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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

High Commissioner of South Africa — 1854-1861. ætat 42-49 — Chapter X — Kaffirs and Kaffirland

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High Commissioner of South Africa
1854-1861. ætat 42-49
Chapter X
Kaffirs and Kaffirland

Sir George Grey appointed High Commissioner of South Africa and Governor of Cape Colony in 1854—Native troubles in British Kaffraria—Organization of the tribes under Kreli—Schemes for the civilization of the natives—Association of chiefs and Europeans in the exercise of responsible power—Foundation of the Grey Hospital in King Williamstown to undermine the influence of witch-doctors— Native schools for children, and advanced schools for native teachers and the sons of chiefs—Employment of adults on roads, farms, and in European households—Grey's plan of military conquest contrasted with that of his predecessors—Intimate association of the native and European races a vital principle of his policy—General effect of his reforms on the authority of the native chiefs—Threatened insurrection under Kreli—The revelations and prophecy of Umhlakaza—Collapse of the rebellion and punishment of the chiefs—Sir Bulwer Lytton's praise of Sir George Grey's conduct of native affairs.

In a separate dispatch from New Zealand on October 8, 1852, Sir George Grey expounded his views on native policy to the Colonial Secretary at some length, and made significant references to the perpetual disturbances on the border of Cape Colony and Kaffraria. Before concluding he ventured the opinion that if some such scheme as he had adopted in New Zealand were applied to South Africa the result would be a great saving in the expenditure of blood and treasure. Earl Grey, whose mind had been agitated by the long succession of Kaffir wars, replied in a private letter of February 1853, recognizing in very laudatory terms the striking success of Sir George Grey's schemes for the im-page 129provement and civilization of the Maoris, and expressing the conviction that, if the same firmness and judgment had been displayed in the management of the Kaffirs, "they also might have by this time become useful subjects instead of carrying on with us a war of extermination." Sir George Grey's first term of office in New Zealand expired toward the end of 1853, and he went home to England for a rest. In the following year he was appointed Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa.

The history of Sir George Grey's administration in South Africa may be most effectively studied under four divisions: his native policy in British Kaffraria; his relations with the Boers in the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Republic; his struggle for the unity of South Africa by the introduction of a Federal system of government; and his contributions to the maintenance and extension of the British Empire. It is much the greatest, as also the most interesting of his administrations, affording abundant evidence of his remarkable foresight, and capacity for rising to emergencies; of conceiving great and beneficent plans, and of sustained energy in carrying them into effect; of careful provision against disaster; and also of the sagacity to avail himself of "unexpected and strange incidents in the history of the Kaffirs for their advantage and for the security of the Colony." This capacity to turn impending evil into good is, perhaps, the highest achievement of statesmanship, and an examination of his native policy will show that the language of Sir Bulwer Lytton was not exaggerated.

The troubles with the Kaffirs in British Kaffraria page 130demanded his immediate attention, and thither he repaired soon after his arrival in Capetown to gain a personal knowledge of the chiefs and the country.

British Kaffraria must be carefully distinguished from Kaffirland proper. It was a limited district comprising only about 3,050 square miles between the Keiskamma and Kei Rivers, and stretching inland from the sea-shore to the Amatola mountains, which ran parallel to the coast at a distance of about fifty miles. It was, however, a fertile and densely populated region, comprising about 80,000 souls in the fourteen tribes. Of Europeans there were 1,200 excluding soldiers; half of them were in King Williamstown, the rest were distributed in the neighbourhood of five villages, East London, Izeli, Fort Murray, Keiskamma, and Dohne.

The organization of the Kaffirs was, like that of the Maoris, tribal; and the most important chiefs in British Kaffraria were Sandilli, Umhala, Pato, Kama and Siwani. For all practical purposes they exercised an independent authority; though nominally they recognized a shadowy allegiance to Kreli, the permanent chief who lived beyond the Kei in Kaffirland. In the government of the various tribes there were minor differences; but in all the power of the chief rested ultimately on force. In rendering judgment he was assisted by a body of councillors who met at the "Busa" or great place near the chief's residence; but he was not obliged to act upon their advice; and in the exercise of supreme authority was above all formal law.1

1 These observations apply more particularly to the Tambookies; but they are applicable to the Kaffirs generally. In making them I have relied on the account of Kaffir Laws and Customs given by Mr. J. C. Warner.

