THE relation between masters and servants has been an important and vexed question ever since the time when men first began to live in organised communities. Plato said that every free man should have ten slaves to work for him, in order that he might have leisure to develop his mind. The reason why the colonial-born people of South Africa are, as a rule, well informed and well read is that as all manual labour is performed for them by natives, they have plenty of time to think and read. Erasmus in his Woman's Parliament gives as one of the main topics for discussion the difficulties between mistresses and their servant girls. To the missionary the subject is a thorny one. Even when on leave in England he has constantly to deal with the ancient question whether Christian natives make better servants than the heathen. But when lie is at his work the question is even more insistent. Weary in mind and body with the constant struggle to form Christian discipline in the lives of his native converts on some Mission station, he visits some little European settlement for Sunday services, where he is received with the greatest hospitality and kindness. After an excellent meal, which he has thoroughly enjoyed, his host proceeds to enlarge on the iniquities of native servants in general, and of Christian servants in particular. The missionary is expected to defend them. "What is he for if he does not?" as a man once said to the writer. After this the wife asks for a native girl to be sent to work for her in the kitchen. The poor missionary is in a difficulty. The missionary knows that these girls are too weak morally to stand against the temptations of the European settlement, where they are far from a Mission-station and parental control, and where he knows the employers will not take the same measures to protect them against themselves as the would in England in the case of a European servant girl. He does not wish to appear churlish, and wishes that he had gone to stay at the hotel. To explain that the missionary does not come out to the country primarily to produce natives as good servants is mere waste of time, so fixed is this idea in the European mind. Christians, too, should be better servants than the heathen, and as a matter of fact are, hence the constant demand made for them to the missionary or his wife. Let us then try to think a little over the whole matter.
Ruskin once pointed out that most difficulties arise from the fact that the average person is so illogical. "A servant is either your slave or your son." Most people in these modern days are too much influenced by Christianity to desire to be served by slave labour, and yet they are not Christian enough to receive their servants into the relationship of children to their parents. So they adopt the unsatisfactory middle course; they teach them the Church Catechism and expect them to do their duty. This middle course is as yet too advanced a matter for the native. He understands slavery, and as a Christian he can grasp the idea of the family of which he is a humble member, but the idea of duty is beyond him.
The so-called "Dutch "method with natives is often said to be very successful. Up to its limits it is so. It is quite logical; the native was meant to be the slave of the white man: he was born for this, and should never be allowed to expect anything else: the white man is always right, and his are the only interests that matter. He may treat the native well if it suits him to do so, badly if it does not: good service will be well rewarded, bad severely punished. And the method has its merits. As far as it goes it works well. The native knows where he stands. He is naturally a good slave, and has been sought after as such all down the ages. He is easy natured and not given to revenge, and is thoughtless as regards the future. But this method has three fatal objections. In the first place, it is the ruin of the white man, as it gives him too much power and makes him idle and tyrannical. In the second. place, although it might work on country farms, it cannot be applied to towns and mines where a great deal of native labour is required. In the third place, it is clean contrary to the dictates of Christianity, and cannot be followed within the limits of the British Empire, of which South Africa forms a part.
Can then the other logical alternative be applied to the native servant? Can he be received as a son? Christianity answers that he must, and says so with no uncertain voice. But is it possible? Can the native rise to the idea? Let us be logical once again. What is the relation of the father to a son in the Christian sense? It does not mean equality. The father has the authority and rules: his word is not disputed: he is honoured as the superior, not the equal of his children. But he is the father of a family, not the master of slaves. The difference is in the relationship, and it makes all the difference. The government is for the good of all, not for the private advantage of the father. The relationship is one of love, not fear. The father shows much forbearance, he does not expect too much, and he is always hopeful for better things. It is in the point of view of the relationship that the solution lies. And this solution does not apply only to the relation ship of the South African to his servants. It applies to masters and their servants everywhere, and to the whole attitude of the white man toward the weaker races.
But it applies with special force to the native of South Africa. His whole attitude towards the European is that of the child to the father. He trusts much and can easily be deceived: he has a wonderful power of imitating even the smallest points of those with whom he is brought in contact. He is easily led into good or evil, and has the child's power of knowing and cleaving to those who really care for him. He knows that he is weak amidst all the wonders of the white man's civilisation, and seeks a guide and protector. Like a child, he can be easily spoiled, grow conceited, and make foolish experiments with a half knowledge. Like a child, he can take advantage of mere weak good nature. And he has a good deal of that guile or power of deceit that we sometimes find in children. But he has also their fidelity, and the affection that no change of outward circumstances will shake. Indeed, to many it is the relationship which they are able to maintain with their dependant natives that makes the joy of life in this country. It was the attitude taken up by many good and successful employers of native labour that first caused the writer to deal with the subject in this strain. As a matter of fact, those who have been accustomed to deal with dependants in England are, as a rule, successful out here, while those who have never been accustomed to employ servants before coming to this country are dismal failures.
It is hardly necessary to add that it is only the unsuccessful employers who trouble the missionary with their complaints and demands. The good employer can always supply his own needs quite easily. Christ taught men broad principles, and those which applied to both sides in any matter. The Church has the same duty. The relationship of the master to the servant is that of the father to the son, and all must be done and considered in the light of that relationship. But that relationship can only be rightly maintained if both live in the light of a still higher relationship, recognising that they both have a Father in Heaven, Whose rule is over all. When that great relationship is clearly felt and recognised all else falls into place, and there is a bond between them which both feel and which holds both.