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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XXIV. — Ubjugation of Kafir Chiefs and Witch Doctors

page 185

Chapter XXIV.
Ubjugation of Kafir Chiefs and Witch Doctors.

"We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths,
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best."

Although parliamentary government had been granted to South Africa, the rule of a responsible ministry had not yet obtained. The Governor was unfettered in his discretion as to the policy to be submitted by him to Parliament. He was indeed aided by a Council, composed of the great Executive officers, who, by virtue of their office, could attend in both Houses of Parliament and explain the scope and intention of all matters submitted. They, however, had no votes, nor were they dependent for office upon any will of the Legislature. They were Imperial officers, responsible only to the Governor and the Crown.

Seeking information from every source, and recognising the stupendous nature of the task imposed upon him in this new sphere of duty, the Governor fixed his mind upon the accomplishment of the same results by the same means which had already in the case of New Zealand worked so well. To him, in truth, there appeared but one road open which was likely to lead to success. Happily, as in his former Governments, his hands were left untied. The country was given over to him. He was responsible for its good government, but he was free and unfettered for all practical purposes.

In Grey's estimation, power and authority were only means to an page 186end. He coveted complete control, because with every widening of his influence he could accomplish more. The end he toiled for was the greatest good of all. That narrow maxim uttered by Jeremy Bentham, "The greatest good of the greatest number," found in him no ardent supporter. The greatest good for all was the constant aim of his life. To him power was to be desired because it enabled him to defend the weak, to succour the distressed, to teach the ignorant, to set free the slave, to raise the fallen, to humble the oppressor, and to establish liberty upon a broad and substantial base. And he always pertinaciously strove for the highest good possible in the line of his various efforts. In education, in philanthropy, in public and social reforms, in politics, in science, and in religion, he always tried to scale the farthest heights. In all, his goal was the very last step that human reason and human fortitude might reach, the loftiest pinnacle that the sons of men might scale.

And so it sometimes happened that he, being far in advance of those by whom he was surrounded, alarmed many of his friends, and was jeered at by his enemies. To his mind possibilities presented themselves which others could not see. So long as he was the possessor of almost despotic authority, and was thereby enabled to carry his plans into execution, he did things which will make his name famous to all time. No Roman pro-consul wielded power over wider dominions or was brought into contact with wilder nations. No man ever subdued with so little bloodshed such great numbers of barbarians. He set himself to the task of utilising the great influence which he possessed in every direction for the permanent happiness and prosperity of the South African peoples. Many years afterwards, when the history of that time was written, the verdict passed upon Sir George Grey's plans, especially as regards the native tribes, was this:

"The aim of the policy of the Colonial Government since 1855 has been to establish and maintain peace, to diffuse civilization and Christianity, and to establish society on the basis of individual property and personal industry. The agencies employed are the magistrate, the missionary, the schoolmaster, and the trader. The educational efforts put forth are extensive, and pre-eminent amongst them is the industrial and training institution at Lovedale."*

* "History of South Africa," J. Noble, 1877, pp. 334, 335.

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Through this great school upwards of two thousand native youths have passed, receiving education and civilized culture. During the last seventeen years the natives have paid in fees to this school upwards of a thousand a year. "These efforts," observes Dr. Dale, the colonial Superintendent-General of Education, "must commend themselves to the statesman and the politician as providing the best guarantees for good order and commercial development. With school instruction came habits of enterprise and self-reliance. The wants of civilized life necessitate some degree of industry, and thus wealth accumulates in private hands. Every native who owns a plot of land or a plough or a wagon and oxen is a hostage for peace."

"Passing over the early days of colonisation and the series of miserable wars in later years, for which changes of Governors and changes of policy were in some degree responsible, we may limit our observations to the period embraced within the last quarter of a century, dating from the commencement of Sir George Grey's administration. During this time peace has been uninterruptedly enjoyed within British frontiers. The natives have been treated in all respects with justice and consideration. Large tracts of the richest land are expressly set apart for them under the name of 'reserves' and 'locations.' The greater part of them live in these locations, under the superintendence of European magistrates or missionaries..… As a whole they are now enjoying far greater comfort and prosperity than they ever did in their normal state of barbaric independence and perpetually-recurring tribal wars before coming into contact with Europeans.

