The Cape Liberal Tradition
Did the Cape provide an alternative development path?
- at the time of Union in the 1st decade of the 20th C, the differences between the policies and practices of the Cape and the other entities of South Africa became an important issue in the negotiations. What approach was the new Union to followthe non-racialism of the Cape or the more overtly whites dominant approaches of the others? In the event, they compromised by trying to keep some of both. The hope of some was that gradually the new Union would move in the direction of the Capes non-racialism. However, later politicians harmonised the policies by whittling away the Cape liberal approach.
- for later politicians and historians, the question is, Did the Cape really represent an alternative? We know where the so-called northern policies ledapartheid. However, was the Cape really that different? Some argue that the differences were only superficial.
[This online article, The History of the Cape Colony from 1870 to 1899 from the famous 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, is old but contains a good deal of detailed information about politics in the Cape Colony. It also has lots of links to identify people and events referred to in the article.]
The Boer Republics
- the approach was stated very explicitlyno equality in church or state. The rights of citizenship were reserved for men with white skins. However, the informal (i..e., non-legal) restraints went even further. Because they had little money or resources, both republics relied on local farmers to perform legal and government business. Thus, in their interpretation of law and policies, these local officials and magistrates often went beyond what was written in the laws. Also, the laws themselves were often written rather loosely as whites knew what the laws were supposed to achieve. Moreover, farmers had a pretty free hand in dealing with residents and employees on land which they claimed.
- while some African groups had been strong enough to hold on to some of their land as reserves, most others had experienced white farmers who claimed any land not claimed by another white farmer. Then, Africans would sooner or later be given the choice of working for the farmer in return for small allotments for themselves or getting out.
- the Orange Free State was more careful and less blatant in framing its laws, but it also set aside the least amount of land for Africans and had (right up to the end of apartheid) the most severe curfew regulations in South Africa.
- in neither republic could Africans buy land outside reserved areas. There were a couple of minor exceptions; in one case, a farm was purchased in the South African Republic by a missionary on behalf of Africans.
- the whites in Natal were overwhelmingly immigrants from Britain, yet Natals policies were as close to those of the Boer republics as Natalians were allowed to make them (the imperial government did restrain Natal and disallowed some laws).
- it was possible for Africans (but not Indians) to get the franchise, but it was so difficult and there were so many obstacles that few managed itabout 7 in total from the 1860s==>1910 and not more than 2 or 3 at any time. Those seeking the vote had to live according to Roman-Dutch law for at least 20 years, then they had to get a white magistrate to vouch for them. They then had to apply to the Lieutenant-Governor (i.e., the Natal government) who might or might not grant the request.
- when Indians tried to get the vote in the 1890s, Natal first passed a law saying Indians could not have it. However, when the Indian Government protested against this blatant discrimination against British subjects who were Indian, the imperial government disallowed the law. Natal passed a new law which said that only British subjects whose homeland had responsible government would be eligible to get the vote. This wording did not specifically disqualify Indians and therefore it was allowed to remain even though it was pretty thinly disguised. It should be noted that anti-Asian racism was even worse in Canada and Australia at the same time.
- there was a dual legal systemRoman-Dutch law applied to everyone except Africans who were supposedly under traditional law and custom. However, white magistrates were often not very knowledgeable; in criminal law for the most part Roman-Dutch law was used.
- Africans could buy land and there are a number of examples where Africans joined together to buy farms. These black spots were a great source of irritation later on; in spite of various attempts to get rid of them, most lasted into the apartheid era when the massive powers of the Group Areas Act finally got rid of them.
- when white juries were involved in interracial cases, they were often blatantly biased. Even more, the Natal government on 2 or 3 occasions when whites were feeling threatened acted arbitrarily and illegally. However, there was less likelihood of killing Africans than in the republics.
- the Cape Colony was different. As we noted earlier, Ordinance 50 of 1828 had given equality before the law and had made it illegal to pass differential legislation (i.e., laws that treated people differently on the basis of skin colour). This did not mean absolute equality and fairness; rights to go to court may not mean too much if one lacks the money to pay the costs.
