HUMAN nature being what it is, the problem of the coloured or half-caste child is bound to arise in every tropical country in which white men begin to settle. These children are to a great extent a legacy of earlier days when conditions were different, and they cannot be ignored. The point to be considered is the attitude which the Christian Church should adopt towards them. In the first place, it has to be remembered that by the mere fact of their birth they have become the innocent victims of a great wrong, a wrong that only the love and mercy of God can eventually set right. In this world they must ever bear the mark of their shame, and proclaim to all men by their features and their colour the stain of their birth. They enter life terribly handicapped, and however excellent may be their disposition and character, this handicap cannot be overcome.
Is it, then, strange that they often falter in the battle of life, and being despised, become despicable? Our Blessed Lord always took the side of the under dog in life, and helped to carry the burdens of those whom men derided and despised. "The Friend of publicans and sinners" was no empty title, for it was given Him by His enemies, and a man's enemies often judge his character more accurately than his friends. The poor and outcast sought Him because they knew He had a heart, and surely no children are dearer to the Saviour now than are those unfortunates who, in childish innocence themselves, are the result of the sin of both European and African, and who sadly need His love and care.
The writer had occasion to visit in hospital the father of some of these children. The man thought that he was dying, and wished to make some pro vision for their future. "I have sent for you because I wish you to have the care of my children after I am dead," he said; "you people have got an 'eart." And it is because the Church has got a heart that the school of Empolonjeni exists.
"I came to this country," said the man, "nearly thirty years ago. It was supposed to be so fever-stricken that no European woman could be asked to live there. Many men had native women to cook and wash for them, and without help of this sort, life would have been almost unbearable. I had one, and found her good and not unattractive. After a time I married her, and children came. She was a good wife to m nursed me in fever, and helped me to make my fortune in the native store. The children were my children, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. As the country grew more settled, some of the men said to me, 'Why do you not put away this woman and marry respectably? Give her and the children some cattle and send them away.' I answered that I was not that sort of man. If I had made a mistake I would stick to it, even if it ruined my life. But if I had known what it would have meant for my children, I would have hanged myself before I did this thing." The speaker had made a very brave attempt to bring up his coloured children well. A few months later he died a sincere Christian. On one occasion he said: "Before the Church took an interest in my children I did not believe there was much in religion except parson's talk, but when my little boy came back from school and said his prayers it made me think. Then I began to study the matter, and found that before I had known nothing on the subject. I prayed to God for guidance and the light dawned. I was blind, now I see." After his conversion he was confirmed, and in the few months that remained to him of life he made a gallant attempt to convert his fellows. Once again the old Scriptures were proved to be true: "A little child shall lead them." It would be possible to relate other similar stories.
Two men in Swaziland volunteered for and laid down their lives in the Great War. Both of them had left responsibilities behind. Should these white men's children be left to be brought up in a native kraal, with the possibility of starvation? A white man died of fever at the Front, leaving behind a family of seven. The native woman, hearing that the man was dead, deserted them. Seven children, the eldest twelve years of age, were left alone to fend for themselves as best they could in a native hut, and under the doubtful care of one old native uncle, himself unmarried. Has the Church no heart for such cases as these?
The majority of these coloured children have long ago been deserted by their fathers. They have gone to pastures new, and have perhaps little thought of the brood of bastards they have left behind. And yet, strange to say, the children seem to have kindly thoughts of them, and are proud of their European parentage. It has fallen to the writer to keep back from the post many pathetic little letters written by the children to such men. It is better that the child should think the father careless, or the post in fault, than that he should learn the truth from some insulting answer. "Why do you never write to me, father? I think of you every day." "I pray for you always. Do you ever think of me?" "I am doing well at school, and am in Standard IV," they say.
The letters are carefully and laboriously written by those who hope, and go on hoping for some appreciation of their efforts towards improvement and self-respect.
Three points have to be considered. In the first place, is it possible for these children to be merged into and absorbed by the native population of the country? The temperament and character of the children themselves entirely preclude such a possibility. Were it practicable, it would be the obvious solution of a great difficulty, and it is one much desired by the Europeans. But the human factor enters into the problem.
In older colonies, such as the Cape and Natal, the coloured people have formed a nation of their own, and have solved the problem for themselves. They are neither confounded with nor treated as natives, and in all their customs, such as monogamy and the profession of Christianity, they follow the white people. They do not desire social equality, but they press for full political rights and for entry into the ranks of skilled labour. As a people they increase rapidly in numbers, and are a very important element in the general population.
