The Fear of Equality

It’s common knowledge that South African Native Labour Corps men who served in France during World War 1 were kept separated behind barbed wire fences and were not allowed to fraternise with the local populations. The men had to be supervised and controlled by white South African men who had experience of managing black labour in South Africa.

This scenario is often used to prove white South Africa’s racial tendencies.

Recently, I came across the following description:

Among other regulations, smoking was prohibited on duty and in public places. Alcohol was forbidden – except when prescribed ‘for medicinal purposes’ – and no member of the Corps was allowed even to enter an establishment which sold it. All letters were read by administrators, while a stringent system of chaperoning existed … The barbed wire fences around the camps served to keep the women in as well as the men out.

Yes, you read women, not black South African Native Labour Corps. Women, white, also denied the vote at the time were being treated in a similar way to black South African men.

The quote comes from “The Forgotten Army of Women: The Overseas Service of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps with the British Forces 1917-1921” by Diana Shaw in Facing Armageddon: The First World War Experienced edited by Hugh Cecil and Peter H Liddle.

Isn’t it interesting how we shut off that which frightens us? We don’t want to engage with what we don’t know or fear.

Writing this I was reminded of an incident a good few years back now when I was still in almost full-time education. The BNP in the UK were looking as though they were going to do quite well in the general election and I was horrified at how colleges and others refused to invite BNP representatives to their institutions to be questioned by the students. It was acceptable to have the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green candidate visit and be challenged but not the group most feared. Ostensibly this was to ‘protect the students’, but what it did was increase curiosity and, at least, verbal support for the party – everything education leaders were trying to avoid.

Similarly, my initial intention as an historian was to study communism as, at school we’d been told this was what Apartheid was against. Communism was bad and our boys had to fight it. This made Nelson Mandela and others all terrorists. Other factors got in the way of my specialism, but I still hold a sideline interest in all things communist.

Today, as in years past, we continue to put people into camps until we’re sure about them – the Boer women and children, refugees, asylum seekers. Cross-dressers and others suffering from physical and mental differences get put in asylums or care centres, those who don’t follow our rules are put in prison… and yet others seem to languish because we’re too afraid to let them out having discovered they weren’t a threat to begin with.

Hiding people away and shutting them off from the mainstream doesn’t seem to me the best way of dealing with difference. Somehow we must find ways to engage – as the men working alongside the Women’s Auxilary Service and the SANLC found, we have more in common than not and together made working for a common goal more easily achievable.

Every time I experience new cultures and meet others who travel in the same way, it reinforces the need to cross barriers and engage. Understanding the ‘other’ leads (more often than not) to respect and a greater sense of community.

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The times they are a changing…

Walking back from the SANDF Doc Centre in its last years in Visagie Street, Pretoria (it’s now in Irene – at the end of the road joining onto Pierre van Ryneveld at Nellmapius Drive) to Pretoria General Station on my first day back in Pretoria after a year, I couldn’t help ponder over all the warnings I’d been receiving about walking in Pretoria Central.

When I was a student in Pretoria (early 1990s), we used to walk the streets until quite late without a problem. Now, as on my previous trip, I was being warned against it. As usual this got me thinking – everyone who was warning me, except for the very last person, was white. I therefore tested out my views of walking the streets with a few people of colour and was told to ‘continue walking as though you own the place’.

The next day I set out as usual but on this occasion paid close attention to the car drivers travelling along the roads I walked – I was by now quite used to being the only white person on the pavements, but hadn’t really thought about the drivers. The blunt thought struck me: where have all the white folk gone? It was almost the complete reverse of my student days.

Pretoria used to heave with whites, now they are almost non-existent. My thoughts immediately equated this with the days gone by and the Bantustans – what do we call the still predominantly white enclaves behind huge walls, fences, prected by alarms and security guards?

Thankfully pure white enclaves are rare, Oranje being the most (in)famous. The traditionally white areas are becoming more diverse and although many white South Africans still tend to avoid the CBDs (Central Business Districts) for reasons of ‘safety’, they have far more character and warmth than the clinical streets of my youth.