- also, legislation can be unbalanced in its impact; e.g., labour legislation (Masters and Servants Acts) can be more favourable to employers than to employees. In South Africa this could have a racial impact because most employers were white while most employees were non-white. However, the Masters and Servants Act in the Cape was based very much on Britains.
- there were no legal restrictions to prevent Africans from buying or owning land, although whites were not allowed to buy land in African reserves created by treaties. Of course, lack of money prevented most Africans from actually exercising this right.
- socially, the differences were probably less; the difference was that in the Cape, the separation (i.e., segregation) was maintained primarily by informal means rather than by law:
- however, the biggest area of difference was in political rights.
- there was no law forbidding non-whites from hotels and restaurants, but in practice individual hotels refused and Africans and other non-whites rarely tried, even if they could afford it. However, Tiyo Sogas biographers tell a couple of stories about Sogas adventures in hotels; he was accepted a few times in a few hotels.
- on railways, there was nothing about race in the 3 travel classes, yet whites almost always travelled 1st class and Africans 3rd. Africans who tried to travel 1st class were usually refused by white railway employees and even roughed up. They refused because they said that white passengers complained, but white railway employees were often poor whites who always resented well off and well educated Africans. Buying a 1st class ticket was taken as a sign that the African was getting uppity. However, Africans mistreated could, and sometimes did, sue successfully.
- there were differences in general behaviour on the street. In the republics, non-whites were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks. In the Cape, especially in Cape Town, they did and they didnt necessarily get out of the way of white persons. It was interesting to see letters to the editor from British immigrants who worked on the goldfields. They complained about the lack of respect. Not only did they not get out of the way, cabbies and others even had the temerity to yell curses at you! They indicated how much better things were handled in the Transvaal. This greater ease continued even through all the years of apartheid. Even in the Public Gardens beside the parliament buildings in Cape Town, no one paid any attention to the Whites only signs on the benches. In Johannesburg, I never saw anyone who was not white sitting on such a bench.
- in 1837 when village and local councils were created, all property owners were given the right to vote; limited numbers of non-whites got the vote as a result. Much later, there were even a couple of instances where Coloureds were elected at one of these lower levels.
- representative government and parliament were established in 1853. It introduced a non-racial (males only) franchise with income and property qualifications:
- over the next 3-4 decades, 3 developments had a big impact:
- own property worth £25;
- earn at least £50 per annum;
- rent property worth £25i.e., £25/50/25.
- the significance of this was that it was low enough that most (but not all) white men could qualify, but it was high enough that most non-white men (but not all) did not. The result was that voters were overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, white. Over time, some farmers began to lease land to Coloured tenants to allow them to qualify for the vote. However, voting was open; the secret ballot was not introduced until the general election of 1898. This merely increased the number of votes controlled by the white farm owner.
- the results were dramatic increases in the numbers of Africans seeking and succeeding in getting their names on the voters lists. By the middle 1880s, many whites were getting distinctly uneasy, even though whites were still overwhelmingly dominant. There were growing demands that something should be done. We shall examine what was done, but the following statistics were generated during the debate. Until the 1891 census, there was no official counting of voters according to racial category. However, in the following chart, the numbers for 1882 and 1886 were provided by the government for these 6 constituencies. These 6 were chosen because that is where most of the increase in African voters had taken place and thus they helped prove that there was a crisis. A few other constituencies had some African voters, but most had none or negligible numbers. The chart shows the total registrations for each constituency with the number of African voters underneath. There were dramatic increases between 1882 and 1886. The Registration Act made big reductions in total registrations, but we have no official statistics about how many were Africans. According to press reports at the time, many, but not all, Africans were removed from the lists. The 1891 census shows that substantial numbers of Africans were still listed as voters, although the numbers are in most cases less than in 1886
- improved economic conditions, especially with the beginning of mining (diamonds in the 1870s), brought large increases in property values and even in incomes; as a result, more non-white men could qualify for the vote.