But in countries such as Rhodesia or Swaziland there are not enough of them to enable them to stand alone. They look to the white side of their birth, and are determined to claim it. Nothing can alter this fact. At one time an attempt was made to persuade the children at Empolonjeni to adopt other names than their own, or to use their native names. "We were not picked up in the veld; we are not dogs. We have a father, and shall use his name," they answered. The native is not prepared to receive them except on a basis of equality, or even inferiority, and this the white blood of the European will not stand. Even the feeblest coloured child knows that he has sprung from a superior race, and feels that he cannot accept a position beneath the native in the social scale. In addition to all this, the native much resents the interference with his women folk by white men, and is inclined to vent this resentment on the children. The morality of kraal life is of such an appallingly degraded character, that no boy or girl reaches the age of puberty with a shred of decency remaining. But these are the children of white men, some of whom have been well brought up in a rough way. The girls are attractive in appearance, and the boys vigorous and often handsome. It is impossible to think of them living the debauched and filthy life of a kraal.
Can they then mix with the Europeans and be absorbed into the white population? The answer again is, No. Some of them are wonderfully European in appearance, with blue eyes, straight and even fair hair. But they still retain traces of their African origin, and they could not be allowed to marry with the dominant race. They have been too much in contact with the natives, and have absorbed too much from them. They cannot be allowed free social intercourse with Europeans. They do not demand equality, but recognition according to their moral worth, and this is what thinking men are more and more inclined to grant them. General Hertzog, speaking in the Free State, the home of reaction and of lost causes, pleaded hard for the recognition of the coloured man, and that freedom should be given him to sell his labour to the best advantage. The coloured child reminds the white man of his sin, and he wishes to forget his existence and put him out of sight, and he refuses to recognise him as in any sense his equal. Besides, he dreads his competition in the ranks of skilled labour, and their competition, in spite of the Labour Party and the Colour Bar, is being felt more keenly as time goes on. It frightens men.
A school such as Empolonjeni does more to stop the spread of illegitimate unions between whites and natives than a thousand sermons on the children of shame can no longer be hidden at the kraals. They come to light again as educated and decent folk. "If you will not provide for your children, we, at any rate, will see they have some hope in life, some chance of doing well," is the message of the school to an unnatural parent. "If you saw your children, sturdy, affectionate, clean in body and in mind, keen at work and at play, you would feel ashamed, not of them, but of yourself."
As to the character of the children themselves, it is the fashion to evade responsibilities towards them by saying that they have the vices of both races, and are hopelessly ungrateful and immoral. "The half-caste is one who hates his father and loathes his mother," said a popular writer. After eight years' full experience the writer denies the truth of this statement. These children at Empolynjeni are of the first generation, and in most cases, although they have no father to look to, are affectionate and responsive. They certainly love their African mothers very sincerely. In a sermon the writer once said to them:
"Who is it that always loves you and cares for you, to whom you can always go for help?" "My mother," came back the answer in chorus. The fact that they respect, and love and help their mothers well in after life stands out most clearly, and cannot be denied by any who have real knowledge of the race. They may have the vices of both races, but they certainly have their virtues too, and that in no small measure. They possess energy and a keen desire to rise, a good deal of the brain-power and capacity to absorb new ideas, together with the reliability of the European; while on the native side they have inherited good nature, an absence of malice, and a desire to help. And above all, they have the love of God. Perhaps it is the sense of their own weakness that makes them cling to Christ. To them--as, indeed, to all children--prayer and sacrament are very real. It is good to see them keen in school, or happy in their play, but it is best to see them kneeling by their bedsides at night. We know that our blessed Saviour loves the fatherless. It is good to see Him filling--and more than filling, in their hearts--an earthly father's place.
"My sisters and I meet every Sunday and say the service over to ourselves," is an extract from the letter of an old pupil far from any place of worship. "You will pray for us"--a request in many and many a message to the old school.
"Ah! attractive, I make no doubt, willing little workers, honest and affectionate, orderly and respectful, perhaps," the reader may say, "but are they moral?"
"The sins of the fathers have been visited on the children in many ways; should they escape this one?" would be the answer. Under good conditions they seem as moral as other folk; but working in the white man's back kitchen or stable, and exposed to many temptations, they are not so. A sore and resentful heart is a veritable breeding ground of vice. In bad conditions they are frankly bad. Pushed down to the level of the native, and treated as a native servant, they cannot be called moral. But give them proper sleeping accommodation and treat them with respect, and they do as well as most.
In six years no single girl at Empolonjeni has fallen, no boy been in serious trouble. We are very anxious as to the future of some, but at the time of writing this statement remains true. The Government Inspector reported on the school (now grown to seventy) in June, 1921:--"The work of the pupils has always been neat and tidy. This year some exceptionally good work was to be seen. English reading is very much improved, and in their essays, which were well expressed, the pupils showed considerable originality of thought... The drawings from nature and from memory showed that some of the pupils possess considerable gifts for observing accurately, and expressing realistically what they see around them. Several of the pupils have left this school to go out into the world, and it is interesting to find that they are doing well, and are well thought of by their employers. I saw some letters received from their employers containing most eulogistic expressions. 'Good and willing.' 'A great help.' 'Nothing but good to say of them.' These letters, written in the ordinary course of events, and not intended as testimonials, gave one a deep impression of the value of the work done here."