Later in the week (2015), I accompanied my mother to the Whitney Houston show at the then Civic Theatre (now Mandela Theatre in the Joburg Theatre complex) where I’d last been a year before with my sister for Elvis (they both do first aid duty for the theatre). Again, the contrast between these two visits was remarkable, so refreshing – the Civic has clearly got its line-up right, presenting a programme which appeals to all the different cultural groups. How wonderful it was to see a previously ‘whites only’ theatre packed with ‘mocha skin’ [as per the star of the show] enthusiasts of all ages. And to top it off, it was a South African, Belinda Davids performing the tribute to Whitney (and much better in my humble opinion).

The perception of South Africa as being dangerous persists – I’ve written about this before and it’s interesting typing up this blog piece I wrote a few years back but didn’t get to post then as to how my views haven’t changed. I feel safer now than I did in the 80s and early 90s in Johannesburg and as with all cities, one has to remain vigilent.

The other complaint I often hear is that the country has deteriorated, it is no longer what it used to be. Well, no, it isn’t and neither should it be the same country. Wasn’t that the point of overthrowing apartheid? Has the country deteriorated? In some cases, yes (and we won’t go into the corruption of politicians and others here) and there is still a lot of work to do politically and economically. But in other ways, the country hasn’t deteriorated. It is on the cultural and social fronts that the country has undergone its most radical transformation and in humble opinion – for the best.

I typed this as the ANC leadership has changed and we wait to see what transpires – the implications are huge but I hope and pray that the social and cultural progress which has been made to date influences and impacts positively on the economic and political. And I can’t but help remember the words Winnie Mandela uttered back in the early 1990s – the new South Africa will ‘accommodate everybody’ (1:18:00).

PS: In 2017 I drove into Pretoria to visit the National Archives – too far too walk from the station – but I arrived from Johannesburg rather than Boksburg and duly got myself lost! Many of the street names have changed. Whilst at the National Archive the young reading room assistant tried to explain to a white woman how to get to the courts where she would likely find the info she was needing. To the relief of both, and my amusement, he, a Tswana (we’d had a very enlightening conversation about Swahili earlier), gave up on the new street names and reverted to the old. It was just too confusing. Perhaps the next generation not knowing of the old names will find it easier.

 

A book for Ouma Smuts

HJ Wolstenholme, Smuts’ Cambridge friend, wrote to him in April 1906 including a book he thought Mrs Smuts might enjoy – the Life of Mrs Lynn Linton. Unfortunately he didn’t say who the author was but he indicated he’d bought the book as a ‘cheap remainder’ it having been published a few years before.

My curiosity was piqued. Who was Mrs Linton that Wolstenholme was recommending Ouma read? Thanks to the digitisation of old books, below are some relevant links.

Mrs Lynn Linton: her life, letters and opinions by George Somes Layard (1901)
Chapter 5 in Literary Celebrities of the English Lake District by Frederick Sessions
My Literary Life by Elizabeth Lynn Linton

For a brief overview, read on:

Elizabeth Lynn Linton was born in 1822 and died in 1898. She was born and buried at Crosthwaithe, Keswick, the daughter of a vicar. She was one of 12 children, their mother having died when Elizbeth was five months old. Her oldest sibling, a brother, was 16 when she was born.

At the age of 23 she went to London where she joined the Morning Chronicle becoming the first woman employed by a newspaper to draw a salary. After two years she visited Italy and then lived in Paris working for another newspaper. She was known to Charles Dickens who introduced her to other literary figures of the day. She sold Gad’s Hill in Kent [now a museum] to Dickens, a place he had loved since childhood.

She married in 1858, the artist WJ Linton. He already had 6 children. They split soon after, she finding country life tedious and WJ not enjoying city life. He moved to the USA and she remained in London.

In 1873 she anonymously published the True History of Joshua Davidson, Communist. She claimed she was the closest friend Davidison had and felt the record needed to be put straight.

