Project Canterbury  

Charles Johnson of Zululand

By A. W. Lee

[no place:] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1930.

Chapter XIV. Changes

THE fifty years which have passed since the Zulu war of 1879 have brought about changes in the life of the Zulu people which would have seemed impossible of realisation to the older generation of men who knew the Zulus as they were before the war. Men of that generation, as of each succeeding generation, regarded their own time as having reached the limit of the possibilities of change. The Zulu was a fighting man they maintained. It was impossible to civilize him. It was hopeless to try to educate him. The African brain--this opinion was held in all sincerity, though based on totally insufficient grounds--was incapable of absorbing more than a certain limited amount of information. As an agriculturist he could never be successful, his natural bent being to destroy rather than to build up. The basis of his life being communal and tribal it would prove to be impossible to stir within him individualistic ambitions and desires. He would stand or fall with his tribe. Polygamy being natural to him, he would never respect the restraints imposed by Christian morality. The task of teaching him to become industrious, to practise a handicraft, to earn his living by the sweat of his brow, was beyond the skill and the perseverance of man.

His women were so low in the social and the moral scale, it was held that, it was obviously impossible to succeed in any attempt to raise them. The African, and especially the Zulu, was as he was, and so he would remain, in spite of all the misguided efforts of missionaries to change him. Missionary work was a waste of time and money, where it was not positively harmful to the best interests of both black and white. Men of 1879, and, indeed, of a much later period than that, regarded the relationship between white and black in South Africa as a perfectly simple and clear-cut issue. The African was born to work for the European in whatever capacity was best suited to the interests of the latter. Providence, in creating some people black and in depriving them of any knowledge of the art of money-making, had clearly intended that these black folk should sweat and toil to the greater glory and the more abounding comfort of those whose good fortune it was to be born with white skins. Therefore the black man must be kept in his place, that place being the lowest and most humble of all. Any who attempted to raise him from that place was not only guilty of "flying in the face of Providence," but, what was worse, was proving false to the colour of his skin. He was a traitor to civilization. He was trying to "turn the whole world upside down."

Men who were upright and honourable in their lives, men who passed amongst their fellows as being intelligent and well-informed, men who were sincerely Christian as they understood Christianity, quite honestly held these opinions and acted upon them. That the African should advance, or should have advanced on his behalf, any claim to personal freedom with liberty to use his life as seemed to him best, was not to be tolerated by his European master. That way surely lay anarchy, bloodshed, and the subversion of all European interests. This was the situation which had to be faced by all missionary and philanthropic enterprise in Zululand and elsewhere in South Africa until the last decade. It has still to be faced among certain sections of South African society. There are still men, many of them, who hold firmly to these exploded ideas, and who base upon them political and economic measures for the regulation of the lives of millions of African people.

Perhaps the greatest and most momentous change in the lives of the Zulu people during the fifty years since the war will, however, prove to be the steady if gradual loss of faith in these doctrines which is so noticeable at this present time, and the substitution for them of opinions which are more kindly and human, more scientific and soundly-based, more approximating to Christian ideas.

