borneo. Equally suggestive is the fact, that some of the best governed and most contented parts of India to-day, are to be found among the Native Provinces, [[p. 175]] ruled by their hereditary or native chiefs with the advice of a British Resident and protection from external enemies by the British Government. So in South Africa, Basutoland and Bechuanaland, governed by native law and custom under their own chiefs, assisted by the sympathetic advice of a British Resident Commissioner, are thoroughly contented; but this happy state of things is only preserved by the strict prohibition of European settlement, and thus of the exploitation and so-called development of the country with its inevitable consequence, the deterioration both of the native and the European.

    Surely these examples are of so striking a nature as to deserve our careful consideration, and we may well ask ourselves whether it is not possible to learn from them how to deal with those more complex and more difficult cases where two antagonistic races are more or less intermingled, and where the actual state of things is unsatisfactory to both, ranging from smouldering discontent as in many parts of India, to more open disaffection and resentment sometimes rising to what we term rebellion, as we now see in parts of South Africa.

    The fundamental reason of success and failure in these several cases, is, that where we have succeeded we have done so by giving to the inferior race our protection and our advice, through some man of high character in sympathy with those he lives among and who exercises the minimum of compulsion. We have acted as the disinterested friend, not as the mere self-interested conqueror and despotic ruler. However much we may protest to the contrary, the latter is our position in South Africa to-day, and it is also our position over the larger part of India. In both these countries we make laws affecting the coloured races without consulting them in any way, and however much these laws may conflict with their mode of life, their customs, or their prejudices, we enforce them by means of armed police or bodies of troops, and if they resist we dub them rebels and remorselessly destroy them by means of our overwhelming superiority in arms.

    In those cases where a large coloured population inhabits the same territory with a much smaller body of whites, we [[p. 176]] not only enforce against them our complex machinery of law and punishment, but we also often make special laws or regulations against the coloured races, which have the effect of stamping them with the badge of inferiority and serfdom. This treatment is the more galling to them now, because we have for many years striven to convert them to our religion, and have either educated them or assisted them to educate themselves, with the result that considerable numbers of them are now better educated and more truly civilised than a considerable number of the low-class Europeans who despise and ill-treat them.

    It is evident that we have here a state of things which cannot go on indefinitely. We have drifted into it without any forecast of the necessary consequences. One set of influences and one trend of opinion, most prevalent in the Colonies, leads to the belief that the natives are the predestined servants or serfs of the whites, and sees no reason why they should not for ever be thus treated, kept in their place by force if necessary, and denied all the rights of freemen or of equals. On the other side we have the religious world and the philanthropists at home who have always exerted themselves to convert the natives to Christianity, to educate them, to force upon them our complex civilisation, and to claim for them, though rather half-heartedly, equal political and social rights. These persons almost ignore the antipathies and ingrained prejudices which everywhere manifest themselves where white and dark races are forced to live together, and which even the loudly proclaimed belief in the brotherhood of man, the equality of rights and the teachings of Christianity, are powerless to overcome.

    On a calm consideration of the whole problem it must be admitted that the former point of view--that of inherently superior and inferior races--of master and servant, ruler and ruled, is the most consistent with actual facts and perhaps not the less fitted to ensure the well-being, contentment, and ultimate civilisation of the inferior race. It is also by no means incompatible with a just treatment of the native, with sympathetic interest in his welfare, and with the grant of a considerable amount of [[p. 177]] self-government; and it is for the purpose of suggesting how this latter may be effected that I am venturing to make a slight contribution to this very thorny subject.

    The difficulty is of course very much increased in the case of a self-governing colony, composed largely of people who are seeking for wealth through the labour of the natives in agriculture or in various forms of commerce or industry, and whose interests and prejudices largely influence the government. It is therefore unwise, when the proportion of whites to natives is very small, to grant self-government to such a colony unless special reservations are made for the protection of the natives. At the present time there is a strong desire for self-government in Trinidad, and perhaps in some other West Indian islands, but it is asked for by the white traders and planters for the express purpose of obtaining complete power over the coloured labouring classes, free from what they consider the harassing regulations for their protection now in force. But as there is in the island a large population of negroes and mulattoes as well as coolies from India, races very antipathetic to each other, even the greatest friends of self-government consider that in this case it would certainly lead to injurious results.

