A musical tangent

Continuing with my reading of the Smuts Papers, vol 2, by Hancock and van der Poel, I couldn’t help but do a double-take on reading Lord Selbourne’s 1908 missive on the Transvaal policy for ‘Coloured people and Natives’ (pp374-394). This document, 20 pages long, was clearly written in the time before social media and short attention spans.

What made me stop, and there were many such occasions, was Selbourne’s thoughts on black education. For him, this should be allowed, be optional and to show commitment, part paid for by the person attending. More was to follow… The curriculum (p364) says it all:

The Native must be taught a little ordinary elementary knowledge, elementary arithmetic, and how to read and write, and I should add a considerable proportion of music. The former would make him a more useful servant, and the latter a happier being; but the main lines on which I should like to see his education developed, are those of what in England I should call a first class agricultural labourer… the one work for which the Native is most suited is agricultural work; and as an agricultural labourer he will never come into competition with the white man.

Wasn’t this, other than the agricultural aspect, what aristocratic white young women in Britain were to be taught? So much can be pulled from this quote alone, so I say no more other than that Selbourne’s paper has to be read to be believed today, but these were the thoughts and views of the time. Interspersed amongst Selbourne’s class and racial views, are some insightful comments. His statement about preventing competition between the black and white man being one such – this was the main reason for the colour divide. Education today is still used to divide and rule, across the board.

Still reeling from what I’d read in this paper, I was later following a lead on the Rhodesian Regiment which served in WW1, only to discover another musical link: this from after the war.

Percival Kirby had gone to Natal in 1914 and worked at the university before going to Wits in 1921. By all accounts he didn’t enlist. His fame is for recording ‘the music of the South African people’. He collected instruments and recorded their sound on wax cylinders. The collection is now at UCT forming the basis of various studies – how research was conducted during colonial times, what was included/left out and so forth.

I wonder how much of what Kirby recorded was influenced by black education as promoted by Selbourne? – I imagine not much. What I do know is that music is an integral part of South African life and is as diverse in genre as the people.

And for those wondering, I didn’t find what I was looking for on the Rhodesian Regiment…

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