Dora B. Montefiore, New Age May 1903
Source: New Age, p.347, 28 May 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In a letter which appeared in the Spectator of May 23, signed Brownlee J. Ross, some interesting facts as regards native labour and polygamy in South Africa are given on the authority of a civil servant who has had twenty-five years’ experience as an administrator in the native territories of the Cape Colony, and who is now recognised as one of the first authorities on the native question. It will be in the remembrance of many that only a short time ago, Mr. Chamberlain, when speaking on the question of coloured labour for the mines and public works in South Africa, insisted (in the cause of morality) on the necessity of legislative coercion being brought to bear on the male native to force him to work for his white fellow citizen, because the native being a polygamist, he at the present moment subsisted in idleness on the labour of his dusky wives. I pointed out at the time that this solicitude for women’s rights, especially for the rights of working-class women, marked a new departure in the sympathies of the Colonial Secretary, though it might be objected that he had gone rather afield in order to root out a woman’s disability when there are so many flagrant ones flourishing nearer home. Still, we who are working for the woman’s cause were grateful for the august sympathy extended to our sister women and fellow-subjects, who appeared to be suffering, as we are at the heart of the Empire, from man-made laws and institutions. The moralists amongst us also counted unto the Right Honourable gentleman for righteousness his stern determination to put a stop to polygamy by making the polygamists work in the white monogamists’ compounds, where the poor benighted native would no doubt learn, through the force of example, and the daily object-lesson of the white man’s superior conduct, how he should order his married life, and how he should treat the sole legal partner of his hearth and home. We all felt at least that Mr. Chamberlain, with his superior information on the subject, meant well; even though some of us may have wished that be had begun his social and moral reforms at home.
And now we are told by the Spectator (which cannot exactly be accused of being either pro-Boer or anti-Chamberlain) that the whole foundation on which the Colonial Secretary built up his arguments in favour of the enforced labour of the natives is a rotten one, that polygamy virtually does not exist; that native laws and customs safeguard public morals and women’s rights; and that “the ordinary Kaffir wife has less hard work than the ordinary European housewife.” This last-mentioned fact, adduced from the twenty-five years’ experience amongst natives of the civil servant administrator, exactly corroborates what I wrote on this subject at the time of Mr. Chamberlain’s pronouncement. This same civil servant authority gives a list of seven counts concerning native social and industrial conditions which he vouches for as facts. Two or three are so remarkable that I shall quote them at length for the benefit of my women readers, and they can compare them at their leisure with the social and industrial conditions prevailing amongst the alleged “civilisers” of these black races:
DORA B. MONTEFIORE,