It is most encouraging to reflect that even in South Africa itself, this hotbed of racial antagonisms, this forcing-ground of colour intolerance, the idea that the African is, as a matter of fact, merely a human being of a different colour is gaining ground. This change in public opinion has largely, but not entirely, been brought about by the work of such men as Charles Johnson. He began his work as a missionary at a time when, as has been shown, public opinion was most strongly set against such efforts to christianize and educate the Bantu. He himself did not escape from being influenced to some degree by this body of opinion. He had no clear-cut ideas about the methods to be employed or the results he should properly try to produce. He had only a message to deliver and few, if any, preconceived notions of how best to deliver it. He found the Zulus in a state of almost complete barbarism. He delivered to them his message and secured, after a short time, a hearing from them. Young men and women began to come to him to be taught. He taught them in due course, planting in their primitive minds some few elementary Christian ideas. It has been said that Christianity is the most explosive force known to the world, and this proved, in his case as in that of others similarly situated, to be nothing less than the truth. Christians must worship. They must worship publicly in a body. To do this they need to know certain forms of words unless public worship is to be chaotic, without form and void. In order to become acquainted with such necessary forms of words, in hymns, psalms, and prayers, they must learn to read. When they can read they wish to write. Possessing the power to read and write they go farther and desire to know the facts of life, both here and hereafter, both physical and spiritual. So their education develops. The early missionary has almost no theories about the value of education. He merely wishes to give his converts the opportunity of reading their bibles, and of being able to take part with intelligence in public worship. His schools he regards much more as training grounds in cleanliness, punctuality, obedience, and other similar elementary virtues than as educative agencies in the technical sense. But once armed with the new dynamic of Christian truth, and with the knowledge of other peoples' achievements conveyed to them by the art of reading, converts have a way of forcing the pace educationally until, ultimately, their standard of learning approximates to, even if it does not equal, that of their teachers. While this process was being carried on Charles Johnson began to perceive that many of the ideas commonly held about the powers of Africans to absorb learning were mistaken. He found that, as a matter of fact, there was no distinct line of cleavage between their powers and those of Europeans. A theory had been advanced that the African skull was so shaped that it was impossible for them to learn more than the ordinary European child could assimilate. But as he and his devoted wife went on with their work they proved quite conclusively that this theory was wrong, and that Africans are exactly like Europeans in their powers of learning. Some are naturally quick and absorb learning easily, others are dull by nature, and learn with difficulty. But none of them is, given the opportunity, either less or more able to acquire a sound education than is the average European.

As in book-learning so in other branches of education, his people soon proved by actually doing the work they were supposed to be unable to master, that they could become agriculturists, mechanics, domestics, or anything else, provided that they were properly taught and had opportunities given to them of practising these various trades. So, gradually, Charles Johnson was led on from teaching boys and girls to read their bibles and to be therewith content, to teaching them building, farming, carpentering, to training them as catechists, as teachers, as deacons, as priests. All this time he was solving many of the problems set to early missionaries in their efforts to christianize African people, but was helping to create another set of problems the solution of which South Africa, and, indeed, the world, is yet awaiting. These later problems which arise directly out of the civilizing and educating processes started by missionaries amongst the Bantu are economic, social, and political, and upon their wise solution depends in no small measure the future welfare of Africa. This whole set of problems really resolves itself into one broad question. What is to be the relation between the civilization which is being built up by the Bantu of South Africa and that already established by Europeans in South Africa?

The mere statement of such a problem suffices to show the enormous distance which the black folk of Zululand, in common with their fellows in other parts of the Union, have travelled since the days when the only question raised by their presence was exactly what must be done to break their barbarous power.

With the answer to this question this chronicle is not, at the moment, concerned, its present aim being to attempt to show how Charles Johnson was amongst the most prominent of those who helped to bring about this vast change in the outlook of the Zulus, and its inevitable effect upon European opinion regarding their possibilities. In few things was he more remarkable than in his power to move with the times, and to comprehend and sympathize with the changes which he was helping to bring about. There is a type of mind, by no means uncommon, which sets itself to the solution of some problem with success, but continues to behave as though no solution had ever been arrived at. There are men and women, for instance, who set to work to educate the "working classes," but who, when individuals of these classes succeed in acquiring the mental and social attainments of those more fortunately placed, continue to behave to them as though no such change had taken place. There are men and women, amongst them some missionaries, who labour to uplift the African, but, when he is uplifted, continue to see in him the primitive man, and to behave to him as such. Charles Johnson was not numbered amongst these. It was not so much that he was invariably courteous and kind even to the most trying individuals of the educated type, but he genuinely sympathized with them in their difficulties and disappointments as well as in their aspirations and successes. He trusted them. Quite early in his career he saw the necessity for using Zulus in his work, and, as these individuals advanced in usefulness, so the more he trusted them and the more he used them. Thus, writing in 1923, he says:--

My work now is simply organizing and superintending, while the detail, into which I used to go with so much pleasure, is done now by others. I sit in a chair now at meetings, and my native friends sit on benches, and we discuss plans connected with their work and their difficulties. In years past I used to sit on a rough-made stool, while they sat on the ground, and explain what I wanted to do. Now this work has so grown that it has overflowed into four districts. But all the present workers, or their parents, commenced in this small work here at St. Augustine's.

