Frederick Vaughan Kirby to Frederick Chesson, 24 January 1885
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C139 – 230
Author(s): Frederick Vaughan Kirby
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: South African Republic
Date: 24 January 1885
Jan 24th 1885
F.W. Chesson Esq
For a long time it has been my intention to send for a few lines if only again to thank you for your kindness to me at home, and for supplying me with letters of introduction. Until now however it has been only an intention, as I have thought your hands are always full and your time thoroughly occupied in working for the great cause which you uphold.
You will doubtless have heard long … this from my father, and especially in reference to certain acts of gross injustice done to natives living inside Transvaal territory by the recognized government native commissioner. I related those two incidents, not from any wish to join myself to the number of those who for furthering their own ends, desire to see the Transvaal again become British territory, and who employ ‘sympathy with the natives’ merely as the material by means of which they may perchance bridge the waters of Boer regime. I did it simply in pursuance of my long found determination to bring to light more instances and further proof of the unjust, cruel treatment of the natives by those people to whom we have handed them over.
It is no easy matter, as the actual oppression and tyranny is not usually apparent but takes form in an endless number and variety of little acts of injustice, …, and downright cruelty too. The real cause of which it is often very hard to arrive at. And their frequently inquiry is made difficult owning to the natural reluctance of the natives themselves on the subject of their individual grievances.
This reticence I firmly believe is born of distrust and despair. They do not know what to believe so tossed about have they been upon the waters of British and Boer governments. Ingrained in the nature of the kaffir, whether Zulu, Swazi, Tonga, Pondo, Usutu, or Betyuana, is a sincere liking for and respect for the British and their form of Government, so far as relates to themselves.
And just as sincerely do they hate the Boers. But to what end, cui boni, are these separate feelings? The native is such a pure matter of fact individual that he cannot help looking at results, and he sees that he might … as well be under a Boer form of government as a British, if he is to be treated by the latter as he was in 1881.
It is not often that such cases as the two I have referred to come before public notice. In my accounts of the affair I did not …, in the one case, into any question upon the former acts of the headman ‘Inhliziyo’ further than to say that I myself have always found him honest and hospitable, and besides, I think that if, as some maintain, he is an old hand at cattle stealing, it strange that such a zealous (?) native commissioner as Mr Erasmus has not before this brought him to justice.
Neither in Tom’s case have I permitted any previous offence or any misconduct whatever to weigh in the matter, for no matter how great a criminal a man may be (and we will admit that neither Inhliziyo nor Tom are perfect), he is always entitled to justice.
But Erasmus and his clique have always had a grudge against kaffirs in the Lydenberg district, especially out towards the gold fields, where they are more independent, and one … bitterly opposed to Boer rule, and have frequently and plainly intimated this same to Erasmus himself. How long this state of things may last it is hard to say. It cannot be for long, for even now, gild it over as we may, there lies the bare fact, that the position of the Transvaal is a very awkward one. They will never, never keep a [convention?]!
Look at Betyuana land, no one supposes for a moment that the Transvaal is guiltless of being at least an accessory to the disturbances there. Had they so willed they could have stopped it altogether as far as the Transvaal was concerned, but they did not chose so to do. And why should they? They saw by what was passing in Zululand that it was most likely the government would lay inactive; that, after plunging the country into as wicked and unnecessary a war as ever was waged between white and black, and ruining a grand country and people physically and socially, they could complacently leave two thirds of the people to ‘stew in their own juice’ as Bismarck said, and merely ‘protect the reserve.’ … these they thought that they could surreptitiously assist the Stellalanders also, while England looked on … at the breaking of a solemn [constitution?], and that after a while, when matters were a little quiet, more Boers could openly cross over and so advance step by step till the whole of Montsioa’s territory was … up in Boer farms.
We can scarcely blame the Boers for acting thus, but we must blame the inertness of the government that has permitted such action on their part, as first the annexation of Zululand a country which, if ever there was one, deserved and was entitled to aid and assistance from England only; and secondly, the occupation of Betyuanaland.
In this part everything is quiet. There has been a sad dearth of food for some weeks, but all that is now past. The feast of the first fruit was had on Dec 29th, and all are rejoicing in an abundant crop of maize, kaffir corn, and c, and c.
Trusting my dear sir that I have not intruded too much upon your valuable time, and with sincere good wishes for the cause,
Yours very truly,
Fred. V. Kirby
I would suggest that if at any time you have anything to communicate it should go thro my father, as all my letters have to pass through the Transvaal and are subject to examination if looking suspicious. For that reason I enclose this to my father, who will forward to you.