In 1898 at the age of 76, nearly blind, she died. During her life she wrote about 40 novels, and a range of articles including “Are good women characterless” and “Wild women: as politicians” (titles which caught my eye).

On religion, she wrote: “We are all, all, all His children, and He does not speak to us apart, but to us all in our own language, equally according to our age – that is our knowledge and civilization. To Him I live, and in Him I believe, but all the rest is dark” (Sessions, p55)

On feminism: “At all events, the phase of women’s rights has to be worked through to its ultimate. If found impracticable, delusive, subversive, in the working, it will have to be put down again. It is all a question of power, both in the getting and in the using.” (Ourselves in Sessions, p56)

And of her books, Frederick Sessions notes that the ‘topsy turveyest book that ever was written is Mrs Linton’s Christopher Kirkland (book) which her biographer takes as autobiographical although she swopped the genders of her characters.

There is clearly much more to this woman than meets the eye and one day I might have time to revisit her in more detail. But what is intriguing is that Wolstenholme believes that Issy Smuts will enjoy the book. There are some clear overlaps but also differences. Ouma was intelligent and educated at university which is where she met Smuts, Elizabeth had little formal education but was clearly an intelligent woman. Both ignored the fads of the day and both knew their mind. They were also supported by the men in their lives (Issie by Smuts and Elizabeth by her father and colleagues).

And her apparent anti-feminst stance makes me think of the other female author with a southern African connection: Doris Lessing. All three powerful individuals who in their own way have influenced the world we know today.

Favourably disposed – a Groote Schuur link

I couldn’t help but wonder if Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Cabinet during the First World War, was favourably disposed towards Smuts because of a South Africa link.
This thought crossed my mind whilst browsing through the Cambridge College archive catalogue (Janus) for material on Africa during World War 1. Hankey’s wife’s name popped up and further investigation revealed that she had been born in South Africa

Adeline de Smidt was born in South Africa in 1882, the daughter of Abraham de Smidt and Gertrude de Smidt (née Overbeek). The de Smidt family (originally from Antwerp and Middelburg) owned the estates of Groote Schuur (Great Barn) and Westbrook under Table Mountain.

Adeline moved to the UK in 1890 – the year before Cecil Rhodes took out a lease on Groote Schuur (he bought it in 1893) and six years before the fire which gave rise to the current building designed by Sir Herbert Baker who was also involved in designing the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the Delville Wood memorial, Sir George Farrar’s house Bedford (now St Andrew’s School for Girls) and many of the old mine houses in Plantation, Boksburg which have now been destroyed.
After Rhodes’ death in 1902, Groote Schuur was bequeathed to the country as the leader’s residence which it remained until Nelson Mandela moved it to Westbrooke, now Genadendal. Another name associated with Groote Schuur, the war and London Society was Rudyard Kipling. Having befriended Rhodes, he was later to forge a working relationship with Baker designing war memorials.
Returning to Adeline, I’m not sure how much her South African connection influenced Maurice Hankey when it came to understanding or supporting Smuts – there was a great respect between the two men – but it does appear that Groote Schuur played an important part in bringing people together over time, and for that its architect is partly responsible for.

An intricate web of relationships: Milner’s Kindergarten

I was recently asked what I thought about Jan Smuts’ relationship with the Kindergarten. As with every answer I tend to give, it’s not straightforward to just say ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’. It evolved.

Milner’s Kindergarten was a group of young Oxford graduates who were recruited to help Lord Milner resettle the Transvaal after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (South African War or 1899-1902 War). Many went on to form the Round Table which was an organisation aimed at

See chapter 4 of Carroll Quigley’s book The Anglo-American Establishment (1981) provides some interesting background to the formation of the Kindergarten suggesting it was a Rhodes-Milner Secret Society. In addition to the main group of Kindergarten, another 5 became associated with it due to their time in South Africa.

Below is a list of the 18 men – courtesy of Carroll to which I have added their achievements before answering the question about Smuts’ relationship with them. For students of South African in the early 20th century, many names will be familiar.