    The same difficulties occur in the case of the new colonies in South Africa and especially in Natal, where besides the very large number of natives there are also Indians in nearly equal numbers with the Europeans. The extreme diversity of ideas, customs, laws, and religion between these two dark races, renders the application of our laws and regulations to both of them, extremely irritating and often unjust; while, when the two coloured races come into conflict, the methods of our ordinary courts of justice are quite unfitted to hold the balance fairly between them. Hence there almost always arises a sense of injustice and oppression, which is increased by the fact that in many cases these people are well educated and have very strong feelings in regard to infringements of their personal freedom or the sanctity of their homes.

    If, now, we are to be guided by the varied experience [[p. 178]] in all parts of the world here briefly referred to, it becomes clear that in handing over the government of Zululand to the Governor of Natal, who is necessarily very largely influenced by local opinion, a great mistake was made, which should be at once retraced and the country administered in the same way as the other protected states under the direct supervision of the home government, and with the same sympathetic consideration for native habits and prejudices as in the other Protectorates. Looking at this matter merely from a Colonial point of view, it would surely be better for Natal to have as a neighbour a contented and prosperous native state, with which a considerable trade would arise, and which would, as the population increased, afford a large amount of native labour when required.

    We now approach the main problem, which is, how to provide some amount of self-government for the native population of Natal and of the two new Boer Colonies, so as to satisfy to some extent the just demands of the educated and civilised portion of the natives, and to do this without exciting the strong and very natural opposition to any suggestion of putting the coloured races on a political equality with the whites. What we have to aim at is, in the first place, to diminish the sense of injustice now felt by the educated and christianised natives, at being treated as a subject and degraded race, despotically ruled by aliens who, for the most part, take no account whatever of their feelings and claims as British subjects and fellow Christians. In the second place, we must proceed tentatively so as not to arouse antagonism in the ruling race, our aim being to give the better and higher among the natives an opportunity of freely stating their political and social grievances, so as to influence the legislature towards a more just and sympathetic treatment of them.

    The first and most obvious thing to do is to give to the natives in every district of each Colony one or more chiefs or magistrates of their own race, chosen from the native clergy or schoolmasters or any other adequately qualified individuals. These native magistrates should sit with the ordinary magistrates, and in all cases, criminal or civil, [[p. 179]] where both natives and Europeans were concerned, would act as the official protector or advocate for the native in the interests of justice, and for the purpose of putting the native point of view before the European magistrate or judge, who would alone be responsible for the decision of the court.

    In the case of disputes between or crimes by natives, in which no whites were concerned, the native magistrate would hear and decide the matter according to native law and custom, but modified where necessary in accordance with European law. Here too the Colonial magistrate would (at first) preside over the court, giving advice and suggestions to the native magistrate; but except in very difficult or important cases would allow the native magistrate to give the judgment of the court.

    In this way it seems to me not only would much hardship and injustice to natives be avoided, but the effect on the native mind generally would be most beneficial, by showing a full recognition of their rights in the very large and complex department of the administration of justice. The association of the two races in this way would also have an important educational influence on both. The native magistrate would learn much from frequent official intercourse with an educated European, while he would gain thereby a dignity and influence among his countrymen which he would value highly, and which would have an important and beneficial influence on his own character and conduct. On the other side the European magistrate would be equally or even more benefited, since by association with educated natives in the hearing of the infinitely varied cases that come before him, he would acquire a knowledge of native character, customs, and feelings which he could obtain in no other way, and which might have an important influence on the welfare of the community, when, in after years, some of these magistrates became members of the legislature.

    Another step of very great value and importance would be the introduction into all local authorities, such as education boards, district councils, town councils, etc., of one or more educated natives of each nationality (Kaffir or Indian) chosen to represent their fellow-countrymen, and to express [[p. 180]] their views and wishes as to any bye-laws or regulations which they found to be oppressive and unjust. Even if these representatives of the coloured races did not have votes, their constant presence at meetings, their right to protest against oppressive or one-sided regulations, often made in ignorance of the effects produced by them, could not fail to be of great value. They would also be able to bring before the authorities all cases of cruel or unfair treatment of natives by the police, a matter of the greatest importance in all countries, and especially in those where there are antagonisms of race.