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Yet even in Kaffirland the will of the people was a controlling force; for the chief's prestige depended on the number of his followers, and if there were cause for grave dissatisfaction the underlings would steal away under cover of night and transfer their allegiance by making a present to another chief, which in feudal language was the symbol of "commendation."

Revenue was as necessary to a Kaffir chief as to other rulers, and the methods by which it was secured furnish abundant illustrations of unjust and violent procedure. Within the tribes were subordinate divisions composed of a number of kraals, and presided over by an underchief or headsman. Each kraal was responsible for the conduct of individual members within it, and in case of trouble was liable to be "eaten up." The phrase must not be interpreted literally, for the Kaffir did not share the Maori's partiality for the flesh of his foe. It simply meant that in case of offence real or supposed a strong force would attack the kraal and seize the property, including the cattle. A portion of the spoil was handed over to the chief, and the remainder divided among members of the council, who not only gave advice, but acted as sheriffs to enforce the sentences. "Eating up" was as popular an institution as were the raids undertaken by the princeps and the comites in ancient Germania.

But in the opinion of the High Commissioner it was incompatible with order and good government, and it discouraged ambitions that ministered to the well-being of the Kaffir race; for the people were kept in a poor and restless condition, and energetic, aspiring individuals were page 132victimized by the avarice of the chief and his council. Acting to some extent upon the advice of Earl Grey which he had neglected in New Zealand, he determined to make use of the chief's authority, and yet secure his subordination to the British Government. Having ascertained the amount of a chief's revenue secured in this precarious way, he offered to each chief a corresponding amount to be paid regularly in monthly instalments, provided he was willing to accept the assistance of a European magistrate in his deliberations and judgments, and to hand over the proceeds of all fines to the Government in future. The scheme was discouraged by the British minister for Kaffraria, and the Colonial Secretary pointed out the necessity for exercising the greatest caution in the selection of magistrates, and reminded him that the £3,000 additional expenditure must be paid out of Colonial funds.

Nothing daunted, Grey put his scheme into effect. Apart from his desire to make the chiefs dependent upon the Crown, he valued the educational results that would be secured by the intimate association of the two races in the exercise of responsible power. Some of the chiefs wished to nominate the magistrates themselves, but this was allowed only in such cases as did not conflict with the High Commissioner's opinion. In the beginning of 1856 Grey was able to report that Kama and Umhala had accepted the magistrates of his appointment, and that Siwani, Jalai, Tabai, and Tzatzoe had intimated their willingness to do the same. After his next visit to British Kaffraria he wrote a dispatch saying that the system was generally acceptable to the natives.

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In Maoriland the Ariki was chief and priest in one, in Kaffirland the offices were divided. Whether the magician among the Kaffirs was essentially priest or doctor need not be discussed, but he certainly combined the offices of both. It is necessary, however, to discriminate clearly between the herbal doctors who were skilled practitioners, and the witch-doctors whose power was based upon a deep-rooted belief in magic, and who worked by means of charms. The latter were the more powerful, and only a few gifted members of the tribe could attain to the dignity of their office. After passing through a period of training which had the effect of stimulating them to a high pitch of raving emotion, they finally attained to "renewal" or conversion. Henceforth they were "intonga" or "iggira," and had the power of communicating with the spirits of their tribal ancestors; they could infuse courage into warriors; thwart the malignant influence of evil spirits; and detect the criminal who by the exercise of spells had inflicted injury upon others. A case recorded by a servant in one of the hospitals may throw some light on their power and procedure.