His simple words throw into strong relief the whole process of development through which his work and his workers passed. Beginning, of necessity, with "what I wanted to do," as the first stage, it passed during the short period of forty-five years, into the stage of "their work and their difficulties." There exist few more wonderful instances of long-sightedness in missionary work than this. So frequently is lip-service paid to the necessity of developing a native ministry while the heart of the European worker is filled with doubts and mistrust of what might be the outcome of such a development. That blessed phrase, "The time has not yet come," how gallingly often is it not heard from the mouths of missionaries I Frequently, of course, with justice; that cannot be gainsaid. But very often also it has been said faint-heartedly, and with a too vivid sense of the catastrophes which are bound to arise when the future of the Christian religion is no longer buttressed by our own active participation in its establishment.

Charles Johnson possessed to the full that failing of men of strong character and great attainment, namely, the fixed belief that no one can ever do a particular bit of work as well as they themselves. But he was conscious of this failing, and, as the old proverb tells us that "forewarned is forearmed," he was forewarned against undue indulgence in it. He went forward with his development of a Zulu ministry with the same keenness and fearlessness with which he had all his life followed his own intuitions. Of course there were risks involved in ordaining Zulus to the priesthood. A priest might lead his people astray through sheer ignorance of the Faith; though that risk, it is only right to say, can easily be eliminated if candidates for the priesthood are well taught. He might sin through the weakness of his flesh or through the malice of the Evil One. All kinds of terrible scandals might arise. It is true that they might. So might they, so do they, arise among us. But in the African character, as Charles Johnson knew, none better, there exists a strain of mysticism, of a desire for self-immolation, of simple faith in the promises of God, of simple acceptance of his will, which much more than counter-balance any lack of knowledge or any weakness of the flesh.

In the work for which Charles Johnson was directly responsible there have been from time to time nine Zulu priests engaged. Only one of these men, some of whom were converts from heathenism, has ever given any sign of a moral or spiritual break-down. None has shown any desire to break away from the faith and discipline of the Church. They have had frequent disagreements with their head in matters of policy and of practice, but never have they wavered in loyalty to and in support of the work which he carried on amongst their people. The same may be said of the native priests of the whole diocese. With one single exception, no one of them has given cause for anxiety. As their ordinations now date back over a period of some twenty-five years, it is reasonable to assume that they have been well tried and tested. Whether the future holds a similar happy history of their relations with the Church, cannot, naturally, be foreseen. But judging from what has been said about them, as well as from the quality of the work which they have done and are still doing, there is no reason to expect that they will fail.

This, then, may be counted as another of the great changes which the years have produced amongst the primitive Zulus. A successful pioneer in so much else, Charles Johnson was also a pioneer in the training of the Zulus to the point where they could be used in the high office of a priest to further the work of the Church. He foresaw, as every missionary to primitive people foresees, that the time will inevitably come when they must be so used, and he so laboured and planned that he was able to use them with the happiest results.

A similar process of selection and training has been carried on also in the case of native school teachers. Beginning in quite early days with the one or two young men who showed aptitude for imparting the modicum of knowledge which they possessed to others, he went steadily on, in spite of many real discouragements, until he produced boys and girls who were fit to undergo a course of training in modern school methods in preparation for their work as school teachers. How many such teachers his district has produced it is impossible to say. But the number must be very large. Boys and girls who began their education under Mrs. Johnson in the schools at St. Augustine's, and passed from there to one of the teachers' training colleges, have taught in almost every part of Zululand and Swaziland.

The teaching profession is now one of the most attractive to boys and girls of ability and ambition. More and more the government of the country is assuming responsibility for the education of the native inhabitants and for the training of their teachers. A generation is growing up which has forgotten or has never known how great a part men like Charles Johnson played in bringing about the situation existing now. The modern, well-equipped, native school, with its staff of earnest and thoroughly-trained teachers, is the direct descendant of the old-fashioned, rather squalid, and very amateur mission school with which earlier workers began, and which they regarded with so much legitimate pride. Paedagogically the effect of these schools is thought in these days to have been almost negligible, but at all events they fathered the present system, and therefore much honour is due to them and to their founders.

Economically the changes which have been brought about in the lives of the Zulus by the work of missionaries are not so encouraging as are the changes already discussed in this chapter. Hitherto all the energy of those engaged in transforming the lives of the people has been expended in persuading them to take the first steps towards progress.