- In 1853, Africans had been mostly an external factor, but by the 1880s with a series of annexations, Africans had become the majority of the population. Africans had slowly begun to qualify for the vote, but only in small, insignificant numbers until the late 1870s and 1880s.
- Coloured voters never caused too much concern because most could be controlled and their overall numbers were not too different from the white population. Whites felt differently about African voters whom they often referred to as the blanket vote. They argued that they didnt understand white politics, were easily bribed by a bottle or 2 of booze, or did whatever the missionaries told them to do. Most of this was simply untrue. The problem was that African voters were too independent; they were very canny at delving into issues which concerned them. Politicians who wanted their votes found that they had to work very hard to get them and were asked to come and explain their record after every parliamentary session at large public meetings.
- Mass conversion to Christianity brought not only interest in education but also interest in the political situation in the Cape. By the early 1880s, a new generation of young, educated Africans came of age and began very active participation in politics. They soon developed keen and sophisticated knowledge of politics. However, they also worked with many traditional chiefs and leaders. Until splits appeared among Africans in the 1890s, they coordinated and had a high degree of unity.
|Total # of voters
- my estimate is that Africans, even in 1886, numbered 6-9,000 out of a total of about 90,000 voters or about 8-10%. However, they were mostly concentrated in these 6 constituencies where they could influence the election of 12 members out of 70 and in no constituency had Africans become a majority of the voters. Most constituencies had 2 members, but Cape Town had 6 and Port Elizabeth had 4.
Transkeian Representation Bill 1886
- with the annexations of most of the Transkei, the government wanted to add 2 single seat constituencies in the Transkei, but there, whites were overwhelmingly outnumbered by Africans and it was almost certain that whites would also be a minority on the voters lists if the existing provisions were extended.
- in this bill, the government proposed to set up differential qualifications: for whites, the existing £25/50/25 qualifications would apply, but Africans would have to meet much higher standards, £100/50/100, in order to qualify as a voter. This would, of course, break the non-racial tradition and the government gradually lost support during debate and voting, especially when the prime minister, Upington, declared that he would like to see the same provisions introduced into the colony proper.
- during the committee stage in the Legislative Assembly, the government lost control and the opposition were able to carry a series of amendments which removed all the discriminatory aspects. Then, when the bill was taken to the upper house, the Legislative Council, the government asked the Council to defeat the bill and it died.
- with this indication that parliament was not ready to introduce differential qualifications, the government prepared new proposals to change the entire system and basis for getting registered as voters.
Registration Act of 1887
- this act did not change the qualifications; those remained the same£25/50/25. Instead, this law made it more difficult for Africans to get on the voters lists.
- the results of the Registration Act were quite dramatic. The total number of voters dropped from just over 90,000 ==>70,000. Although it has frequently been claimed that 20,000 Africans were dropped from the voters lists, it is not true. The fact was that there had never been 20,000 African voters! Not all Africans were removed. My estimates are: before the Registration Act 6-9,000 African voters; after 3-5,000.
- the old voters lists were scrapped and entirely new ones were compiled. Under the old system, the civil commissioners had been responsible for determining whether voter applicants had the necessary qualifications. The CCs combined some judicial functions with full administrative responsibility for their district (approximately equal to a county in this country); most had a high reputation for impartiality and were relatively independent of white farmers. Also, it was complained that they were too generous in valuing property. It was claimed that almost any old shack on a small piece of land could qualify for the £25 property qualification.
- the new lists were compiled by justices of the peace (these were local men who were not part of the bureaucracyfarmers, merchants, lawyers, etc. They were much more likely to reflect local prejudices. The justices of the peace had the right to reregister anyone from the old list that they deemed qualified; predictably, all whites were reregistered, while most non-whites were not. The latter had to apply and go through the registration process.