The first-born son of Macomo, underchief of Sandilli, was ill. As this must have been the work of an enemy, a cow was sent to the witch-doctress to induce-her to come and "smell out" the offender. Around her the witch dance was executed as she sang the great witch song. Suddenly in the height of her emotion she became aware of the man who had poisoned Kona, and, as she proceeded to describe him, suspicion fell upon Panzi. A fire was lighted and the culprit was placed body downwards over stones white-hot. In the throes of his agony he confessed his page 134crime, and named the place where the stone might be found with which he had bewitched Kona by tapping the ground where he sat! Then followed the punishment: he was once more tortured by being placed back downward over the stones, after which he was strangled and thrown into the river!

Nothing could be more calculated to arouse the indignation of Grey, whose sympathy for the poor and the oppressed was a lifelong characteristic. Following the example of his predecessors, he visited with severe punishment any witch-doctor who was caught in the practice of his profession and denounced the horrible custom on his many visits to the chiefs; but he also determined to try and undermine the belief in magic by proving the superiority of scientific methods.

Situated on the hill-side overlooking King Williamstown, and within earshot of the rushing waters of the Buffalo River, is the Grey Hospital, to which natives are brought for treatment from every part of South Africa. Over the inner doorway of the porch at the main entrance is a portrait of the founder. Little has been added to the building since Sir George Grey's time, and the matron confesses with some sadness that the Kaffirs still seem to prefer their magic, and do not make that use of the institution which might have been expected. Nevertheless much is being done, and substantial progress was made during Sir George Grey's administration. Dr. Fitzgerald, who had rendered such valuable service in New Zealand, was brought over, and placed in command. Fortune favoured him when in 1856 a blind Kaffir Woman was restored to sight. In her joy she page break
The Grey Hospital: King Williamstown

The Grey Hospital: King Williamstown

page 135wrote a letter to Her Majesty the Queen which is preserved among the papers in the Grey section of the South African Library: "I was blind, Mother, O Queen; but now I see perfectly, and I see everything. I can see the stars and the moon, and the sun. I used to be led before, but now, Mother, O Queen, I am able to walk myself." It was precisely one of those cases best calculated to impress the untutored mind. The news spread rapidly through the country, and before the end of July eight blind people had undergone operations, and in four of them sight was restored. In 1858 the Governor was able to report that in this hospital alone 11,380 patients had been treated for various diseases. Yet it failed to eradicate the Kaffir belief in magic and in the efficacy of charms. Not even Mr. Brownlee could convince the native chiefs that their superstition was founded in error. Perhaps it was because in his own crude way the Kaffir was deeply impressed with the influence of mind over body, which is all too much neglected by medical men who, in their ignorance of psychology, give so much scope for the revival and maintenance of quackery.

Besides these institutions for specific purposes Grey established and jealously guarded a general system of education among the natives. Industrial schools were erected in various parts of the country where Kaffir children received a training in agriculture and carpentry, and were instructed in a knowledge of the principles of Christianity.

His first experiment was at Heald Town, where Mr. Ayliff was placed in charge of a school for the Fingoes. It was expected that the natives would contribute to their support, and in 1857 a sum of £220 was raised from among page 136them for carrying on the work at Heald Town. But the charges fell mainly on the Government and the supporters of religious organizations. Higher schools were also established in which the sons of chiefs might be trained, as well as those who were to become native teachers in small schools. The High Commissioner wrote glowing reports of their success; but his optimism cannot be justified by reference to actual facts. The Imperial authorities became anxious and clamoured for reports. In 1858 Grey was obliged to defend himself against the insinuation that the schools were being maintained to "the mere profit of those to whom they were entrusted," which he did valiantly not only in words, but by using £6,000 of his own money for their support.1 As a result of the Crimean war the Kaffrarian vote was reduced from £40,000 to £20,000, and, despite all his efforts, the efficiency of his educational scheme was seriously impaired.

