Project Canterbury

Dawn in Swaziland

By Christopher Charles Watts, M.A.
Archdeacon of Swaziland

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1922.

Chapter V. The European

VISITORS to Swaziland are usually struck by two things--the generous hospitality of the Europeans of the country, and the high level of education and general intelligence which they display. There are several explanatory reasons. In the first place, Swaziland lies so far from the beaten track of civilisation, and is so difficult to reach, that only those with enterprise and persistent courage are likely to settle there. Although, owing to the abundance of native labour, life is easy, the natural difficulties are so great, and the fight with the forces of nature so keen, that a gradual process of weeding-out is inevitable, and the idle and dissolute get gradually pushed aside and return to more civilised places. The distances between the houses and settlements are so great (often thirty to forty miles apart) that for mutual convenience residents must offer hospitality to the passing traveller, and the traditions of the country teach that that hospitality should be of the best. In old days visitors were very few, and to a man who had not seen another white face for weeks, or even months, the excitement and pleasure of a guest's arrival were great. The host entertained liberally, and the guest was expected to talk, to provide his host with news and amusement until the small hours of the morning. Social distinctions amongst Europeans do not exist, but the colour line takes their place, and comradeship and good-fellow ship are universal.

In the older days, money was plentiful. Owing to the fact that gin could be sold to the native, trading was easy and profitable. Money was pouring into the country from the British and Boer Governments, and the concessionaires were spending very large sums. Mbandine thought nothing of giving a handful of gold to anyone who took his fancy. A sovereign or two was thought little of amongst the old Swazilanders of thirty years ago. And something of the old tradition still remains. Amongst these folks lack of hospitality or of generosity was the only unforgivable crime. Loyalty to other white men was a virtue. To-day the band of old Swazilanders is small, for, one after another, the pioneers have been buried on the veld near their trading-stations and farms, but those who survive will never let a man down who has been admitted into their fellow ship. "He is an old Swazilander, and we must see what can be done to help him," is their motto. "Well, there was no law in the old days. We could do what we liked, and we got on very well notwithstanding. We were not too good, I daresay, but we were very happy, and lived men's lives out on the veld. The Swazis, too, had not been spoiled by Johannesburg and by contact with the lower side of civilisation, and were better men," said one of their number.

The fact that all the rough labour of the country is done by natives means that the European has plenty of time to read and think. The lonely Government official or policeman at some isolated post, or the trader at his native store, has many hours when time would lie heavily on his hands if he did not read. The enormous mass of printed matter brought into the country each mail-day proves the existence of a reading public. A traveller sleeping the night at some isolated store is surprised to find that its owner (although perhaps he has not been to Europe for twenty years), knows the prices on the London Stock Exchange, the latest phase of politics in Central Europe, and will ask the price of some new book that has lately made a stir at home. He has profited by his reading, while the long hours which he is obliged to spend in the saddle have given him time and opportunity for thinking. Another reason for the high level of general intelligence is that in a pioneer country people mix very freely, and no man is too reserved to talk unreservedly to his neighbours. A mining engineer comes from Johannesburg on a prospecting trip. His mind is full of the latest mechanical achievement, and he has a good knowledge of geology. Perhaps he will travel round with the proprietor of a large ranch in Rhodesia who has come to see the possibilities of the low veld for cattle. Both these men have travelled extensively, the former, say, in China, Asia Minor, and Peru, for mining men travel far afield; the latter in Australia and New Zealand, in order to study the cattle question in those countries. With them comes a financier from Johannesburg, who is interested in one of the concessions of the country. These men will provide their host with a fund of varied information. This is no imaginary incident, for some thing of the kind happens constantly.

Thus the European of Swaziland is, as a rule, in spite of his isolated life, well-informed and well-educated. There are, of course, exceptions. When war broke out in Europe the writer was journeying in the bushveld. He arrived at a little trading-station on the banks of a river, which was conducted by a man who in his youth had been highly educated, hut who had drifted to Swaziland in the early days. He was asked if he had heard any news of the war, for news travels fast even in the Swaziland bushveld.

"No," he replied, "I have been so busy putting these tins of bully-beef on my shelves that I have had no time to think about it." Yet this man, who probably would not know the day of the week, was a partner of McNab, the well-known Swaziland outlaw, and has a marvellous stock of knowledge concerning the early days. Here let us do somewhat belated justice to McNab, who cut the road to Delagoa Bay, and was a bosom friend of Mbandine. Though he traded in gin, and perpetrated many violent deeds, he had, in his own way, a great sense of justice. Some of his most violent acts were done when he took the law into his own hands, and became both judge and executioner. His slave-trading was of the mildest form. In time of dearth, he bought children from their parents in Gazaland, and sold them to other Europeans needing servants. The servants were happy enough, as there was nothing to prevent them running away and going home, if they wished to do so.

"You know I am a little mad," said one of these isolated settlers to his visitor, as he rode up at evening time. "What way does it take you?" inquired the visitor somewhat anxiously. "Well, I am not dangerous," replied the man. "Only a little balmy, for I have lived by myself in the bushveld for twenty years. As a matter of fact, we are all balmy down here!" And yet really no man was more sane. He liked to live his own life in his own way in absolute independence. He had tried to live again in England, but found that England did not suit him. Here, in company with his dogs, his guns, his fishing-rod and his Field newspaper, he lived exactly as he pleased, happy in himself and kindly disposed to others. Surely that is a sane life.