Patrick Duncan (later Sir Patrick) 1870-1946; barrister, connected with mining magnates in particular George Farrar; later Governor General of South Africa
Richard Feetham 1874-1965; SA Judge, formation of Wits University
Philip Henry Kerr (later Lord Lothian) 1882-1940 Private secretary to Lloyd George 1916-1921, later Ambassador to USA
Robert Henry Brand (later Lord Brand)1878-1963 wrote The Union of South Africa (1909); Director of Lloyds Bank
Lionel Curtis 1872-1955 ran Round Table after Milner’s death; wrote The Commonwealth of Nations
Geoffrey Dawson (until 1917 Robinson)1874-1944 edited The Times 1912-1919
John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir) 1875-1940 author, Ministry of Information, wrote Official history of South Africa’s involvement in World War 1; Governor General Canada (archive)
Dougal Orme Malcolm (later Sir Dougal) 1877-1955 British South Africa Company, Colonial Office
William Lionel Hichens 1874-1941 Businessman
John Dove 1872-1934 Henry Brand published The Letters of John Dove
Basil Williams 1867-1950 – author of Botha, Smuts and South Africa
Lord Basil Blackwood 1870-1917 Killed near Ypres
Hugh Archibald Wyndham 1877-1961; in SA 1901-1923
George Vandaleur Fiddes (later Sir George) 1858-1925 Permanent Undersecretary Colonial Office; wrote The Dominions and Colonial Office (1926)
John Hanbury-Williams (later Sir John) 1859-1946 Military Secretary to Milner during the Anglo-Boer War
Main Swete Osmond Walrond 1870-1927 Milner’s Private Secretary; Arab Bureau
Fabian Ware (later Sir Fabian) 1869-1949 Founder of Commonwealth War Graves Commission
William Flavelle Monypenny 1866-1912

The five additional men:
Leopold Amery 1873-1955 journalist with the Times during Anglo-Boer War, 1919 Under Secretary of State Colonial Office, Politician
Edward Grigg (later Lord Altrincham) 1879-1955 Private Secretary to Lloyd George, Governor of Kenya 1925
H.A.L. Fisher 1865-1940 politician and historian (the secret elite of All Souls)
Edward Frederick Linley Wood (later Lord Irwin; Lord Halifax) 1881-1959 Viceroy of India
Basil Kellett Long 1878-1944; newspaper editor in SA and Britain, wrote biography on Smuts: In Smuts’ Camp; The Framework of Union

When the Kindergarten first arrived in South Africa, Smuts would have been very wary of them given their connection to Milner. The feelings expressed by ex-President Steyn were probably in similar vein to Smut. Steyn wrote to Smuts on 27 May 1906 (Hancock vol 2, p308):

… the difficulty was not to know what to say, but what not to say, becaue when I think of that man I almost lose all self-control. I see in today’s paper that he and Chamberlain have again been busy fabricating history.

This was in reply to Smuts’ letter (p302) of 4 May 1906 in which he said in response to a speech Steyn had given:

Perhaps Milner was not worth so much of your powder, but his policy still haunts the land, and I know of no better remedy against it than your address.

After Milner left in 1905, many of the Kindergarten remained in South Africa under the new Governor/High Commissioner Lord Selborne. During this time, their relationship with Smuts and the other Boer leaders began to change. Many helped see the four territories through to Union in 1910 and as noted above, two remained in the country, often in correspondence with Smuts, whilst others made regular visits and continued working in the country.

In the Smuts’ letters, Lionel Curtis wrote to Smuts on 25 April 1906 asking him (private and personal) whether he would be prepared to sit on a committee to help find a solution to the Burgher Settlements which constituted 1% of the white population. This group of people was seen to be economically unable to provide for themselves. Curtis was selecting a few individuals who would be able to focus on the issue at hand and not get side-tracked.