- the onus was changed. The old system depended on opponents scrutinising the qualifications of men applying to be registered as voters (this was the system in Britain and depended on a 2 party system); the burden of proof was on the opponents to prove that an applicant did not have the necessary qualification. If no one objected when you applied, you generally could get on the list. Under the new system, anyone left off the list or applying had to prove that they qualified under one of the 3 qualifications. Anyone who was refused had a right of appeal to the civil commissioner, but he now had to follow the new reverse onus. With property values the issue, it is easy to see why this change in onus made a huge difference.
- land held under communal tenure no longer counted towards the property qualification. Most lands in African reserves under treaty were not surveyed into individual plots (particular groups held the lands in common and thus under communal tenure); however, rights to use and all beneficial rights to individual plots were clearly demarcated and were passed by inheritance from one generation to another. Although there was no reference to race (and thus the non-racial tradition was observed in the letter of the law), this provision affected only Africans (thus, the spirit of the non-racial tradition clearly was not observed).
- Coloured voters may have been affected even more severely than Africans because declines in the western constituencies (where there were hardly any African residents, let alone voters) were often even larger than in the 6 eastern constituencies where most African voters were concentrated.
- in spite of the reductions, many whites were still not satisfied. By 1891, total voters registered had increased again to almost 91,000 (some new constituencies had been added) of whom almost 22,000 or 24 % were non-whites (probably no more than 6-8,000 Africans). More changes were introduced.
Franchise and Ballot Act of 1892
- this was introduced by the 1st Rhodes government. This government was a kind of coalition of several MPs who had always been considered friends of the Natives and others who were supported by the Afrikaner Bond party which was the most vocal about wanting to reduce the influence of Africans. As a result, the law was always considered a compromise between the friends of the Natives who preferred to leave things as they were with regard to voter qualifications and the demands of others who wanted to go much further. Also, the liberals wanted to get the secret ballot which would allow many Coloured voters to be more independent.
- the basic qualifications were raised to £50/75/50 plus an education qualification was added to ensure that voters were at least literate (when implemented, it required that voters be able to read and write their names). However, all existing voters were grandfathered as long as they remained in the same electoral district; if they moved, they had to requalify under the new rules.
- the secret ballot was to be introduced, but not until the next general election (first used in the 1898 general election, which turned out to be after the Jameson Raid and the polarisation of politics).
- the effect of the changes was to curb access of non-whites to the franchise. Also, shortly after, the 1st Rhodes government was dissolved and replaced by the 2nd (the friends of the Natives were jettisoned by Rhodes); the 2nd government soon introduced the Glen Grey Act. This was an important law which we shall discuss later. Even though this law replaced communal tenure with individual tenure on its plots, the law specifically excluded land held under the Glen Grey Act to meet the property qualification, again introducing a difference which affected only Africans but avoided any reference to race in the law itself.
- in the period that followed, the number of non-white voters declined as death or moving brought attrition of the grandfathered voters and it was more difficult for new voters to get registered. There was a good deal of movement and migration as a result of the upheavalsmovement to gold fields, war 1899-1902, and the severe drought in 1st decade of 20th C. The number of white voters kept increasing so that the proportion of non-white voters declined even more. The decline was both real and relative.
Election to parliament
- the qualifications to stand for election to the Legislative Assembly were exactly the same as for voters; however, to stand for election to the Legislative Council, one needed to own property worth at least £2,000.
- for a long time, no non-whites tried to stand for election. It was argued that it was better to choose good, sympathetic white representatives than to elect an African who was less knowledgeable about parliament and legal matters; also, white prejudice would make an African ineffective anyway.
- however, in 1892, the possibility was raised of a Coloured man, a religious leader in the Moslem community, running in Cape Town; the reactions of white politicians were very revealing.
- a man referred to as Ahmed Effendi (effendi is an honorific for a religious teacher of the Koran) was rumoured to be considering running for election; in Cape Town with its 4 members, there was a cumulative vote, and voters were allowed to plump with their 4 votes (i.e., cast their votes in whichever way they wishedall 4 for one candidate or 1 vote for each of 4 candidates, 2 + 2, etc.). In this way, it was possible for a minority to elect a candidate by plumping while most other voters spread their votes over more than 1 candidate.