"The advantages and value of British rule have of late years struck root in the native mind over an immense portion of South Africa. They realise that it is a protection from external encroachment, and that only under the [unclear: gis] of the Government' can they be secure and enjoy peace and prosperity. Influenced by this feeling, several tribes beyond the colonial boundaries are now eager to be brought within the pale of civilised authority, and ere long Her Majesty's sovereignty will be extended over fresh territories, with the full and free consent of the chiefs and tribes inhabiting them."*

The new Governor, besides establishing schools among the

* "History of South Africa," J. Noble, pp. 334 and 335.

page 188natives, saw that it was necessary to break down the power of the chiefs and the influence of the witch-doctors. In two ways the authority which the chiefs of the tribes possessed was used for the purpose of self-aggrandisement and of oppression. In the first place, they sat as magistrates, and as such inflicted fines upon alleged wrong-doers, which fines they appropriated to themselves. This naturally led to every species of extortion and injustice, from which the only escape was by flight or assassination. A still more potent weapon was used by the chiefs, viz., the witch-doctors. If any individual became possessed of considerable property, so as to excite the cupidity of the chief, he incurred the risk of being accused of witchcraft. Some death or other misfortune happening to a member of the tribe was laid at his door. He was charged with having caused this misfortune by incantations or collusion with evil spirits.

To ascertain the machinery by which the crime had been committed, the aid of the witch-doctors was invoked. These pretended to be able to discover, by the sense of smell, the articles which had been used for the purpose of accomplishing the evil deed. They would declare the shape and substance of this instrument before entering on their final search. The fate of the victim was sealed. The witch-doctor having taken care to secrete the article searched for in some part of or near the dwelling of the accused person, would then publicly and infallibly find it in accordance with his prediction. Torture was resorted to to compel confession, oftentimes successfully. In some instances men really believed that they had caused the death of others by incantations. In others they willingly confessed crimes of which they were innocent, so that a swift and speedy death might terminate the horrible agonies of protracted torture.

The measures necessary to destroy these two evils were essentially different. As regards the power which the chiefs directly exercised, Sir George Grey made a commencement in British Kaffraria. This territory, then under the rule of the Imperial Government, was inhabited by the strong and the warlike tribes of the Gaikas, the Slambies, and the Amagunukwebe, whose chiefs and sub-chiefs were powerful and independent. The system of subsidising these native rulers was introduced. Head men were appointed and European page 189special magistrates, who were to hear and try all cases. The chiefs were to discontinue their duties as judges, except that they sat with the European magistrate, and in lieu of the revenue which they had formerly obtained through the fines imposed, they were to receive fixed salaries from the Governor.

The earliest experiment made was with the loyal chief Kama. Captain Reeve was appointed the first special magistrate in January, 1856, and Mr. Chalmers, who thirty years afterwards wrote an interesting account of this portion of South African history, was the first clerk and interpreter. The system was strenuously opposed. The chiefs saw that their influence was doomed were this new practice adopted. It succeeded, however, beyond anticipation. Kama was pleased, Captain Reeve gave great satisfaction, the natives were not only contented but delighted with the change. Sir George Grey determined that the system should be extended at all risks.

The Governor showed his wisdom in his selection and appointment of magistrates. In that lay to a great extent the secret of the subsequent success of his system. "The civil service of the country has never since held such a high tone and character in the eyes of the natives, or been held in such high esteem and respect as it did under the regime of Sir George Grey.

"Our main hope and power, however, in carrying out the policy of Sir George Grey lay in the councillors; and Sir George Grey wisely foresaw this, hence his instructions. Through the instrumentality of the councillors, a great revolution was quietly, unostentatiously, but surely to be effected in the future management and government of the natives; and without their aid the wise and far-sighted policy of Sir George Grey would have been a complete failure.

"By kindness and firmness Sir George Grey disarmed the other chiefs and tribes of their opposition, and the diplomatic barque of a great and wise man was fairly launched in 1856.

"The instructions of Sir George Grey were that we were to treat the councillors or headmen in such a manner as to win them from their chiefs to the Government, and by their instrumentality win the people to us, and overthrow the chiefs who had always been such a source of anxiety, danger, and loss to the whole country and to the Imperial Government.

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"Suffice it to say that the power of the chiefs has been completely and for ever broken.

"The people themselves are happy and contented under the altered state of affairs. Our government pleases them immensely, and they are very much pleased with the change, and at being relieved from the unjust tyranny of the chiefs. Many and warm are the thanks which are offered to Sir George Grey by the old people who know how this revolution was brought about."*

Mr. Chalmers goes on to say that the Government had adopted this system and enforced it in the Transkei, Tembuland, and East Griqualand, where it was working well; "but would work better if Sir George Grey's care was followed in the selection of officers, and if the officers were allowed the same freedom, and allowed to use their brains as was allowed to his officers by Sir George."

Speaking with sorrow of the loss South Africa sustained when Sir George Grey left, Mr. Chalmers writes that the constant idea in the native mind, is, "If he had remained with us how many more advantages and good results would we not be enjoying now under his wise rule? He understood us, and understood what sort of government was necessary for us."

Sir George Grey selected Colonel Gawlor and Pomeroy Colley, believing them to be capable men, and to their assistance he owed much. Colonel Maclean, Chief Commissioner in British Kaffraria, also helped the Governor thoroughly, although differing in opinion from him as to the wisdom of many of his steps.

* Letter, Nov. 3rd, 1886. W. B. Chalmers to Dr. Fitzgerald.