By the end of the 1914-1918 war, Smuts was reconciled to Milner, the two sitting on the War Cabinet – Milner having worked the way for Smuts to do so – and worked together for Empire at the Treaty of Versailles. Smuts was known to have dinner with Leo Amery who was on Milner’s staff again when Milner was Colonial Secretary during the Versailles Peace Discussions. In this capacity he would have also been in discussions with George Fiddes, who was a prominent Colonial Office official during the First World war years and Smuts’s work on the Mandates, Treaty of Versailles and other colonial issues would have brought them into countact.

Similarly, he would have been in close contact with Philip Kerr and Edward Grigg who were secretaries to David Lloyd George during the war years.

John Buchan, one of the later Kindergarten arrivals to South Africa after the war, was asked by Smuts to be the official historian of South Africa’s war effort. During the war, Buchan was a member of the Propoganda (Information) Department writing pieces to promote Britain’s war aims. He later died as Governor of Canada.

Of those who remained in South Africa either permanently or for a few years after Union, Smuts encountered many in Parliament and joined forces with some when the SA and Unionist Parties joined.

What may well have started out as a disparate group of men, became an intricate web of relationships exending through politics, business and literature. Its aim was to build and maintain an Empire (a British one).

Coloured – who am I?

One of the things I love about my work is discovery. I’m constantly discovering new things – even about things I know a little about. And there’s no better way to discover something than when you have to explain what you already know to someone who isn’t sure or seeks clarification.

One such enquiry derived from a contribution to Never Such Innocence on African involvement in World War 1. A teacher making use of the resource asked for clarifiction on the use of the word Coloured to describe African soldiers from South Africa.

I can just see many non-South African readers cringing at the word. Surely I should be using ‘Mixed Race’ or some other term. No, the term is Coloured and they are a people (micro-nation) who deserve recognition and respect.

I have fond memories of mixing with the Coloured community in Reiger Park, the Coloured township in Boksburg. They had a St John Ambulance Division which my mom and others supported and taught. As a youngster I would often be a ‘patient’ for them to practise on and later, when I had passed my first aid exams we went on duty together. All this during the heady years of Apartheid when races were meant to be separate.

During the First World War, Coloured men were best known for forming the Cape Corps and served admirably in East Africa (1 Cape Corps) as well as in Palestine holding the line at the Battle of Square Hill (18-19 September 1918). They also served as ‘Cape Boys’ driving oxen and cattle during the campaign in East Africa as well as in medical and other labour capacities including in South West Africa.

Here are some links I’ve found helpful for others to understand the contribution of Coloureds to South Africa’s rich and diverse heritage.
A Profile
A 2012 film: I’m not Black, I’m Coloured – I haven’t yet seen the film so can’t comment on that aspect but it shows the term is still alive and well…
There is a lovely but heart moving film I reviewed some time back called Katrina (1969) which is available on Youtube (IMDB); which puts the community into context in terms of Apartheid but also socially – then and unfortunately still today.
Coloureds have developed their own language which you can hear a snippet (this was done for the 2010 World Cup in SA so needs to be taken in context).
And finally a piece on one of their annual festivals, the Kaapse Klopse with one of their famous songs: Daar kom die Alibama (explained)

Respect to a people still struggling for the recognition they deserve in their own country, let alone elsewhere.

Continual Remembrance

I was recently asked if I believe in continual remembrance. This was the first time I’d heard the phrase – clearly I’ve not been in touch with the news and general public discussion.

After a brief hesitation, I had to say yes – it hopefully keeps us from perpetuating the mistakes of the past. ‘Isn’t that political?’ was the response. It must be if we are serious about creating the world we want to live in and that those in the past were prepared to give their lives for. Naturally this conversation has been doing its rounds in my head since.

There are three issues at play here all interlinked, as far as I can see: continuity, remembrance and politics.
What are we remembering? Why should we remember? Why is remembering political?

Continuity is ongoing. It is not once a year on a particular day. As an historian of war, it’s probably easier to be in a continuous state of remembering the past than for others. Memorials, statues, telling stories around the fire of past leaders all help keep the continuity of memories, events and persons in our consciousness.