- even the rumour was enough to rouse the politicians to hurriedly introduce and pass a law to eliminate cumulative voting. Even so-called liberals and friends of the Natives joined in the hypocrisy. Most claimed that they had no objection to sitting in the same chamber with a non-white man, but such an election would be bad; such a person would feel out of place, his constituents could not possibly be adequately represented by such a man who would not have sufficient parliamentary background, and white voters would feel disfranchised if they were represented by a non-white member (no one seemed to feel that if it were so, then did it not work the other way around?). The bill passed without opposition!
- however, in the 1st decade of the 20th C, Coloureds did become more organised politically, especially in the African Political Organisation, and in either 1903 or 1905, the 1st Coloured member, Dr. Abdurahman was elected to the Cape Town City Council.
- in the Union constitution, only whites were eligible for election to the Union Parliament, but African and Coloured voters were still eligible for election to the Provincial Council in the Cape; Dr. Abduraman continued to be elected for many years. In 1910 in a by-election, an African clergyman, Dr. Walter Rubusana, was elected to the Cape Provincial Council for a Transkeian seat.
What about the political behaviour of Africans in the Cape?
- as we noted earlier, there was high degree of unity and coordinated action among Africans in the 1880s. Also, in spite of disparaging comments about the blanket vote by many whites, Africans were very demanding of their representatives and candidates as many of the latter admitted (and complained about in their private letters).
- African unity was not a result of being driven like cattle to the polling station (as some critics charged), but because they discussed their actions at great length until they had achieved consensus and then usually acted together. They were using African approaches to politics and applying it to the white political system.
- during the early 1880s, Africans had tended to see the Afrikaner Bond (we shall examine the history of this organization later in our discussion of Afrikaner nationalism in lecture 11) as their great enemy and Bond members had been most vocal in opposing African voting rights and in demanding the changes brought about by the Registration Act, the Franchise and Ballot Act, etc.
- however, in the wake of the Jameson Raid, politics in the Cape were polarisedespecially, pro-Rhodes and anti-Rhodes. A few politicians tried to pursue a middle course, but by the election of 1898, the 2 sides formed a 2 party system for the first time in the Cape. [Previously, the Bond had been the only political party in our sense; English politicians were divided into a number of factions. Governments from about 1880 had been formed by one or more factions getting the support of the Bond. The Bond itself never took power, although a couple of Bond members were members of Rhodes 2nd government.]
- the polarisation created a real dilemma for African voters. The politicians who were regarded as friends of the Natives and whom they had supported were split. Most of the ones they had depended on the most were anti-Rhodes and joined with the Afrikaner Bond to form the South African Party. Others joined the pro-Rhodes and imperialist party, the Progressive Party.
- J. T Jabavu (he was editor of Imvo and the most active African politician even though he stood for election only once in 1914 in what was not his finest hour) decided after painful consideration to continue to support Sauer and Merriman (2 long-time friends of the Natives) even though they were now allied with the Afrikaner Bond.
- others, especially the younger generation and mostly Xhosa politicians as opposed to Mfengu, supported the Progressive Party. To attract these voters, Rhodes changed his political slogan (which many take to be a good indication of his hypocrisy). Originally, his slogan was Equal rights for every White man south of the Zambesi. Rhodes wanted to attract the support of all imperialists in southern Africa, including those in Southern Rhodesia; he also hoped to attract some Afrikaners even though most were alienated after the Jameson Raid. Now, after years of not caring a fig about Africans rights, his slogan became, Equal rights for every civilised man south of the Zambesi. Africans and Coloureds now had crucial votes when the 2 polarised camps were so evenly matched.
- this split among Africans remained and in fact became more bitter during the next 2 decades. Although there were exceptions, it pretty much became a Xhosa-Mfengu split.