But education in the more limited sense was not the only way by which the Kaffir was to be civilized; nor was it the best in the opinion of Lord Stanley, who with an eye to Imperial expenditure in 1858 advocated "a day's work for a day's wage." In all probability Grey still trusted most, as in South Australia, to the education of the children, but he was fully alive to the importance of regular employment. In all his schemes for the settlement of British Kaffraria, and indeed of the East Coast as far as the border of Natal, it is clear that he desired the co-operation of the two races. Not, however, on the basis of equality. On the contrary, he informed the Colonial Secretary that the industrial relation between European and Kaffir should be that of employer

1 This sum was paid back to him later by the Imperial authorities.

page 137and employee. So strongly was he convinced of this that he discouraged the introduction of unskilled European labour into Natal on the ground that such a class could not coexist with native labourers. Roads were to be constructed, farm labourers were needed, and household servants too, and by making use of the Kaffirs for such work the two races would be brought into contact with one another for their mutual advantage. This was what he most desired, and in his plans for the settlement of the country he adopted a policy fundamentally different from that of his predecessors.

Under the old system the Imperial troops drove the Kaffirs before them through a country without roads, and at every stage men had to be dropped in fortified places till the front became so diminished that the force was in danger of being outflanked. So the march invariably ended in a process of exhaustion in which one army was left to defend the country, and another was engaged in the slow and laborious work of bringing wagon-loads of supplies to the scattered forts.

The most objectionable feature in this system to Grey's mind was the separation of European and native peoples. His plan was based upon a principle entirely different, and while it provided for the exigencies of war, implied mutual intercourse. The country was divided into sections by lines of forts stretching from the sea inland. These were to be connected by good roads along which guns and baggage might easily and rapidly pass from the seaports in case of emergency. One of these roads started from East London and passed through Queenstown in the direction of North; page 138another from the Mouth of the Keiskamma through Beaufort to Alice. In their vicinity Europeans were to be settled, and commercial intercourse between them and the natives was to be encouraged.

The construction of these roads affords an illustration of his method of associating Kaffirs and Europeans in practical work. Three classes of natives were employed: one in every sixteen was an overseer receiving 1s. a day and rations; one in every eight was a second-class man, paid 9d. a day and rations; the rest were ordinary labourers. Besides these, Europeans were appointed as general overseers; but Grey found the greatest difficulty in getting men of experience who understood enough of the language and character of the natives to take charge of the working gangs. Yet it was difficult also to induce the Kaffirs to work, and much dissatisfaction was expressed by the Imperial authorities until the failure of an attempted rising brought thousands of the natives to the verge of starvation, and threw them on the mercy of the Governor.

Grey's primary object in carrying these manifold schemes into effect was the civilization of the native races. Many of the chiefs realized this and gave him full credit for his benevolent intentions. It was not long, however, before it became apparent that the indirect result was the complete subordination of the native races, and some of the more suspicious were afraid lest the ultimate effect should be their extermination.

Throughout the early years of Grey's administration there was a feeling of unrest among the Kaffirs, and in 1855 there were rumours of a combination of the tribes against page 139the English. It was said that Kreli was washing his hands in a skull containing blood, and that Moshesh, the great chief of the Basutos, was preparing a mixture of corn and meat under the direction of the doctors, to be eaten by the warriors in order that they might become invincible. Rumour was confirmed by the reports from the various commissioners, and even Commissioner McLean declared that communications were passing between Moshesh and Kreli; and that the latter, boasting of his victory at Berea, was urging that a combination of Basutos and Kaffirs could easily drive the Europeans into the sea.

Up to the last moment Grey assured the Colonial Secretary that he did not believe war would actually break out. But there was the greatest need for caution, and at last it was given out that Umhlakaza, a priest of great reputation, had received a message from the unseen world in which he was directed to inform the Kaffirs that, on a certain day, the spirits of their dead ancestors would appear among them bringing a new race of cattle bigger and better than those which they already possessed. On the eventful morning the sun would rise in the heavens, and, after ascending for some time, turn back and set again in the east. From that day a new era would begin, for the Europeans were to be swept into the sea. These promises were, however, to be fulfilled only on condition that all the Kaffirs should make sacrifices to their ancestors by destroying the corn and cattle of which they were then possessed. All those who disbelieved would be swept away by a hurricane on the fateful day. Kreli, who was impatient of British rule, and wished to reduce the Kaffirs to a state of page 140desperation, issued orders that the great prophet should be obeyed.