I’m a great advocate of keeping statues around especially of those who we believe did the wrong thing by our standards. Keep the statues (not necessarily in their original location) and avoid repeating what the individual did which offends. Invariably, the statue or memorial was erected for reasons other than what is causing offense and it would be good to explore those aspects before passing judgement. Yes, Cecil Rhodes may have been racist. He was a man of his time when many believed or behaved in the same way (and to be honest, many continue to do so today). He was also generous – Groote Schuur, Cape Town and Rhodes Universities, The Rhodes Foundation and scholarship: where would South Africa’s economy be today if it hadn’t been for Rhodes and his colleagues setting up De Beers etc? Rhodes loved Africa and saw potential. In his eagerness he made some bad decisions; who of us doesn’t?

Verwoerd and Apartheid – was what he did any different to what is happening today with the rise of nationalism and individual groups attempts to ensure their independence? I don’t agree with what he did but I understand why he did it. The question is – was there another way he could have achieved the same protection of his adopted people?

The First World War – the horror of the trenches and men going over the top. Generals maligned for using their men as cannon fodder. Soldiers are servants – they follow orders – those given by politicians and national leaders (yes, some soldiers assume both roles and take matters into their own hands, but I’m not talking of them as soldiers here as they fall into the political category). A sweeping statement I know, some are blood-thirsty and all that goes with it, but they’re in the minority. I can’t help but recall Lord Kitchener’s statement ‘A soldier’s duty is not to get killed’ – a point reiterated by an officer I heard talk at Sandhurst comparing Afghanistan to the Somme. I could go on…

Remembrance. It’s easy to fall into remembering what’s in front of us: The list of war dead on our memorials, the reason for the Bank or Public Holiday, if we’re aware of it. This was brought home to me earlier this year when I was complaining about South Africa having two women’s days. The August date is for the contribution the women made to end Apartheid – Sharpville in particular.

Those often ignored and forgotten especially need to be remembered. A talk with a retired Archbishop of Africa brought this home when we were talking of the victims of Apartheid – all colours, genders and ages: those who went into exile and those family members who had to cope with the outfall back home, the young men, soldiers (both sides), forced into situations which scarred them for life, their families not aware of the wounds still suppurating below the surface manifesting in addiction, violent outbursts or depression.

These are the horrors to remember and to avoid in future, but we shouldn’t forget the positives which we can build on: the comradeship which crossed boundaries – the humanity of mankind (To be human is to be humane: Xhosa: umntu ngumntu ngabanye abuntu; Swahili: Mtu ni utu; Gikuyu: Mundu ni umundu*).

There are so many examples of this – sharing food in a foxhole, leaving medical supplies for prisoners, giving someone a drink or a place to lay their head for a time, keeping the horrors of one’s experiences from loved ones back home. Drawings of birds and animals, beauty, encountered along the way.

And finally, politics. When we think of the term, it evokes emotions often linked to elections and political parties or politicians. However, I look at politics in terms of the polity – ‘the form or process of civil government; organised society, state; condition of civil order’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary). We/I have a role to play in the civil order and so everything I do has an impact – it’s political. I often recall the advice given to me by a teaching union representative back in 2009-2011 when I was bemoaning about government decisions around Further Education and our lack of influence. He told me over his 30 years of being a union rep that he’d learnt not to focus on the big things which appeared unchangeable but to rather do what felt right on the ground, in my immediate circle, and the butterfly effect would take care of the rest. These wise words have kept me from being overwhelmed on so many occasions – and goes to the heart of my politics. Treat others as I want to be treated. Memorials (including books and archives) remind me to remember those not mentioned and to remember them all.

* Mary Nyambura Muchiri, Papers on Languages and Culture: An African Perspective (2009)
Musa Victor Mdabuleni Kunene, Communal holiness in the Gospel of St John: The vine metaphor as a test case with lessons from African hospitality and Trinitarian theology (2012)