Unification in South Africa
- right after the South African War (1899-1902, discussions and negotiations began to explore the idea of union in S. Africa. For the 1st time since the 1850s, all of southern Africa except German South West Africa was under the British flag. Also, there was widespread concern about Native Policy and a frequently expressed desire for a single, coordinated line and set of policies. This idea was explored by a joint South Africa Native Affairs Commission 1903-05 (its white commissioners were drawn from all four colonies) gathered evidence and made recommendations about Native Policy. The evidence of witnesses in its Report is a prime source of opinions on a number of subjects.
- during the negotiations about union of the South African colonies, the position taken by Cape Colony politicians is very interesting. Almost unanimously (both political parties supported the resolution), it was decided that the Cape must retain its colour-blind franchise; they were prepared to compromise on many things, but not that.
- other colonies were equally adamant that they would not accept the Cape approach.
- the compromise: the Cape kept its system of the franchise being open to anyone who met the property or income qualifications and this provision was one of 2 entrenched clauses in the constitution (the other was that English and Dutchnot Afrikaanswere official languages). Entrenched clauses could be changed only by a 2/3 majority of both houses of parliament sitting together.
- however, in the new union parliament, only whites were eligible for election. Also, the Cape had to agree that non-White voters would not count when distribution and redistribution of seats took place.
- one aspect of the Cape situation was that non-white voters had a good deal of influence given the very even balance between the 2 political parties, even though they were only about 15% or so of the electorate; even so, their votes could determine the winners.
- also, the splits in African and Coloured voters had meant that both parties depended upon non-white voters and could not afford to alienate them. On the other side, they had learned not to fear them either; the number of non-white voters was stable and in fact declining as a proportion. They had been thoroughly integrated into the political system. They were not simply manipulated, as both parties had to work hard to keep their support.
What did Cape liberalism represent?
- to what extent did it represent a multiracial, non-discriminatory alternative line of political and social development to the actual development which culminated in apartheid?
- both at the time and subsequently, liberals in South Africa have argued that Cape liberalism was such an alternative; the more sanguine even argued that this more progressive line in fact was likely to spread to other parts of S.A after union and thus supported union on that basis.
- however, examination of the liberalism casts some considerable doubt on that thesis. Two major interpretations tend to undercut the idea that Cape liberalism in fact represented a true, liberal, democratic tradition. Ill give my interpretation and then discuss Stanley Trapidos; the 2 do not conflict and in fact reinforce each other.
Cape liberalism as Whiggism
- Cape liberalism in ideological terms was derived basically from British Whiggism of the early 19th C, especially the tradition which designed and implemented the 1832 Reform Act. Although the Reform Act was often depicted as a great measure towards democracy and political liberalism, some recent scholars have in fact argued that it was nothing of the kind in intention, even if it tended to have that outcome.
- instead, they argue that its premises and intentions were largely conservative; I tend to agree with D. C Moores interpretation.
- Moore argues that the Whigs were not democrats; their idea of a proper order in society was an hierarchical one. The mass of the population was incapable of deciding big philosophical and political questions and as a result they look to the elite. In fact, they argued that the majority habitually deferred to the leadership of the elite. In rural areas, large landowners were dominant because the tenant voters in an era of open voting (no secret ballot) were very much under the influence of landlords..
- we, of course, regard such influence as inappropriate and unacceptable, but they regarded it as not only proper, but the only way to make sure that property and the right people were able to give proper direction and leadership to society.
- part of Whig notions involved an acceptance of some political participation by the lower classes; it was necessary to provide channels by which the lower classes could express their wishes and make their complaints known to the political elite. The leaders needed the feedback and the lower classes needed an outlet. This could be accomplished by petitions to parliament, but also allowed some participation as voters.
- voting rights should be linked to property ownership as only property owners were felt to have sufficient stake in the community to be stable. In any case, there should not be government by the people; Whig notions were basically conservative in that power should be controlled and exercised by the elite at the top.
- their diagnosis of what was wrong with the existing political system was 2 fold:
- thus, the Reform Act was an attempt to cure the problems and restore the proper scheme of things. The reforms created new problems (especially urban/rural split) that required further changes. The subsequent further developments, including broadening the franchise, introduction of the secret ballot, and the trend towards modern mass democracy were not intended; in fact, the 1832 Reform Act was intended to avoid such a trend.