Little time or money has been left from these efforts which might have been devoted to teaching them trades, to improving their agriculture, and to general economic uplift. Many of the educated Zulus have improved their mode of life by their own efforts. Some are prosperous. But the majority are content to live upon their flocks and herds and upon the scanty crops they grow, eked out by the periodical visits of the males to labour centres where they work as unskilled labourers for a pittance.

It is becoming increasingly plain that these methods are doomed to fail in the near future. With the growth of the population of Zululand, both natural and artificial, the amount of land which can be brought under cultivation is lessening proportionately each year. Nearly the whole of the country is over-stocked with cattle and goats. As a consequence its power to carry stock is reduced, and the quality of the stock itself declines almost yearly.

The old free pastoral life of the Zulus is thus almost at an end. Only in the north, in the Hlabisa, Nongoma, and UBombo districts, where the fear of malaria keeps down immigration from the more crowded and healthier parts, does this continue. The rest of Zululand is fast becoming a mere labour reserve.

The economic improvement of native life is a task which is beyond the power of missionary societies to bring about. Most missionaries do what lies within their power towards helping their people to improve. But a great deal more money than they can command is needed if the work is to be attempted adequately. The task is one for the government of the country to take up. It will be rendered easier when the effect of the present system of education begins to be apparent in the improved intelligence of the mass of the native people. Already the Native Affairs Department of the Union Government is training and sending out native agricultural demonstrators, who live among the people, and by their teaching and example try to induce them to adopt more scientific methods of stock and crop raising. As yet, however, this tentative effort has reached only a very few of the people, the majority being content to carry on in the old ways.

Any vigorous effort to improve the economic position of the people must include in its programme the settlement of the question of native land tenure, the setting up of a native land bank from which loans on easy terms may be obtained by native farmers, the provision of well-equipped agricultural training colleges for native pupils, and the establishment of marketing facilities for the disposal of produce. Apart from agriculture, which ought to be and to remain the staple industry of Zululand and other native territories, steps must certainly be taken to get rid of the colour bar in industry, the effect of which is to prevent any native man from entering the ranks of skilled labour; and also to raise the standard of life by paying better wages for services rendered.

At present few native workers in any sphere are paid a living wage. They find it possible to live because they are able to rely to some extent upon the stock and the food which their women grow and tend at home. Thus many of the great industries of the Union are being built up partly upon the reserves of wealth owned by the lowest class of labourers. This state of affairs would be tolerated by no other country or community in the world. Not only is it manifestly unfair to use the labour of a large part of the population partly at its own cost, but it is also quite as plain that industries built up upon this unjust treatment can have no firm foundation either from the economic or from the human point of view.

In view of what is here said, it will be seen at a glance that these large questions of politics and economics are not to be solved only, or indeed, at all, by missionary effort. They will need the best care and the highest political wisdom which the country can give to them for their ultimate solution. It is due in no small measure to the work of men like Charles Johnson that this set of problems has ever arisen. But for their pioneer work in lifting from barbarism the Bantu of South Africa, these questions never would have arisen. It is the knowledge of this fact which provokes so much antagonism towards missionary work in the minds of industrialists, farmers, and politicians who charge the missionary with the crime of having "spoiled the native." The charge is a true one. He has spoiled the native. He has spoiled him as an object of exploitation, as a provider of cheap labour, as a serf contented with his serfdom, as an individual with the passions and temptations of a man, but the mind of a child. In all these ways he has spoiled him: but if this kind of spoiling is a disservice to the State the world we live in must be founded upon injustice and steeped in the abhorrent crime of the privileged few battening upon the miseries of the many.

These are strong words, but no one can look out upon the stage in its political and industrial development now reached by the Union of South Africa with its colour prejudices and injustices, and not see that the use of such terms is more than justified by present facts.

To sum up. There have been great changes in Zululand during the past fifty years, as in South Africa generally. Socially, spiritually, mentally and industrially the native of the country has changed and developed in a way which could not be and was not foreseen half a century ago. These great changes are due to many causes, but to the missionary belongs the bulk of the credit for them. Politically and economically the changes have been slight, and in no way commensurate with the developments which have taken place in other spheres of life. Until these two last factors are dealt with by the State and the necessary adjustments made, there can be little hope of lasting peace between the two races,-and consequently little hope of any satisfactory progress in the task, in which white and black must share according to their capacities, of building Jerusalem in this pleasant, sun-washed land of South Africa.

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