Grey even then did not abandon his conviction that war would be averted, but he was well prepared for the worst. Some of the chiefs had become his friends, and declined to obey Kreli's orders even when the excitement became intense. His humane policy had divided Kaffirland into two camps, and he had an intelligence department admirably equipped. News travelled with marvellous rapidity from chief to chief in those days; but every one of Grey's magistrates was a spy, and the tribes could make no move without the High Commissioner becoming aware of it. The roads constructed by the natives afforded excellent means of transport; but more than all he had a military force thoroughly well organized and strong enough under able direction to quell any native insurrection. It was divided into three parts: the Burgher force, the Colonial force, and the Imperial troops. The last was much the most important, and at one time there were as many as ten regiments in the country. But Grey had induced the Colonial Parliament to maintain 500 armed and mounted police at a cost of £40,000 to protect the frontier, and it was a highly efficient force. So, too, the Burgher force had undergone a change for the better. In the olden days, when the frontier-man was a skilful hunter and a good marksman, he was prepared on short notice to go on commando and defend himself; but at that time the Kaffirs used assegais, not muskets; and, besides, the increase of population had brought more settled habits, and the farmer had lost much of his old cunning in handling the musket.

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It was now ordained that there should be a burgher force enrolled in each district, and the cost of its training and maintenance defrayed by the local inhabitants. With such resources the High Commissioner contemplated the impending crisis without misgiving. He was determined that there should be no cause for resentment, and instructed his officers to go about their duty simply and quietly as though nothing were happening. Meantime he bought up all the corn and cattle that were for sale.

At last the fateful day arrived. On Wednesday, February 18, the sun rose in the east as usual and ascended toward the zenith. Many of the Kaffirs remained indoors lest the hurricane should sweep them away; but there was not so much as a gale, and the sun followed its usual course across the heavens, and did not turn back. It did not even stand still, but as usual set in the west, and night closed in on Kaffirland.

It was a heavy blow for Kreli and Umhlakaza; but not so great as might have been expected, for the failure was attributed to unbelief which had mortified the unseen spirits. Quarrels arose between the believers and unbelievers, and there was some fighting. On the European side two English people were murdered during the excitement, and the native losses were very great. Despite all the Governor's efforts thousands died of starvation, and it has been estimated that 100,000 were obliged to leave Kaffirland and seek employment in Cape Colony, where labour was so much needed.

Having done all he could for the relief of the infatuated people, Grey determined to strike an effective blow at the page 142power of the chiefs who had caused so much trouble. Fadanna and Quesha were captured, tried and sentenced; the one to seven years' imprisonment, the other to twelve months'. Macoma was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour; but as he was an old man, Grey relieved him of the labour, so that his case might not excite too much sympathy. The death sentence passed on several others was commuted to twenty years' imprisonment.

Kreli's turn came later. That smiling, crafty old schemer was living in fancied security beyond the Kei River, waiting for a more favourable opportunity when the country might be denuded of troops. Grey fell upon him with an irregular force, striking him simultaneously at three points. He drove him beyond the Bashee River through tribes that were friendly to the British. There he remained helpless till in 1860 he wrote a letter to the High Commissioner praying for pardon, and asking for a piece of land in his former territory where he might have a home, and spend the remainder of his life free from incessant cares. This was granted, and Grey had no further trouble with him. The highest praise was bestowed on the High Commissioner for the success of his policy. Sir Bulwer Lytton freely acknowledged that he had not only averted war, but had transformed what threatened to be a grave calamity into a means of enhancing the prestige of the British Government among the native races in South Africa.

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Kreli: Paramount Chief Of The Kaffirs From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, South African Public Library

Kreli: Paramount Chief Of The Kaffirs
From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, South African Public Library