- the rotten or pocket boroughs allowed illegitimate influence to be exercisedplanters and newly rich (like the nabobs) could get political power without having roots in the local community;
- in growing new cities, there was no similar elite or hierarchy such as existed in rural areas.
- much of this is applicable to the Cape Colony in the 19th C. The major significant adaptation in the Cape was that colour lines and class lines were perceived as being synonymous. This view of society arose in the western Cape with the incorporation of the Coloureds as a subordinate working class.
- in fact, there was a fairly high degree of correlation; masters or employers were overwhelmingly white while servants or employees were overwhelmingly non-white.
- there had been attempts to alter this by encouraging white workers to migrate to South Africa and provide a white working class. It was argued that they would be better than the unskilled and uncivilised indigenous people and that this would help to reduce the tensions leading to war. It was argued that many of the problems in South Africa, including the wars, arose from the demands for labour and the attempts by whites to force the indigenous people to work for them.
- such ideas had been important in the 1820 settler scheme. Such ideas emerged from time to time later as well. Some emigration societies in Britain (trying to save young people from crime and poverty by sending them to the colonies) were based on such an idea that they would be servants and labourers (many thousands of orphans and young people were sent to Canada as well). Even more, with the railway building programmes after 1870, substantial numbers of navies were brought from Britain, especially Ireland.
- these schemes were never successful; even by the time Britain took over the Cape, the idea of white man boss was firmly established. Because of slavery and coerced labour, many kinds of physical work had become defined as too demeaning socially for whites to perform. White servants and employees arriving in South Africa very quickly and with great alacrity adapted to these ideas and norms.
- as well, many whites felt that the spectacle of whites performing low-status physical labour dragged down white prestige and mystique which was dangerous for white domination when they were a minority.
- the navies were strongly condemned; they were unruly, drank excessively, consorted openly with Coloured prostitutes, etc. They were a bad example for the non-white workers, and their behaviour tended to undermine white prestige in the eyes of non-whites and by too great familiarity across the colour line.
- the result was that few whites were willing to remain in these lower status employee jobs; if they were employed by another, it should only be as an overseer or white collar job.
- at any rate, the perception that colour lines and class lines coincided was very strong; whites in South Africa perceived of themselves as a kind of aristocracy. This perception that class and colour lines coincided showed up in a very interesting transposition of the terms race and class in the Cape in the late 19th C; the term race was used in relation to differences between white ethnic groups. Thus race conflict or hostility was used to describe problems between those of British and Afrikaans background. It was also used in connection with Mfengu-Xhosa conflict and tension. This is not the way that we use race.
- however, when they were referring to matters which we would regard as racial (i.e., across colour lines), they often used the term class. Thus, what we would call racially discriminatory laws were usually termed class legislation; similarly, conflict and hostility with or towards people of a different colour were called class.
- this shows that a good deal of the ideology (including terminology) involved in Cape liberalism was imported from Britain where they referred in the same way to the lower or working classes. Nevertheless, it should be emphasised that it was basically early 19th C Whiggism and thus was basically conservative (i.e., hierarchical and authoritarian).
- there was little support among whites in South Africa for most areas of real liberalism, especially political liberalism which by the end of the 19th C was trending towards mass democracy in Britain. This is shown clearly by the franchise changes in 1887 and 1892 and in the debates that took place then.
- there was general support for retaining the non-racial franchise; frequently, the argument made was that an outlet and means to express their concerns was necessary for the Coloured classes. However, there was also a strong determination that white domination and supremacy should not be threatened, even as a remote possibility; in practice, when African and Coloured voters got much above 15%, action was taken to curb access to the franchise.
- about the only element of liberalism was a limited amount of laisser-faire. There was an unwillingness to impose legal obstacles to non-white economic activitythere were no legal colour bars restricting access to jobs or prohibiting purchase of land (2 areas that early in the Union began to be implemented more rigorously on the road to apartheid). On the other hand, there was a willingness to allow whites to fall below the line if they could not keep up although this decreased in the 1890s.