    Here again the educational influence on the ruling class of constant official communication with some of the best among the native races would certainly be very great, and would probably lead in time to a better understanding between them than has been created by the present system of aggressive rule of a superior caste over their serfs.

    Perhaps more important still would be the application of the same principle to the Colonial legislature itself in both chambers. The native representatives need be few in number--perhaps three or four in the lower and one or two in the upper house, the object being in no sense to place the coloured race on an equality with the white, but to provide each branch of the legislature with accurate and precise information as to how both existing and proposed laws affect the natives, how and why they feel themselves injured or oppressed by them, and thus enable modifications to be made which, though apparently of trifling importance, may make all the difference between a condition of constant irritation and one of cheerful acquiescence.

    As to the mode of election of these native representatives it would be best to leave it largely to themselves to suggest the best method. It would probably be most in accordance with their customs for local chiefs, ministers of religion, teachers, etc., to meet together and nominate perhaps twice the number of members required. From these names the Governor of the Colony, after due inquiry among local magistrates or others well acquainted with the natives, would choose the members, who would thus be not only elected by their countrymen, but nominated by the Governor [[p. 181]] as the representative of the Crown. As the chief function of these members would be consultative and educational as regards the opinions and feelings of the natives, it would not much matter whether they had votes or not; but I do not think it would be necessary or wise to make any invidious distinction against them, as their very limited numbers would not give them any real power except in cases where public opinion was already nearly equally divided as to the advisability of the legislation in question.

    It is, I think, almost impossible to exaggerate the beneficial influence of some such small share in the government of a country as here suggested being awarded to the natives. Not only would it diminish, and in time destroy, the sense of injustice and oppression that now so largely prevails among the native races, but it would greatly extend mutual knowledge and give rise to that mutual respect which generally exists when men of different races and civilisations come to know each other intimately. It is to be hoped that in the constitutions now being elaborated for the two Colonies we have so recently devastated and conquered, some instalment, however small, of such a concession to just principles may be introduced; and, that powers may be reserved by the Crown for a further extension of the principle whenever it seems advisable. If that is done, and the results are found to be beneficial, other self-governing colonies may find it advantageous to adopt the plan.

    So long as we possess colonies in which a considerable native population still exists we should, I think, always retain our guardianship of those natives in order to protect them from the oppression and cruelty which always occurs when a young, and mainly wealth-seeking community has absolute power over them. Where these natives are numerous and energetic, and are rapidly acquiring our education, our religion, and the outward form at all events of our civilisation, things cannot remain as they are. What the ultimate condition of such mixed communities may be it is difficult to say, but, whatever the future may have in store for us, it is certain that a method which recognises that the coloured [[p. 182]] races are men of fundamentally the same nature as ourselves, and which aims at developing the best that is in them, by granting them some at least of the elementary rights of men and citizens, is more likely to bring about a satisfactory solution of this difficult problem, than that system of contemptuous superiority and denial of all political and social claims that has hitherto so largely prevailed.

    Having no personal knowledge of the country more particularly referred to in this article, I only put forward my views in a suggestive form. Forty years ago I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of Sir James Brooke, and, during more than a year's residence in Sarawak, of observing the mode and results of his beneficent and sympathetic rule over antagonistic native races. A little later I spent several months in North Celebes, in Java, and in East Sumatra, where I had full opportunity of noticing the effects of the judicious rule of the Dutch, almost wholly exerted through native chieftains. For nearly twelve years I travelled and lived mostly among uncivilised or completely savage races, and I became convinced that they all possessed good qualities, some of them in a very remarkable degree, and that in all the great characteristics of humanity they are wonderfully like ourselves. Some, indeed, among the brown Polynesians especially, are declared by numerous independent and unprejudiced observers, to be both physically, morally, and intellectually our equals, if not our superiors; and it has always seemed to me one of the disgraces of our civilisation that these fine people have not in a single case been protected from contamination by the vices and follies of our more degraded classes, and allowed to develope their own social and political organism under the advice of some of our best and wisest men and the protection of our world-wide power. That would have been indeed a worthy trophy of our civilisation. What we have actually done, and left undone, resulting in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people, is one of the most pathetic of its tragedies.

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