In Swaziland one does not hear the usual senseless talk on the "Native Question" which is so prevalent in large towns, and so annoying to those who know the facts, and such a handicap to those who are honestly trying to deal with it.

The Johannesburg Star, one of the leading news papers of the country, in a leading article on 17th November, 1921, contained these striking words:

"Professor Hofmeyer is stating what every thinking man knows to be true, when he says that selfishness is at the root of the white man's attitude to the black."

Sometimes it is unconscious; at other times, deliberate, as when Mr. Hendriks said that "the interests of the natives must only be considered so long as they did not conflict with the interests of the white man." When to this attitude is added complete ignorance, and even refusal to listen, or inability to understand the real facts of the case, the position seems hopeless. But in Swaziland the position is different. Men are familiar with natives under natural conditions, and know their good and their bad points. They recognise that in the law-abiding, peaceful, and reasonable native population lies the real asset of the country. Wealth and prosperity are to be found in the character of the native population, and not in the mines. The native is now waking out of his age-long sleep, and has still some confidence in the wisdom and justice of the European. The opportunity is ripe, but it may not be of long duration, for, unfortunately, the native is fast losing this confidence, and is beginning to feel his own power. If he is treated justly now, and helped forward in his just aspirations, peace and prosperity lie ahead. But if he is repressed and made distrustful, disloyal, and discontented, a bloody revolution is inevitable, for he has no knowledge of peaceful agitation under political discontent which marks the character of the British. No native can be judged fairly by his behaviour under the absolutely unnatural conditions of a Johannesburg mining compound, or the equally unnatural position of a house-boy in domestic service in some large town. Nor is it perhaps just to judge him as a squatter on some white man's farm in the Transvaal or Free State, where he is heavily taxed, worried by the pass-law and other irksome restrictions on his freedom, while at the same time he knows that in the courts he has little real chance against his white employer, and matters would only be made worse if he appealed to the law of the land. Can we even wonder if he becomes sullen and inefficient, if he is little more than a landless serf, compelled to labour to make another's fortune? The labour question at home became acute when men were sufficiently educated to see that they had been exploited in days gone by. The native feels that he is being exploited now, and his innate sense of justice is outraged. He is beginning to lose his tribal jealousies and to feel his nationality and power.

But in Swaziland, under the direct government of the Crown, native interests are considered equally with those of the white men. The administration is just and sympathetic to all legitimate native aspirations. Consequently the native is happy and con tented. As one of the leading Government officials remarked, "Now you can guide the native with a thread; what may happen in twenty years' time, I cannot say." The native agitators are bred over the border, and do not find much sympathy for their anti-European propaganda in Swaziland. The attitude of the ordinary European towards the native is good. "I like the Swazis, they make wonder fully good servants," is an expression commonly heard.

It must be remembered that the native, though very good in an emergency, and in sickness, does not like the monotony of daily work. For generations the men were warriors and hunters, and labourers on the soil. On a journey there are no more excellent servants. Their wants are few, and their indifference to personal hardships is great. But absence of any sense of the value of time or of punctuality, and their carelessness and forgetfulness in daily duties, drive the European at times almost to frenzy. And yet, when the temporary vexation is past, the European rarely fails to see their good points--their absence of malice, their obedience, and, on the whole, their honesty. Although in native stores, unless carefully watched, small articles will be stolen, nothing is locked up in Swaziland. Native labour is very cheap; one cannot reasonably expect it to be as efficient as that of the white man.

Amongst the good points of the Swazilander, perhaps his patriotism is the best. Almost all the Europeans in the country have worn the King's uniform in some capacity, or been employed in the Civil Service. When the Great War broke out, Swaziland sent, and sent at once, all her available young men to the various fronts, and the number of men bearing arms was greater in proportion to the population 'than in any other part of the Empire. Most of them became officers, for they were men of ability and initiative. Twenty-two gave their lives, and the number of decorations they earned for deeds of striking courage was very great. Major A. M. Miller, M.C., D.S.O., born in Swaziland, was one of the earliest officers to win distinction in the Flying Corps, and through his efforts and example a large number of young Swazilanders followed suit. They were entrusted with large and powerful machines, one being presented by the natives of the country, and their record can only be described as remarkable.

A single incident will show the feelings of the place. One of the little outside stores was kept by a man well into middle life, who had fought with distinction in the Boer and several native wars. Powerful, active, hardy, and a deadly shot, coming of a military stock, nature had marked him out as a soldier. After serving with distinction as a scout in German South-West Africa, he joined the army in Flanders. With him served another Swazilander of a very different type. He also was in middle life, a store keeper, and unmarried. Small of stature, and quite unused to bearing arms, or to a rough life, he was thought to be unfitted for the work. A position in the rear was found for him where his business ability and honesty would be of use. He felt, however, a call to offer all that he had, and realised that by serving in the fighting line he might save the life of some younger man. He could, as he explained, "stop a bullet as well as most." He insisted, and was sent up to the front. The British advanced, but were pressed back after a bad day, and when he returned to the trench worn out with fighting and weary almost to death, he found that his friend had not come back. He had been left somewhere, living, perhaps, on No Man's Land. He crawled out in the gathering dusk to bring him back, and whilst searching for his friend (whom we now know was killed early in the advance) he was shot dead. A very gallant gentleman.

This man, though a Jew by race and religion, left a letter giving a gift of £100 to the work of the Church in Swaziland and to St. Mark's European School.

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