- the political rights reflected the ideology very closely: a few, exceptional non-whites should not be blocked and should be allowed to participate in political rights; on the other hand, whites who could not attain and maintain white, civilised standards should not be propped up and could be denied political rights.
- however, even this was limited in application:
- some government jobs were available and often the salary went with the job; i.e., there were not separate pay scales depending on the colour of the holder.
- but the number of non-whites holding higher jobs was very small. Beginning in the 1890s, this openness declined as there were deliberate policies to favour whites and thus to discriminate against non-whites. This had not been necessary earlier because few non-whites had much education, but now increasing numbers were emerging from the schools; some even had matriculation. Thus, in employment areas, there was a parallel with political rights; as more non-whites qualified, there was a move to restrict access in order not to endanger white dominance.
- therefore, what was involved in the Cape was not really a form of political liberalism; rather it was a milder, more paternalist form of conservatism as opposed to harsh, vigorously authoritarian conservatism in the other areas of South Africa.
-this aspect corresponds with part of Stanley Trapidos thesis [Liberalism in the Cape in the 19th and 20th Centuries, The Societies of Southern Africa in the 19th &20th Centuries, 17(1972-73), 53-66].
The economic basis of Cape liberalism
-Trapido argues that there are 2 dimensions to the liberal tradition. The first, which he calls the great tradition, corresponds quite a bit with my argument about the Whig heritage. He argues that it was an ideology largely derived from elsewhere with necessary but not very extensive adaptation to the Cape Colony. Those influenced by this great tradition were missionaries, lawyers, large merchants in Cape Town, etc.
- the other dimension, the small tradition, he says provided support for the liberal tradition locally. This small tradition he links to local economic interests whose prosperity was linked to African economic activities. These were found mostly in the eastern frontier districtse.g., merchants and traders who saw Africans as very significant customers.
- however, becoming customers meant that they had to become part of the market economy and this seemed most likely to involve producing agricultural commodities and products as a surplus for the market. This gave these merchants and traders (and other related businesses) an interest in encouraging peasant production by Africans.
- a good deal of historical work has been done in the last 25 years on the period1860-1890sas a kind of golden age of African peasant production.
[see Colin Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry (1979); however, Jack Lewis, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry: A Critique and Reassessment, Journal of Southern African Studies, XI, 1(Oct. 1984), 1-24, challenges some of Bundys claims]
- Bundy argues that Africans did respond positively to opportunities and incentives, adopting new techniques, implements, etc. Also, as long as there were not markets for more commercial and high capital agriculture, the opposition of white farmers to these African competitors was more limited in effectiveness.
- however, white farmers were usually hostile to African peasant producers:
- therefore, it was the trading/commercial interests (especially in the towns) that supported the policies of liberalism; these interests allied with African voters in frontier and eastern districts to elect the politicians labelled friends of the Natives.
- they wanted the labour for themselves and therefore complained bitterly because Africans could be self-sufficient and did not have to work for whites;
- Africans were very strong competitors and in fact could usually produce below the costs that white farmers could.
- Trapido argues that Cape liberalism was strongly linked to that economic and political community of interests. When economic circumstances changed, as they did with the increasing industrialisation and urbanisation of gold mining and the effects of the war, the community of interests began to dissolve and so did the support for liberalism. As a result, the groups supporting Cape liberalism diminished and the policies began to be chipped away, even before the Union in 1910. Well look at some of these chippings next term.
- the 1890s marked the beginning of a long-term deterioration in the economic well-being and status of Africans; we shall examine this more deeply in connection with the emergence of African Nationalism and independent churches.
[another view of Cape liberalism is Phyllis Lewsen, The Cape Liberal TraditionMyth or Reality, The Societies of Southern Africa in the 19th &20th Centuries, I, 10 (1969-70), 72-88. Hers is in the more traditional interpretation of white liberals.]